Pool Noodles for Head Safety! (However…)

One consequence of our having poured a concrete floor in our old basement is that the old, rusty I-beam (that was added at some point to help stabilize the bounciness of the upstairs floor) is now 5′ 9″ off the floor. I am taller than that. So I had this idea to buy pool noodles, cut a slit lengthwise, and, voilà! Head safety.

Pool-Noodles-For-Head-Safety

When I first bought the noodles at the local Family Dollar, I only bought enough for the main basement. When I went back to get some for the smaller cellar, they were sold out. Not to worry, I went to the Dollar General a minute away on the edge of town. They had them. And now, a PSA for those of you in the market for dollar store pool noodles: Family Dollar pool noodles are superior to Dollar General pool noodles in every possible way: they are thicker, denser, longer, and made in the USA (DG’s are from Canada). Same price, of course: $1.

On a less lighthearted note, it turns out that head safety was the least of my worries. (In the journalism business they call this burying the lede.) Yesterday, while using my table saw to cut pieces for our addition ramp guardrail, my hand slipped and the tip of my thumb grazed the blade. In over 35 years of woodworking this was my first trip to the ER. I will spare you the gruesome details, suffice it to say that my left thumb is now a wee bit shorter and sans thumbnail. It took two hours and nine stitches. The pharmaceuticals are doing their job so it does not feel too bad at the moment. The official diagnosis, on the other hand, sounds rather dire:
2017 ICD-10-CM Diagnosis Code S68.022A
Mr. Google tells me that this is diagnosis code S68.022A in the current, and quite comprehensive, ICD-10.

Addition Solar Heating Update

Well, it’s been 3 weeks since we got our solar water heating system up and running in our new addition. First off, it definitely works — Yay! But it is also definitely a complicated setup.

I have been testing and tweaking the various controller settings. The system manual, as so many are, is very poorly written. Here is a fine example, as no doubt translated from the original Chinese:

If hot water in tank isn’t used for long time, then the capacity that solar system absorbs solar energy reduces, when tank temperature rises to its preset maximal temperature, solar circuit pump is ceased compulsively even the temperature difference is satisfied. then when more solar irradiation shines in, as a result collector temperature will rise continuously, temperature of collector maybe rise up to the evaporated temperature of heat fluid, this phenomenon names collector – overheat, it should be avoided.

And I have, indeed, and as I suspected, had this “phenomenon” happen. With the recent warm and sunny weather, the heat wasn’t going on. The big 211 gallon tank reached it’s max (145°F) by noontime so the pump “ceased compulsively” and the collectors overheated — I saw it at 303°F; that’s why it uses stainless steel pipe, not pex — and the 50/50 glycol/water mix evaporated into the pressure tank as designed. This is OK once in a while, but having it happen on a regular basis causes the fluid to acidify over time. So, yes, “it should be avoided”.

Bumping the tank max up to 160°F helped a little, but not enough. I could go up 175°F, but that would not likely solve the problem and is also a bit too close to the 180°F rating of the pex piping. After sorting through the various system settings and the creative prose in the manual, I have settled on a solution of using the “BYPR Bypass function (high temperature)” to trigger a solenoid valve to dump hot water when the collectors are near overheating until the system cools down a bit. We are fortunately blessed with an over-abundance of well water, and we put in an extra conduit running down to the spring house during construction so we can use that for the cool-down dump. I ordered the parts I need — the last ones are arriving today — this includes the solenoid valve and another mixing valve (since I really do not want to run 160+°F into my floor). Meanwhile, I have been manually dumping hot water, as well as running the heat on whatever cool nights I can. We have some cool and rainy weather coming in a couple of days, that will be a good time for me to drain the big tank and readjust the plumbing with the new parts. I am using SharkBite push-to-fit connectors, which are a breeze to remove and reposition, so it should go pretty smoothly (he says, inviting the wrath of the easily-irked Gods of Plumbing).

Here is the updated system schematic; not really all that complicated, right? Right?

Solar_heat_schematic_Rev_C

Click to embiggen [Updated 20 May2017 to reflect final as-built]

Solar at Last

After literally years (I bought the major components in May of 2015!), we finally have an operational solar hot water heating system. Let’s start in the basement utility room.

solar-tank-controls

The collection part of the system

Here is the 800L (211 gallons) solar hot water storage tank. I choose this size on the highly scientific principle that it was the largest one that would fit under the 7½’ ceiling. The grey box on the wall is solar pump/controller. When the rooftop panel temp is higher than the storage tank temp (and the tank is less than 145 160 °F [Updated June 1st 2017 after system fine-tuning]) it starts pumping. The insulated pipe coming out the top of the box goes to the rooftop panels where the heat is collected and comes down though the right-hand pipe, through a heat exchange coil in the tank, then back up to the box. The red thing is an expansion tank. This system is a closed loop that has a 50/50 water/propylene-glycol mix (good down to minus 39 degrees).

solar-heat-controls

The heat distribution part of the system

On the opposite wall we have the underfloor heating pump and controls. The green box on the right is the control module. When a thermostat calls for heat in any of the 3 zones, it sends a signal to the appropriate thermal actuator (the small white cylinders atop the manifold in the center of the picture. Once the actuators are open (visually you can see a blue ring at the top) the controller starts the circulator pump (on the left — it is a delta-T variable speed pump that reacts to individual zones opening and closing to maintain a constant temperature differential between the inlet and outlet). This part of the system is a open loop — it uses the water directly from the big storage tank (which also provides pre-heated water into our small electric DHW heater.

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The collector frames

Last week I completed the assembly of the three rooftop solar panel frames. Each of the three frames will hold 30 evacuated/vacuum collector tubes. Together the three frames are about 23 feet long. At the top of each frame is a manifold — this is the only part that has water running in it, to capture the heat from the tubes.

Installation begins

Monday, the contractors arrived, two guys with two ladders. The frames are unwieldy but fairly light. After some discussion we decided to take off the relative heavy manifolds and take them up separately. Here is the first frame getting fastened to the roof; rather than put any holes in our shiny new standing roof I choose specialized clamps.[/caption]

Here is the second frame being carried up the two ladders. I am working the safety rope from underneath.

solar-install-3

Day one done

By the close of the first day’s installation, the contractors had completed the plumbing hookup to the frames; meanwhile I got the hookups done in the utility room. I pressurized the system with 30 psi of air and left it overnight to test for leaks. It failed the test. When the contractors got here at 8am on the day two, I put them to installing the column and posts for the ramp railing (see a few pictures down), while I hooked up the submersible pump to flush the solar system and pinpoint leaks. I had two in the utility room — both cheap-ass fittings I got at the Capon Valley Market yesterday since I ended up short. I managed to crank one down enough to stop it, and for then other I had found the proper fitting and got that in. Meanwhile, since water was dripping off of the roof the contractors went up and tightened the leaking compression fittings up there.

Leaks fixed, they started in on putting aluminum tape over the rooftop foam pipe insulation to protect it from the sun, while I drained the flush water from the system and re-pressurized it with a 50% polypropylene glycol mixture. I turned on the pump controller, and we started installing the 90 heat tubes. I was on the upper veranda unpacking the tubes from the shipping boxes, smearing thermal paste on the copper condenser tips, handing each tube up to guy one who was on the ladder, who then handed them to guy two to insert in the frames. Six of the tubes were broken, but the manufacturer was pretty generous by sending 30 spare tubes (but just the tubes, I had to remove the sealed copper tube inserts and aluminum heat-collection fins from the broken tubes).

solar-rooftop

The finished product from the front (south side)

solar-rooftop-backside

And from the back (north side). To the right you can see the newly-installed posts; the shorter two are original to the house, they were part of a handrail on the front porch. I’ve been saving them for lo these 18 years — glad to have finally found a use for them!

The system seems to be working fine, the 211-gallon solar water storage tank went from 59 degrees 96 by the end of the day. Was still at 93 this morning. (I ultimately want to get the tank to 145 160 °F [Updated June 1st 2017 after system fine-tuning].) This morning I turned on the underfloor heat in the addition, we’ll see how it does getting the room from 65 to 68. Also interested in whether the rooftop unit can glean heat on a cloudy day.

It feels very good to have this project done! (Well, except for some more pipe insulation in the utility room.)

And, as a bonus, I discovered that my Moto phone had made a highlight reel (complete with cheesy music!) of the photos and videos I took yesterday late afternoon. It was a gorgeous day to review the completed project from the vantage point of the pasture and spring run. And our livestock guardian dog Satie enjoyed it as well.

(The Last?) Concrete Pour

Apparently we are gluttons for punishment, because this week we called back our concrete contractors. No offence to them, but we sincerely hope this will be the last time we ever see them! This time, it was to pour a floor for the main basement of our old house.

When we moved in to this c.1834 house in 1998, the basement had a dirt floor, which occasionally did double-duty as, um, an ephemeral creek bed. We traced (most of) the water to a poorly-installed-and-therefore-clogged diversion drain that had been installed when the septic system went in the late 1980’s to get the leach field to perk. After we dealt with that, back in the early aughts we had the mud-laid foundation stones mortared in place to direct any remaining water down low to the floor. We then put in a French drain system to drain both cellars out back down the hill.

basement-trench

This is the only pic I could find of the basement trenching project. It comes from a time when my hair — and beard — still had some color.

The trench drain worked, mostly. In ’05 we hired some guys to dig out 8 inches or so of the dirt (Atkins Silt Loam, to be precise) floor. We then had them put in 5 inches or so of gravel. This has served as our basement floor ever since.

basement-pre-gravel

This is what the basement floor looked like before we had it dug out and graveled. You can barely see the stone hearth under the mud (more on the hearth in a bit). Also, in the interim we have relocated the water heater into the new addition.

Fast forward to last summer, when we decided to go ahead and have a concrete slab poured, to complete the conversion into a fully usable space. We spent some time removing and leveling the gravel down so the 3-4″ of concrete would come up to the pre-existing level of the old dirt floor.

The task of leveling the gravel was made much easier by using the optical level with tripod that I bought when I was designing the new addition. You can see the concrete footers for the jack posts (that apparently were installed in the late 80s) that mark the level of the soon-to-be poured concrete.

As always seems to be the case, it took some months to schedule the contractors, but over last weekend we confirmed a pour for Wednesday. Tuesday saw the final preparations.

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The old wood threshold we removed. The top certainly looked worn, but that was nothing compared to the rotten bottom.

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I cut off the bottom of the door frame sides so the concrete will flow up to the stone wall. The door frames have a lot of rot (I was shocked — Shocked! — to discover this).

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Prep work done.

Wednesday dawned to the sound of contractors banging, yelling (*always* with the yelling, these contractors), and engines delivering and pumping the concrete.

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This equipment is very noisy; the cat stayed under our bed for the duration of the day.

After several days of curing, the finished floor is now walkable. A far cry from where we found it 18 years ago.

basement-concrete-threshold

Our new (non-rotted) concrete threshold.

basement-concrete-curing

In this view you can see the full-width stone hearth across the north end of the basement. Once the concrete is fully cured (28 days)we will have the hearth pointed up with mortar.
On the wall you can see the outlines of the original 1800’s cooking fireplace. We presume that this was closed off c.1900 when an addition was added and the flue was re-purposed for a wood stove to heat the addition.
The two posts on the hearth are there to support the stone kitchen hearth that we put in during the summer of 2006.

Addition Omnibus Progress Late Winter 2017 [Video]

Forgive me, for I have sinned: It has been almost a year since my last post.

We made good progress on our (seemingly interminable) addition project over last spring and summer. I took a lot of pictures with many blog posts in mind, but, well, «insert aphorism about the surface of a road to a bad place here», so I decided to do an omnibus video covering everything that we got done. Progress faltered, for various reasons (*cough* Trump *cough*), as summer faded into autumn. We did not meet our major goal of having the underfloor solar heat working — which would have let me continue with the trim-out over the winter — so I basically hibernated over the winter as far as the addition was concerned.

A 15-minute tour:

[Update 5 Mar 17] Fun Fact: the (will-eventually-be-) heated great room / under-loft floor has ~40 yd3 of concrete — that’s 160,000 pounds of thermal-mass goodness!

Addition Early-Spring Progress

Addn_Concrete_Seal

I took advantage of the early-March warm-up and got the addition concrete floor sealed. I used Eagle Armor Seal, a glossy, low-VOC, water-based urethane on everything but the shower, which got Eagle Natural Seal, a waterborne penetrating water repellent that keeps the anti-slip texture of the sponge-finished concrete. I used my infrared digital thermometer to verify that the slab was at least 50°F per the instructions. It ranged from 53 to 57 throughout the 7-day process: 1 day to shop-vac and wet-mop, 2 days to dry, 1 day to do the shower floor, and 3 days to lay down 3 coats. I used an 18” roller which made pretty fast work of it.

Addn_Concrete_Sealed

The finished product after two weeks of curing — we are quite pleased with the results. This was also a major bottle neck to moving forward with the baseboards, galley cabinets, and loft flooring. (The flip side is that I am now the major bottleneck!)

‘Crete at Last!

The concrete finishers arrived at 7 am this morning, and the pump lady showed up shortly thereafter. The first of two concrete trucks (this pour is about 17 cubic yards) rolled in around 7:30.

Here is a short time-lapse view of the end of the first truck’s worth of concrete being poured.

One question that has come up is how long it will take for the concrete to set/cure/dry. “Setting” is the process of the concrete hardening to the point of being able to be floated to a smooth finish; generally speaking this takes several hours, more or less. “Curing” is the chemical process of the concrete fully hardening; after a week or so the concrete is around 70% cured and can safely be walked on, but it takes a month to reach 100%. It is still not “dry”, however, as that process takes, by rule of thumb, one month for each inch of thickness. So this slab won’t be fully dry until spring.

I intend to stay off this slab for at least a week. I am not yet sure whether I need to wait a month or 5 months before putting the sealant on it, more research is needed.

The Concrete is a-Coming

After a number of delays, we have been told that our final concrete pour for our addition (the finished great room floor) will finally be happening tomorrow. Here is a (probably boring) walk-through showing our prep work.

Addition Ready for Final Concrete Pour

Well, almost, still have to do the final cleanup. We are trying to arrange the final concrete pour, but with winter on the way the concrete tradesmen are very busy trying to get their outdoor pours done.

This pour is about 1068 square feet and will be 4½ – 5 inches thick. It is being poured on top of a suspended concrete slab subfloor. We want to add mica flakes at the end of the pour to add a bit of sparkle. From what we understand, this means trowel-finishing the entire floor.

floorplan_main_floor_final_pour

Here is the floor plan of the two slabs to be poured. Click to embiggen.

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Our lower driveway will let the concrete truck back right up to addition entryway.

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The concrete pump hoses will enter the addition via the exterior door at the top of the ramp. In this and subsequent pics you will see tools and supplies that will all be gone shortly.

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The vestibule, being closest to the door, will be the last space poured. The concrete will be poured to the top of the 4-1/2″ triple sole plate. The wallboard is already up and painted so we used blue tape and rosin paper to protect it. The space for the yet-to-be-installed 1×8 baseboard provides a space of bare studs to ease with the concrete finishing.

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Just inside the great room from the vestibule there is a staircase to the walk-out basement. The concrete finishers can use this for access as needed.

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The great room and under-loft rooms have 5/8″ pex heat tubing attached to the subfloor. At the upper right is the bow windows and at the upper left is the loft staircase the the concrete will need to flow under.

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A better view of the loft staircase corners where the concrete will go under it.

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Looking towards the loft. On the left you can see the stone chimney and the dumbwaiter enclosure.

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The galley kitchenette. Except for the bathroom toilet and shower drain, all drain pipes are in the wall.

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The view in the bedroom of one of the two closets. You can see more detail of the heat tubing — it is the zip-tied to poultry netting that is stapled to the sole plates. Tapcon screws and various brackets have also been used to help anchor everything down so the tubing does not float up. To the left you can see in the bathroom where the tubing goes through the subfloor to connect with the manifold in the basement.

addn_final_concrete6

The curbless walk-in L-shaped shower. This will get troweled to a semi-rough surface to avoid slipping in the shower (sponge finish?). It will flow under and up against the granite walls and slope down to the drain at the end of the ell (not shown).

addn_final_concrete7

The water closet.

Addition Update, Day 434 (Ouch!)

As I said in an earlier post, we got delayed in our construction over the summer. We got a six-month extension on our building permit, so mid-December is our new target for completion. Still lots to do, but now that the hot weather has broken I am able to get more done. My #1 priority is to get the heat tubing in place so we can schedule the final concrete pour(s). (#2 priority is to get the rooftop solar collection tubes up.)

meshtube2

Here is the 1000′ roll of 5/8″ Uponor AquaPEX tublng I am putting down. The make-shift support of sawhorses, pipe clamp, and 4″ PVC pipe is working OK, though at first it took two people to unreel since the roll weighed in at 86 lbs.

meshtube1

The first step was to put rosin paper up to protect the painted walls from concrete splash when the final pour is done. Next was stretching out poultry netting that I will attach the tubing to with zip ties — not really sure about this method but I read about on the Internet so it has to work well, right? Right?? I started with the trickiest of the three 300′ tubing loops, the one under the loft. Among other challenges was the fact that we had to thread the loop through the wall between the bedroom and galley kitchen.

meshtube3

It took 4 days but the first heating loop is now complete. (FYI, I HIGHLY recommend that you not wait until you are in your late 50’s before undertaking something like this!) The only hitch was that I had miscalculated the layout and end up with some left-over footage that I had to get a little creative with around the bedroom closets. (Besides from the one time I kinked the tubing, but that is exactly why I chose PEX-a rather than -b or -c: you can fix a kink with a heat gun or hair dryer).

About Time!

Yes, it’s been awhile since I last posted. The addition construction ground to a halt over, of all things, the paint on the great room ceiling. When I went to put up the ceiling fan I noticed that the drywall seams were showing through the paint. Turns out the contractor put two coats of premium primer but no top coat on it, said that was “as good or better” than primer plus top coat. I begged to differ! Long story short, we ended up putting two coats of eggshell (one rolled one sprayed) then one coat of matte before it looked correct. Then I had a couple of minor medical issues, so it took me awhile to pick up on my addition work. But I did finally get the ceiling fan up, looks good, don’t you think?

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Minka Aire White 60″ Aviator Ceiling Fan

Interesting “insulation”

More renovation fun as we have the old house re-sided. We are having the west and south sides of the old house redone. These walls are wood framed (4½”) with interior wood lath and plaster, and exterior clapboards right on the studs. No sheathing, no insulation (well, almost, see below). We are adding fiberglass batts, then OSB sheathing, house wrap, and the same HardiePlank siding we used on the addition. So we are going from R-1 to R-12+ in insulation.

The north side is covered by the new addition, and the east side has the verandas on it and the wide horizontal exterior boards are in good shape so we are leaving those alone.

WallsBrickIn

As we suspected — since I encountered them when I ran new phone wire 15 years ago — some of the walls in the old house were packed with soft, unfired clay bricks. Brick Nogging is what it is called.

WallsBrickNone

Only half the house had bricks, no reason why that I can think of. We also decided to remove the old window trim — it had some architectural interest but was in pretty tough shape. Besides, the same trim is on the inside of the house where we get to look at it.

WallsBrickOut

Bricks out. You can see a little fiberglass under the kitchen window; this and the new wood were part of a repair by a previous owner of the house.

WallsCornerBrace

Interesting craftsmanship in the wood-pegged, half-dado corner bracing. They also alternated hefty and thin wall studs (and floor joists as well). The horizontal wood strip under the windows is the back of the chair rail that runs around all the rooms.

In for a penny …

… in for a pound, as the saying goes. The addition looks so good it makes the main house look, well, bad. So we are going ahead with re-roofing and re-siding it. The roofers started this morning, and here is the progress after less than 3 hours.

reroof1

Peering through the attic door, all the old metal is off the back (east) side of the house.

reroof2

New metal is going up.

Addition Solar Heat Plan

The underfloor hydronic heat in the addition will consist of 3 zones with 4 loops total: basement 1-loop zone, great room 2-loop zone, and under-loft 1-loop zone. Each loop is 300′ 5/8″ PEXa tubing. The expectation is that the great room zone will the most active. The intention is to run each loop at 1.75 gpm, 90°F water in, 75°F out, which should produce 13K BTU/Hr/loop. So the system should produce 26K BTU/hr in “normal” great-room only mode, with an additional 13K each available in the under-loft area and in the basement.

After much research, I have decided to go with this 800 Liter Solar Water Heater System from Duda Diesel. We will be adding the Turn-Key option and upgrading to Freeze Protection tubes so the collectors can handle routine temps below 14°F (which, based on this past winter, I would have to say that we get). The choice between evacuated tube and traditional flat-plate solar collectors was difficult. The reasons why I chose tubes include: lower weight and individual components for easier rooftop installation (we do not have enough non-floodplain sunny areas for ground-based collectors); space between the tubes provides a lower wind resistance; purportedly better performance on cold and/or cloudy days. My concerns are mainly related to the fact that because the outside of the tubes stay cool any frost or snow can take longer to melt than with flat plates. Oh well, a grand experiment awaits!

The heating is a open direct system, with a 211 gallon solar storage tank supplying the underfloor hydronic heat, as well as preheating the water for a standard domestic hot water heater. The 211-gallon solar tank has a built-in heat exchange coil for rooftop solar collectors and an electric heating element for backup. It is not at all certain whether the electric backup, combined with the large thermal mass of our insulated suspended concrete slab floor will be sufficient to keep us warm during extended bad winter weather (but I am quite confident that we will remain at most chilly, not frozen!). Our backup plans include the fact that we still have wood stoves in the old house (our only heat for 17 winters.)

The solar collection side is a closed-loop system with a glycol mixture to prevent freezing. The collectors will mounted on the addition’s east-facing 5/12 pitched (22.62°) metal roof. They will face 11° east of south (the orientation of the house itself) and be tilted up at a 45° angle.

Click on any of the images below to see a larger version:

Solar_heat_schematic

Schematic of the hot water and heating system [Updated 2015-07-22].

RooftopSolarConfig

Location of the rooftop solar collectors. I hope that placing them close to the addition gable end will minimize blocking snow build-up.

solar_elevation_east

Solar heating schematic from the east. Total heat tube (supply plus return) is about 150′.

solar_elevation_north

Solar heating schematic from the north.

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The two-zone, three-loop main floor underfloor heat tubes. I need to re-do the loops to put a couple in the bow window floor area. (Our original plans called for a window seat in that area.)

underfloor_heat_basement

The underfloor heat tubes in the basement. Placing all the equipment in the mechanical room on the right will be tricky. There are two water tanks, two expansion tanks, and two sets of controllers. Plus I want to plan for a battery bank for future PV solar electric, and the bank will go into a vented box (I have a 3″ PVC conduit in place for that.)

Underfloor Heat Components [already purchased unless noted otherwise]

Winter’s Last Gasp?

We got 6½ inches of snow last Thursday, followed by an arctic blast, and then, finally some unseasonable warmth. Today is a typical cool and rainy March day. We are certainly ready for Spring.

AddnSnowAerial2

View from the air Sunday. As you can see, the siding is just about done on the addition. The insulation sub is supposed to be here this week to to finish spraying, batting, and blowing. Then next week, now that the bitter cold has broken, the rest of the wallboard will go up. Then on to chimney cleaning and sealing, and wallboard mudding. In the lower left you can see the trails that the goats have made in the snow going down to the spring run for water. Their shed is in the upper left.

SnowGoatCompoundAerial1

The goat shed compound. From left to right: the Airlock (has gates to/from the Dairy Paddock, the Lower Driveway, and the Southern Portico); the Southern Portico (used variously for goat feeding, penning up new moms with their kids, penning up lactating goats overnight away from their kids for morning milking, and locking up Bersheba when she has dug out until we can fill the latest hole); the Main Shed; and the Northern Portico (The driveway half is for storing square hay bales and dog food, the Paddock side is the dog feeding station.) Behind the shed you can see the top half of the Apothedairy/Barn/Garage.