The Flying Buttress Is Gone

Did last week simply vanish for anyone else? Somehow it disappeared in a hurry for me. Poof. Gone.

Despite that I have a few things to share. I hope they are interesting and/or amusing.

First, I must admit I know where a lot last week went: the monthly email that goes out to the neighbourhood. That consumed much of my time through and including a big chunk of Tuesday. Stuff just kept coming up, and only when I finally hit “Send” was I able to step away from it for a while. But not for long because just two days later I was handed the first article for the December issue, which I spent time editing and inserting into the mailing list software.

Still more time went into tweaks and updates to the community association website. Nothing huge, but I finally got the local fire department to admit the fire danger indicator they have on their website was wrong. It still said “High” after eight inches of rainfall at our house. I also showed them a provincial website saying the danger in our area was “Very Low”. I guess that convinced them. Either that or they were keeping the fire danger listed as high until after Halloween, in a pointless attempt to keep people from doing stupid things with fireworks.

The really big excitement happened on Wednesday when contractors came to take down the flying buttress. This thing:

You might recall that there was serious rot in the bottom (on the left in the photo) and that the whole thing wobbled a fair bit when you grabbed it and shook. We decided it was not worth keeping. It will be replaced with new fencing and a gate.

Here’s the first discovery:

That’s water under the Tyvek in the corner against the house. Not a good sign, and it got worse:

You’re mostly looking at the plywood sheathing that was underneath the stupid construction. The bottom quarter is actually the side of a 2x10 that is nailed over the ends of the floor joists, called a “rim joist”.

As you can see there is some serious rot, and there were numerous stupid decisions made in the construction. To begin with, there was no waterproofing between the buttress and the house. That could have been OK if they had done a good job of waterproofing the rest of it properly, but they did not. The rot you see above is the result of that decision.

Beyond that, the buttress itself was framed with 2x4s when it should have been made with 2x10s. There were just two bolts holding it to the concrete footing and only nails holding it to the house. Even worse, many of those nails were only into the plywood sheathing rather than into any dimensional lumber. There should have been extensive bracing and lag bolts holding it in place. In short, this thing was dumb from top to bottom. Sadly, it is probably representative of the construction on the rest of the house, but there is nothing we can do about that now.

If you want to see just how bad the water issue was, take a look at the nail in this photo:

It has rusted away quite a bit since 1994 when this thing was built. That’s what water does when it gets into places it should not. Oh, and the nail is in the rotten chunk of 2x10 rim joist they cut out.

Thankfully — and somewhat miraculously — the rot actually stopped not that far from the buttress itself. They were able to remove all the damaged wood and replace it.

I’ve blurred my contractor because I didn’t ask for permission to share his photo online. But note the new plywood and the hunk of new 2x10 installed in the opening. A second piece of plywood went up to cover the bottom stuff as well. Once that was done they cut back the siding to reasonable places, patched the Tyvek sheeting, and installed new siding.

Not bad! The small patch you see at the top is where a bathroom vent was, but that fan was replaced last week and now vents through the roof, where it should always have gone.

At the moment the side yard looks like this:

The new fence and gate were supposed to go in today, but an atmospheric river has arrived, and we all decided it was better to wait until next week when we hope the weather will cooperate more.

Exciting stuff, I know. But getting rid of that huge source of water infiltration and rot is actually a big deal. And in the end the side yard is going to look a whole lot better than it did. With luck you’ll see photos of that next week.

In other news, my second air quality monitor arrived. Last week I told you about the first one, and I think I mentioned that a second one was on the way from China. Well it arrived and is partly broken. Here are the two units side by side:

On the left you see the first and on the right you see the new one. The new one is supposed to measure more stuff, but there are two problems.

  • HCHO (formaldehyde) reads fine. 0.008 mg per cubic meter is a nice low reading for a home like ours.
  • TVOC (total volatile organic compounds) are likewise fine and low at 0.015 mg per cubic meter.
  • CO (carbon monoxide) is also in the normal range (anything less than 9 parts per million seems to be fine, and the reading waffles around between 0 and 3).
  • CO2 (carbon dioxide) is also about normal, which I understand is around 400 parts per million. Oddly though, this reading sometimes spikes way up (I’ve seen 3500 ppm) for no obvious reason and then gradually goes back down. When that happens if you simply power the unit off and back on the reading returns to normal immediately, so the issue is with the detector, not with the air.
  • PM2.5 is the first serious issue. The unit on the left shows a value of 0.9 ug per cubic meter, which is 0.009 mg per cubic meter. In other words, a very small value and the air is good. But the unit on the right shows a value of 29 ug per cubic meter. That’s substantially worse. In the US a value over 12 is considered moderately bad, and over 35 is getting into the unhealthy range, at least for sensitive people. This new meter constantly shows numbers over 20 but less than 35. It never gets out of that range at all.
  • PM10 is a bit harder to interpret since I have only the one unit that shows it, but the number displayed never goes below 25 or above 45. Like the PM2.5 reading, it’s stuck in a range.

As mentioned last week, frying creates a lot of particulates, and Anne cooked a dinner that involved frying something after the new unit arrived. The old unit showed elevated PM2.5 values for some time, but the new unit continued on as if the air had not changed. Neither the PM2.5 or PM10 readings were affected.

I contacted the manufacturer and they say they will issue me a refund. That’s fine, but I’d really rather have a working detector. The key lesson for me is that cheap devices like these may not work all that well. So far the Temtop unit seems pretty good, even if its thermometer reads at least a degree (Celcius) high.

The combination of these units has pretty much convinced me that our air is not all that bad at the moment. As a result I am unwilling to spend hundreds of dollars on professional grade equipment, but I will keep researching these things once the refund comes through.

In related news, my batch of cheap thermometer/hygrometers arrived:

Anne already took one for her office.

They are fairly consistent in readings, but I think I can adjust them slightly via screws on the back to get them even more consistent.

These will be scattered around the house so we can better track temperature and humidity this winter. So far the new windows have almost completely eliminated condensation, but we don’t know if that will continue as temperatures drop.

I believe more data is nearly always better, so these will help.

Finally, it seems we have a problem with mushrooms in the back yard:

There are scads of these. I think they first appeared when we put a bunch of wood chips back there 18 months ago, but there are so many more of them now. Thankfully the dogs aren’t interested in them, and I assume they will die back when the temperatures get low enough. But for now they are putting on quite a show!

May your fungus be confined to only the places you want it!

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Jeff Powell

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.