Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tragedy in Domeland.

Ah well... it could be worse.

DomeI got quite a bit done last week, the inside bottom part is pretty much done except for paint, and I made progress on the motorcycle port.  Last Friday I had finished spraying the inside so I left the skylight cracked a few inches so it could dry and went to work.  Instead of the nice sunny day that was predicted it became cloudy and very windy.  I went home after work to find that the skylight (all 70 pounds of it) had blown off and all the plexiglass had shattered.

Argh ... Depressing.

I stapled up a tarp to keep the rain out.  Saturday and Sunday were  marathon sessions that started early in the morning and went until midnight both days.  I mixed and sprayed 250 gallons of papercrete, and after buying another $100 worth of plexiglass I rebuilt the skylight.  I found out that if you pat the wet papercrete a few hours after you spray, it tends to flatten out and become more even.  After several hours of patting, my hands were swollen and cracked from the cement.  The next day I was sore all over, and was getting some kind of cold, so I decided to take a rest.

DomeSo last night I was sitting in my dome, admiring my fancy new skylight and reading a book when the wind starts to pick up.  This time I was not worried since the skylight was closed and I had it tied to the frame with a thick metal cable.  Branches started falling out of the trees and the gusts were causing the deck to bounce around, I went out to look around but dirt was blowing in my eyes and I was getting hit with small sticks so I went back inside.  Then there was a ridiculous gust that looked and sounded like a tornado had hit.  I have been in 70mph winds and this was much worse.  It only lasted for about 10 seconds, but somehow it yanked my new skylight off, swung in around on the cable and smashed it into the dome hard enough to break all the glass (again) and splinter the 2x6 wooden frame into 5 pieces.  This thing was held together at each joint with three 4-inch deck screws.  Only one joint did not shatter, the rest were in pieces 40 feet down the hill.  Where it hit the dome it bent one of the 3/4" conduit pipes, I am not sure how hard that was, but I weigh 300lbs and could swing from these pipes without them even flexing.

DomeSo much for relaxing.  The wind was still howling and I now had a six foot hole in my roof.  I stapled a tarp up as best I could through the hole, collected all the pieces of my skylight frame and started re-assembling them.  The silicon sealer was still wet so I scraped that off as best I could, removed all the screws (most at the corners were bent, 5 had snapped).  About three hours later I had a replacement skylight roughly done with a tarp stapled to it instead of plexiglass.

I am going with a different skylight design now since I can't afford the plexiglass.  This time I attached 3/4" decking to the top leaving a window in the middle big enough for one piece of plexiglass (I had two before).  I re-attached the cable and added a bungee cord in the middle.  I am going to add two more bungee cords to the far side as well.  It will not look as nice but at the moment it is all I can afford, and who knows how much more wind we have to look forward to.  I guess this is the disadvantage of building on top of a hill.

On the bright side I did learn a few interesting things.
1. The dome does really well in high winds.  Other than the deck shaking, it did not have any trouble at all.
2. The dome does quite well when hit with stuff... there were a couple of  dents in the papercrete where the skylight hit.  They were a couple of inches long and may have gone down to the shrink wrap layer.  The branches did not cause any damage that I could see.
3. Papercrete is really easy to repair.  I mixed three buckets this morning and just dumped it over and smoothed it out.

DomeThis morning when mixing papercrete to fix the dent, my home-made mixing blade broke.  The bolt where I attach the drill sheared off.  There were huge branches and trees all over the place and all the stuff that I left outside was blown somewhere down the hill.  Like I said... an all round depressing week.  And it looks like storms for the next seven days.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dome Progress April 6, 2011

DomeSo progress has picked up a bit now that the weather is better. For Arkansas right now and in the fall is about as good as it gets. The sun is shining and it is about 60 to 70 degrees F. I work my normal job as a programmer during the day from 1pm - 5pm so I have mornings until noon and evenings to work on this stuff.

The outside is now completely done except that I will probably do another outside coat to make it look smoother. It turned out that I could reach everything either by reaching though my skylight hole or by duct-taping a trowel onto a metal pole. The outside now has about four layers total and is about 5 inches thick.

The biggest improvement is the skylight. This is basically a wooden pentagon about 6 feet in diameter that is covered in plexiglass. I cut a hole around the top pentagon of the geodesic frame and the skylight sits on top of that like a cap. Before I put it on I made sure there was plenty of solid papercrete built up around the hole. While the papercrete was still slightly soft I set the skylight on top. The skylight weighs over 50 lbs so it sunk into the papercrete a little and made a good seal. I added more papercrete around the inside rim so that there is a lip to keep water out and to hold the skylight in place. When it dried I painted about a half gallon of  UGL Drylok Latex Masonry Waterproofer onto the top of the papercrete to keep the water from soaking in.

It has been about three weeks now and we have had several good storms with better than 30mph winds. It has not had any trouble with leaking but it does make some odd buzzing / howling sounds when the wind is really strong. The first night the skylight was quite distracting, I could not sleep until about 1am because I wanted to keep looking at the stars.

Last weekend I sprayed three layers on the top inside above the trampoline. This is where I put a thin layer a couple of months ago only to have it slowly fall off in chunks while I was trying to sleep. Once you build up a little thickness it becomes a single solid piece that does not move or crack or flake off. The first layer is the hardest since without any netting it has to be really thin so that it does not fall off. Once it hardens a bit you can add a second layer which should make it fairly strong. I did the first in the morning and the second in the evening last Saturday, then I did a third on Sunday afternoon. It is now almost thick enough to cover the geodesic structure. I think two more coats and I can trowel it smooth and the top inside will be done except for painting.

I have a small street legal dirt bike that gets about 70 mpg (klr-250). With the price of fuel going up I am going to try to drive that as much as possible instead of my van which only gets about 18 mpg. So I decided to add a motorcycle-port to the dome. It is going to be a wooden frame attached to the back which I am going to try covering with just netting and papercrete to see how well it does as a semi-free standing structure. I will add some pictures of that when it is a little further along.

GardenI should also add that we started a small garden. It does not look like we will be able to start the aquaponics before this fall so this will have to suffice until then. It is a "square foot garden" which is a really effective way to grow a lot of food in a small space. This one is 24ft x 4ft.