Stuck in the mud

20170217_114739_zpsnf81tunhFixing the Toyota

The bottle-neck to moving forward has been fixing my little Toyota pickup. It’s been sitting in the backyard since last June(?) with a dead cylinder in the #6 hole. I thought it was the head gasket (here in this post), but when I took the head off last month, the gasket was perfect. I started looking at the head- and found one of the exhaust valves had a crack in it . I’m very lucky it didn’t break into pieces and ^%$&& up my engine. Very lucky.

Need a special tool to install valves, so I ordered three (might as well replace all of them while I have it apart), and my awesome friend who wants to remain nameless helped me install them.

if you can see the emergency brake line, and the transfer case support i-beam, just above that is the fuel filter.

Put the thing back together, plugged everything in that I could think of; made sure none of the extra bolts were important- and tried to start it. It tried- it really did, but it won’t start. Sounded like it was starving for gas. First I replaced the fuel filter-

Fuel Filters:

Let me just add a note of frustration here about fuel filters- I’ve replaced three of them in the past 30 days-

Honda Civic– this is a joke- on a Honda Civic, the radiator is held on with one bolt. One. You undo that one bolt, take the hoses off, and it pops out. The fuel filter? Seven bolts- 1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Why seven? Two for the housing, two for the bracket, two for the fuel lines, and one more on the backside of the bracket for who-knows-why. I’m assuming that if that car ever gets obliterated in a train wreck, the fuel-filter engineers wanted to make sure that the filter would remain intact. In case of zombie apocalypse, Ima hide next to this-here fuel filter, where I know I’ll be safe…

Toyota Landcruiser– Four bolts. But waaaayyyyy down in the engine bay- strategically placed above the axle so it cannot be accessed from below, and also to ensure the bolts can only be “felt”, not “seen”. And also, surrounded by a jungle of vacuum hoses, alternator wiring, power steering lines, two dipsticks, and all the brake lines come to a head. The only way to access it is to bend your arms around all the brake lines, remove the dipstick and vacuum hoses, and then try to feel it without seeing it. 12mm bolts on the bracket, 17mm for the fuel lines.

Toyota Pickup– here I have this 4×4 truck with a long bed on it and an extended cab. Here’s how I imagine the discussion at the Toyota Pickup Fuel Filter Location Engineering Meeting:

Technician:..So where should we put the fuel filter?

Manager: What are our choices?

Insane Engineer: Well, we gotta put it somewhere between the fuel tank and the fuel rails.

Technician: How about right up here in the engine bay where it can be easily accessed?

Insane Engineer: Nah. We don’t want it there- someone might think it’s the battery for the windshield wipers.

Technician:  How about under the truck in this 24″ of blank space?

Insane Engineer: Nah. Rock might flip up and knock a hole in it. We’ll put it on top of the transmission support brace, in between this support arm and this emergency brake line bracket.

Technician: Won’t that be hard to access ?

Insane Engineer: No, because we’ll install it before we put the cab on.

Technician: I meant ‘won’t that be hard to access for the owner’- you know, to replace it?’

Insane Engineer: What’s an owner?

Manager: I brought donuts.

–End of “Fuel Filters” Rant

I traced all the wiring, and it looked good, so I took the bed off (easier than dropping the tank- really!), and checked the pump (yes, with the engine to “on”, and in the first 3 seconds) with my voltmeter and- no power. Took the air manifold back off- found that I plugged the ground for the coolant temperature sensor (CTS) into another ground on the engine bay. Oops. That explains why after putting it back together my temperature gauge buried itself in the red zone even when the engine wasn’t on. But no luck on getting the pump going. Put it back together and shorted the diagnostic pins Fp and B+ and voila! pump is pumping. So now it’s either the circuit open relay or a bad ground somewhere.

Meanwhile, found a blown fuse in the left side kick panel labeled “Ignition”. Replaced it, and blew it again when I accidentally shorted one of the relays while trying to remove it. But I didn’t know that until my mechanic friend showed up a few days later. While I was “not knowing that”, I got so frustrated with the thing, I called my buddy and offered to pay him if he could help get it running. Since he’s a full-time mechanic, he’s pretty busy anyway, so he said he could come over this week after work one night.

He came over, and we started checking for spark at the coil- none. I that’s when I checked the ignition fuse again- replaced it, and now we were getting spark at the coil and the spark plugs. He sprayed some carb cleaner into the intake, but it still wouldn’t go. That’s as far as I got the other day. He commented that maybe my timing is out of wack. But I checked it 3 times already. So he started looking at the distributor.


“Maybe the distributor is set 180 degrees off?” he said, “Maybe it’s firing on the exhaust stroke instead of the compression stroke?”

Lightbulb! I took out spark plug #1 and he put a rubber hose on the hole to check for a puff of air on the compression stroke while I hit the key and then checked crank pulley to see when it was Top Dead Center- shornuff- the distributor was off by 180 degrees.

For the non-mechanically inclined: The spark is supposed to occur just prior to the top of the compression stroke, which will force the piston down, and rotate the engine. But on a 4 cycle engine (about 98% of all gas vehicles) the piston also rises a second time on what’s called the exhaust stroke- where the exhaust valve opens, and the spent gas is expelled. So there’s technically 2 points where the piston is at Top Dead Center (TDC)- once at compression, and once at exhaust. If you fire at the exhaust stroke, your engine will never start, and it will sound like it’s starving for fuel (which it is because the injectors are firing on the exhaust stroke).

He quickly put the distributor back on, setting it at the correct TDC, closed everything up, and I fired it up- started right up, ran a little rough (still need to set the timing on the distributor), blew a bunch of smoke, and kept running.  Yay!

The next day, I started it and realized I had one of the fuel return lines plugged in to the wrong slot- and one of the air boxes that deals with the pcv valve started overflowing with gas instead of air. After a few hours of searching for a diagram of all the air hoses, I finally found one- and not from the manufacturer:

Screenshot - 02172017 - 06:18:50 PM.png
complete air/EFI/ vacuum hose diagram for 1994 Toyota 3VZE engine

I still need to torque the crank bolt (harmonic balancer pulley), put some fresh oil in it and some antifreeze. Then it needs a bath, and maybe I’ll drive it for a while- at least until I find that Highboy….


Bought a sawmill

Meanwhile, found a really awesome deal on a sawmill. An Oscar 121 – a mid-range saw usually costing around $4,000. From an LHBA member for cheap. Almost half price. Only used once and looks brand new. Has some bad gas in the tank, but the compression is good. Just haven’t had a chance to put good gas in it.

Got the building permit

Follow up to my last post- the guy at the inspection department plugged in the numbers- said my plans show my house will pass with flying colors. The reference home is set for an energy efficiency of 100 (see my last post). Mine had to be 70 or less. He called a few days later and said my house comes in around 56. Awesome.

Took the info down to the city- and after some confusion on which comes first-  utilities or the permit (the city said it was utilities, while the utilities said it was the permit- it’s the permit), paid my $650. The secretary said it would be a few days- had to go before the city council, but then she sent me an email that afternoon:capture

I think the neighbor had a word with the mayor. But now I can’t transport my forms until I get my truck fixed (don’t want to keep using the trailer).

Finished the model

My wife has also been working on the model- It is looking really, really neat:


Update (again) on Schedule for rest of 2016

Well, looks like I won’t be able to stick to the schedule I made back in August: I’m a little behind; so here’s the issues:

  • Surprise! The city still charges $5,000 to hook up water, power, and sewer, so no change there.
  • The annual “burn ban” for our county is still in effect. It was supposed to expire on October 1, but there is a very bad drought going on right now (don’t laugh, Utah friends, it is shockingly dusty out at my place (I circled our county in blue on the map below: “Extreme Drought”. captureThis means I can’t burn any of my brush piles- and they are getting big. I don’t know when we’ll get rain. We are having record setting heat- in the upper 80’s

It is the end of October. Records that stood since 1926 are being broken. It is hot, hot, hot, and dry, dry, dry. It’s throwing a few things off, but helping others, I guess- without rain, there’s no mud. It’s great for hauling logs. It’s also great for inhibiting mold and fungus growth.

I’ll revisit the schedule with some updates:

  • On my original schedule, I’ve completed the July goals.
  • August, I had planned on having enough trees (53) to start the build. But as I noted in my last post “crooked logs”, I realized a lot of my logs are too crooked, so I upped the number I need to 65. I have 51 on racks right now. So I need about 15 more. Plus, I’ll need some for RPSL’s, and everything else.
    • Luckily, I just cut a tree on my property this weekend. I measured it, and it looks like 48 feet of it are usable. All the trees on that part of the property are the same age (and height), so this is great news- we can use them for our build.
  • September– I was going to peel all trees- that month came and went. I spent a week welding the forks on my tractor, while my wife did the tedious job of scraping bug “dirt” from the bark beetles off of my logs (if you just peel them, the bug poop stays on there and gets hard- making it so the borate doesn’t penetrate as well), so I’m behind there.
  • October, I was going to submit plans, get my water hooked up, etc- that will probably be November (which starts this week!) Still working on modifying the stock plans- it is now a bottleneck to progress- I have no time to work on it:
    • I’ve committed every night after work during the week to working on the property. When I get home, I play with my 4 year old because I’ve been gone for 12 hours. I don’t believe just being near her while working on the computer is good for our relationship.
    • Saturday morning, I give my wife the day off- I stay home in the morning and work on my truck (broken head gasket) early before anyone gets up. If we both feel up to it, we spend Saturday afternoons working on the property till dark, then do any shopping we need.
    • Sunday would be ideal – church doesn’t start until 11, so I have at least 2-3 hours in the morning to myself. I’ve been modifying the stock plans during this time. It’s slow, but I’m making some progress.
  • November– I was going to lay the first logs- That might now be December or January.
  • Get the roof on: was supposed to be January or whenever I have funds- probably tax return season is when I’ll get that done. So, I’m still sort of on track. Hanging onto the schedule by the skin of my teeth.

An interesting side note: my neighbor used to work for the city, and knows a thing or two about the sewer system on our street (he surveyed and designed it). He says the limit on where I can put my house (how far back on the property it can go) is governed by the grade- 5%. This means for every 100 feet of horizontal, I can go 5′ vertical. So, we took his little golf cart for a spin over to my property to measure the sewer depth- it’s 6.5 feet down. So, according to him, I can only go back about 160 feet. But I just talked to a guy who built a house himself (brick!), and he says that figure has been updated- the pitch of the grade is now preferred to be 1 inch vertical for every 8 or 10 feet of horizontal (graphic explanation: if the water flows too fast, it doesn’t take the poop with it, so now they want the flow to slow down and carry the poop). Bottom line: it looks like I can set my house as far back as I want- which is preferred, but more expensive.


As far as materials,

  • I got all the plywood for my piers. Need to build them, now.
  • Still need the rebar (not sure where to get this from, still looking).
  • 2 3-ton chain hoists ($160)
  • rebar cutter ($150) or chop saw blades ($50?)
  • styrofoam for roof (I don’t know- probably $200-500)
  • roof panels (probably metal roof – $3000)
  • T&G roof decking ($2000)
  • plywood roof underlayment (I don’t know)

And I still stick by this statement from my last post about my schedule:

It’s obviously very ambitious for one person, not to mention one person that has never done this before. I’m sure there will be delays due to finances or hassles with the city, equipment breakdowns, etc. But if the schedule needs to be adjusted by two or three months, that’s ok- I need to wait for a tax return for a boost to my finances anyway.  It still appears that I can “git-r-dun” within my goal of 2-3 years.

More of the same / Drawing our own plans


More of the We’ve been through this already

We’ve already sat down and drawn up plans. Several times. Before I attended the first LHBA class in February 2016, my wife and I were so excited, we decided to draw up some plans. They were rectangular houses. Everyone from the organization said to wait until class, but we couldn’t. Then I took the class. Not much changed- except we now are working from a set of square plans. We had to completely re-draw our plans.  It wasn’t too bad- my wife had to give up a really good layout. The mathematician in me had to give up on having the satisfying “golden rectangle” design. But, here we are again, looking at stock plans and thinking (because we are rebellious like that), “this won’t work for our situation.”  We have lots of kids, and it looks like they will be living with us for a while. We have elderly parents who could potentially live with us for a while. I have two kids out of state that could come live with me at some point- and that could be out of the blue.

But, as the heading says, we’ve been through this already. Our issues mainly rest on how tall I can make this thing. If we get what we want, then the stairs can go where they are supposed to without getting squished by the lack of headroom from a shorter roof. But there are other things we haven’t figured out- like the actual floor plan for the second level. We know we want two bedrooms upstairs and a bathroom, but there is extra room, so do we want closets and a loft? or another bedroom? A den? A place for house plants?

Then there’s the utilities: where do we put the HVAC in a log home? You can’t just hide them in the walls- the walls are log, so you have to be a little more creative. We decided to put some of the chases in the closets. We changed some of the layout so that closets were above each other- making it easier to put a chase through them. But then that changes where the plumbing can go. And then the electrical. And on. And on.

And this doesn’t even include getting the window placement. Or the doors. These are special considerations when working with logs. And did I mention getting the permit?

The nervous permit process- two possible outcomes

The problem in a big city is big regulations. They don’t give a hoot about your dreams- only whether it will look nice for whatever zone you fall under. Start talking about a custom log home? That’ll be the beginning of your troubles.

The problem in a small city is small minded people who don’t like change. I’ll bet $100 that any private citizen builder goes down to the permit office with plans for a stick house that looks like all the other stick houses in the neighborhood will get his permit, no problem. Go in with plans for a log home and, “you wanna build a what?” And yes, everyone in the South has asked, “you gotta sawmill to mill them logs? How you gonna build a square house outta round logs?” Er, no, that’s not the type of log home I’m talking about. Suspicion level = 4. I’m going to do it myself. Suspicion level = 6. With these plans I drew myself. Suspicion level = 10. Ok, they were drawn and approved by an engineer. These plans have been used in all 50 states, with no problems. I just modified the inside walls a little. Suspicion level = 8. So there’s that.


Re-drawing the stock plans

With all the above stated, I’m pretty nervous about modifying my stock plans:

  • What if the city wants an engineer’s wet stamp, and I can’t get an engineer to approve them?
  • What if I can get a wet stamp, but it costs a thousand dollars?
  • What if the city wants to nitpick and inspect everything according to the plans I submitted?
  • What if I can’t follow the plans I drew?

I’m using LibreCAD, because it’s free, open source, and works on Linux (I despise companies like Microsoft and Apple that give their source keys to the NSA). There’s like 35 layers on this drawing- electrical, floor joists, roof layout, plumbing- everything, so it’s a big project. I made a copy of the originals and used some weird online conversion program to change them into a format LiberCAD could understand (.dxf), and I’m modifying them slowly, one block at a time.

The roof overhangs are only 3′ 6″, but this is the South, so with all the rain, I may need bigger overhangs. But not too big because I’m doing a wrap around porch. One of our members, Paul Kahle, getting the ridge pole installed on a pier foundation (ours will be similar):


I don’t like the main floor layout on the stock plans, so my wife and I hashed out one that we do like. Everything hinges on the stairs for some reason- we want to avoid knee walls upstairs (where the roof meets the wall: sometimes, in a log home, the second floor is more of a loft than a second floor, and the roof often meets up with the wall at about four feet tall). But if we want to avoid knee walls, then we need the walls to be full height on the second floor. Nobody wants to bump their head at the top of the stairs because the roof wasn’t tall enough. But we don’t want the stair anywhere else in the house (ruins our layout), so we have to push the roof up. We want ten foot ceilings downstairs. We hope for a similar height upstairs, but shorter – like eight feet- would still be acceptable.

The outcome and plan

My genius wife scared me the other night after we had finalized the second floor plan and I had started modifying the plans with: “I want to re-draw the second floor again.” Inside, I’m like, “Noooooooo!!!!!!!!” But I said, “Ok”. She went to work. A few hours later, I came home from practicing for the Christmas concert, and she met me with, “come look!”. It was great! It addressed the issues of where do we put extra people, gives me a study area/den, and gives her a loft/hang out area/ plant area. Everyone is happy. I guess the drawings will take me a month to finish updating. I’m doing it in between working on the property, working on my truck, working at my job, getting the kids to school, playing with my daughter, my church assignments, oh, and sleeping.


And, sorry, but for privacy reasons, I don’t think I’ll post the floor plan here (we’ll welcome most folks that seem nice enough for a tour when it’s finished). But I can describe the layout:

The house will be built on a pier foundation with a wrap around porch. From the front door, you enter the home and look left- and see the living room with piano area and stairs. Look right, and see the kitchen. Straight ahead is the master bedroom and a second bedroom and bathroom, along with a laundry area and pantry. Upstairs, there are a couple of bedrooms, another bathroom, and a loft/study area. All living can be done on the main floor. The wrap around porch is divided in the back by a screened in porch looking out at the backyard.

2016 July 24: Schedule for the rest of 2016

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I got a little raise at work. Yay! Now, hopefully, our account will still be hundreds in the black instead of just tens a week before payday. It’s sort of self imposed: we committed to saving a small house payment-like amount when we started the build. We are counting on this amount to supplement our savings that we used to initially start things off. But I also have some student loan payments and we have the land loan every month, along with our utilities, groceries, gas, and the normal bills everyone has.

I’ve been worried about finances on the build for a few months now- the city charges $5,000 to hook up water, power, and sewer, and this amount will just about clean out our savings for the next few months, and make it difficult to get concrete poured (I’m thinking thousands for the concrete). But we can’t get a building permit until we have utilities, so it was becoming a roadblock to progress. With my little raise at work, we now have some breathing room on our build, although we won’t be able to do the concrete right away.

I’m still cleaning up tree debris from cutting twelve trees a few weeks ago- not ready to move logs, but hope to do so later this week. And the debris piles are getting huge. Even with saving the bigger branches, things are still piling up. I’m probably going to end up with ten or more debris piles. There is currently an annual “burn ban” for the summer in the county we live in, so no burning until October. And I think I’ll be required to have running water on hand while burning brush.

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I also need to borate the trees I have. Borating the trees stops mold and bugs (mostly termites) from setting up shop in your house. Borating only really needs to be done once if your logs are already stacked and dried in (protected from rain). My logs are laying around exposed to the elements, so I’m going to have to treat them twice- once now, and once again when they are under roof. Once they are under roof, further borating is not necessary. The boric acid discourages insects, while the glycol causes the tree to suck up the solution much farther than just water would do. For LHBA members (password and membership required), I like the thread “NOTICE – Borate Mixture- Notice” under the “log home construction” folder. Three ingredients- borax, boric acid, and some kind of glycol. There are some surface mold spots on the logs I’ve peeled (thank you,  ‘The South’, and your overly humid weather). I bought a metal bushel, but I still have to buy the borax and the glycol (both available at Walmart). I also have a sprayer (thank you, Harbor Freight, for having extremely cheap tools). Just need a few hours to boil up some brew…

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All of the above has caused me to think about a (very aggressive) build schedule for the rest of the year:

  • July
    • continue to cut trees, clean up brush.
    • Hope to end the month with 18 existing + 15 new = 33 trees on racks, and half of them peeled.
    • borate the trees I’ve peeled.
  • August
    • cut and haul more trees- hopefully, by end of August, get 20 more trees for a total of 53 trees- enough to start the build. I think I only need 48 for the walls, but I want some breathing room. I also still need a bunch for the roof purlins, lifting logs, cap logs, ridge poles, etc, but I can at least get the build going once I have the minimum.
  • September
    • Peel all trees, and borate the remainder once peeled.
  • October
    • pay for water hook up
    • submit plans and get building permit
    • dig and pour foundation
  • November
    • lay first logs for walls. This also means I’ll make this blog public- that is the goal- make it public after the first few courses of logs are laid.
    • burn brush piles and maybe stumps
  • December
    • Lay last log for walls
  • January 2017 (or whenever I have funds)
    • Get the freakin’ roof on!

At some point, I need to get more tools and materials. Items I’m still missing:

  • plywood for foundation forms ($200)
  • concrete ($2400)
  • rebar (about $1200)
  • 2 3-ton chain hoists ($160)
  • rebar cutter ($150) or chop saw blades ($50?)
  • styrofoam for roof (I don’t know- probably $200-500)
  • roof panels (probably metal roof – $3000)
  • T&G roof decking ($2000)
  • plywood roof underlayment (I don’t know)

It’s obviously very ambitious for one person, not to mention one person that has never done this before. I’m sure there will be delays due to finances or hassles with the city, equipment breakdowns, etc. But if the schedule needs to be adjusted by two or three months, that’s ok- I need to wait for a tax return for a boost to my finances anyway.  It still appears that I can “git-r-dun” within my goal of 2-3 years.

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