Getting to the Nitty Gritty: Early Days on the Diagonal, Part 4

(If you’re just now joining this conversation, you may want to start here and work your way forward.)

It’s now been two weeks since we moved here. Now that we’re settled in the shed, things are happening faster. As I continue to chop trees, sling weeds, and shovel clay and gravel, the Gnome swelters in the shed poring over reference books and drawing house plans. We want every detail to be just so—we’ve read horror stories about inspectors who give newbie builders a hard time, so we expect to be unduly scrutinized. The whole building thing is the Gnome’s forte, but we decide I need to get better versed in this area, too, so we can jointly think through design issues.

In retrospect, 2017: Glad we figured this out back then. The second opinion/sounding board role has been essential through the years. We now laughingly say that my job, whenever the Gnome is tackling a big project, is to say, “Isn’t there a simpler way?”

We want large fixed-glass windows across the south-facing side of the house to provide passive solar heat. A local company will make insulated glass panels to our specifications. Our reference books tell us it will be no problem to mount, cushion, caulk, and trim them ourselves.

In retrospect, 2017: Big mistake. Silicone caulking didn’t do the trick; our windows weren’t water- and airtight. Nor did we accommodate for natural expansion and contraction. Within months, several of our big glass panels cracked. We lived with them—unhappily—for years.

A long week later and our plans are finally ready. We nervously deliver them to the building inspector. He approves our permit on the spot, no questions asked.

We start work right away, first measuring our footprint, then digging trenches for the foundation. Before long, the dirt is flying. Literally—we’re digging with only shovels and muscle power. This is more like it!


Cuddlebug digs digging, but it’s a challenge when the holes become as deep as he is tall.


Building forms for our very carefully dug footings.

It’s pretty smooth sailing till we get to the third corner and find nothing but rock. There’s just enough wiggle that we don’t dare incorporate the rock into the foundation. It takes days and a big dose of creativity to break it up and leverage out the biggest pieces. The Gnome demonstrates Archimedes’ physics lesson: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” We feel like we’ve moved the world by the time we get the trench cleared.


We’ve been here exactly one month when my parents come up for a weekend of help. Cuddlebug and Punkin make miniature dams and ponds in the creek while the men dig out the nearby spring that we hope will provide our water supply.


They’ve determined, none too scientifically, that the spring should easily produce enough water to meet our future plumbing needs. That’s great news—there’s something about the idea of getting our water from a spring that feels natural and pure.

In retrospect, 2017: After 38 years, our spring’s still doing its job. It’s never run dry. On the other hand, we’ve had to repair or replace more pumps than we can remember, some due to lightning, some . . . well, we don’t rightly know. We do know it’s no fun to find yourself soaped up in the shower when suddenly there’s no water. Because we’re hardcore do-it-yourselfers, this often means a week or so without water while we figure out and fix the problem. Having gone much longer without running water and survived it, at least we know we can do it again.

(Stay tuned for next week’s Early Years on the Diagonal adventure.)

3 thoughts on “Getting to the Nitty Gritty: Early Days on the Diagonal, Part 4

  1. Pingback: Off the Ground: Early Days on the Diagonal, Part 3 – Living on the Diagonal

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s