The Continuing Story of the Bottom Mat…..Guess Whose Not Decorating the Hobbit House?

The Battle of Helm’s Deep. What was it that King Theoden said, ” Where was Gondor when the Westfold fell? No Aragorn….We are alone.” To face Saruman’s army of ten thousand battle hardend Urukhai…..”Then I will die with them!” was Aragorn’s reply to the unsaid end that seemed inevitable.

Yet hope remains….while company is true.

For I was alone this weekend and there is indeed a mountain of work to be done. For Hobbits are known to love the brewing of fine ales, and the smoking of pipeweed. Of course those of you who are learned in the ways of Hobbits already know this for they also have a love for fine food and good tilled earth. I just want those of you who are not Hobbit fans to understand them a bit more because everything is relevant in a small way.

Alas my friends tis the beginning of the summer season and the Hobbits of the Shire seek wine, women, and song. Is it bad of me to say? I do remember those days of mine long, long ago and I will not soon forget the merry times we had.

Late night Friday night party at Jude’s friends house. It was a tough recovery Saturday for all the boys. (Boy, Jude was crabby Saturday afternoon. If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen. Am I right or what?)

So. Welcome again Free Folk of Middle Earth. We’re getting closer…..and young Hobbits need cash to go and have a drink at the Green Dragon Inn. Or is it the Inn of the Prancing Pony? I think it’s the Inn at the Prancing Pony because these guys are really Men of Bree. They’re way too big to be Hobbits. Anyway Ethan, Jude and Terence are going to start working during the week at the Hobbit House so we can get this pour in by the end of July. Their help will be more than welcome. As when the Elves arrived to aid in the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Timing is everything.

A last alliance of Men and Elves fought for the freedom of Middle Earth.  Lord of the Rings nerd in me coming out….sorry about that.

So what the heck does an old man like me do all by himself at a Hobbit house? Hmmm….Where should I begin?

Well it was a gorgeous day out and like I’ve said before there are a lot of little things that have to get done before we are ready to pour. I’ve also rushed over a couple of things that are interesting as well. ( At least to me, anyway.)

First things first. I had a couple of hi-hats to wire and install before I could continue with the bottom mat. What I forgot to show you is the grounding wire I installed in it. When you break the hi-hat down the grounding system is discarded. So in order to maintain the grounding system we installed a grounding wire to the underside of the hi-hat. It’s pretty simple. Just drill the proper size hole and use a nut to hold it in place. Check it out.

Green grounding wire added to bottom of hi-hat.
Green grounding wire added to bottom of hi-hat.
Nut the other side of the grounding wire so it stays in place.
Nut the other side of the grounding wire so it stays in place.

This just happens to be the first hi-hat I tried to fix. I really mangled that hole on the left. The guy at the electrical supply house gave me this special drill bit to make holes. I used that for the rest of the holes. It worked like a charm. I used snap in BX connectors to attach the poly coated Bx to the hi-hat.

Sometimes these little items wind up taking more time than you think. By the time you set up and get all the tools you need 45 minutes has gone by. So now all the hi-hats have been installed. I think we put in about 22 hi hats.

So in order to finish the bottom mat, the electrical has to be done, and one other item. The Chimney. Well it’s going to look like a chimney but it won’t act like one. Ah yes, the melding of the Hobbit and the Passive House. Hmmm. Now we will see how it’s done.

So the chimney thing was definitely a challenging detail and took me quite a bit of thought to figure out. ( And to be honest I haven’t figured everything out yet but I will, rest assured.) Hobbit houses have fireplaces and the accompanying chimney goes through the roof. It’s all about the mechanicals, I tell ya. We need a place for our plumbing vent stack and we also need a place for our HRV ( Heat Recovery Ventilator) exhaust. So my idea was to put these two items into a false chimney chase to keep the Hobbit house traditional look intact. I also decided to install two 2 inch conduit lines. One for a ductless mini-split heat pump and another for a solar panel if ever the need arises. (I have to investigate the mini- split a bit more. I might need to run a wire out there as well and possibly another conduit.)

So I figured out about where the chimney was going to be and laid out the couple of items I just spoke of. The HRV exhaust has a seven and a quarter inch outside diameter. So I asked my friendly neighborhood hi-rise plumbing contractor if he had any extra 8 inch sleeves. You have to use a Brooklyn accent here…”Jimmy don’t worry about it! I got 8 inch sleeves up the whazoo.” That’s a quote my friends. (Well he really didn’t say whazoo he used another noun.)

Just from a chimney point of view now everything has to be in increments of 8 or 4. (It doesn’t really have to be but it helps.) So when I laid out everything I came up with a chimney that’s going to be 32″ by 32″. (Brick with the mortar joint is 8 inches long.) It should work out. So I got my circle cutter out and cut in for a 4 inch plumbing vent and two 2 inch electrical conduits. I didn’t secure them for the pour but set them up so we could install the rebar around them properly. I used the old duct tape method: A couple of wraps and wa la: Nothings going nowhere. ( The pipes extend 6 inches below the plywood so we can connect it later on. Just so you know.) Check it out.

HRV sleeve, Plumbing vent stack, ductless mini split, and future solar.
HRV sleeve, Plumbing vent stack, ductless mini split, and future solar.

You can kind of see why we need to put this stuff in now before the rebar.  Moving the rebar after the fact will be a pain in the neck. Like I said before I might add a few more things to go through the chimney just to play it safe. There is plenty of room and core drilling a hole later is not a good option. If I don’t use the 2 inch lines I’ll just fill them with insulation and cap them off. I’m pretty sure the ductless mini split heat pump needs a wire as well. I’ll probably run a 3 wire line right to the panel box from here. That will be a home run later on.

So what happened to our Hobbit fireplace. Hmmmm. I know, I know, all you Hobbits out there are going nuts right now. I mean how are we going to sing like the Dwarves did in the Hobbit? You know. “Far over the Misty Mountain Cold… dungeons deep and caverns old….” This is important.

Passive house people. It’s the wave of the future and very few people know of it my friends. Especially in the United States. A passive house is completely air sealed. Air cannot get in or get out. ( I know we’ve had this conversation before but we’ll just give a little refresher course.) Enter the HRV. The HRV brings a continuous flow of fresh air in through the bedrooms and living room and exhausts stale air from the kitchen and the two bathrooms. The HRV has a high efficiency heat exchanger that, during the winter months, transfers the heat of the outgoing air to the coolness of the incoming air. This enables the house to stay at a constant temperature without having to use much in the way of energy to actually heat the house.

What does this have to do with a chimney Jim?

Well a chimney is probably the worst offender as far as passive house or any house for that matter goes. It is directly connected to the outside and is extremely hard to air seal if that is even possible. And when you light a fire in a chimney almost all of the energy(heat) goes right out of the house. Very inefficient. It also depressurizes the house which is a big no-no with passive houses. From what I’ve read, the people who have tried this have had lots of problems and the Passive House Institute does not approve of it.

So what I’m going to do is build a fireplace without a stack. It will have the electric log thing going on and I’m hoping that will cover me as far as the Hobbits are concerned. From what I’ve seen the electric ones look pretty realistic. We shall see. (I think if I do a good job on the fireplace itself that will go a long way.)

Back to the bottom mat. Just quick. Whenever you have a penetration that interrupts the bottom or top mat you have to put in additional steel. The skylights interupt the bottom mat so we put in #6 add bars. Two at each face and they have to be at least 30 inches passed the corner of the skylight. What this does is help the loads of the house  transfer around that opening. Check it out.

First way add bars around the skylight. 2 # 6's.
First way add bars around the skylight. 2 # 6’s.

So for the rest of the day I just wanted to get the first way bottoms down and the add bars. This old man was dog tired by the end of the day . Bottom mat nearly done.

Bottom mat nearly done.
Bottom mat nearly done.

Just a little off topic here but relevant nonetheless. We had this wicker furniture on our front porch at home. I mean it lasted like 16 years. Well it kind of lasted 14 but I was too cheap to go into my pocket at the time. So last fall we had to get rid of it because you couldn’t sit in it without landing on the floor. Anyway the editor goes on a bit of a furniture spree. I come home one evening and we have all new wicker furniture. The stuff looks great. I think she got it at Pier 1 Imports. So we’re looking at it and she says. “I saw another chair that I thought would look good.” So I says: “Okay that’s fine.” I come home a few days later and look what she got.

flower child of the sixties chair?
flower child of the sixties chair?

Guess who’s not decorating the Hobbit House?

I mean, really? She’s probably gonna want to move to Colorado next if you catch my drift.

A question for Sally H.: Hummingbirds…where do they migrate to. I say South America, my wife says the Caribbean. Terence thinks they hibernate. A little help here with a family argument if you will.

Looking forward to next weekend. The Battle of Helm’s Deep begins….and those Elves better show up or I’m gonna be po’ed!

Have a great week!


4 thoughts on “The Continuing Story of the Bottom Mat…..Guess Whose Not Decorating the Hobbit House?”

  1. I appreciate what you are saying about a generator for back-up electricity, but it seems to me that they are not a reasonable long-term solution either. I mean, you still have to be able to travel to a gas station (which has electricity) to get fuel. The nearest to me is just two miles, but the next one is 13 miles and two bridges away.

    I hear you about flushing. My biggest problem has actually been water for animals. I have an emergency supply for us, but we’re talking 15 gal. per day minimum for them. If there is snow on the ground I can let them eat that (although they aren’t thrilled) but in the summer…… I’m thinking rain barrels or a hand pump for the well. And solar panels on the roof. Two houses ago we had solar hot water on the roof that functioned very well.

    At present I’m not sure what sort of house I’ll end up with. Maybe a renovation, maybe built from scratch, but I want it as energy independent and efficient as I can afford. That’s why I started reading your blog about this house — for ideas. The present one will never be any sort of efficient.

    The hum of a hummingbird’s wings has to do with the rapidity of the beat of their wings. Insects buzz at a higher pitch because their wings move faster. This is all related to both music and physics, both of which are fascinating, neither of which I understand. The best explanation I ever read is in a little book called Mister God, This is Anna by Flynn.

    I’ve been an animal nut all my life. I used to work at a nature center and loved telling people about bats. We had a mounted bat skeleton where I could show visitors that the same bones in human fingers form the lattice work for a bat’s wings. Their thumbs have claws, which they use for crawling upwards. If you touched their wings it would feel just like touching the back of your hand. Bats are cool, but then so are snakes, and birds (especially the raptors,) and salamanders, and turtles, and…and everything except bugs big enough to crunch when you step on them. 🙂

    • Hmmm Sally: There’s quite a bit in there. One thing at a time though.

      You are correct as far as a generator backup is concerned. It is no long term solution…But. As I’ve said you’re only going to be using this in the short term. Up by me the power seems to be going out more and more. Not for a long time but for a few days. We run the generator during the day and shut it off during the night. I have it hooked up to the well, frig, freezer, and the boiler. Plus one or two outlets in the kitchen. Like I said there’s nothing like the flush of a toilet or hot water running in the shower.

      The only other way to go is a solar battery off the grid type system. The ones I’ve looked at were expensive and seemed like they needed a lot of maintenance. (And I’m not a very good maintenance guy.)

      As far as energy efficient homes you have to locate an architect who’s into Passive House or a Net Zero type of home. That’s the start.There are a lot of ways of building energy efficient homes out there. I’ve yet to prove my Hobbit House as a best solution but there are many cost effective ways of building energy efficient homes. ( Cost is also controlled by the interior and exterior degree of difficulty if you will.) So if you keep it simple and get the right architect working for you you never know! I’ve also seen guys do energy retrofits on remodels that came out great as well.

      The first stage is already in place. You being interested and sort of knowing what you want. You’ll find it Sally. You just gotta be like Bilbo Baggins going on his unexpected journey that’s all!

      Oh yeah I love the stuff you’ve been writing about the creatures of the world.

      Who knew I was going to learn so much by writing a construction blog?

      Good luck and enjoy you’re journey!


  2. Humming birds migrate — they can’t eat enough, and don’t have room on their bodies, for a layer of fat that would allow hibernation. No bird hibernates — their metabolisms are just too high. Little brown bats are the smallest hibernating mammal that I know of and they are endangered because if they are disturbed (when they wake and move about but don’t fly) even once during their sleep they use up too much of their reserves and die before they have a chance to eat again. Various breeds of hummingbirds migrate to various warm destinations, although Cuba is particularly popular. Wherever they go has to have flowers blooming the entire time they are there. Our ruby throated hummingbirds (that’s the only kind we get on the east coast — the west coast gets a variety) winter in Central America.

    I’m quite fond of hummingbirds. I’ve found them amazingly fearless. And they are the only bird that can both hover and fly backwards, thanks to their wings which can beat in a figure 8. I got to hold one once. It had gotten trapped in a building and couldn’t find its way out. When it couldn’t fly any more and slid down a wall I caught it in my hand. I made it some sugar water in a small cup, took it outside, stuck its beak in the cup, and watched its tongue dart in and out, slurping the water up. Then it rested for a few seconds before it exploded out of my hand. WAY cool.

    I’m really loving the designs going on your ceilings. I know that it is painstaking tedious work now, but it is going to be fabulous for a _long_ time.

    Yay for electrician friends (I have one too) who are too useful for words.

    Are you _sure_ I can’t have a fireplace in a Passive House? I want one so that I can have heat when the electricity gets interrupted. (About once a year, following some sort of bad weather, we end up with a week of no electricity.) Could the chimney not be part of the air exchange system for real? Humm.


    • Sally: So good to hear from you. I knew there would be a thing or two for you to tell us about the hummingbirds. I happen to have a hummingbird feeder right outside our dining room window. One of the coolest things about hummingbirds is the sound they make when they fly. My feeder is close enough to the house so we can actually hear the sound of their wings beating. It’s like a buzzing noise. You think it’s a wasp or hornet but it’s the hummingbird at the feeder. Very, very cool. I hope people are reading your comments. It’s very informative. Most people don’t know about the bats either. It’s very interesting.

      As far as the Hobbit chimney the best bet is a pellet stove as far as I can tell. I read an article in “Fine Homebuilding” magazine where a guy built a Passive House with a fireplace in it. Unfortunately Fine Homebuilding doesn’t give a lot of detail as far as the nuts and bolts of how they did it.In general a fireplace will overheat the house as will a pellet stove.

      But just because your building a Hobbit House doesn’t mean you have to build a Passive House. That’s just what I want to do.

      I was thinking along the same lines as you were though. The electric goes out and you need heat. That’s why you want to put in the generator hookup at the electrical panel box. It’s almost more important to have your well going than your heat. Especially with a Passive House. You’re going to want to flush a toilet. Believe you me. ( We had no power for ten days during the aftermath of hurricane Sandy.) Flushing a toilet is a thing of beauty when you don’t have it for a few days. As well as taking a shower.

      If you have a passive house the amount of heat you’ll need will be minimal at best. Just a small electrical plug in will heat the whole house.

      I’m going to put a electrical fireplace in though. I’ll set this up on the generator backup. This way I’ll be able to heat the house if need be.

      So good to hear from you. I hope all is well! Take care and good luck with everything!

      Hobbit Hollow Jim


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