Ice storm: generator, chickens, ducks, bees

Our electricity is still off due to the ice storm a couple of nights ago. Fortunately we have a portable generator, and fortunately I recently got it serviced so it actually works. I had it running most of the day yesterday, and expect to keep it going all day today (I turned it off overnight). It is providing power to our kitchen fridge/freezer, and currently slowly recharging the UPS for our internet router and Wi-Fi, and can be used to recharge other devices as needed:


Since we’re on a well, when the power is off, we don’t have any water, so we are using water jugs:

Water jug

Though weirdly when we flush a toilet it does refill; I know there’s some water in the pipes and pressure tank, but I would have expected that to be exhausted quickly, but hasn’t been yet. Upstairs, what’s more. Could water be coming up from the well without the pump?! We don’t want to push our luck, but are glad we don’t have to refill the cisterns the hard way yet.

Ice on a tree by the chicken runs:

Ice on tree by chicken run

Ice on the chicken run roof netting; it’s survived much better than the old netting I had previously:

Ice on chicken run roof netting

Chicken coop icicles:

Chicken coop icicles

The chickens are quite happy to stay inside, thank you very much:



I took a look at the beehives this morning:


They each have a sheet of ice on their roof, which could be concerning, as the heat of the hive should have melted it, though the feeders on top of each hive may have insulated the roof from them:


Levitating ice:


There are a bunch of dead bees on some of the hive entrances, which is actually a good sign — it proves there are some bees active to clean out the dead ones. There are thousands of bees in each hive, so a few dead ones is normal and not concerning. I did see a live one walking around, too, probably on the cleanup crew:


More on the ground:


The chickens reluctantly came out for their treats:


I refilled the food for the ducks, and tossed some over to them to enjoy:


The pond isn’t frozen; after starting to get slushy yesterday morning, it hasn’t been quite cold enough to maintain that:




Duck house: building doors

Some more progress on the duck house project.

I bought a special water dispenser for the ducks (when they’re grown). Ducks have slightly different needs than chickens, in that they need to dip their large bills in water to drink and eat. This waterer has three removable cups for drinking (though one will be unreachable in the corner), a reservoir, and a built-in thermostatically-controlled heater, so the water doesn’t freeze in winter:

Duck waterer & camera

Since the waterer was a bit bigger than expected, I also raised the camera up a bit. Here’s the view from the camera:

View from camera

I tried a bag of feed in the cupboard, to see how well it’d fit. Seems to work laying down or standing up, about as well as I expected. Storing a bag or two of food there will make it easier to refill the food jug:

Trying food in cupboard

On to the door trim:

Door trim

Here’s one of the cupboard doors, with 1×2 trim around the edges. The plywood sticks out a bit on the right edge (in the foreground in this orientation), so it covers the gap between the two doors. Which of course means the other (right-hand) door has to be opened first, which is by some strange coincidence the one I expect to open most:

Door trim

Both cupboard doors:

Cupboard doors

I paused for a picnic lunch in the back of the shop (yes, it was still very cold):


Adding trim to the maintenance doors:

Cupboard doors

I changed my mind about the design of the maintenance doors. Originally I was going to have a single large outer door, with a vertically split inner door. I decided that a single outer door would be too large, so considered doing double doors like the cupboard, but then realized I could combine the inner and outer doors into one set. So I made four-part doors, again with plywood covering the gaps between the doors:

Maintenance doors

The way it is configured, I can undo one bolt (to be added after painting) to open just the top-left door for a quick peek, or two bolts to open just the top-left and top-right doors to access the ducks without them able to escape (which I expect will be especially useful when they are ducklings), or one bolt to open just the left two doors together (they’ll be connected with a bolt), or the left two and the right two for full access. I think this will be very versatile.

Here’s just the top-left door open:

Maintenance doors

In addition to the bolts, the doors will be held closed with roller catches. The bottom doors will have theirs mounted under the floor, to be out of the way:

Roller catch

And the top doors will have their roller catches mounted above the doors:

Roller catch

Here’s me using an air finish nailer to attach the board for the top roller catches, captured from the duck camera:


Next up was adding thin strips of wood to make the doors and walls appear like board-&-batten styling, like I did with the cat house. So the first step was to rip (cut lengthwise) some 1×2 boards into 1×0.5 batten strips:

Ripping boards

I started adding the battens on the cupboard doors:

Board & batten on doors

Then the maintenance doors:

Board & batten on doors

I also added an extra bit of plywood to the corner that will cover up the two small holes between the four doors:

Hole cover detail

Finally (for now), battens on the vent cover:

Board & batten on doors

Next up, I will add the batten strips on the walls, do some extra bracing for attaching electrical stuff, and more caulking. Then I’ll be ready to start painting!

Smart home switches

A project this past weekend was to install some smart home switches in the house, to enable us to control lights via our iOS devices thanks to Apple HomeKit, and (potentially) Amazon Alexa. We already have some Hue bulbs in some lamps, which we have come on and change color automatically at appropriate times. But we wanted to extend that to some built-in lights, too.

We got a plug-in switch for our “light toys” — some decorative lava lamps and such in the living room. Plus some iDevices wall switches:

So time to pull off the old switches, and install the new. 

Here’s the old kitchen switch:

And the new one wired up:

And finished (it includes a color-changeable nightlight, too):

Next I tried to install a new switch for the light above the sink… but it didn’t work, as there is no neutral wire. So we might have to leave this one on the old switch, unless we get an electrician in to help with the installation:

The bedroom light had a similar frustration; this switch controls an outlet, instead of a built-in light, which I gather often is hooked up this way. So again, we’ll have to leave it or get professional help. This light is already on a Hue bulb, though, so isn’t too big a deal:

I had better luck with the entry outside light; it had all of the needed wires:

Here’s it done; leaving the other switch (for the inside light) intact will make it even more obvious which one does what:

Finally, here’s a screenshot of the Home app on my iPhone, showing the various lights and switches. They can be turned off or on with a tap, or long-press to change the brightness or color of the bulbs. They can also be controled via voice, e.g. “turn off the office light” to Siri or Alexa. Living in the future!