Sunday, August 27, 2006

Timber Frame Talk

Our straw bale workshop spots are almost filled for next weekend. It seems like we have a delightful group of people coming. The social aspect of all of this is astounding.

Friday night's presentation is free and open to the public. It will run from approx. 6:30 till 9:30 pm. Here's what will happen in a nut shell:

-Timber framing techniques – presentation by Nader Naderi of Atlantic Post & Beam
-Group slide show: intro. to SB (history, benefits, essentials ) by Kim Thompson and Straw Bale Projects
-Look at site plans, give outline for weekend
-Review resource materials

If it rains, we'll still host the presentation on site. We hope/expect to have the roof on our house at that point, so we should be fine. Parking will be available a few hundred feet down the road in the empty lot on the right (thanks to the McMahon family), immediately after you cross the bridge (it's a highway overpass), *before* you arrive at our property.

**Please also note that Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Sept 2-4) will be available for workshop participants and helpers only. We kindly ask that you drop by and see us another time if you can't make it on Friday night.**

Bales and Bales and More Bales

640 bales of straw on the wall, 640 bales of straw. You take one down and pass it around. 639 bales of straw on the wall...

Early yesterday morning, Craig the Farmer arrived with 540 full and 100 half bales of freshly cut oat straw. We learned that oat straw is longer and less dusty than others like wheat or barley to use. Craig had thought he could rebale last year's round bales into square bales, but it didn't work well because the straw became too short in the process. He baled the new ones on Friday using newly cut straw, but it has only about 11% moisture content (not including the fog that clung to its edges this morning on the way down from the Woodstock area). Craig had an 18-wheeler packed full, but couldn't make it up our driveway. A neighbour kindly allowed him to park in their yard while we proceeded to load and unload about 20-25 pick up truckloads back and forth. It took us four hours of grunting and sweating, but we did it. The thing that amazed us all the most was that Craig could stand on top of his transport truck and launch bales onto our pick up trucks in precisely the place they needed to be to interlock properly for safe travel to our site. How he could manage to land a forth bale tightly between three other bales on edge from the top of that rig is beyond me. I'd like to see him with a lasso.
We really enjoyed chatting it up with our new farmer friend in person, and found we knew many of the same people - including my best friend's husband in Maine!

Tarping the bales took us all afternoon because we tied and sealed all the tarps together. After that, Dave & I mopped another coat of iron sulfate on the slab to help us stain it a mottled light brown. Check out the scoring in this photo.

Our article in KV Style hit suburbia yesterday, and attracted many drop ins to our site. It was great to meet neighbours and area residents, though we found it hard to keep up the work pace. We haven't seen the feature yet, so here's hoping the pitch forks and torches don't show up to send us packing...

BTW - the interviews that Kim Thompson and I did with CBC Radio One this week can be found online at:

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Well Now

It was exciting to see the water gushing and the lime sludge oozing down the driveway, when Mike the Well Driller hit gold. It only took about three hours and he found the vein with the pressure we needed at 165 feet. Rumour had it that some of our neighbours' wells ran as deep as 450 ft, so we were sweating bullets for a while.

We worked late into the night last night staining our floor and laying out heavy palettes that will keep the straw off the damp ground. We're so thankful my brother-in-law and sister could join my Mom & Dad to help us this weekend. Everyone worked till their bones hurt.
I included this last picture of the well drilling rig because I'm fascinated by the idea that its front end was jacked up several feet in the area with what I assume is a hydraulic jack built into the front end of the truck. It's all new to me....

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Posts and Beams Unite

The smell of our tamarack posts is delightful. It's like sugar plums dancing in our dreams, only better. The first of many timbers were installed today. Here's Dapper Dave after a long day at the office checking out the scene.

This morning, the concrete floor was scored to ressemble tile after setting for only one day. Some scoring was necessary around the beams, so we asked the contractor to continue the design in a tile design. It turned out great. The foundation has set nicely without cracking. The cool evening temperatures and not-so-hot days are probably due credit. We didn't begin staining the concrete after all, because Nader the Post & Beam Guy was in the midst of framing. Wouldn't want to stain those beautiful timbers with my floor colouring.

The posts & beams are expected to be complete this weekend. The well will be drilled tomorrow and the roof goes up Monday. More to come!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Foundations and Fame

In the weather forecast for the next five days, expect sunny skies with some cloudy periods. Highs of 21.

At last, the concrete has been poured. It will be finished tomorrow am and posts & beams will go up later this week. Tomorrow I begin staining the slab.

In this photo, you can see the radiant in-floor heating pipes laid out on mesh, and square patches of rebar where the posts will stand.

More opportunities to promote natural building keep popping up. This afternoon, CBC Radio One will air an interview recorded earlier today about our straw bale home. Kim Thompson of Nova Scotia's Straw Bale Projects is also expected to be featured.

Autographs are available for a small fee...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Green Acres

Since the rain has delayed our foundation work, I'm looking for ways to make myself feel better about this house. Therapy is a must, I say.

Here are a few pro-environmental choices we have made:

1. Low-e coating and argon gas windows for energy efficiency.
2. Passive solar elements - facing most of glazing south with a roof overhang that will block the hot, high summer sun, and welcome the low, warm winter sun. It will heat the concrete floor during the day, which will help keep the house warm during the cold nights.
3. Straw bale walls are R32-R50, making them very energy efficient. PLUS, straw is an annually renewable resource that is a bi-product of grain production.
4. Our insulated roof panels are R-40, complimenting our straw bale insulation.
5. Recycled materials will be used where possible - antique light fixtures, an exteriour door, building materials like boards, misc tools etc.
6. In-floor radiant heat will heat the thermal mass of our house (our slab floor), and reduce long-term heating costs.
7. The timber frame is not an annually renewable resource, but we are using underutilized local wood species, rather than shipping Douglas Fir in from BC.
8. Solar thermal panels are being installed to supplement our domestic hot water heating.
9. Local clay and sand will be used for our earth plasters rather than cement, which is created using energy-intensive production techniques.
10. Minimal glazing will be featured on the north side of the house, reducing cold during the winter months.
11. A covered porch on the north side of the house creates a rain screen effect, shielding the house from harsh winter weather.
12. A shallow frost-free monolithic slab will serve as our foundation, using significantly less concrete than a four-ft stem wall or a basement. Plus, it's well insulated on the outside edge and underneath, so less heat will escape.
13. Metal roofing will be installed so that we can collect rain water for use in our gardens.
14. Natural silicate and casein paints will be used instead of latex paints. These options do not "off-gas" the chemicals of latex paints into a household environment, plus they ensure that the straw still "breathes" properly.
15. Native plants will be used for landscaping and minimal grass will be incorporated to remove our need for an electric or gas lawnmower. We've also transplanted tonnes of trees ahead of the destruction of excavation.
16. The location puts us 2/3 closer to work, reducing our gasoline consumption equally and placing us on a new public transit route.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

On the other side of the fence

I work in communications & marketing, so I have the privilege of art directing photo shoots and publications as well as writing and editing copy in order to tell stories - nearly every day. When I'm in the midst of a photo shoot, I cringe when I can tell one of the models is feeling uncomfortable b.c I know they'll look uncomfortable in the final product. I can't even stand being in the photographer's test shot myself, but every once in a while, I end up on the other side of the fence. The story of our straw bale home construction will be featured in a local suburbian lifestyle mag, called KV Style. The journalist/editor, Paula White, was incredibly kind and laughed when I indicated I'd do it if she could make me look as good as a young Demi Moore. We all know *that's not* going to happen, but it's a great opportunity to promote natural building to a whole new audience and to raise awareness for our workshops. Stay tuned for the August 26th release.

Yesterday was a rough day for construction. A few misunderstandings and on-the-spot decisions had to be taken care of in the middle of a tough day at the office. It's what I expected it would be like, but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with. Dave and I feel hung over after such a long, hard day (he got home from work at 1am).

Today is my father's birthday. The big 6-5! Happy Birthday, Pops. We're preparing for a party with his friends in the local community. It'll be a delightful break from the bustle of construction.

This is a nice shot of the sun setting behind the cedars that Dave took last week on the property.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Camper Comfort

Have I mentioned how much we love our 1977 twenty-two foot camper trailer? Just knowing we have a place to eat, sleep and stay dry removes a lot of stress from our construction experience, and frankly, I need comfort right now. We use it every day now, even if we're not sleeping on site. It's a warm, cozy place for a family picnic, or a romantic dinner for two. It has oft been cold, windy and rainy in the past week (Fall in August!), so our gratitude has escalated.

On a separate note, Dave & I enjoyed a free concert in Quispamsis by Nathan Wiley last night. He produces any amazingly rich sound, even without his band. It was a delightful treat, and we had a chance to check out the community vibe a bit. Tonight, local blues boy Matt Anderson is playing in our neighbouring Rothesay Commons. Hmmm, seems a bit regal to go to two shows in a row these days, but it would be a shame to miss this guy in action...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Cookin' with Gas

Now it's full speed ahead, Cap'n.

Ready for this? Here's a snapshot of what's going on: Bob the Plumber and Bob the Electrician have been busy putting in the rough pipes that go under the shallow frost slab. Bob the Builder, I mean Plumber, found digging in the compacted soil incredibly difficult, even with a pick axe. Mark the Excavator has leveled out the ground for the rigid foam insulation skirting the slab. Nader, the Post & Beam Guy, arrives tomorrow to place the foundation forms. Mark the Excavator will place sand, and the footing tubes for the veranda and then he'll break up the lime rock we need to remove (we're only breaking what we need to b.c it's so beautiful and we're keeping it all - except what my Mom pilfers for her garden - to incorporate it back into the site). Then Nader the Post & Beam Guy will place rebar and mesh within the slab forms. Friday, Bob the plumber returns to put in the radiant in-floor heating pipes. The slab will be poured Monday & Tuesday. Mike the Well Driller comes Thursday. The power company has installed our pole (we don't know their names), but still we have no temporary power hook up. (I'm told you can't rush these things). We switched our window order from single hung to casement-style for our clear-viewing and easy-cleaning pleasure. We picked out our metal roof colour (tan). We received the shipment of our floor stain (ferrous sulfate). We've been cooking meals ahead to put in the freezer. We've found a mortar mixer. We've nearly finished building a tool shed with the help of my folks. We've rented a port-a-potty (a must, but awkward to discuss) and have leveled a safe path whereby we'll use it. Now we're advertising our Labour Day Weekend Workshops, and are receiving registrations. Next up we need to test our clay soil content to prepare for plastering. We need to reconfirm our straw delivery date. We need to make arrangements for our solar thermal panel order and our air exchange unit. Building materials need to be ordered in bulk. Our dog-run area needs to be built. Our electrical and water need to be set up so we can use both in the trailer and on the site. PHEW! OK, this was an obnoxious posting for certain, but a good representation of the daily stream of consciousness I'm experiencing right now. Did I miss anything?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Bale ON

According to many Maritimers, Ontario is equivalent to the Gates of Hell, especially Toronto. "Ah, he's from the centre of the universe," we joke when we find someone from away. "You know, Onterrible."

I feel compelled to come to ON's defense b.c I'm impressed by the level of organization I'm seeing in their straw bale community (plus Dave's from ON). Check out the lastest newsletter from the Ontario Straw Bale Builders Coalition (OSBBC). Each year, this group organizes tours of straw bale homes in various regions in ON, and they co-operatively advertise tonnes of professional development opportunities. There are even formal college programs to learn natural building techniques. ON is also hosting this year's International Straw Bale Building Conference.

There is a group of professional builders and consultants in the Maritimes and they too are working to formalize the network and to build tools like websites etc. In some ways, the Maritime group has long been ahead of peers in other provinces by experimenting with techniques that are becoming convention. Kim Thompson, our consultant was the first to build a two storey load-bearing home in Canada, I believe. She has adapted many techniques from other professionals around the world to suit our climate and available resources. More and more people are getting involved every year. As far as I know, we don't have a professional consultant in NB yet, but I suspect we will very soon. As the core group grows, I believe we'll quickly see a similar level of organization that exists in the centre of the universe - only we call this God's country.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Feels like a snail's pace in a rat's race

My sense of humour has faded slightly with fatigue; Although something changes every day, it's not as quickly as I'd like. The foundation has still not been poured. The excavation ran a day or two later than I'd hoped, the plumber is several days later than I'd requested, and so the electrical and cement is delayed. *Argh.* I'm a home construction cliche. There's not a lot of breathing room, so I'm going to have to monitor this part a lot closer than I'd planned. It needs to be ready, so that the timber frame and roof will be complete before our workshops in a few weeks. On the positive side, all the subs seem to be on board so far, and I feel like we've made the right choices.

We've ordered the iron sulfate that we'll use to stain the slab floors from Cavendish-Agri in Salisbury, NB. Their price is much cheaper than ones we found online. Turns out that they're owned by JD Irving - it's good to keep it in the family. Once the slab has cured for about four days, we should be able to apply this stain.

Tomorrow, we'll need to pick out our metal roof colour and set up our account at the hardware store. We'll also begin to prepare meals for the workers that can be frozen for a few weeks. We'll look at setting up camping sites, eating areas, toilets, washing stations etc. The more we can get done in advance, the better.

Kudos to freecyle for some great finds this month. I have acquired a used fridge (which will work just fine until we can afford a new one), a dishwasher (for our cottage), and our patio stones. It's an amazing resource to acquire and discard things. It really helps in a pinch.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Workshop Details

Straw Bale Construction: A 3-Day WorkshopSeptember 1-4, 2006
Quispamsis, New Brunswick

Register now for a three-day straw bale construction workshop with veteran natural building educator, Kim Thompson. This workshop will focus on the fundamentals of straw bale construction with a hands-on approach. It is geared to all levels of experience and ability.

Participate in a full bale-raising experience, and learn the essentials of natural plaster. Straw bale construction offers many benefits – it’s extremely energy efficient, aesthetically beautiful and relatively easy to do.

Participants arrive late afternoon and settle in their lodgings/camping
6:30 -9:30 pm.
- Group slide show: intro. to SB (history, benefits, essentials
- Look at site plans, give outline for weekend.
- Review resource materials.

Note: Friday evening activities will be open to the local community as well.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday afternoon
Topics to be covered: siting, design, permitting, foundations, wall systems, roofing systems, stucco/plaster/wood/gyproc finishes, wiring, plumbing, tools
Hands on: raising walls, half bale manufacture, stuffing with light straw clay, window/door bucks, plastering, shaping bales or cob for niches or bevels, etc

Cost: $225 includes meals, snacks and beverages.
Accommodations: On-site camping available (free, but rustic). Other accommodations at participants’ own expense: B&Bs 10 minutes away. Motels within 15 minutes.

To register, contact: Kara Stonehouse, or (506) 432.1530 evenings.
Space is limited.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Workshop Dates - Mark Your Calendar

If you're interested in registering for a three-day strawbale workshop with veteran strawbale builder Kim Thompson, mark your calendar for the first weekend in September - Labour Day weekend (there's a fee). This will be incredibly useful for anyone considering building strawbale in future because Kim's workshops are very thorough. I will follow up with more details in the next few days on fees, accommodations, registration contacts etc.

If you are a friend/supporter of ours, but not interested in a detailed workshop, we'll need loads of support after the Labour Day weekend during the month of September, and we welcome any time you can spare to lend us a hand.

Before and After

Before the machines

...and after

Excavation began in a big way today. Stumps were pulled and the machine dug a lot more clay-rich soil than we thought possible from this lime rock bed. We have some beautiful lime rock boulders to use in our gardens (!) and tonnes a crumbly clay-soil for landscaping, and for use in our plaster (only if we run out of the nicely screened stuff). The stumps have to be shipped out of here, and some rock has to be broken in places. We need to level some of the extra soil because we need an out-of-the-way place to store our strawbales when they're delivered later this week.

Thanks to the folks for helping us tonight again and for lending us their dig. camera for a couple of days.

Power to the People

Well, at least there's power for Dave and me. Dad and his friend Donnie Stevens set up our temporary power service Friday night and the power commission is scheduled to install our permanent pole early this week.

Speaking of power, I attended an auction in LA (lower Apohaqui) with my folks at a neighbour's 200 yr-old field stone house. Talk about power! Holding that auction bidding card in my hand created the greatest adrenaline rush! The auctioneer was fast, and the people-watching was more than a little distracting, but amazing deals were had by all. We were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at everything the night before, thanks to our connections, or we might not have been as savvy as we were. I got a few dozen full-size pine boards for TWO DOLLARS, a just-like-new wheelbarrow full of tools and interesting what-nots for $25, a 7 ft high x 4 ft wide antique kitchen cupboard for $175 (it's beautiful - this was the big steal of the day), two antique iron light fixtures and two 30's glass lamps for $10 and a scythe for $3. It's like Christmas times two. I'm still excited two days after.

Yesterday, I spent the day cutting alders to use as external pins. ONE HUNDRED alders later, and I have enough. The folks came out and gave us a boost late last night and trimmed the limbs off them for us while Dave & I finished other chores. Phew! My arms still ache from so much hand-saw action. Today, our excavator is pulling stumps, moving top soil and leveling the site out. We're going down tonight to drop off some supplies and prepare a foundation of wooden palettes in anticipation of the farmer delivering our straw this week. We also have to assemble the tool shed, and a fenced in play area for the pooches to reside safely while we're building. Much to do, but this is the part I enjoy...rolling up the sleeves and getting some things done. No more paperwork!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Day After Today

Next week we begin installation of our shallow frost-free slab. Yes, it was supposed to be this week, no - last week, no - the week before last week. But, now we actually have some progress. Tomorrow, the engineering firm that has to approve our "compaction" - the gravel/fill compacted under our slab - will be on site with our excavator doing soil tests and preparing for the big dig. Well, the dig won't be all that big because we're putting in a floating slab (no stem walls), but all the same, the results will be a bit dramatic. This image (above) is of our house site this past week. Roaming wild raspberry canes have popped up everywhere and a few poor little trees & bushes are ready for the sacrifice.
The weather has been beautiful, with rain at night and hot, sunny days. I thought we'd be buried in cob by now, but here you can see some photos (taken by Lisa C) from a sailing voyage up the Kennebecasis River last night with some of my colleagues from the university. The Kennebecasis River Valley is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Although some say there are only two seasons: Winter and July.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Trailer Park Boy

One of our challenges in planning was figuring out where we were going to crash every night after working on the house. Tents are only great for the first couple of nights...and they're not cool at all with two large, smelly, panting dogs on a stifling hot summer night.

Just before the home show this spring, we made a quick run to Lorneville, a little coastal village outside Saint John, to respond to a "For Sale" ad in the Buyer Flyer. Some intense negotiations ensued between me and an elder longshoreman, and voila: we became the proud owners of this baby - a 1977 22-ft Shasta camper trailer. Now we just need some patio lights.

Here's Dave after a long afternoon of scrubbing it up in preparation for our move in date.

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