Thursday, January 25, 2007

Straw Mallow World in KV

It's a clear, starry, starry night as I write, and the reality of winter pinches your lips when you step out into the startling -15 degree temp. Alas, winter has arrived. It's a much-deserved shock to the system after such a warm early winter. More snow is on its way for tomorrow, though I expect it will be merely a dusting.

I finally crashed overnight in our newly-heated shanty in the midst of a snow storm last week. Dave, sadly, was home sick. 'Twas a bit drafty next to the bales that were unplastered on the north side [inside and out], but after I relocated to the south-west side of the loft, I found sleep easily. The radiant in-floor heat feels very luxurious and comforting, though it doesn't seem to be working well in the kitchen area. Dad speculates an air clog; We'll find out soon enough.

We've found that our tub-shower has cracks in it, so we're waiting to broach that topic with our poor plumber this week. He's in high demand, so it's going to be as frustrating to him as it is to us.

Our kitchen cabinets are now in production and we're incredibly excited. Unstained maple cabinets in a shaker style finish, with black iron pulls. The only compromise we've made is on the countertop. We've opted for a slate-look-alike formica - not so eco. But, given the seemingly insurmountable list of tasks ahead of us, we decided to go with it to avoid adding more stress at this point. A maple vanity will be in the bathroom as well.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I'm keen to spread the news of a monthly social gathering in the Valley of folks interested in sustainble living. It's an informal, fun event, prime for making new friends and learning lots. The basis is totally social, so conversations might vary from your latest food craving to the most cutting edge solar heating system on the market. If you're interested in attending, go to the website and sign up as a member to receive updates and meeting notices: Valley Greens.

The image above is of a [sadly] discarded bale on our site, covered in crispy snow-ice.

Plaster work continues, though only about 1.5 days a week. Dave and I are making plans to take a few days off work so that we can organize some plaster parties and make progress. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Lugging mud

Finally, we broke away from our materialistic adventures to focus back on the natural building aspect of our home. The challenging part of building with natural plaster is dealing with cold weather during construction. As you can see in this [somewhat blurry] photo, our living room has been invaded by a mud-mixing centre, complete with cement mixer, barrels of clay and sand, lime putty and straw. It's no surprise that it makes a big mess (it splatters all over) and it sucks up a lot of space. It's also tricky to keep enough supplies (clay and sand) in the house to last through a winter since the piles of dirt outside freeze solid. Spring-like temperatures (above 10 degrees C) thawed the ground enough to enable me to lug in loads and loads of sand and clay today to replenish our supplies (bring on the Robaxacet).

We're putting the push on to finish plastering the kitchen so that the cabinet maker can begin his work. As we finish the kitchen, we'll need to dig a hole for a five-inch plastic pipe to run through the wall as a channel for the range hood, and another for a smaller pipe to house the outdoor water tap. Two more pipes will need to be channeled through the utility room wall for the dryer vent and bathroom fan vent before we can complete that area. We'll use plastic piping directly against the straw to house the metal pipes in case they sweat.

Good news on the plumbing/heating front: We have heat (!) now that our radiant in-floor thermal system is running and we now have the civilized pleasure of a functioning water closet (the nicest term I could think of). The radiant heat feels luxurious and makes working around the house very comfortable.

The bad news of the week is that we have hard water, so we'll need to find a way to remove the "hardness." From what I'm reading on the CMHC website, water softeners put high levels of sodium in the water which is not great for humans (can you say, heart attack please?), and rather terrible for our water table/surrounding soil. Does anyone know if reverse osmosis can work just as well? I've heard of people using reverse osmosis in tandem with a water softener to remove the salt after it has softened the water, but that means big bucks and a lot of space taken up in our utility room that we simply cannot afford. CMHC indicates that it can remove minerals, thereby softening water, but doesn't give a definitive view on using reverse osmosis in place of a water softener. I'd prefer this route...

The other debate of the week is whether or not we should finish the wood (sanding and applications of water based protection) on our stairs and loft floor *before* we plaster upstairs or *after*...?

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