Monday, August 13, 2007

Le Grand Unveiling

The outside is still being whitewashed with limewater, but we finally removed tarps on all sides except the south(!). We decided to leave the south side for another two days to be safe. Good-bye blue plastic house!

Jacob, our visiting straw bale apprentice (above), moved on to Halifax on Saturday to his next adventure before he heads home to Montreal. Rob, our resident straw bale expert, leaves today for home in Nova Scotia. That leaves just me, Dave and the pets in our home for the first time in a month!

Charles T. is seen here helping Rob M.
& Dad Wiggins remove the tarps on the east side. Charles is going to continue working with us to finish up west gable end and interior plaster.

Here's Dad throwing down the last corner of tarp.

The west side unveiled, with staging still in place to complete white washing and trim.

The east side (faces the road) sans tarps, staging and completely white washed!!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The outside plaster is done!!

I know you'd expect some amazing photos of the exterior of our house with that kind of title, but the house is still covered in tarps to allow the lime plaster to dry slowly without cracking! In fact, we have to mist it two to three times a day for at least another week. The removal of tarps, or the "Grand Unveiling" as we like to call it, will be an exciting moment for us after living in a blue plastic covered house for many months.

Wicked high winds kept me awake last night as they whipped the tarps around, and brought in a cold, fall-like air. The fresh air will make a better working environment for our three crew members who have had to endure some very hot work days. Rob McLean of Straw Bale Projects in NS is still with us (Andy and Meg returned to NS for other obligations), Charles Trenholme has joined this week, and last night, Jacob L. arrived from Montreal. Jacob wants to learn how to build his own straw bale house, so he's spending a few days with Rob to learn the ropes. The guys are now working on plastering the interior gable ends. The end is in sight!

Once the plaster is done in the next couple of weeks, we'll stucco the interior walls, sand and oil our loft floors, acid stain our concrete floor and tidy up various finish jobs such as protecting the woodwork, cleaning up lime plaster splashes etc.

More pics to come!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Things To Do or Not List Begins...

A couple that participated in our workshop last year is about to begin building their house (!). In preparation, they've asked us to send them a list of what we'd do differently, and what we'd do the same. Here it is! I'll keep building on it as I think of things:

Things we would do differently:
-The top plate. It was made to be the same width of the bales. That made it stick out a lot (b.c of the irregularity of the bales) and it caused our straps (part of our compression system) to stick out. If we had made it 2 or 3 inches smaller, we wouldn't have had the same problem. We've had to use an awful lot of mud to cover that puppy up.
-The mortar mixer. We went to great lengths to try and buy a used mortar mixer (since they're so expensive new), but to no avail. Instead we rented one, but it cost a fortune too! We ended up buying a brand new cement mixer (Red Lion brand) and it worked fine for us, and it was much cheaper than a mortar mixer.
-The straps. If you don't need the straps, don't use them. They're a pain to work around. (we had to use straps b.c we were required to treat our walls as load bearing. We designed the house with the beams away from the wall so that we could plaster behind them, but it meant the bales couldn't be tied into the beams.)
-Burlap on the wood. we spent weeks trying to attach that stuff effectively (so that the mud would stick on exposed wood frames around the doors and windows), and in the end found that it wasn't all that useful. It was better to use mud with long straw on the bare wood. Some still swear by it, but it only made me swear *&%$!
-Double check the measurements that other people make. We had one door frame that was too small by several inches and several things were not plumb. It was very stressful.
-We would have had the timber frame and roof done earlier - at least a few weeks before the workshop, though we were at the timberframers whim. It was incredibly stressful having the roof not done and keeping the bales covered for months. It wasn't the plan for us, but that's how it worked out.
-Don't buy a cheap chainsaw. We went through two of them (small electric ones) b.c they're made of plastic inside and won't stand up. Consider finding yourself a good machete and keeping it super sharp (Charles taught us this!), and/or buy a decent quality chainsaw. If you have a bit of land, you'll likely need it for years to come like we do.
-We cut more than 100 alder branches for corsetting, but only used about 20. Depending on your design you might not need very many. If there are stretches of wall where the straw bales have little to attach to, estimate two every 16 inches and add a few extra to be safe.

Things we would do the same:
-Invest in an air compressor and texture sprayer (we got ours at princess auto) to spray slip.
-Screen the slip through window screening so that it doesn't clog up the sprayer
-Work parties with lots of food
-Workshop (it drew in lots of people's interest, even if they didn't get to join the workshop, and we gained a lot of long-term volunteers from it)
-Tonnes of rubber gloves in various sizes to protect hands. Purists use their bare hands, but keep in mind that gloves keep volunteers coming back b.c they're hands aren't bleeding when they leave.
-2-3 rolls of bailing twine. You won't even believe what you'll use it for.
-Dozens of buckets. You'll break some and you'll need loads to keep up with the crew.
-2-3 wheel barrels.
-**Find out about the new sprayer that Kim Thompson has from Mexico called the Tirolessa. You can buy one for $215 US online, or you can borrow hers. It could speed things up significantly. We totally underestimated how long putting mud on by hand would take (we're still not done!), but the Tirolessa sprays it on, driving it into the straw, and you simply trowel it from there. We're using it now. It's a big relief. We can also apply our final lime coat with it. This is a big point! (here's a website to check it out: You might need a slightly heftier air compressor, but it's worth it!**
-Lots of shovels (at least 3, maybe 5)
-Lots of barrels. We used a bunch of the usual rubbermaids, plus a number of free steel barrels. In total, we use eight - ten and could use a couple more.
-Palettes. You should be able to get these for free from a hardware store. We need them to store straw (put plastic under them so the dampness doesn't rise up though), to raise up our cement mixer, to create temporary steps, to store wood, to put under workers' name it.
-Expect to spend a lot more than you plan on trips to the hardware store. It shocked the heck out of me. We probably spent more than $500 on runs for extra screws and nails along. Thousands $$ on odds and sods of wood, and misc. supplies.
-Lots of gyproc/carpet knives (at least six). Buy at least two good quality ones for the long haul.
-Lots of basic tools (we didn't previously own a lot of power tools, and had to invest in a few hand tools as well). Skill saw, Jig saw, drills (two would be good), a paint mixer attachment of the drill to mix slip and lime, table saw (we borrowed), tin snips, the usual hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, staple guns, mallet, nail set, a whipper snipper to trim the bales and chop straw for the finish coat (it has to be chopped for the Tirolessa too)
-Leave easy-to-see garbage collection bins for people to clean up after themselves
-Face masks to sift lime and chop straw
-Hardware cloth to make screening to sift sand & clay and attach over flashing to hold the plaster
-Tarps. You'll buy/scavenge lots. You'll need more.
-Cardboard. You'll save lots. Again, you'll need more.
-Rolls of plastic. This can work well to cover the beams, but it can also cause them to develop blue/black mold. Cardboard is better.
-Always leave yourself with enough time and energy to get the tarps back in place at the end of the day and clean up your work site. You can save yourself a lot of headaches and heart breaks.
-Remember to enjoy it! Our biggest stresses were based around sub-contractors, but the straw bale and plaster work was always enjoyable to us and a great relief from the conventional side of building. The people we met (besides the sub-contractors) also made it a real pleasure to do.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Photo update

I'm back in the office job after two weeks with a mile-high stack of urgent-must-be-done-yesterday stuff, so I'll just post photos of our crew at work with some of the progress. We've enjoyed a wonderful "vacation" with the Thunderbay Stonehouses helping us (working like dogs) with the house. The outside mud is done and the lime plaster is underway! The lime should be done early next week and then we can move indoors...More to come later!

Dad Stonehouse installing flashing.

Andy Cragg hard at work with a trowel.

A first glimpse of the lime coat on the west gable end.

Rob M. at work with the Tirolessa - an adobe sprayer from Mexico.

Dad Stonehouse showing off a new tshirt.

Mom Stonehouse hard at work on the plaster.

Rob M. applying a fill coat under the porch roof.

Charles T. plastering to perfection on the west side.

Meg M. mixing the lime plaster and covered with splatter!

Beyla - an old (but young) friend.

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