A year of change
A year has changed us more than we thought possible. Our first child, Noah, was born in February of 2008, evolving us from independent, career-focussed go-getters, to a home/baby-centred family unit. We've also changed some of our opinions about straw bale techniques. And for good reason.
While I was waiting for my overdue baby to be born - waddling around the house and praying for the big event to begin - severe rain, ice and wind storms kept pounding our house. With each storm, the lime plaster layer that had been applied over the clay-dirt plaster, began falling off. At first in small bits, and then in sheets. It was devastating to us and we were fraught with worry that it would cause more than cosmetic damage. Finally, with onset of yet another storm in February, my father and father-in-law braved the icy grounds and winds on ladders and installed tarps around the east and south sides of the house. It was incredibly heart-breaking to have to tarp in our beautiful home, but *such* a relief to know it was protected from the rains. Here's a pic of our tarp hell:
The good news is that the damage was only cosmetic. By poking a moisture metre in many areas of our walls, we determined that none of our straw was damaged. After having a lot of time to test plasters and examine the damage, we believe that using lime plaster over clay-dirt plaster is a bad idea. Clay-dirt alone will not hold up over time in this climate unless you have an extraordinary house design and site. Lime plaster and clay-dirt move differently with changes in temperature and humidity causing the bond to break between them. In our case, it allowed water to get in between the layers in the freeze-thaw weather and the lime plaster fell off in sheets. Here's a picture of our house once we removed the tarps:
Yes, we could have designed the house differently, but it would have to be *very* different - more than the long overhangs on the roof and a porch we incorporated. We also could have chosen an alternate site so that the Nor-easter wouldn't be able to hit the east wall, or that the So-wester wouldn't hammer the south wall, but we live in the Maritimes. And we wanted to live on a location where solar power was a good option. We are surrounded by trees, but, obviously they weren't dense enough to protect us from the elements.
Once we settled in with the baby, we began calling around for help and advice. It turns out that two of our acquaintances had the exact same occurrence in the Maritimes. We had no idea that they had suffered through such damage. Both of those home owners chose to frame up the damaged sides and apply a "rain screen", also known as siding. After many conversations and deliberations, we decided to bite the bullet and install cedar board and batten. Then the trick was to find someone who could do it for us since Straw Bale Projects was not able to return. Time was slipping away and we couldn't find anyone. After a bit of pleading, our friend Charles agreed to take on the job. We were in excellent hands. Charles spent a lot of time determining how to best design the framing, venting, and siding so that it would be incredibly solid and look great. Along the way, we also had reinforcements - our friends Phil, Lee, Kyle, Brenda, Dave, Rob and of course, family. It's amazing we still have any friends and family left! Here's a view of the framing system that Charles designed and installed to accommodate the new siding:
Here's a picture of the resulting, beautiful new face on our east side:
After spending many thousands of dollars beyond our budget and more than a year of extra construction time, what would we do differently on the plaster issue? We would go with all lime plaster next time. We would do a lot more research and testing on various recipes, especially the many tried-and-true ones that come out of Europe. We might have designed the house differently, but it's too late for that. The clay plaster was environmentally-friendly, but it had to be applied by hand requiring many extra months of labour and it is incredibly difficult to make a consistent recipe since the contents are not pure.
On top of all of this, we had issues with our stamped concrete porch that resulted in having to replace it. I'll go into that separately since I'm running out of time today.
I'll leave it there for now. We still love our straw bale home. We love the way it looks, the way it feels and we *adore* our low heating bills. We would do it over again. No question.