Sunday, March 31, 2013
Thursday, March 21, 2013
I'm happy to announce that Mike and I will be instructing four cob and natural building workshops at Pickard's Mountain Eco-Institute outside Chapel Hill this spring!
Here is a brief outline, follow the links below for more information.
This photo is from last year's 7-day cob workskop in Durham. These workshops will be in a more rural setting, at Pickard's Mountain educational farm and sustainability learning center. Pickard's is where Mike and I held our first cob workshop four years ago, and it's exciting to building there again!
Contact Mike at email@example.com or (502) 381 5004
I've been trying to figure out what to do with all of the dirt left over from the series of excavation projects for this house over the past 2 years. The piles of dirt in the front and back yards have gotten so large and in-the-way, that it was time to design and create some retaining walls against which to grade the dirt.
Here is the form for a curved retaining wall out front, extending from the foundation pier of the front deck. I built 8 feet of form, poured it, and then moved the form over and poured again to get the full 16 feet of wall.
Here is a very close shot of the PEX tubing that we built into the form, as a "weep hole." These holes will allow water through the wall so that it doesn't build up behind it and cause structural problems over time.
Mike mortared old bricks on top of the wall to match the retaining wall out front along the sidewalk.
The east side of the house presented a challenge, because we had to dig out a portion of the hill alongside it, for the interior floor level to remain the same. The neighbor's driveway is about 2 1/2 feet above the floor level, and runs parallel to the house, about 10 feet away from it. I decided the solution was a big retaining wall.
Here is the east side after initial excavation:
Here the forms are ready for the concrete truck (despite my previous post about how much I preferred hand-mixing concrete to having a truck come, this would have been 243 bags to mix, which I didn't feel physically up to):
Communicating with the driver about how far to inch forward to get the chute in the right place:
We had more than three wheelbarrows of extra concrete at the end (I ordered a bit more than I thought we needed, just in case something went wrong, or my math was off...)
I had thought the previous day about where extra concrete might be helpful, and had decided that a landing at the bottom of the side steps would be nice:
Here is what the finished retaining wall is looking like. You can see "honeycombing" below at the bottom of the wall (the area where the gravel is exposed, and it isn't smooth). This is where the concrete was initially too dry during the pour. I asked the driver to add some water to the mix and it worked a lot better.
You can see the "weep holes" in this wall. They are white PVC pipe - I will cut the ends off so that they are flush with the wall. I like the faceted corner detail, shown below:
The addition isn't in a very pretty state right now, which concrete forms everywhere, and plastic on the roof, and pink foam sheathing contrasting with black tar paper. I'm excited to continue with the beautiful wood siding, and greening the roof, and putting in windows.
I don't have many good photos of the process of putting up the EPDM roof liner, but you can see it hanging over the edge in the next two shots. Immediately below, you can notice the transition from the back porch roof to the EPDM roof. The porch had clear plastic roofing (which you can kind of see in the photo above), but we switched it to metal and extended it so that it overlapped over the EPDM.
Saturday, February 16, 2013
Most every building project begins with digging down into the earth. Here's a footing form for one of the foundation piers.
All the concrete for the current build as well as the previous addition was hand-mixed. There are certainly advantages to having a concrete truck deliver the material for a big pour: it saves your body; there's no powdery concrete dust in the air, and you can easily order different types of mixes with different additives.
However, I've decided that I want to make more of an effort to use as little concrete as possible, since it has such a high embodied-energy. This is why I've been utilizing pier foundations more, instead of continuous foundation walls. I definitely don't miss the stressful nature of a concrete delivery. Once the truck is there, everything is a mad rush! If the forms fail, it's a nightmare. I used to get pretty frustrated during big pours. Wheelbarrow mixing is quieter and more pleasant.
(Using actual stone is ideal, of course, but not always an option)
It's fun to think of ways to use extra concrete at the end of a pour. Here's my latest simple idea, below. Once it cures, pull away the orange bricks and you're left with concrete bricks! (which I can anticipate using in the future, for various things)
The clay soil is beautiful to dig through. On this site, it transitions from topsoil, to bright red clay, to a tannish clay, and then to white, powdery clay. And there is often an interesting purple sedimentary layer above the white clay that is just 1/8" thick or so (which you can't see in the photo).
We try to keep our different dirt in separate piles, in the hopes of using some of it to make earthen plasters.
The pile of white clay looked so enticing to my plaster eyes that I had to try it out last weekend. I just added water and chopped straw (because it seemed to already have quite a bit of sand), and then I troweled it onto the wall, with the help of Danielle, little Leo, and Ian.
The footings are all poured here, and I have just begun to start filling the pier forms with concrete, after making sure that they were all lined up and level to each other.
It's been rather rainy lately, so water management around the concrete has taken some effort (not to mention keeping the concrete warm enough during the cold nights). Notice the ad-hoc gutter extension.
The foundation work all went really well. Simple and smooth. Here are the finished piers and stemwall. It has it's own kind of beauty to me. Forming stone into the a desired shape is an empowering thing. It's sad to consider how much of our earth we have covered in tar and concrete, and I'm glad that the concrete footprint for this addition is relatively small (just a line and a couple dots, from a birds-eye view).
It's sometimes difficult to appreciate the clay soil when it's wet and sticking to your boots all day and weighing down your feet. If able to put this inconvenience aside, it's gorgeous! When it gets wet and the colors are saturated, you can see so many different hues. Yellows, reds, blues, purples, whites...
You can tell Mike and I have been working together for a long time.
framing the first wall:
raising part two of the east wall:
It's really exciting to get the walls up, and then cut out the window openings and start to understand what the space will really be like (computer modeling can only take you so far).
Even Leo can peek out the bedroom window.
He also enjoys walking between the floor joists.
If you're wondering why the roof pitch is so low, it's because we're going to install a living roof. Plants will be growing up there! So shedding water is not as big of an issue as keeping the plants from falling off.
I like the following photo because it exemplifies how the house has been built in stages. The orange plaster on the left is from part one, and the tan and brown plasters are from the latest addition. The door is just temporary, but will be knocked out into a wide, arched doorway eventually. The exterior light fixture was just installed to pass the electrical inspection, but was never even used, and will be removed soon. Someday soon these exterior walls will be interior walls. The metal exhaust vent that you see at the top left is coming from the bathroom. It will have to be extended through the new roof another 14 feet. Everything is changing and growing. It's a fun way to build a house. The design for parts 2 and 3 have been altered dramatically after completing and living in part 1. I think the overall design has benefited significantly from building in phases (despite the small annoyances that have been required to pass building inspections between each phase).
It is obvious that Leo enjoys being on the worksite (and outside, in general).
His mother's arm is never far away, especially around power tools (as shown here).
This is Danielle telling him that it's time to leave and go home, and him trying to wrench away with all his muscle, and stay put.
So far we've been working for maybe 2 weeks, and all the rafters are up. Over the next week we will get the decking on the roof, the floor figured out, and the walls closed in more fully. Hopefully it will be wired soon, and windows installed before my parents leave to go back to New York by the end of the month...