Sunday, May 27, 2012

Through the roots, for the roots.

We have finally begun work on the root cellar in Anatoly's backyard! Right next to the cob sleeping cottage. We already had a big hole from mining clay for the cob house (the hole was the inspiration for the root cellar, in fact). Here is Mike beginning to persuade the hole into a more defined shape...

This is the drainage "bulb" at the end of the tail trench. This provides an exit path for any water that collects under or around the root cellar. This bulb will be filled with gravel and then covered up with soil. You won't ever see it once the grass takes over, but it will be underground performing very important work. Without drainage, there would be serious water issues inside the root cellar, namely standing water and dampness.

Our client decided that he wanted a poured concrete foundation (versus concrete block, or wooden posts, or other options...), so we began to make forms. You can see in the photo below that we lined up pieces of broken concrete around the perimeter of the pad. These act as a "footing," which spreads out the weight of a heavy concrete foundation, like the one we'll be pouring. The footing is usually poured out of concrete, too, but a neighbor was getting rid of these concrete chunks and so we saw an obvious opportunity for reuse!

Here is the form before bracing.

Rebar hanging in the form. It will provide tensile strength in the concrete, when the concrete dries around it. It's like the straw in cob.

And here is the form all braced and ready to handle the weight of wet concrete!

We ended up designing the form so that we would have a floor system, on which to lay some plywood, so that we could roll our wheelbarrows of concrete up on top of the form, and pour from the middle (instead of having to make dozens of ramps on all sides).

The floor worked great.

Mike trowels the top of the wall, to get it as smooth and level as possible.

Here I am removing the forms with a sledge hammer, the following day. Forms can be difficult to remove, because the weight of the concrete squeezes everything together tightly. But despite having the bash things apart, all of the forms are mostly intact, and ready to be used again for another project.

The finished foundation wall!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Carlton Screen Porch

Squash flowers! Danielle is trying a zucchini-staking method that she read about on a square-foot gardening website. We're trying to pack as much as we can into our small beds.

I've been doing a lot of work on the back deck, to convert it into a screened-in porch. The original plan was to have just a deck, and then we decided to put a roof on it, and now we have decided to screen it in. Needless to say, it isn't the easiest thing to screen in, with all of the angled shapes and big beams to work around. If I could have predicted that it would be a screen porch, I would have constructed it differently. However, it has quite a bit of character now. We've gotten really good feedback about it thus far. Cob and earthen plaster have come in very handy in filling the odd spaces.

The three main openings are tempered glass, that I ordered from a local glass shop. There is also a trapezoid of glass above the yellow door. Other than that, everything else is screen. The glass was strategically placed in areas where the most weather had been coming onto the deck. Now it stays very dry in the rain, even with all of the screens.

I had to come up with a clever way to screen in the top of the space. It would have been too complicated to screen between all of the rafters, and in all of the gabs between the plastic roofing and the purlins... too many complex cuts to make. Instead, I made these screens that screw up along the bottom of the rafters. They are removable for any cleaning/repairing purposes.

Here you can see Mike up on the roof, applying the finish lime plaster to the exterior of the building.

I applied lime to the street-side, above the red siding. It looks brown in this photo, but has since cured/dried to an off-white color.

You can see it drying here, looking mottled (I really like this look, I wish it stayed this way):

We also applied lime around the porch, so it now looks neat and clean.

This is closer to the finish color, but will still get whiter.

I installed a nice hanging light in the porch, so that we can get a table out there and have nice evening meals. I am trying to buy only lamps that direct light down, where you actually need it - not lamps that send light up into the sky, where it just becomes light pollution.

I had to dig into the wall to add on another switch for the new light.

There was already a switch on the opposite side of the wall (on the interior), and so I connected into it. Now you can turn on/off the porch light from inside or outside the door.

It used to be intimidating, but now I really enjoy cutting through the walls of the house. It's so interesting to think through how to adjust something without create a lot of damage and repair work.

Now I will have to re-plaster around the new switch, which won't take long.

I also added this motion-sensor light near the door, to welcome one home at night.

Almost Done

We are very close now to being finished with Anatoly's cottage!

Notice the lime plaster detail on the window sill of the sculpted window here - this is because lime is more durable than earthen plaster in areas where water will be collecting and streaming down.

Anatoly is building himself a beautiful cob oven under the roof that we made for him:

A bench finished with lime plaster, a purple earthen floor (not yet sealed and oiled), a ladder to the top bunk, and a hinged desk for Anatoly's office needs:

I'm always amazed by the strength of ants. I saw this big black speck moving down the side of the building, and saw the tiny ant behind the operation, upon closer inspection. It looks like he's holding this tree part in his jaws, and somehow making his descent slowly and carefully without falling or dropping his treasure. I bet he gets superb traction on the earthen plaster (how would he fare on drywall?).

Lime around the sink area.

I had some leftover lime and purple earthen plaster, so I combined them and made this comet-like mural detail on the northeast corner of the building. I hope that Anatoly is inspired to continue making the design into a bigger mural.

Here Mike finishes the roundwood bed rail with polyurethane:

The rocket stove, ready for next winter. There is a metal grate set into the cob above the top of the barrel, intended for dehydrating fruits and veggies.

We have one more day of finishing up details and sealing the floor with linseed oil and beeswax. After that, Anatoly has decided that he wants us to construct for him a Russian-style root cellar, so we are going to begin working on that!