The 57 acres that comprise Cedar Ridge Farm are located in the beautiful rolling hills of South Central Kentucky. My wife, our four children, and I are on a homesteading adventure as we work toward increased self-sufficiency. We grow much of our own food and enjoy being in touch with the agrarian roots of our lives.

One of the major projects we have undertaken is the building of our own home. The house we're building has three major distinguishing features: 1. we're building it without incurring any debt; 2. it is a timber frame structure; and 3. the exterior walls will be plastered straw bales. We live debt and mortgage free, and building our house with that approach makes perfect sense. Large timbers in a home possess a beauty and project a sense of strength, stability, and warmth that we want in our home. Straw bale walls provide insulation and make ecological sense. This blog is a record of our home-building project.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


It snowed a little last night. It's always so beautiful when there is a blanket of fresh snow on the ground and trees. When I walked down the hill to do my chores this morning (feed and water the cow and goats), I took my camera with me to take a few photos. I thought I'd share.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cupola windows and sheeting the roof

Yesterday, I made a trip to Lowes (I hate giving them my hard-earned money) and bought windows for the cupola and some tar paper for over the roof sheeting. In the afternoon, I sheeted the cupola so that I could install the windows. I figured I could get at least one window in before it got dark. Once I got started, I didn't stop until I had all four in. It's kind of exciting to have the first four windows on our house!

Since it wasn't raining today and the rafters were in place, it was time to tackle the roof sheeting. I bought 44 sheets of 7/16" OSB about a month ago for this purpose. My original plan was to save the $300 or so I spent on OSB by using pallet boards to sheet the roof. They would've worked alright, I'm sure, but the OSB speeds up the process and makes a more even surface.

My dad (who I am very thankful for) and I started the sheeting process on the front slope of the roof. This is the 8:12 pitch side. The area to be sheeted was 20' by 40'. It actually went quite well. We were able to get the whole front side sheeted in about four hours. After lunch, we used nearly four rolls of 30# felt to paper over the OSB. I didn't take pictures of the work in progress because I was working. I did take a few pictures after lunch during the brief period of sunshine. Once we finished the tar papering, it was too dark to take any more. There'll be more photos when we work on the back of the roof.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The rafters are on

I can't believe how quickly time goes by. It was almost six months ago that we raised the frame. At that time it was my intention to get the roof on by the end of September. That didn't happen. I've continued to plug away at it, though. One of the good things about not getting the roof done on my original schedule is that it allowed another design change/addition: the cupola. I wouldn't have gone back and reworked things to add a cupola if the roof was already completed. Since it wasn't, once we had the idea, it wasn't too difficult to incorporate this new design element. In all fairness, too, designing, framing, and constructing the cupola also added time to completing the roof.

The roof isn't on yet, but we're several steps closer. Over the last two weeks, I've worked as often as the weather permitted on getting the rafters on. There are timber frame rafters, of course, but that's not what I'm referring to. These rafters are the ones that will hold the roof above the insulation over the cathedral ceiling. The timber frame rafters hold all of this and are visible inside.

I'm very pleased with how my design for the rafter system worked. I was able to use material salvaged from a mobile home roof and from some logs I milled, thereby saving several hundred dollars over buying commercial 2x4s for the structure. The 10" pieces of 2x6 I used to hold the rafters at the desired height for my insulation actually provide nice rigidity to the system. Once I add a few diagonal braces to the rafter system and sheet it with OSB, it's going to be completely solid.

I endeavored to get the overhang on the back and the front as even as possible. You can sort of see how the ends of the rafters line up in these photos. I may have to trim some of the ones on the back. The ones on the front will matter less than the ones on the back. The porch roof will tie into the ones on the front while there will be an overhang of about one foot on the back (the rafters extend 3' beyond the frame because they will overhang past the straw bale wall). At the peak, I didn't butt the rafters from each side; I brought them each close to the peak and then tied them together with some 1/2" thick boards.

There are 19 rafters on the front and 19 on the back. They are on 2 foot centers. Each rafter is connected to the frame at 3 or 4 points via the 10" pieces of 2x6 (and some 2x8). On at least two of those points for each rafter, I was able to toe nail them into the purlins on the timber frame, not just the vertical strapping.

Working on the 3:12 slope on the back of the house presented no problems. The 8:12 pitch on the front is a bit steeper. Although I can walk on it safely, it was more comfortable for me to nail 18" steps in four places on the front to make climbing up and down safer. You can see a couple sets of these steps in the photo.

While adding the nailers around the cupola for the sheeting, I needed to take the blue tarp wrapping off. I should've taken some pictures of it unwrapped, but I forgot to have my camera with me. I put pieces of the tarp back on to keep the rain out. It will also serve as a vapor barrier under the siding. I intend to install the windows on the cupola before putting the roof metal on. I expect the metal on the front of the house will provide less than secure footing.

It's noticeable in the photo above that the construction area needs cleaned up. I had my boys (ages 6 and 4) start on that project, but they didn't last long. In my desire to get the roof on while the weather cooperates, I haven't taken the time to get things picked up and straightened up as I should. That's on the to do list.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Beginning to frame the roof

Last Sunday (2/10/08) I started on the roof. The first step is framing the rafters with the 10" insulation space above the ceiling boards. I'm using lumber that I milled, lumber I salvaged from an old mobile home I demolished, and boards from a pallet company.

In this photo, seven of the rafters are attached to the timber frame. This is on the back of the house, and each rafter needs to be about 14' 6" long. They are made up of two 2x3s I milled and three 10" long sections of 2x6 to hold them up the required distance. The 2x6s are nailed to some vertical strapping and are also toe-nailed into the purlins on the timber frame. I also nailed a 3/8" to 1/2" thick pallet board to the two rafter boards at the joint to help with strength and rigidity. I will add some diagonal braces later to help ensure they all stay rigidly in place. The OSB I'll sheet the roof with will also impart rigidity, tying it all together. That will be sometime in the next couple of weeks, if the weather allows.

Here's a closer view of the same thing. The vertical strapping I used came from the pallet company, also. Originally they were approximately 2" by 4", but I ripped them to 2" wide. They were mostly 4 feet long with some 3 footers. At this width when I secure them to the roof, it places the rafter right above them, simplifying the layout. The rafters are on 2' centers.

The back of the roof is easier to work on because of its 3:12 slope. The front is 8:12, which I can walk on without slipping, but it still makes me nervous. I don't relish the thought of sliding off. So, I've nailed steps of 18" long 1x1s over the purlins for added safety while installing the rafters on the front. The front rafters are built the same way as the ones on the back of the house. They are 19' 8" long and consist of either two lengths of 2x3 or three lengths of 2x4. The 2x4s were ceiling joists in an old mobile home in their previous life. In their original form, they are 9' 6" long, but they taper on one side near the end so that they gave the mobile home roof a rounded slope. I cut most of the taper out when building my rafters. Yes, we had a little bit of snow this week. I waited until it melted before climbing up and working on the roof.

In this view from the east end of the house, you can see the profile for the rafters. Also, you can see the overhang on the back of the house. The straw bales will be stacked to the rafters. So, the three feet that the rafters on the back stick out allows for covering the straw bales and the wood siding I'll put on as well as allowing for at least a one foot overhang. The rafters on the front only overhang the frame by 20". The straw bales will be stacked to the rafters, but the porch roof will tie in to the main roof at that point. So, there is no need for more overhang on the front.

Here you can see the back of the house with my progress there. I was able to get 14 of the 19 rafters on the back so far. You can also see the cupola. I roofed it last week and framed it for the windows. It's wrapped with a blue tarp to keep the rain out for now. I'll be purchasing and installing the windows before getting the metal roof on the whole house. I kind of figure that the metal on the front of the roof will be a little slick for working on. I'll have to for some things, I'm sure, though.

I took this photo yesterday evening, showing my progress so far. I'll start on the near side of the front roof next.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The cupola is on

As I mentioned in the previous post, one of the design additions to our house is a cupola. I originally thought about incorporating a cupola for the benefits it would have for ventilation as a naturally convective exhaust point for the whole house. There are other advantages, such as providing additional light in the center of the house and providing a really cool place to put a windvane (I'll have to get one).

I've worked on getting the various components for the cupola ready during the last two weeks. I was just going to frame it conventionally, but there were those 6x6s lying in the pile near the garage. So, they became the material for the cupola frame. I had laid out the dimensions and modeled this addition using Google SketchUp. This allowed me to easily figure angles and lengths for the different materials.

Yesterday (2/3/08) I shuttled all of the prepared materials and a bunch of tools down to the house site. My dad, who lives on the farm, offered to help me with the job at hand, and I am very grateful for his help. The first thing to do was cut a hole in the ceiling at the peak in the middle of the house. It extended from the purlin nearest the peak on the front to the purlin nearest the peak on the back. The space this allowed dictated the size of the cupola. It ended up being 4' 2" outside dimensions and 3' 2" between posts on the inside.

I hefted the pieces of the cupola onto the roof with a rope. My dad was kind enough to hook the rope onto each piece so I didn't have to climb up and down the ladder multiple times. The posts were the first parts to be set in place. Because this was an addition that I hadn't planned from the beginning, I decided to use lag screws rather than mortise and tenon joints to attach them to the purlins. We then placed the beams on top of the posts. These were also attached using lag screws and as12" long by 1" diameter peg. I had already assembled the cupola ceiling and the roof framing. So, these were easily set on top and attached.

We sheeted the roof with pallet boards I purchased in early December ($2 per pallet load). These boards were 3/8" to 1/2" thick and about 4" wide. With three sides sheeted, we stuffed in insulation and then completed the sheeting.

To finish the job for now, the roof was tar papered and the cupola was wrapped with a blue tarp. I'll be installing the rest of the frame work for the windows this week. The windows will be installed later. The roof metal will be put on next week, if all goes as I hope.

The weather was quite warm for February -- near 60 degrees. It was overcast, but no rain. The photos would be brighter and better if there had been sunshine. I'll take some more photos later.