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.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Root cellar: surface bonding cement

We’ve had more than five inches of rain during the last nine days. In between some of the showers and storm, I’ve been able to work some on the root cellar. The frequent rain has been frustrating in that it’s kept me from getting things done like I want to, but that’s the way it goes.

The blocks are all stacked for the walls. I was able to fill 12 cores in the walls last week when we had a mostly rain-free day. I filled six more cores yesterday, all that will be filled. Last Thursday I was able to apply the surface bonding cement to the outside wall toward the hill on the back of the root cellar. That night we received some very heavy rain (over an inch and a half of it) which caused some mud to break free on the back wall of the excavation. Not too much, but I was glad to have the wall done on that side.

Today, I installed the PVC through the end walls to which I will connect the fresh-air vents for the cellar. I used concrete and mortar tooutside walls are done fix them in the wall and cover the holes around the edges.

Then, I finished parging the rest of the outside walls. It was muddy down in the hole around the outside of the cellar walls. The dirt is mostly clay and sticks to my boots like crazy. I wore my muck boots since they can be cleaned off fairly easily.

After finishing the outside walls, I changed shoes and began on the inside. I was able to parge one inside wall, an end one. I hope to finish the other three walls tomorrow.

first inside wall pargedI mixed the surface bonding cement in a wheel barrow today, using a garden hoe. It worked fairly well. Previously, I mixed it half a bag at a time in a five-gallon bucket using a paddle mixer with an electric drill. That method actually worked better, but my mixer needs repaired. So, I didn’t use it today.

The key is getting the right amount of water in the mix. If it’s too wet, it’ll slump off of the wall. If it’s too dry, it takes a lot more effort to trowel it on the wall. When it’s mixed just right, it trowels on smoothly and stays where it’s supposed to. It’s been a trial-and-error process getting the mix figured out.

Surface bonded concrete block walls look nice, I think. Better than regular, mortared block walls. It’ll be nice to see them all complete. At that point, I’ll start backfilling.   muddy boots


Nolan said...

Great job on the Root Cellar!
What would you do differently on the next one? I have been collecting information on surface bonding cement to share including the USDA bonded block guide. It is here: Hopefully it will help others that are following in your foot steps.

I appreciate that you are building without debt and sharing the journey with others.
Best regards,

dp said...

Hi, Nolan!

On the next one, I would probably pour a concrete bond beam at the top, depending upon the purpose of the structure and its location. For the root cellar I used a 4" thick wooden beam bolted securely to the top, and I believe it will be fine in this application. I would like to build another similar structure for a water cistern, and the dry-stack method should work quite well for that, too.