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.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Another day’s work

house with garden in foreground


After Jon arrived this morning, we continued building the deck for the porch. The task involved cutting 6x8 beams to the proper length, setting them in place, and ensuring they were level. I’m using 4x6s along the outer perimeter of the porch. The 6x8s butt up against the back side of the 4x6s on top of the block piers. They rest on the foundation wall on the house side and attach to the 2x8 box boards. Later, we’ll run 2x6s and 4x6s as floor joists between the 6x8 beams.

frame along the front of the houseWe built the frame across the front of the house and along the east side. That leaves only the porch on the back which extends from the corner to the root cellar.frame along the east side of the house

I probably didn’t have to use 6x8s and 4x6s for the porch floor frame. One of my desires is that the porch be solid without flex in the floor. I also didn’t want to spend a lot of money. porch floor frame from the southeast cornerI bought the 4x6s from a sawmill previously and I had a few 6x8 beams left over from building the timber frame. I figured I would mill some more as needed. A friend gave me several beech trees out of which a friend milled 1x8s and 1x6s to use for the porch floor. There were enough logs to mill 14 6x8 beams also. So, the 6x8s were basically free.

If I had to buy dimensional lumber from a building supply place, the porch would have been designed a lot smaller. I want a nice, large porch. It will be an important part of our living space.

More floor framing

(This post was written yesterday, but Blogger/Picassa were having problems and prevented me from posting it last evening.)

Although the weather has been hot and humid, we keep working. And, we’re making progress.

On Wednesday, Jon had to leave early because he was needed at home. I had to run an errand into town which took longer than it was supposed to. After I returned, my dad offered to help me work on the house. continued framing -- three sectionsWe worked a little before lunch and then another couple of hours after lunch and accomplished a fair bit.

We continued framing the floor on the west side of the house, working out from the root cellar. I had to figure how to go about it since I only had enough 2x8s to use as floor joists for one section. There are three sections from framing for the floor above the root cellar toward the front of the house: the mudroom, porch, and the summer kitchen.

summer kitchen floor framing I decided to use the 2x8s for the floor joists of the summer kitchen (that’s what was left of the 2x dimensional lumber I bought at the beginning of the week). They were mostly 10’ long boards, and the span is approximately 9 feet. So, these worked well. They wouldn’t work in the mudroom section since the span there is 11 feet.

We started by putting beams from the mudroom foundation wall to the piers on this end of the house (two piers). Because of how the floor will be framed, I chose to use 6x8 beams between the piers. We ran a 6x8 beams from the first pier back to the foundation wall in order to ensure that the two longer beams I had would be long enough.

I designed the piers to be about 2 inches higher in elevation than the foundation wall. southwest corner of the houseThere is some variation to be handled with wood shims. However, when we laid the first beam from the corner of the mudroom foundation wall to the first pier, the level showed that it was level. The next beam between the two piers was low at the corner. Then, the 4x6 from the kitchen foundation to the pier showed the pier being high. This was confusing.

We checked things with a line level, but it just wasn’t accurate enough to determine how level the beams were. So, I used a straight cedar 2x4 I had with the four foot level on top. With this setup we were able to determine that the first pier was 1.75 inches higher than the foundation wall – more like it was supposed to be. So, I notched the bottoms of the beams, and amazingly, they came out level (the crown in the first beam accounts for most of the discrepancy that exists).

We worked the beams out to level before hanging floor joists for the summer kitchen. These went fairly quickly. They hung on the 2x10 box on the kitchen foundation wall on the inside and nailed into the 6x8 on the outside.

After framing this section, we hung two 6x8 beams from the house out to the outside edge. We’ll hang 2x6 floor joists out from these beams to the 2x10 on the edge of the floor above the root cellar, to the box on the mudroom foundation wall, and to the 6x8 at the edge of the summer kitchen floor framing (four sections of 2x6 floor joists all together). These 2x6 floor joists will only span 5.5 to 6 feet. So, they ought to be strong enough.

At this point, it was 5:00pm and we were at a good stopping point. Jon will probably be here to work tomorrow. We’ll continue with more floor framing then.



Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Boxing in along foundation wall and some floor framing

On Sunday, I bought some lumber from a local guy. He buys semi loads of building material returns and then uses it for his own construction projects and to sell. boxing on foundation wallHe had some 2x8, 2x10, and 2x12 boards ranging in length from 10’ to 22’, most being 16’, that I paid $5 per board for. I bought 40 boards, most of it being 2x10s.

Yesterday, Jon and I ripped the 2x10s down to 8 inches in width and used them to box in around the house on top of the foundation wall. We needed to rip them since I had designed theboxing on back and east side height of the foundation wall and sill plate to be 8” below the floor level of the timber frame, matching the depth of the beams I used. The porch floor framing will butt up against this boxing on the outside, floor framing above root cellarand we’ll use 2x6s on the inside between the box and the wall to frame the floor for under the straw bales.

We also began framing the floor above the root cellar yesterday. We used 2x10s ripped down to 8” from the timber frame to the outside root cellar wall. The straw bale wall will run along the outside edge above the root cellar. I left an opening for the stairs to the root cellar. floor framing with opening for stairs to cellarWe’ll have a sewing room/study above one part of the root cellar and part of the utility room above the other end.

Based upon the number of 2x lumber that I have left, I believe I will frame the floor for the kitchen and mudroom similar to the framing I’m planning for the porch. I’ll post about that as it happens.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ready to begin the next phase of construction

It’s been hot and sweaty weather here for the last couple of weeks, and the forecast is that it will stay the same through next week. Still, there’s work to be done. So, I accept sweat as a way of life.

We’ve made some good progress this week. Except for a few small places on the walls where I want to apply a second coat of surface bonding cement, the foundation work is done. We finished installing the sill plate all the way around today.

It took longer to bolt the sill plate on than I expected. sill plateThere was a fair bit of time spent milling the boards, of course. I guess if I just went to the building supply store and bought lumber for the job, it would be quicker. It would also cost more and wouldn’t be ‘custom’ like what we have now.

After we finished bolting on the last sill board, we laid a few 4x6s on the porch piers at the front of the house. These will go all the way around the porch eventually with 6x8 beams coming out from the foundation wall to the piers which will support the floor joists for the porch.

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We’ll be framing the deck of the porch next week. I don’t know how quickly this phase of the project will take. I usually underestimate the amount of time it takes to do each part. You’d think I’d learn by now, but I’m still an optimist in terms of how much I can actually accomplish in any given day.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sill plates

On Monday, Jon and I coated the kitchen crawl space wall with surface bonding cement. We also coated the small section inside the root cellar that I didn’t take care of last summer. I also finished stuccoing the piers for the porch at the back of the house. We had these jobs finished by lunchtime. So after lunch, we started milling boards for the sill plates. That didn’t go so well because my Husqvarna 3120xp chainsaw (the powerhead for the sawmill) wasn’t running properly. After milling one log, we completed a couple of other jobs unrelated to the house.

This morning, we returned to milling. I checked out the saw yesterday in preparation, cleaning the air filter, fuel filter, and muffler. It ran better, but still doesn’t have the power it should. I believe the fuel filter is the culprit. I’ll be ordering a new one.sill plates at corner of root cellar

After we had several of the boards milled, we hauled them to the house to begin bolting them to the foundation and to see what we still needed to mill. There are four different thicknesses which we’re milling. All of the sill plates are cedar.

aluminum flashingWe put down aluminum flashing on top of the block wall and then bolt the cedar board on top of that. We were able to complete the sill plates around the root cellar and on the west side of the house. We put flashing across the front before we had to quit today. We’ll work on it again Friday.root cellar with sill plate installed




  west side of the house

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Nearing the end of foundation work

The foundation has taken a lot of work and time. I didn’t realize how much before I started on the root cellar and crawl space walls. We’re nearing the end of this phase of the construction, crawl space wall

With the footers poured for the kitchen crawl space wall and the porch piers, we were able to get blocks laid last week. The kitchen wall was dry stacked. We should be able to coat it with surface bonding cement this week. There has been a delay in obtaining a few bags of SBC because the local place no longer keeps it in stock. Dry stacking does seem to go fairly quickly, and it’s easy to do, including surfacing the walls.

Porch piersI mortared the blocks for the porch piers. I was going to dry stack them, too, but I wanted to try mortaring them. They turned out pretty well, I think. We took time to make sure the outer edges were in line and that the piers were level and plumb.

On Friday we added some thinner blocks to the top of the piers (which were constructed with 12” x 16” blocks) to bring them to the proper height all the way around. The solid blocks in 2”, 2.5”, and 4” are 8”x16”. So, we scored and broke them to 12” to fit on the outside edges of the 12” blocks. Then, we mortared them in place.

I want the piers to match the foundation walls, but I didn’t want to pay for surface bonding cementStuccoed piers (Quickwall costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $23 per bag). So, I bought some mortar/stucco mix to coat them with. We started stuccoing them on Friday.

The stucco mix works a little differently than surface bonding cement. I think the SBC is easier to apply. But, after a couple of piers, Jon and I were beginning to get the hang of it. We have only a few more to do on one side and the back of the house. These are the shortest piers. So, they shouldn’t take too long to finish on Monday.

Along the east side of the houseWe also added a few more j-bolts to anchor the sill plate to the foundation wall. We ought to be able to mill the plates to the right thicknesses this week and get them put on. Then, we’ll progress to framing the porch.

We’re looking forward to beginning a new phase in the construction.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Footers and piers

With the return of warmer and drier weather, I’m able to get back to working on the house. There are a lot of different projects vying for my attention, but the urge to get this house done so that we can move in by next summer is upon me. I really want it finished. It is within reach.

I have worked on a related project during the last few weeks: a cistern to catch rain water. The cistern is located in the shed section of the garage which is near our current home which is at the top of the hill. We’ll harvest rain water off of the garage roof. I’ll run a 1.5 inch water line down to the house which is 50 to 60 feet lower in elevation. This should provide at least some of our water pressure. Later, I will build a cistern to harvest rain water off of the house, too. We will not hook up to city water.

We also will not hook up to the grid for electricity. We are currently using a solar electric system that I put together and installed. When we move into the new house, I’ll re-install the system for it.

We also decided to not put in a septic system. We’ll use sawdust toilets and compost it. You can read about this system in the Humanure Handbook. It’s simple and effective. It turns a waste into a resource.

Sometime at the end of last year, we changed one part of our house design. The kitchen extend out from the frame into part of what would have been the porch near the corner of the house. It will extend out 9 feet and be 12 feet wide. This will make it a non-traffic area and allow there to be a door off of the main kitchen into what will be the summer kitchen.

In order to affect this change in the design, I have to build a block wall to enclose the crawlspace under the kitchen. The space under summer kitchen will not be enclosed with block. The summer kitchen will actually be an enclosed portion of the porch on the corner toward the barn. I will probably use some cement board to enclose underneath it later on.

Last week, I started digging for the footer for the kitchen crawlspace wall and for the footers that will be under the piers that will support the porch. Actually, I had help. My good friend Jon is working with me two days a week this summer, and he helped with the digging. Having Jon working with me keeps me more focused and on task because I want to be sure and have plenty to keep him busy on the days that he’s here.

We finished excavating with shovels for all the footers last Monday. On Wednesday when he came over, I was ready with 100 80-pound bags of concrete mix that I bought on Tuesday. It probably wouldn’t have cost any more to have the local concrete company send a truck out, but with the landscaping changes I made last summer/fall, there really wasn’t any way that the truck could have gotten close enough to pour the footer.

I do have an electric powered concrete mixer that I bought several weeks ago in anticipation of the material that will need mixed. It’s one that Lowes offered, and it’s worked quite well the times we’ve used it. On Wednesday, we set it up near the house (powered by my generator since I had the temporary power disconnected) and began mixing. Two bags fit in it quite well. It took 54 bags to complete the footer for the kitchen.

For the porch pier footers, we moved the mixer so that it set right over each hole. We mixed three bags at a time which is all that would fit in the mixer. It had no problem mixing that amount of material, and the generator never complained. After mixing, we dumped the concrete directly in the hole and moved to the next one.

Everything went very smoothly, and we finished all of the block mortared onto footerconcrete work by the end of the day. We had two bags left over which will be used elsewhere later on.

This week Jon wasn’t able to be here on Monday. So, I worked on my own. On Friday I had purchased some 12” concrete blocks for the porch piers. They didn’t have any surface bonding cement in stock – I’ll need that for surfacing the kitchen crawlspace wall.

I put strings up to make sure that I would have everything lined up properly.  Then, I set out the blocks for the kitchen wall in preparation of first course for kitchenmortaring the first course onto the footer. After that, I mortared each block, making sure it was level.

Once I finished the first course for the kitchen, I measured for the porch piers to make sure they would be properly situated on their footers. While doing this I discovered something interesting in a very good way: the distance from the corner of the porch to the block wall for the kitchen was the same distance as from the rear corner of the porch to the root cellar wall – 33.5 feet. First blocks for porch piers at back of house I was kind of amazed because the way it’s put together, there was no reliable way to ensure that it would be so.

I was able to get all of the first blocks for the porch piers mortared into place and level yesterday. Today, after returning a piece of equipment to a friend, I started stacking blocks. I started with one corner  of the porch. Mortared block pier After stacking the blocks, I decided that I would mortar the blocks together. I was going to dry stack them. I’ll stucco the piers later so they will match the rest of the foundation walls.

By the time I quit this afternoon/evening, I had all of the piers across the front of the house mortared. These are the ones with the most blocks. It shouldn’t take too long to mortar the blocks for the other piers tomorrow. Jon should be here tomorrow, and I’ll have him start dry-stacking 033the blocks for the kitchen.

I hope that the work can go fast and furious from here on. That should make it possible to keep the blog updated much more regularly.