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.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bale plate and toe-up

It was quite hot on Wednesday, but we were able to work in the shade most of the day. With a breeze blowing, the 99 degree weather was bearable.

We accomplished a fair bit. First, we completed installing the short 2x6 joists from the timber frame out to the box board. This provides support for the floor under the straw bales. It didn’t take long to get this boards nailed in.

The next task was to build a plate to extend out from the frame near second story height. This plate will hold the vertical stringers for hanging the siding out from the bale wall. It will also provide a sort of floor for the second floor bales to be installed upon.

bale plate and toe-up

We build the plate with 2x4s and made it 18 inches wide, the width of straw bales. We put it together in sections on the porch, using sheets of Advantech for a floor to work on. It wasn’t hard to lift it into place and shoot a few nails into the timber frame beam on the back of the house to hold the plate in place.

We only needed to install a plate on the back and both sides. The porch rafters will butt up with the beam across the front of the house.

We measured the height for the plate so that it will not be too difficult to stack bales underneath of it on the first floor. It ended up being at a height for seven courses of straw bales. This matched up quite close for the bottom of the beam on the back of the house, but on the sides it didn’t. We had to install it below the beam. This is fine as it will be supported  by vertical 2x4s which will be nailed into it on the outside face extending from porch floor level to rafters.

There are two sections of wall where the design calls for straw bales upstairs with no straw bales directly below downstairs. This is because of running the straw bale wall around the exterior of the rooms above the root cellar and the crawl space under the mudroom on the northwest corner of the house.

For the section of wall on the north side, I will frame some built-in book shelves to help support the plate and upstairs straw bales since this is in the location of a study/sewing room area. The other wall above the mudroom/utility room will have a wall extending out near the middle of the plate which will provide support. I will also add some diagonal braces from the plate to the beam on the timber frame between which bales will be inserted for the first upstairs course. The plate will also be connected to the rafters via vertical 2x4 strapping. I will detail these elements as we complete them.

After installing he plate, we began putting 2x4s down flat to provide a toe-up for the bales. The idea is to keep them above floor level in case there is ever a water leak or spill inside the house. Having the bales up an extra inch or two will help keep water from infiltrating the bale wall.

We put one board even with the outside edge of the timber frame, one 18” out from the frame, and one centered between the other two. We were able to put down about half of the total amount required. Later, we will put subfloor material on top of this toe-up when we put the rest of the subfloor down on the first floor.

We’re planning on working on the house again tomorrow, unless it rains. the task at hand is to finish the toe up for the bale wall and begin installing vertical strapping from the porch to the rafters.

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