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.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A bit of wiring

With the interior walls framed, it was time to get started on the electrical wiring in the house. I’ve done some wiring at different times in a few different houses over the years, although I’ve not wired a whole house. Still, like most things, it’s not that complicated if you understand the concept.

A few weeks ago, I made a wiring diagram which shows the location of outlets, switches, and light fixtures. One of the considerations is how to route the wires. 010In many places, they have to go through or around the timber frame. In other places, like for many light fixtures, there is no space within the ceiling to run the wires. I haven’t tackled the light fixtures yet, but I have a plan for concealing those wires by running them along a floor joist and covering them with some wood trim.

The starting point for wiring was to install electrical boxes. Armed with my wiring diagram, I mounted boxes in their locations within the interior walls – this was easy since these are conventionally framed walls. 004The straw bale walls, on the other hand, require a different method.

I cut a 2x2 into 9 inch long lengths and tapered one end to a point. After attaching a standard electrical box to the 2x2 stake I made using a couple of drywall screws, I was able to drive it into the wall. 005I thought I would need to notch out a space for the box to recess it into the wall a little, but it works out that it’s not necessary – it can be driven into the wall far enough without a notch carved into the straw.

In order to run wires between the outlet boxes in the straw bale walls, I use a 1x1 to push the wire 4 to 6 inches into the wall. Between outlets, 009the wires are running between the first and second courses of bales. For switches, I am still able to push the wires into the straw bales even though they aren’t necessarily between courses.

Once I have the wire ends into the electrical boxes (I leave plenty of wire to work with when putting in switches and outlets later – I’ve worked on homes where the electrician left hardly any wire in the box, and it wasn’t fun), 011I push the box into the wall leaving about an inch exposed past the surface of the bales so that the outlets and switches should end up flush with the wall surface when the plastering is completed.

I was able to get a fair bit of the wiring completed last week. I wasn’t installing the outlets and switches yet, just putting in boxes and running wires. I have a few more wires to put in the walls. I was also running wires back to the location for the circuit breaker box for the different circuits we’ll have in the house.

Since our electrical system will be solar powered, not grid-tied, I’m not overly concerned with code stipulations about location and number of outlets (although, in most areas, we’re meeting or exceeding code). The wiring will be safe and functional. The wires are properly sized for the loads on each circuit. Actually, with our current system, we are only running an 1,100 watt inverter which is about 10 amps of power (it can surge to about 20 amps). So, other than the convenience of having different sections of the house on different circuits and possibly upgrading at some later date, there is actually little reason for multiple circuits.


Dave @ Transform My Home said...

Are you still able to run all the modern things like dishwasher, dryer, fridge, etc. It doesn't seem like very much power. I like the solar power instead of the grid. Good for you.


dp said...

We power lights, fans, refrigerator (converted chest freezer), washing machine, computer, sewing machine, iron (occasionally), and TV/DVD player -- all the things we're used to. We wash dishes by hand, hang dry laundry, and cook on wood cookstoves or an LP stove (sometimes). We worked on conserving our usage before we switched to solar power a little over a year ago. I'll move our current system to the new house before we move in.

Dave @ Transform My Home said...

That is awesome to be able to conserve like that. I'm sure we all could if we really tried. You can sell left over power back to the grid i believe.

Jesse McLaughlin said...

Is this a big fire hazard? It just looks like you could start one awfully easy there...


dp said...

Jesse, are you referring to the wiring or the straw bale walls? The wiring isn't a fire hazard. The straw bale walls might be somewhat at this point in time since they aren't plastered on the inside yet. Once they are plastered, there is less fire risk/hazard than a stick framed house -- properly plastered straw bale walls are more fire resistant than traditional houses because of the density of the straw and the fact that they are sealed from air by the plaster.

Anonymous said...

I've been waiting to ask this. I am TOTALLY ignorant of these things. I wondered about the wiring in the straw. I've had a house fire so I'm overly sensitive to it. But sometimes wires loosen at the connections? Will the final setup of your wiring keep the outlets and wiring connections away from the actual bales - maybe they'll be mounted in the plaster part? Truly just curious - I know you have researched it all and would never endanger your family. Just looking for education here. And still following! Thanks again for sharing your work. Jennifer

dp said...

Jennifer, it's a good question. The wires in an through the straw bales are UF (underground feed), which is shielded for direct burial in ground. All of the connections are at the outlets and switches in the boxes, not in the bales themselves. I would imagine that even if there was a bad connection inside the bales, once they are plastered the environment would not be conducive to a fire because of the density of the bales and the lack of oxygen with the bales sealed in plaster. However, I've taken precautions to eliminate the possibilities.

Anonymous said...

I knew you had it covered. Thanks for explaining. Jennifer