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, August 3, 2011

“Well, it’s about time!” An update…

It seems like it’s been a long time since I’ve posted to my blog. Probably, because it has been a long time – over 2 months. I’ve not been doing nothing, just not blogging.

I’ve had a lot of different things vying for my time, as is usual for the summer months. Last year I put off a lot of things and worked on the house full time, but I’ve not been able to do that this year. So, I’ve not gotten as much done as I would like.

In this post I’ll try to provide an update on some of the things I have done since the last time I posted (was it really in May?).

We haven’t gotten any more interior walls packed with slip straw. I’d say we have about 65% of them left to do. All of the downstairs windows, 019except the bathroom windows, are bull-nosed now. I have to build the window sills/seats for the kitchen windows and the laundry room windows (and the bathroom windows). 015Then, the five upstairs windows need to be bull-nosed and the window sills installed. I was able to round the bale edges around the front door and on one side of the back door. 018

After purchasing materials to build a masonry chimney, I poured a footer for it. Then, I used concrete blocks to bring the base up to the level of the floor where I’ll be building the chimney. A friend will come over to help me with laying the brick for this project. He’s working on a job that will keep him busy for another week or two, which is fine because I haven’t gotten to the point of being ready to build the chimney yet anyway.

I did begin to plaster the wall behind the location of the chimney. I figured it would be easier to get the plastering done before the chimney is there in the way. 041I’ve only got the first coat on art of the wall so far. I attached some drywall at the top of the bales along this wall (the front wall) to close up a gap between the top course of bales and the beam running across the top of the wall. There was no way to effectively stuff it with straw. I’ll plaster over the drywall pieces later. 038So, they will disappear.

Once I got my hands in the mud, I had to plaster more than just this section of wall. So, I put the first coat of plaster on the slip straw wall in the living room. This wall is between the living room and the master bedroom. After I get the finish coat clay (which I ordered today), I’ll try a batch on this wall to see if it will be enough to finish it, or if I need to put another thin layer on the first coat before the finish coat.

Last week I went ahead and made arrangements for getting two more important jobs done. One of those is installing the cistern, and the other one is having the insulation blown in. I hired a local individual to come dig out the area where we are going to set three 1,500 gallon septic tanks for our cistern. I’ll plumb them together as one tank, and we’ll harvest rain water off of the roof to fill them. I also hope to develop a spring later on for filling the cistern. 046It didn’t take too long to dig into the hill in front of the house where the tanks will be set. I’ll post more on this process later.

Originally, for the insulation above the cathedral ceiling in the house, a friend of mine was going to bring his machine and dense pack cellulose. I took longer than expected in getting things ready for the insulation, and in the meantime he sold his machine. So, I hired an insulation contractor to insulate my roof. They blew in fiberglass in the space I constructed. They also insulated the kitchen, mud room,  laundry room, and guest room (used to be sewing/study) roofs. 042It actually didn’t cost much more than I expected to pay for having my friend do the job.

In preparation for the insulation, I had a few tasks to complete. I blocked in along the front outside wall where there were some gaps into the insulation space. I also blocked in some gaps on the back. I cut the chimney opening in the ceiling and framed it in (I figured it would be easier to do that now than after the insulation was blown in). I also stuffed straw above the kitchen and laundry room windows 052which I hadn’t done previously. I also stuffed straw above the top course of bales to bring the walls up to the ceiling level.

On the day scheduled for the job, yesterday, I removed some metal from the back of the house and cut holes in the sheeting to allow access for blowing in the insulation. It worked great. After they were done, I closed the holes back up and put the metal back on.

Inside, they stapled netting on the ceiling across the rafters and blew the insulation inside that. 048The R-values are 39 for the main ceiling and 28 for the other areas. I think they will effectively be a little higher than that.

There are a lot of things yet to be done before we will move in. One thing I’ve learned through building this house is that my plans and timetables don’t always work out as I imagine they will. I’m okay with that.


Matt Johnson. said...

What kind of finish coat do you plan on using?

Matt Johnson. said...

How long does teh light clay straw take? Have you looked into using wood chips instead of straw? Did you have any problems plastering over the 2x4s? I'm going to start a straw bale house as soon as we can sell our other house. I am thinking that I could save lots of $ by using light clay straw instead of drywall. Is it worth hte extra work?

dp said...

Hey, Matt! The finish coat will be a #6 tile kaolin clay. It's white, and we may or may not add a pigment to it.

I'm really happy with the light clay straw in the walls. It takes a little while to pack it into the walls but not too long. It's easy enough that even children can help. It plasters great. I had no problem plastering over the 2x4s, either. I didn't consider wood chips since they are usually green or wet. Saw dust or planer shavings would probably work, but I don't think they would offer many advantages over straw unless you have such materials readily available.

I was going to plaster over drywall (I wanted the plaster texture and look), but I'm happier with the light clay straw. It provides nice sound insulation and seems to be at least as strong as drywall. I think it's worth it.