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, August 5, 2011

Tanks for the water

A couple of years ago, I started constructing a ferro-cement tank for water storage in the shed/garage near our current home. I planned the tank to hold about 5,000 gallons, collecting water off of the roof of the building. The idea was to run a water line down the hill to the new house from this cistern. The drop in elevation between the cistern and the house would provide about 25 pounds of water pressure. We also wanted to have a cistern for collecting water off of the roof of the new house at some point.

The ferro-cement tank is only partially constructed, and time to devote to its construction hasn’t been readily available. In order to facilitate an earlier move into the new house, we decided to go ahead and put in a cistern near it. I considered options for water storage, including buying a poly tank (or more than one), building a ferro-cement tank, etc. We finally decided that buying some concrete septic tanks would not be much more expensive than building a ferr0-cement tank and about half the price of a poly tank or any other commonly available water storage tank. It also would involve a lot less time than building a cistern.

I hired a guy to dig into the hill in front of the house to create a place to set three 1,500 gallon septic tanks. 001We decided on three of them in order to have enough capacity to survive without rain for two to three months. July and August have been fairly dry months since we’ve lived here. So, it seemed like a good idea to plan for enough water storage capacity to not run out during dry months.

This week, after getting the insulation taken care of, I leveled out the bottom of the excavation site in order to get it ready for the tanks. I hauled in 6 tons of rock to put in the bottom for the tanks to sit on. The intention is for them to have a solid base that won’t settle and cause any of them to crack and end up leaking.

After getting the site prepared on the fourth day of the week, I called to schedule delivery of the tanks yesterday morning. We got all three tanks set in place yesterday (and then baled the second cutting of hay).

Setting the first tank


The first one in place


And then there were two. . .


All three tanks in place

The plan now is to drill a 2” hole near the bottom of each tank in order to plumb them all together with shut-off valves for each tank. Also, the water line from the tanks into the house will come from this location. I’ll use one of the existing outlets for an overflow when the tanks are full. I’ll also construct some type of filtration system for the incoming water, which will be harvested off of the roof.

One other task I’d like to complete with the tanks is to coat the inside of them to ensure they won’t leak (they aren’t supposed to, anyway) and to prevent the water from taking on the smell and taste of concrete. I’ll be completing these tasks along with many others during the next couple of weeks.

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.