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, July 28, 2009

Grading around the perimeter

Yesterday I was able to finishing plastering the surface bonding cement on the blocks around the house. So, this morning I began grading the dirt around the house. My objectives were to push at least some of the dirt up to the walls and to level off the top of the hill in front of the house.

Last spring when I dug the cellar, I piled the extra dirt from the excavation in front of the house in order to extend the level of the ground outwards. Eventually, I will have the hill extended further out so that it will slope more gradually toward the garden. For now, I needed to level it off a bit in preparation for building the porch.

Using a grader blade with my tractor, I was able to pull dirt from the middle of the pile in front of the house toward either end and up to the block wall. I pushed the piles of dirt from excavating for the footers on the east side of the house toward the wall and toward the front of the house. In the back, I moved dirt toward the wall and around to the east side of the house. There’s still a bit that needs moved with a shovel, but it’s mostly graded. I wasn’t able to get the tractor and blade on the west side of the house. So, I’ll be moving the dirt on that side with a shovel later.

With the dirt graded around the house, I’ll measure and set some stakes and string for framing the porch. I have to pour footers that go under the porch posts, and I need them to be correctly placed.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

More work on the crawlspace wall

I didn’t realize it has been over a month since I posted an update. I wish I had completed a lot more work on the house since the last post than I actually have. It’s summer time which is busy with many different projects. I’ve endeavored to work at least one day a week on the house. Other projects have included finishing up classes (with lots of papers to be graded), garden work, and making hay among other things.

The house on 7/24/09The boys and I were able to get all of the blocks around the perimeter set in place. This process really didn’t take too long, but the frequent rains we’ve had make it a muddy job at times. I prefer not to slop in the mud and track it all over. So, I tend to put off some of the house work when it’s muddy around the house (which seems to be quite often this summer). Usually, we’re dry around here at this time of year. The weather this summer is quite different than the usual.

The biggest job involved in laying the blocks around the house was hauling them to the house from where I had them unloaded when they were delivered. They aren’t far away, thankfully, just out of the way. I hauled six or seven at a time in the wheel barrow, and the boys worked together to haul two at a time on a hand truck.

Last Friday, we worked on things again, the first time since earlier in the previous week. front wallsill boltsI had purchased several bags of concrete mix and some j-bolt concrete anchors. I mixed concrete in the wheel barrow, filled voids two courses down from the top every eight feet along the walls, and set the anchors. On both sides of the crawl space access door, I filled the voids all the way to the footer. There were also a couple of gaps in the wall that I filled with concrete – I don’t want any access points for mice and other vermin. I need to buy another dozen j-bolts to set between the ones already in place. These will be used to bolt a cedar sill to the wall. I’ll be harvesting the trees and milling the sill beams soon.

Filled gapblock wall

After lunch Friday, the boys and I started coating the back wall with surface bonding cement. We’re going to coat the entire external surface of the block wall all the way around the house. I don’t know that we will coat the inside surface. I’m thinking that it won’t be necessary. Later if I decide it is, it won’t be too difficult to trowel a coating on it. We coated all the back wall and started on the east wall before quitting. In the right photo below, you can see the east wall. Also, laying on top of the wall are two hawks I quickly made for holding the material while troweling. The hole in the wall which is visible was left for running a sewer line out from under the house if the septic tank needs to be set on the east side of the house (I prefer it on the west side).

coated back wallcoating on side wall

After laying the blocks, I ended up with five different levels on the wall, including the root cellar wall. A little more planning on my part would’ve eliminated most of these. However, I decided that it won’t matter, and it won’t. I’m custom cutting the beams for the sills. So, they’ll set the top of the wall at the right height for framing the porch around the house. The surface bonding cement will cover the seams between wall sections and tie them together. Besides, those under the porch aren’t going to be easily seen.

We had rain yesterday and last night. So, it’s a mucky mess around the house today. There’s more rain in the forecast for the next few days. I hope to be able to finish the coating of the walls this week, but I probably will only work on it if the mud isn’t too bad, meaning it needs to dry out a bit first.