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, July 30, 2010

Three sheets

The weather today was much nicer than the preceding days. It was cooler (mid-80s), and the humidity was lower. There were severalpurlins on the back porch times I just had to stand still and enjoy how refreshing the breeze felt.

Dad and Danny helped this morning. Dad and I nailed on purlins while Danny cut the individual boards to length and handed them up to us. We were able to finish the east side, get all of the purlins on the back, and start the west side before lunch.

After lunch, Danny had some other work to attend to. So, Dad and I worked on finishing the purlins on the west side. We got them all nailed on without any problems.west side of the house

Then, we laid out three sheets of metal on the front to figure out how they fit under the existing roof metal. We’re able to slide them up under alright, but we’ll need to cut off about 3 inches from the sheets on the front in order to make sure that the amount the metal overhangs is not too much. The metal can’t be slid up under the other metal far enough because of the rafters on the house (they butt up against these). The first of the porch roofI don’t need or want 4 inches of metal overhanging the edge. The goal is 1.5 inches, an appropriate amount for the gutters that I will eventually install around the porch.

After figuring out the front, we moved the sheets of metal to the east side to see how they lined up. They were fine. So, since we had them up there already, I went ahead and screwed them to the purlins. If we have no problems, it won’t be too difficult to get the rest of the roofing metal installed early next week.


Purlins and fascia board

Although I haven’t posted in a few days, I’ve continued working on the house. Jon hasn’t been able to come over to work since last week, but my corner over the root cellardad helped me three days. I’ll be getting more done today.

Dad and I finished the porch on the west side of the house, putting up the two posts and the 4x6 headers. We also got all of the porch rafters up, including the corner over the root cellar and the corner that over what will be the summer kitchen. It’ll just be porch initially. siding on the trailerLater, I’ll close it in for the summer kitchen (might only screen it – we haven’t decided yet).

On Tuesday of this week, I brought home some cement board siding. I have some more to bring home. I’d hoped to get it yesterday, but I had to change two tires on the trailer (one did not make it home intact on Tuesday). purlins on the front porchThe tires are ready to go now, and I’ve unloaded all of the siding from the trailer.

On Wednesday, Dad and I started installing purlins for the porch roof on the front of the house. After we got going on that, we decided to put up fascia board all the way around. I had some 1x6s that worked great for this. We were able to put up all of the fascia board and get the purlins completed on the front and partially done on the east side.

The plan for today is to continue installing purlins so that we can start getting the metal roof on.


fascia board 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Window bucks and other things

It was hot again today. That seems to be the way it is around here this summer.

After doing some garden work this morning, I did some work on the house. My first task was to put a pipe under the footer on the west side of the house. When I was doing the foundation work previously, water lineI forgot to provide for bringing in a water line. I left an outlet hole for sewer, but that’s higher on the wall than I wanted to bring a water line in, which would make it more susceptible to freezing.

So, I dug down and under the footer in one place and fed through a section of 1.5” black pipe. I should be able to tie in to this later on when bring the water line down the hill.

The next task I undertook was installing corner bracesbraces on porch corner post on the northeast corner post of the porch. I could have nailed some 2x4s on at 45 degree angles, but I wanted something a little better than that. I used a 2x4 I milled out of cedar a while back for the brace, and I set it into the post and header on the corner. It took a little while to cut and chisel the pockets for the braces, but I’m pretty happy with the result.

When I finished with the braces, it was time to eat lunch. Because of the heat, I felt tired and worn out. I rested for a little while, and then decided to get back to work. Thankfully, I could work in the shade.

window bucks in living roomwindow buck in master bedroomI cut 2x4s and constructed five window bucks. I put these in for the windows in the living room and Anne’s and my bedroom. I made sure they were square and plumb and securely attached them to the vertical stringers. After putting them in, I added some short stringers underneath to which siding will be attached later.

View from living room looking toward the garden

Speaking of siding, I’ve decided to use cement board siding on the house. The guy I’ve been buying lumber from got a trailer load of it and has offered me a pretty good deal on enough for the house. It will cost a bit more than the shingle siding, but it will go on a whole lot quicker with less work.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Porch rafters

view from the west

After three days of working on the house this week, the porch on the front, east side, and back of the house is now ready for the purlins. Yesterday, Danny and I installed the rest of the header beams that were still needed and worked on some of the rafters.

Before Danny came down the hill to help, I put up a header board across the front of the house to attach the porch rafters to. Originally, I thought I was going to attach the rafters on the front to the girts on the front of the timber frame. Previously, we put up the vertical stringers across the front, attaching them to a 2x4 we nailed to the house rafters. In order to attach the porch rafters to the timber frame, I would have to notch each one to fit over the 2x4 at the top of the vertical stringers.

It occurred to me that I could put a header up on the vertical stringers, notching it around the rafters under the metal roof. This actually worked well and was quite easy to do. Once it was up, the rafters, which could be cut to the same length as the rest of them around the house, were fairly easy to put up.

porch rafters on the frontWe used the porch rafters to assure that the porch posts were plumb toward the house. We plumbed them the other direction when attaching the headers on Monday.

After we finished the rafters on the front of the house, we cut the remaining headers to go on top of the posts along the back and the northeast corner. After putting these up, rafters near postsI laid out the location for the rafters along the back and the east side. We then attached the rafters that were nearest the posts in order to tie them to the house and to make sure they were plumb in that direction.

This morning, I had two posts to plumb and tie to the house with rafters. Once I had those two up, my dad came down to help me. Jon wasn’t able to make it, and Danny had another job to work on.

Before starting on the rafters, I cut several rafters to length out of some of the 2x6s I bought on Sunday. Dad and I worked on getting all the rafters up between the ones already attached near the posts. hip roof on northeast cornerOnce we had all of these done, we started on the rafters at the northeast corner of the porch.

The corners will have a hip roof. I’d previously set aside 2x6s of sufficient length for each corner. I’m doubling the rafters on the corners since they have a greater span and will be carrying more of the roof load than the other rafters.

We figured out the angles we needed and began by putting the first two 2x6s in place. hip roof on southeast cornerEach of the rafters we’ve installed for the porch has had to be notched to fit onto the header. I’ve found that it’s easier to use a chisel and hammer for this than it is to use a saw. We would put each rafter into place, mark the outside edge of the header on the bottom of it, take it down, and then cut the notch.

For the corner rafters, the notch is cut at an angle. the back porch with rafters intalledIt wasn’t too hard to chisel it so that it fit tightly while the rafters met up at the corner on the house side. We left these 2x6s long to be cut later after we had the rafters that but into this main one installed.

We measured, cut, and put up the other corner rafters one at a time, notching them as we went. Once they were all up, we snapped a chalk line to mark where they needed to be cut off for the proper overhang. the front porch with rafters installedIt didn’t take long to cut them.

After lunch we worked on the southeast corner rafters. We were able to finish this corner before we quit this evening. We also moved supplies to be ready to get the corner above the root cellar done next.

So, the porch rafters along the front, east side, and back of the house are all up. It’s looking good!

the house today

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Floor plan/layout of our house

Danny and I worked on the house again today, installing more rafters and header beams on top of the porch posts. I’ll include a few photos of today’s work in a post after tomorrow’s work.

A couple of people have asked about the floorplan of our house. It has changed since I last posted a layout on February 8, 2009. I’ve been negligent in not posting a current floor plan. So, I’m rectifying that situation now.

The layout for the first floor that we’re working with now (after some adjustment over the last few months) looks like this (click image for a larger view):

First floor house plan If you compare the current plan with the previous floor plan, you will notice a few changes. The main thing is the kitchen which has been moved forward outside of the timber frame area. To the left of the kitchen is the summer kitchen on the southwest corner of the porch area. We also changed the bathrooms to put them next to one another, and we moved the pantry to the northwest corner of the timber frame area. This allowed us to put windows in both bathrooms. On the northwest corner of the house is located the mudroom, utility room, and the sewing room/study.

The porch, which we are working on now, extends around the house with the dotted line in the layout denoting the edge. The porch is 9 feet wide.

The upstairs in the house is in the timber frame area. It’s layout is like this (click image for a larger view):

Second floor house plan

The center section is open to the first floor. The stairs come up in a U shape at the back of the house where there is a landing. The two bedrooms upstairs are on the east and west end of the house. There is some storage space accessed from these rooms under the eaves at the front of the house. We’ve really not changed anything upstairs – there’s only so much that can be done.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The porch posts are vertical

Well, all except two of them.

pile of porch postsIn April of last year, dad and I milled the posts for our porch (post 1 & post 2). Since then, they’ve been stacked in the timber frame waiting to be used. Today, it was finally time to begin installing them.

The process was fairly simple, but did take a bit of time. The first task was to square one end of each post and then cut them to length. Squaring an end involves cutting it on four sides with the circular saw and finishing the cut with a handsaw (about 3/4” in the center).

lag screw into bottom of postThe posts are all set over concrete piers and tie into the beams used to frame the porch deck. Being cedar, they aren’t too heavy even though they are full 6x6s. We set them up to vertical and toe nailed them into the deck framing while holding them mostly plumb. Then, I drilled holes to embed two 7” lag screws into the bottom of each post, coming up at an angle through the 6x8 beam upon which each partially sits.

header cut to 5" and butted on top of postAs we set the posts, we also began to put up the 4x6 header on top. These small beams butt to one another on top of the posts. Since the 4x6s vary in height, I’m cutting them to 5 inches to provide a consistent height for the rafters which will sit on the header.

By the end of the day, we had all but two posts set and the header installed across the front and most of the east side. It shouldn’t take too long to set the last two posts and finish the header. I may put up some rafters on the front tomorrow.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Another week’s worth of work is done

It feels good to get things done on the house. We are on schedule for being ready for the straw bales by the end of July. If our progress is good next week, I’ll call the guy I’m buying them to arrange for delivery sometime during the last week of July (which isn’t far away).

This morning we continued putting up vertical stringers on the west side of the utility room and mudroom. We got the north side of this section done on Wednesday. Having done the other wall of stringers, this wall went quickly. Once we had rafters up, we were able to frame the end walls with the vertical stringers.

I was glad to see that the length of the north wall above the root cellar and the west wall above the root cellar (and past it) were the same. I actually find this remarkable because the rooms here are the result of different sections of foundation built at different times coming together. I feel blessed.

At lunch time, it was beginning to rain a little bit. The rain didn’t continue, though. So, we were able to continue work in the afternoon.

We framed the kitchen with the vertical stringers for these bale walls. There is a door on the west wall that will lead into the summer kitchen. There is a six foot wide by 36” tall window on the south wall that will be above the sink. There is a 36” by 36” window on the east wall. We’ll be building the bucks for the doors and windows later. When they’re installed, things will look different.

west wall of the kitcheneast wall of the kitchen

the kitchen from inside the house

We put up all of the rafters above the sewing room/study, utility room, mudroom, and kitchen. I’m planning on buying some more 2x6s from the local guy who I’ve bought other lumber from. I bought two exterior doors from him yesterday. One will be the front door and the other will exit from the sewing room/study onto the back porch.

I also picked up the roofing metal I ordered for the porch. I have some 10’ pieces of metal, but they wouldn’t allow for enough overhang. So, I ordered 11’ pieces of ‘rainbow’ metal. Out of the 50 pieces I received, two are black and 48 are galvanized.

Next week, we should be able to get the porch posts up and the header that goes between the posts put on. Then, we’ll put on the porch rafters and, hopefully, the purlins so we can put on the roofing metal.

The house

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More vertical stringers

Jon and I started in on the west side of the house today. After moving the materials and tools we needed, ripping a few more 2x8s into 2x4s, and laying out the positions for the stringers, they installed quite well. west side stringersSo, the majority of the stringers are in around the timber frame. The ones that remain are shorter ones that will be below and above the window/door bucks.

After finishing the west side stringers, we took a little time to do some figuring on the pitch for the porch roof (also the pitch for the roof over the kitchen, summer kitchen, mudroom, back wall above root cellarutility room, and sewing room/study area). I don’t want the outside wall of these rooms and the outside of the porch too low. We set up a board so we could visualize the pitch and take some accurate measurements.

With this figuring done, we moved our efforts to the wall on the outside edge above the root cellar, walls for the sewing room/study and utility room. back wall and raftersThere will be one large window in each of these rooms.

We put up a header on the vertical stringers for attaching rafters to the house. We then nailed 2x4s cut to the right height along the back wall, leaving openings for the window bucks. It is exactly 24 feet from one corner of this wall to the other. another viewSo, we were able to use one 2x4 (cut from a 24’ 2x8) as the header at the top of the wall. This provides the plate for the 2x6 rafters to sit on.

After getting the corners of the wall plumb, we nailed on the header. Then, we plumbed each of the verticals and nailed them on. back wall and raftersNext, we put on some rafters in order to tie the wall into the house.

We’ll continue where we left off on Friday. Hopefully, we finish the west wall on this part of the house and put up the vertical stringers on the front of the kitchen. Maybe we’ll even get other stuff done.

    the house from a distance

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Vertical stringers

Since we are going to have a wood shingle siding on the outside of our house rather than just plastered straw bales, there is a need to have some sort of framing to hang the siding on. We were able to get started on some of this framing yesterday. Jon wasn’t able to make it, but Danny was glad to help.

The vertical stringers to which horizontal stringers will be attached (upon which the siding will hang) are 2x4s set 18 inches outside of the timber frame. These 2x4s extend from the floor level to the rafters. stock of 2x8sPreviously, I bought some 20 foot long 2x8s from a local guy with the intention of ripping them into 2x4s for framing purposes. These 2x8 boards were a good deal and make it possible for the vertical stringers to be one piece the whole distance.

We began the day by affixing a 2x4 to the rafters on the back of the house across the whole length. We snapped a chalk line to facilitate putting the board 18” outside the timber frame. Then, I climbed a ladder holding one end of the board while Danny lifted it with a 16 foot 2x4 nailed to the opposite end. He held up his end while I nailed the other end in place and then worked my way down the board nailing it to the rafters. vertical strapping on back of houseBecause of the length of the 2x4s we had, we only needed two to extend across the back of the house.

Next, I laid out the location of the windows on the back of the house, marking their location on the 2x4 bale toe-up on the floor. Later, we will build window bucks using 2x4s that will hang on the vertical stringers where the windows go. Upstairs windows are designed to be above downstairs windows, simplifying their framing.

Most of our windows require a 56” by 54” rough opening. So, we set the vertical stringers on the sides of the windows 59” apart, leaving 3” for the extra width of the window bucks that will be attached later.

After completing the back of the house, we moved our materials and tools to the front of the house to install the vertical stringers there. At this point, my left leg slipped through the 2xs on the bale toe-up causing some bruising in my thigh muscles. I was able to keep working the rest of the day, but by evening, the pain was intense. It’s much better today, though.stringers on front of house

After lunch, Danny and I cut boards and put the stringers up on the front of the house. It went surprisingly quickly, probably because we didn’t have to climb any tall ladders (we were working with 9’ 2x4s rather than 17 foot ones). We had to set them for front door and two large windows for the living room.

Since it didn’t take long to complete the front stringers, we moved to the east side of the house. On this side there are two more large windows on the end of the living room, an 8’ sliding glass door off of Anne’s and my bedroom, and a large window upstairs (these will all become more clearly visible when we make and install the window/door bucks). The tallest stringer was in the middle and is nearly 20 feet long.

For each of the stringers on the end of the house, we attached short sections of 2x4 to the roof sheeting to which the top of the stringers side and back of housecould be attached. I have one that I set out a bit too far (supposed to be 18”) which I will correct later. We were able to get all of them put in place before it was time to quit yesterday. We got more done than expected.

The stringers are nailed into the toe-up at the floor level, the 2nd story bale plate, and the 2x4s at rafter level. They aren’t required to provide structural support since there will be straw bales between them and the timber frame which will be able to support themselves. The straw bales will also help support the windows. Although the stringers will hold the window/door bucks in place, the bales will provide most of the support for them, too. The stringers, straw bales, and timber frame will also all be securely tied together when we install the bales.

Jon is planning on being here Wednesday. We’ll continue installing the stringers on the west side of the house. We may build and put in some window/door bucks. We might also begin putting up some stringers around the kitchen and above the root cellar.

    from a distance

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.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Finishing the floor framing

The floor is almost all framed. We lack installing the short sections of 2x6 along the back that will support the straw bale wall.

2x6 porch floor joistsLast week, we only worked on the house Monday, getting all of the 2x6 floor joists installed on the porch and the first three 4x6 joists as well. first three 4x6 joists 

Anne and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary on Wednesday. She and I took off Wednesday and Thursday for some time out together – the children stayed with my parents.

On Friday, I mowed hay, and we baled what I had previously mowed on Tuesday afternoon. So, there wasn’t time to get back to work on the house as I had hoped.

We got at it this morning and put in a full day. We completed putting in the rest of the 4x6  floor joists on the porch. Then, we installed the floor joists for the kitchen, the west side porch, and the mudroom. The next thing was to put in the short 2x6 joists that frame the floor upon which the straw bale walls will be placed. This process went well, but the day was done before we could get the section on the back of the house done. We’ll complete that on Wednesday.

View from the back of the house floor framing on front of house framing on west side of house kitchen floor from inside the timber frame

I have to figure out how to proceed from this point. There are several tasks to be completed before we can begin stacking straw bales, including building the framework to hold the windows and exterior siding, framing the summer kitchen, putting up the porch posts, roofing the porch, installing the first floor subfloor, and screwing on the porch floor.

Three years ago I bought 300 bales of straw for the house which have been stored in the barn since then. I should’ve waited. Several of them have not faired well for a variety of reasons. I also wanted some better straw. Last week I made a deal to purchase 300 more bales of good wheat straw. The guy I’m buying them from will deliver then when I’m ready for them. We’re working to be ready by the end of July.