We started excavations by hand, but decided to go with machinery because we were in a hurry. It ended up being a lot more dirt than we thought, so we feel like we made the appropriate choice under the circumstances. We could have built a wood platform on posts, but we wanted to use the earthen floor style of building which provides a thermal mass to store heat from sunlight and doesn't put a flammable structure under your house. It also just feels better to us to be on the ground. We probably ended up using more concrete and we also have to build a big ass retaining wall now, so it's not all butterflies and roses but it still seems like the best choice.
Unloading straw bales for the project. Straw is used to stuff the spaces between the wall studs and to add strength to the poured adobe floor and earthen wall plasters. This straw was "second use" from a bale wall used to block sound at a nearby festival.
While having the site excavated, we also had a small vernal pool dug. Vernal pools are ponds and low spots that fill with water only during the winter months, but go dry for the summer. They host a group of usually rare plants that are adapted to being flooded with water for extended periods of time. Chuck is a vernal pool expert and has already dispersed seed of native vernal pool plants into the new pool. In this picture we have removed the top soil and are just hitting a layer of clay (pockets of grey and green showing). Since this is an added bonus and a needed material for the cottage, the clay was dug out and set aside for the building project. There is more than enough, so we'll save the rest for other buildings.
We came out to check the sunrise from the building site on summer solstice morning.
We used a lot of gravel in the building. Since we had just put in our road the previous fall, we decided to use the waste gravel from the sides of the road. All the gravel had to be laboriously raked up and sifted. Altogether, we used about 6 1/2 yards of sifted gravel.
Sifting the gravel by dumping it onto a diagonally oriented screen. The big stuff is what we're after.
Tamping the Driveway
The finer gravel siftings were mixed with straight run rock and soil before being tamped into place on the driveway. The drive, like much of our road, is sloped to the outside so that water runs off right away. This also eliminates building and maintaining a ditch on the inside. Reduced sediment runoff and reduced maintenance. It's win/win all the way.
Getting some help contouring the driveway.
Soaking the Perimeter
Tamara dug most of the footing.
The footing slopes to a drain so that any water which gets under there will drain out quickly. This picture shows filter fabric and drain pipe laid in place. Filter fabric allows the water to enter, but not dirt and sediment which would clog the pipe.
Tamping the Footing
All layers have to be tamped firmly into place because we are putting a heavy structure right on top. Tamping is hard work.
Finishing the Rock
After one layer of rock was in, the cloth was folded down and the final layer of rock put on top and tamped down firmly.
Who needs to go to the gym when there's gravel to shovel?
Moving Large Logs
In and around the whole foundation and wall part of the project we were also milling lumber up at Antonias place. Antonia's WOOFers helped out to. Antonia, Steven and Steph on a log on its way up to the milling site.
Pa told me not to cut up them sheep with the chainsaw no more
Moving around chains
Is that Popeye's sister? Chains are really heavy but can pull an amazing amount of weight. We have a new appreciation for chains.
Tamara and Antonia choking logs. Chain is wrapped once around about 1/3rd back from the front of the log.
Starting the Framing
Velton came to stay a while just as we were ready to bolt on the sill plates and start framing. He framed the whole thing almost singlehandedly and it's super tight. and stout which people comment on all the time. VELTON ROCKS!
Dumping gravel in for the floor drainage.
Spreading the Gravel
Sooooo ready to be done with the gravel part!
Tamping the Gravel
Tamping gravel is clearly a lot of fun!
Tamped Floor Base
Firmly tamped into place, we now have a flat surface to start from. The floor is contoured to drain into one corner and out in case any water ever does get onto the floor, which is unlikely with the rubble trench in place.
A layer of volcanic pumice was added as insulation. I think it was two inches thick, maybe three. This is very light stone. It's basically stone foam. It's not quite light enough to float like much of the grey pumice is, but it's almost that light. The 2x4's are forms to pour the adobe floor mix into. After the first one is filled, the 2x4 against the wall is leapfrogged over to about where Velton's foot is and a second strip is laid. As each 2x4 is taken out, the space left is filled with the same material so we ended up with a continuous adobe slab 3 1/2 inches thick. The mix was a little clay rich, so it cracked some, but that's not a problem for the sub floor.
The mix for the floor was done with the tractor. It's mostly sand and gravel with some clay and straw. We were either too tired to remember to take pictures of laying the floor or we lost them.
Mixing Straw Clay
Once the floor was firm enough to walk on, we started stuffing the walls with straw clay mix. We mixed meadow clay with water and a little bit of borax to make a runny clay slip. This was mixed into some straw like coleslaw.
Chuck mixed tons of straw clay with his usual even humor.
Stuffing the Walls
The wall that Andrew built. Andrew is a great guy and a stalwart stuffer.
Stuffing More Walls
Willow stuffing walls at an impromptu work party. Plywood is temporarily screwed to the outside of the wall. The plywood on the inside is moved up as the wall progresses. The space between the two creates a form and the straw is packed in semi-firmly with a piece of 2x4. There is controversy over how tight to pack the straw in. Tighter packing provides less insulation, but too loose and it's hard to plaster to and just kind of sloppy. With lot's of different people helping we ended up with a pretty wide variance, but once it's all covered with 1 1/2 inches of plaster on each side we'll probably never think about it again.
Tops of the Walls
Bruni stuffing walls. It makes this work a lot more fun when a bunch of people around.
Straw Clay Infill Wall
A finished wall. The diagonals are bracing to provide shear to the wall. Many people don't seem to do much for shear on the straw clay structures because is seems like a hassle. It actually wasn't a big hassle at all. The same goes for the electrical conduit buried in the wall, which is also often omitted. Walls need adequate bracing in a seismically active area like this one. Earth plaster can provide some shear, but only to a certain stress point at which it will probably explode into fragments as tests on adobe structures have shown. We don't want our guests buried under a pile of slate roof thank you very much. So, shear those walls ya'll!
The center box will be a vent for the building. It also provides venting for the roof. It will have its own cute little cupola roof.
Someone's gotta do dishes through it all.
The roof all framed and fascia boarded. Nice job Velton! The only wood we bought was for the 4 main rafters since they needed to be a little deeper than the mill could easily cut. As a result, we ended up with better wood than we could probably ever buy and milled to the dimensions that we wanted.
View out the East window. You can see the vernal pool and the clay we dug out to build the cottage with.
Starting to nail the decking in place.
Decking the Roof
The roof will be covered in slate, so it has to be really stout. We went with full coverage one inch decking as recommended in the Slate Roof Bible.
Almost at the Top
He really should have a safety harness.
This picture should be Velton and Tamara since they decked most of the roof. The open space over the porch will be glassed to let light in to the double paned french doors. The building already heats up pretty well when the sun is shining even with air leaks galore, so it looks like the passive solar design is probably going to work well.
Tar Paper on the Roof
Velton & Laird tacking on felt paper which is now leaking a little here and there, mostly due to the last roll of cheap paper bought in a rush at the last minute:( We hope to get through the winter with just this layer so we can slate during the summer or fall and concentrate on the Cottage interior for the remainder of the wet season. Right now we have temporary doors and plastic over the windows. There's a wood stove, so we can heat it, and the electrical is mostly in.
Next are two more floor layers, plastering the inside and outside, installing the kitchenette, and putting in the doors and windows some of which have to be custom built.
After building fun with some incredibly perfect days on the ocean. Very good fishing.
Just after the roof was finished, we went for a much anticipated kayak fishing trip at the coast.
Kendra came after all the fun part was over and graciously helped clean up the aftermath of frantic building (along with some kimchee making and bacon smoking).
Thanks Kendra, and thanks to everyone else who has helped and will continue to help on this project. It's turning out fantastic and we hope it will be an inspirational example of what can be done with some alternative building methods. Hopefully we'll continue this photo essay as the project progresses.