It has been a funny start to the season, late March, early April showed so much promise with temperatures reaching the mid twenties (77f). The noise of traction could be heard all around as farmers rushed to get seed in the ground. We were no exception and with a new array of tractor tools fashioned from old horse drawn equipment I set too and managed to prepare the ground for a dusting of oats by the 5th of April. A good early start to the years crops.
It’s always good to see any news on straw bale building, but it’s normally resigned to the likes of Grand Designs or YouTube channels, so when I first heard the report on Radio 4 and then read further on the BBC website about a couple of straw bale houses going up for sale in Bristol (UK) I just had to read more and spread the news. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31156579
Now I know that there are a lot of enthusiasts and traditionalists out there that may ridicule the construction methods and declare that this isn’t really a straw bale house, but I would argue that this is indeed the future f straw bale.
If straw bale is ever going to become mainstream then it has to adopt to modern techniques and technology, rather than trying to adapt old methods to meet todays exacting standards.
Of course I would never even consider building a house based on this new modular and factory fabricated methodology, but then I’m an enthusiast not a builder and I like curvy walls 🙂 I like the aesthetics and the fact that our timber frame and infill method was very accessible for someone with no building experience to tackle. For the brave you could even try the Nebraska load bearing method, but for us the additional skills, uncertainty and possible problems with planning were things that we decided to avoid.
The point is that the new technique still ticks most of the boxes that people who decide on straw bale say they ticked when asked why they decided on this method of build. It’s environmentally friendly in the materials it uses in comparison to the other modern building systems. The high insulation properties mean that the running costs leave a small carbon foot print over a long period of time and it creates a healthy living environment free of harmful toxins that may otherwise exist in synthetic buildings.
It’s just not curvy!
It may not be as accessible to people who want to self build on a budget, stick to the niche books and websites like this, but it is most definitely the future of straw bale and for that I’m happy to shout about it.
All that remains to be done is to invent a usable composting toilet system that people are happy to use 🙂
Well I should say three days, as my brother in-law and two nephews turned up on Thursday to help out on the cold and neglected upstairs!
Of course I had pottered about early in the week finishing many small jobs that remain on the ground floor; finishing the bathroom door frame, putting a few more touches to the kitchen, chopping more wood and planting garlic which I had completely forgotten about until now. I’m not sure how it will fair, but I always remember that I would plant in November or December back in the UK as I once read that a frost is good for the cloves, helping to promote strong growth. We will see if the couple of rows I put in come up later in the spring.
Anyhow, back to the family visit, which was announced about a week ago, Bartek had a couple of days off and offered his services along a couple of school free nephews who are enjoying their winter break at the moment.
It did kind of put the pressure on me as I had to have all the electrical cables in before they put up the battens, insulation and ultimately the plaster board ceiling. I also needed to tidy up the electrical consumer unit so that the basement and ground floor where complete, to lessen the spaghetti like mass of wires that would become unfathomable with the addition of extra lighting circuits! Still, I work best under pressure and everything was in place and I even managed to keep ahead of the workers as I second fixed my ceiling roses leaving a flex for the light fittings. In the end I was short of about 12 meters of four core cable, but this can be retrofitted within the stud wall, again I was happy that I didn’t hold the workers up.
Two mattresses came out of retirement and our food consumption tripled for the duration but it’s amazing the difference those three day made as we now have, apart from the area above the steps, a wired, insulated and plaster boarded ceiling on our second floor. I ventured upstairs again today and as the lads had done a splendid tidy up job I could see quite a few tasks I can tackle before the spring. A very positive move forward.
No pictures of the work at the moment, I wasn’t expecting to write a post, but then I had a few few beers! Mind you this is what it used to look like back in May last year, an encouraging reminder of what we have achieved in the last eight months.
I just thought, I now owe you a kitchen, a bathroom and a second floor. Oh and how can I forget, a Winkoloo! It’s coming….soon, very soon.
As I reported in a recent post, it is extremely important to fill in the gaps between windows doors and framework of the building to keep out the drafts especially when the east wind blows.
However I thought it equally important to fill in some of the gaps I left in my absence from blogging, almost eight months without posting a single update!
First a quick recap on what the house looked like in May last year.
Functional for a workforce, not so good for a baby, so I spent a little time on our stable accommodation, plaster boarding the ceiling, patching up blown plasterwork from a freezing winter and installing an electric heater. All in all quite habitable during the warm summer months, even for Malina.
One of the first tasks was to get the final coat of lime render on the walls, having decided to complete downstairs before we moved up a level. This was completed fairly quickly the stud walls for the bathroom and pantry, the only two real rooms, followed fairly rapidly.
I did spend a little time of the pantry as I envisaged a curved wall on the leading corner from the main door to draw you into the kitchen area. After experimenting a little I decide to try my luck with reed mats, we still had a few left over that we purchased for bridging gaps on the outside of the building, so it was using up otherwise surplus materials.
As you can see it works in a very similar way to the old lath and plaster technique that used to be used before the advent of plaster board. The plaster is squeezed trough the gaps and as it sets grips the mats. I actually used plasterboard on the lower level section to provide a flat surface to make fitting the worktop easier, at least on one wall 🙂
I really like the end result, the bumpy contours flow from the bale walls giving the impression of an internal bale wall, very organic! So much so that I hope to use the same method upstairs in the corridor that connects the bedrooms.
More to come in my next post.
Having recently discovered Malina with her jaws clamped firmly around a teddy bears neck, not to mention her demands for black pudding and other blood rich foods, names of which I can’t think of at the moment, we have finally accepted the fact that she is probably a vampire.
Conscious that these things can quickly spiral out of control, having watched several seasons of True Blood I know what I’m talking about, I headed down to the cellar\workshop and fashioned some wooden stakes.
Unbeknown to me Gosia had already tested Malina with garlic, holy water and a couple of mirrors and so as I entered the house from the basement, with wooden stakes in hand, I was relived to know that they would no longer be needed for the original purpose, Malina is just teething!
Still I had quite a number of stakes, as you can never be too careful, so what to do with them? Gosia as ever had the answer and declared that one of the kitchen walls looked a bit bare and that she had a couple of old plate\cup racks, that she had waved a wand over, and they needed fitting.
Now anybody who has a straw bale house will know that you can’t just get the drill out, drill a hole and fit and plug and screw, no first of all you have to put something in the wall to screw to. Luckily I had some wooden stakes to hand, so I set about setting them about the wall to form anchor points for our latest storage solution.
After carefully marking where you need the screws to fit, knock a hole in the wall and drive in the stake. These stakes were about 20cm long made from 5 x 5 cm wood. Additional wedges can be used if the wood has a bit of a wobble on it, although you would be surprised how rigid they are in the compacted bale.
Once you are happy then plaster over and leave to set over night, making sure you leave some kind of mark to remind you where the centre of the wood is.
Next day you should be good to drill your pilot hole through the plaster and into the wooden stakes giving a sturdy mounting point for anything from kitchen cabinets to curtain rails. I’ll update with a photo once the plate racks are in place and fully loaded, just in case 🙂
I just had a quick look at last Aprils posts to see what the weather was like and it looks like we had a good spell then as well, although we had a fair amount of snow in the first couple of weeks , so this is definitely a better start to the season.
This is evident in the blossoming trees; the whites of the plum, cherry and pear are giving way to the pink of the apple and I enjoy driving through the villages as everyone seems to have a fruit tree of sorts in bloom at the moment. A good year for apples this year I hope, a good year for cider!
Malina continues to grow at a rapid rate and it’s just as well that I’m working on the house and building up my muscle tone because it will be a struggle to lift her soon! I’m also increasing my stamina by chasing after Denis, the pup that no one wanted. Not quite the truth but after Timmy, Bruder and Gruba all found new homes to go to, we were left feeing a little flat, so Denis was destined to stay with us. Denis incidentally is in memory of the late Mr Denis Brown of La Moye Garage, times past. Affectionately known as Brownie, Denis just had to be named after him, despite her gender.
Things are moving on fast at the house, I took the advice from Lupe and Phyllis in their book ‘How to Design and Build Your own House’ and Gosia called in a plumber. Having inspected the work I had done so far it would seem that it was a good idea as my pipes where ripped out and new trenches dug in the basement for drainage! I was quick to explain that my work was only temporary to facilitate last years wedding, but it was a feeble defence and I hid behind the language barrier and smiled sheepishly for the next hour or so.
Of course the notion that we wouldn’t be having any flushing toilets in the house took him by surprise and he made several attempts to change our mind, thankfully Gosia is fully on-board with the composting toilet idea and so put up a good fight and our drainage pipes to the first floor are of the small bore variety. After working on site for a couple of days and completing stage one of the work he did point out that he had left me a full sized drain in the basement should I want to install a toilet when I’m old! I thanked him with a broad smile and nodded my appreciation. The local builders merchant told stories of his shock at the sanitary situation as he went to pick up more pipes, I’m sure we are now talk of the village.
Once the drains were in I levelled off the floor with sand, put down a water proof membrane and called in some concrete. Not the most environmentally friendly approach but as I have said before you have to be realistic and practical about these things and this, for us, is by far the best solution available. This sub floor will then take any hot and cold feed pipes that are required in the basement, be topped with 5cm of insulation and then another 5cm of concrete, eventually to be finished with tiles of some sort. Drains have been placed in the three rooms to aid with cleaning, as I said to the plumber ‘to wash away the blood!’
We have placed the order for our staircase, very English style with a carved banister and turned spindles finished with oak treads, which will be made by a friend of ours who worked in Jersey for several years making and installing staircases. Fingers crossed that we are ready in time for the installation.
I have built the partition walls on the first floor which helps us to visualise the layout a little better and provides the opportunity to measure up for tiles and wooden flooring, which we are going to view more samples of in the next few days. We have also started on the first coat of two coats of lime render inside, things are starting to shape up and there is a real feeling of progress. I am currently living in the house but progress is also been made making the stable good for Gosia and Malina to move over once the weather has completely turned the corner. Next week I will be trying my hand at plastering the newly clad ceiling!
And whilst all this is going on Gosias family have visited a few times and planted a mass of vegetables in the top field, including 2000 M² area of potatoes (more than twice as much as last year). I know this sounds like a lot but it’s all part of the master plan and a good proportion will be used in the feeding of the pigs, which we hope to take on later in the year. We have discovered a Polish rare breed that is very similar to the English Berkshire and we hope to visit a nearby farm to discuss our requirement soon. Mind you it’s sometimes best not to make too many plans.
So that’s were we are and that was the month that was, helped along by the weather, willing friends and family, with a welcome and resting Easter break in between. I hear that the weather is going to turn by the end of the week so it’s full steam ahead until then and with May Day holidays heading this way I might get a few extra days off.