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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

July Update

Wow, I can't believe it's been over a month since I updated the blog! Summer is here and we have been super busy - that's why!

There is still so much left to do but it is starting to feel like we are actually going to be able to move in this fall!  Each day I get up and think about what I can do. We still have some big projects, like wall plastering and floor pouring - but there are a lot of little projects that need doing as well so when I can't work on a big project, I work on a small one.

Flagstone Toe-Up & Banco

In the sunspace where the flagstone floor is I decided I needed to do a toe-up to protect the walls when wet moping the flagstone. We were gifted a bunch of flagstone strips that turned out to be just the ticket!
All the pieces were pretty uniform. It was just a matter of finding the ones that went together. Here they are laid out, ready to mortar.


There were so many pieces of flagstone that I decided to see if they could be used to top the bancos in the sunspace. To break up the linear aspect of the pieces we added some irregular pieces of flagstone and some slate that I picked up in Death Valley many, many years ago. 

In order to keep track of how the pieces went, we used a piece of sheet rock on which all the pieces were transferred just like they were to be on the banco. Then they could be placed one or two at a time. Worked pretty well!

Shower Pan

Another "small" project that needed to be done before a lot of other things can be done was the shower pan. That was Rick's project.


In between big projects I've been getting the fill coat done on the inside walls.

In preparation for plastering the adobe wall, I needed to cover all the gringo blocks and wood window frames with burlap and mud slip.

Ceiling Insulation

By far the biggest project we accomplished this last month was blowing in the ceiling insulation!  We chose to use cellulose not only for the "greeness" of it but also because it's so much easier to work with. In all honesty I can not imagine blowing in the amount of fiberglass it would have taken to do this job! The cellulose was dusty beyond description but at least it wasn't something we had to wear haz-mat suits to do!

The really funny thing was that the product we used - GreenFiber - came from Charlotte, NC - my hometown. As I was stuffing it into the blower I imagined that all that recycled paper from my home state was going to help keep us comfortable year round out here in the wilds of New Mexico!
So, here's the set up. I stood at the blower - that green box on the left - and broke up the insulation - the bags in the center (that pile is just a fraction of what was used!) - into the blower. Rick was inside - inside the ceiling, actually - holding the hose. It wasn't hard work but it was tiring!  AND DUSTY!!!

I wanted to get a picture of us in our blowing garb but at the end of the day, was too tired to do it.

We had left a slot three t&g boards wide throughout the whole house so that Rick could access the "attic". We had to come up with something to keep the insulation from falling out and came up with the idea of using the roofing underlayment. Worked great!
This is Rick admiring his handy work at the end of a day of blowing.

We are using rough cut 1x6s for trim.

We still have some t&g to install in the studio and office but ALL of the insulation is DONE!! What we have found is that now that the house is totally insulated the temperature only fluctuates about 6 or 7 degrees in a 24 hour period - and we've had some 90°+ days!

Now that the ceiling is just about done, we will be focusing on plastering the walls and pouring the floors. More building sand has been ordered and adobes for the floor will be here in a couple of days. We have been having rain almost every afternoon and evening - over 2" in the last two nights - so the ground is very wet! Hopefully it will dry out soon so I can dig mud for the plaster!!!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Floor Test

We have a lot of floor to do - and I do mean a LOT! We decided a long time ago that we wanted to have an earthen floor but as time has progressed and the house gets more and more finished and the realization that the pouring of that floor was getting closer and closer, I started getting really stressed about just how big a job that was going to be! How in the world were we going to screed a mud floor that big flat? And what could we do to make that job one I could do by myself, if need be? One day I had an epiphany - why not take adobe bricks and lay them out in a grid at floor height and pour the mud in the cells created? We still have ceiling to finish in most of the house which will take scaffolding but not in the bedroom so I decided to start there.

Step One

Before I started I removed all the very loose straw and dirt and got the floor somewhat level.

Step Two

Then I laid out all the adobes dry. I did a rough leveling job as I put the adobes in place. Before I started mudding, I strung a lead line all around the perimeter of the room. That was harder than I expected but it's close to level. You can see the string in the next picture.

Step Three

Then I started mudding.

All the adobes are in place. 
I must say that this was a VERY hard job! Much harder than I thought it would be. Hopefully, as we do more, it will get easier.

Step Four

Once the mud between the adobes was dry, I made a sanding block with expanded lath over a 2x4 and sanded the joints as flat as I could get them. I then did some fill work where needed. We may have to go back once the floor is totally dry and before we start the sealing process and do some more fill work.

Step Five

Next I re-leveled the floor in each section and tamped it down with the tamper. The floor is pretty much on undisturbed soil so it's pretty solid. I  used a watering can to wet down the dirt then I was ready to pour!

Step Six

The mix I used on the walls has dried with virtually no cracking so I decided to use the same mix for the floor: One part dirt to two parts sand with a bucket of chopped straw per wheelbarrow of mix. The only change I made was to add twice as much chopped straw as I did for the wall plaster.
To make the screeding process easier I took an old 2x6 and cut 2" sections out of each end. That allowed me to screed the first pour at 2" below finished floor level. On the final pour, I just turned the board over.

Once I started pouring and screeding I realized that even though setting the adobes was hard work, it was well worth it. They give us a manageable size cell to work with and made the filling and screeding a breeze!

First pour!
All six sections filled to 2" below floor level.
We allowed the first pour to dry for a day or so - just until it was still moist but not leather hard.

Step Seven

Then the second pour was made. Note the screed board turned over now.
We made the chopped straw I used for this pour much smaller - 1" pieces or smaller.

All the cells filled and ready to dry.

I checked the floor every day. The first couple of days I kept finding holes "dug" into the wet mud. I figured it was mice trying to get the straw out - or something. The holes were easy to fix with a little water and a trowel. That stopped once the floor got harder.

Step Eight

At the leather-hard stage, we took a damp sponge and wiped the sections down, exposing some more of the chopped straw.

Then the waiting began.

At the end of a week, you can see that the floor is starting to dry. The exciting news is that we have found NO cracking!!!

Once the floor is completely dry, we will start the sealing process.

Ceiling Update

We finally got all the vent stacks in and were able to get the ceiling ready for the blown insulation.

Slowly, slowly . . . 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Overdue Update

To say that spring weather in New Mexico can be schizophrenic is putting it mildly. One day it will be in the 60s and the next day it will be winter again. On May 1st, 2011 we had over 5" of snow! We didn't get the snow this year (sadly) but we have had wind and cold temperatures which have put a crimp in my work. It's very hard to think of putting my hands in wet mud when the wind is blowing outside and it's 40 degrees!

So we've been doing odds and ends.

We managed to get some drywall and blue board up in the bathroom.
The photo on the left shows the wall between the shower and the vanity area. Glass blocks will fill that vertical space. The photo on the right is the shower, which will be tiled.

I also installed the flagstone on the top of the adobe wall that's between the bedroom and the sun space. It was a little like putting together a jig saw puzzle - fun!
All the pieces in place.

Half done.


I've been spending warm days putting the fill coat of plaster on the bedroom and office walls. While plastering itself doesn't take all that long, the drying will - as will the drying of the floors - so I am trying to get as much on the walls now so that when the ceiling's done we can get to work on the floors.

On of the very few things I would do differently - were I to be crazy enough to ever build another straw bale house - would be to be more careful about stacking bales. I would take the time to make sure they were all trimmed to help minimize the amount of cob fill I'm having to do. Some of our walls are - well uneven to say the least which has made for very slow going. BUT two rooms have the fill coat done!!!
Coved window in the bedroom.

A bedroom before fill coat and after.

Adobe wall covered.

Detail of window sill in bedroom. This will be tiled.

Office looking East.

South wall of office.

Office walls done!

For the earthen plaster geeks among you, the plaster formula I'm using is one part dirt from the site to two parts sand with chopped straw. (I can manage 10 shovels of dirt, 20 shovels of sand and two very healthy handfuls of chopped straw which fills a large wheelbarrow.) I'm mixing it pretty stiff and I'm getting next to no cracking! We're not yet sure what we will be doing for a finish coat.

In preparation for finishing the ceiling plumbing vent stacks had to be finished.

Those done, we can now start sticking the vents through the roof.

We really can't start the floors in the main part of the house until the ceiling is done but we can get the floor in the bedroom poured - which will be my next project.
The first thing will be to lay the adobes in a grid and get them mortared in. There will be two pours for the floor and each will have to dry completely before going on to the last step which will be sealing with linseed oil. That whole process could take a month or more so you can see why I'm anxious to get to it!

Well - it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood so I'd better get off my duff and get to work!