Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Winter is Coming . . .

Here it is the last day of October - Halloween! - and while so far this fall we've had very mild weather (except for a short cold snap) winter weather is not far away. All through the roofing process it was my hope that we could finish the roof and get the straw bale walls up with at least one coat of plaster before the arrival of snow so that we could have a nice enclosed space in which to work through the winter months. Pressure!!!!! This time of year the weather can turn very quickly. I really didn't want to get into the process of putting up the walls just to have the weather turn really cold and snowy. But, at the same time, I REALLY want to be able to work through the winter. What to do!!!

We decided to wrap the whole house with plastic which will not only protect the stored bales and give us an enclosed space where we can work out of the weather but it will also allow us to put up the walls! A couple of years ago we were give a ton of plastic that had been used to wrap another house.  We have kept it stored and protected and now we have put it to good use! (I'm sure all the locals are wondering what those crazy gringos are up to now <G>!)

The prevailing winds and winter storms come mainly from the west and north so we focused on those two sides.

Here you can see all of our bales stacked and protected.

We haven't decided whether we will enclose the east and south walls yet as the odds of getting blowing weather from those directions is very slim. However, I did put plastic in the windows of the adobe wall to keep the inside of the wall and all the windows stacked there dry.

Now I just hope that the plastic is strong enough to withstand wind and keep things protected for the next 5 or 6 months - until spring.

The other thing that we are going to do is put a cement and rock splashback that will be about 16 to 18" high all around the base of the house. That's what that pile of rocks is for. I have started collecting them from around the property. There's always something to do!

The next steps are to finish the soffit vents and build window bucks. I'm gonna stop writing now and go get to work!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Roof - DONE!!!!!

On June 9, 2012 we started putting up the trusses for our roof.  On October 22, 2012 we finished the roof!!!!!  What a project.

But let me get you caught up:  When I last wrote we had just finished the covering on the hip end of the house.  The next thing to do was install the valley flashing then finish the roofing in the valley.

Then it was time for the fun part - installing the ridge caps. Every step of the roofing phase has kept me up nights.  Having never installed a roof and certainly not one with the pitch this roof has, I had no idea what to expect or how the process was going to go. Pretty early on I figured out that I had no trouble working on the top of the roof. Thankfully I'm not afraid of heights! With a little thought and discussion (sometimes a lot of discussion!) at each step we figured out what had to be done and how to do it. But the ridge cap had me mystified. Were we going to be able to reach each screw location from the ladders? How were we going to get the roof vent material up? Would we be able to use the ladder hooks over the ridge cap as we installed it? How easy was it going to be to move the ladders along as the ridge cap got installed?

Anyone who has had to follow a complex pattern (such as how to turn a heel on a hand knitted sock) knows that sometimes just doing something is the only way to figure out how to do it .....  so we just started.

We first did the ridge on the NE corner.  That went pretty smoothly.

Then we did the hip end of the roof - piece of cake.

Then we got to the tough part.  Before the ridge cap could go on, the ridge vent material had to be installed.  This is porous material that allows for circulation through the roof but keeps out critters.  It comes in a roll and has sticky stuff that is supposed to help the material adhere to the roof before putting on the ridge cap.  I guess in a perfect world that would work but it didn't here PLUS it was windy!!!! So I had to use duct tape to keep it in place until we could get the ridge cap up there.

I worked out a system where I had a roll on each side of the peak tied on with rope.  I could let out just enough at one time to allow me to tape it down before moving on. While it was time consuming and tedious, it worked.

But the question still remained - how were we going to get the cap up there, hold it in place, screw it down and then move on to the next one?  This was a question that haunted my sleep - or non-sleep.  Suffice it to say that it kept me awake nights.

We discussed many, many ways of doing it, finally decided on one that we thought might work and went for it.  And it DID work!  And we were able to use the ladder hooks over the installed ridge cap without denting it.  Piece of cake!  Even though it was windy - again.  (It felt like the wind would just wait for us to get out there to start work and then it would start to blow!)  Once we got started it went very smoothly.

First section of ridge cap done!  Only one left to do. I finally felt like I could see the light at the end of the tunnel!!!!!

Here's Rick doing the last little bit.

Ta da!!!!!!  DONE!!!

Our beautiful roof looking SE

and looking NW

I'm still having trouble believing that I really don't have to get up on that roof again! My arms, shoulders and legs are stiff and tired and we both have bruises in strange places but my heart is light. We did it! It is a wonderful feeling! This time last year we hadn't even poured the foundation grade beam yet! And now look at our house!!!

I am now looking forward to working on the ground and starting to stack the straw bales for our walls. How far we get with this phase of the project before winter sets in is going to depend on the weather but we'll keep on keeping on.

Until next time . . . we're on to the next skill set.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Shortly after my last blog post, Rick had to go to California for family and work.  He was gone a week and returned to multiple work deadlines which curtailed our house building adventures for a bit.

But - there were things that I could do.

The first thing I did (after cleaning up the house site) was to do some plastering tests. Our current thinking is that the outside walls will first get a coat of earthen plaster about 1" thick, then a coat of earth/lime plaster with a final coat of lime/sand plaster. Since one of our main objectives is to use as much local ingredients as possible, my hope was that the dirt on our property would work for our plaster. To have something to compare it to, I also wanted to do a test using the same dirt we used for the mortar on the adobe walls. I know we don't have a great deal of clay in our soil so to make the plaster sticker, I added horse manure, sand and chopped straw. The only difference between the mix of our dirt (with less clay) and our friend's dirt (more clay) was that I used more manure in our dirt.

Here are the two tests - our dirt on the left and our friend's dirt on the right.

Here's our dirt plaster today after three weeks. The bale is sitting just about where the wall will be. We got 3/10" of rain yesterday and there's very little degradation that I can see.

If we decide to bite the bullet and put the walls up before hard winter weather sets in we will have to get one good coat of plaster on the outside to protect them. We have 2 foot overhangs, which will also help protect the walls.

The other task that needs doing is instillation of the soffit vents. This entails cutting 22" pieces of 2x6, attaching screen and then installing in the space between the trusses at the roof line. These vents will allow cooler air to circulate through the roof helping to minimize moisture buildup under the roof.
This is a picture of a 2x6 cut to the correct width (many of these were spacers we used when installing the trusses - just recycled) with the screen stapled to it, ready for instillation.

Here they are installed.

I had originally wanted to drill 3-2" holes in the wood to be covered by the screen but we just didn't have a drill powerful enough to do that and I couldn't justify spending the money on one just for this.

This task quickly become one of my most least favorite task so far!  For every soffit vent I had to climb up and down the ladder at least twice - if I was lucky!  I have managed to get close to half of them done so far.  Luckily they are not critical at this point so I can take my time.

The next BIG thing is the straw bales!  If we didn't get them this year, it might be this time next year before we could get them so we decided to order them and store them under the roof in the house.  If we decide we have time to get the walls up, they are ready.  If we decide we need to wait until spring, they are protected under the roof and will be there when the weather warms up.

So we called a local guy we know who has gotten us building-grade bales before and placed an order for 700 and set a date for delivery. We also lined up 2 or 3 guys to help us.

The day we were supposed to take delivery we got a call saying the truck had run over something on the highway, blew two tires and cut an air line! The delivery guy promised to get them to us in a day or two. The day or two turned into 8 days!  The folks we had lined up were no longer available so it was up to me and Rick to move them.

The idea was to back the truck next to the house and off-load directly into the house. The trailer was too top heavy and the land by the house too uneven for that to happen so the trailer had to be parked in our driveway.  This meant the bales had to come off the trailer onto our truck which we then drove to the house and unloaded!  Thankfully the trucker was able to leave the full trailer with us so we had some time to unload!
We collected all the wooden pallets we could find and set them up in the house for something on which to rest the bales.

The bales finally arrive!

Here's a view from the top of the bales looking at the house.  This was a VERY big pile of bales!!!

Ready for work.

We found the chutes & ladders approach to work the best.  I'd climb up the ladder and move the bales onto the chute where they'd slide down to Rick who would pile them on the truck. Rick found that as he went and got better at stacking the bales on the truck, he got to where he could get about 40 bales in one load.

The first load in the house.

Our straw dog.  Tex really loved climbing on the bales.  The challenge was keeping him from peeing on them!

Rick and I spent two days moving bales. We did about 5 loads a day and managed to move about 200 bales. On the third day, we did two loads then our friend Steve showed up to help.  We did a couple more loads and then our friend Ramey (of truss angel fame) showed up and helped us get the last 4 loads (two in our truck and two in his truck) done! It felt like a miracle to have our friends help! I really didn't think we'd be able to finish on the third day - and wouldn't have without them!!!

The LAST bale!

A well deserve break!

Here's what a full load looked like on our truck.

Just in case.

After three days of moving 700 bales there was straw EVERYWHERE!!!  The truck is still full of it!

My hands really took a beating and I was wearing gloves!  I could hardly bend my fingers in the morning after moving bales the day before.  Sure was glad to see that last bale get unloaded!

Now it's back to the roof. In the last two days we've managed to finish the roofing on the south hip. We have the valley and the hip on the NW corner and the ridge cap left to do. Today was windy and cold but tomorrow looks to be sunny and warmer with little or no wind.  Let the fun continue!