Monday, June 28, 2010

Huge Piles

The last few days have had their ups and downs. The ups? Doug and Shanna have been here for almost one month helping us with the floor, the foundation and cutting timbers. The downs? They will only be here for four more days! Time seems to be running away from us. We really want to get the timber frame up and the straw walls stacked.

One day while laying out a piece of timber, Scott said, "If anyone asks us what we would do differently, I would say DON'T do timber frame." Why? Because it takes a really long time to lay out, cut and fit the timbers.

Since we have never done anything like this before, it feels like we are always doubting if we are doing anything correctly. The timber frame process involves buying a huge pile of logs cut to specified lengths, each planed on all four sides. The logs sit under tarps outside our garage waiting their turn to be cut. While they sit under the tarps, they either bake or freeze depending upon the day and season. All of this cooking makes the timbers twist. They are trees after all, and trees do whatever they like...especially when they are no longer standing with their friends in the forest. (Maybe this is what we get for using trees even though they come from the mountains not far from Torrey. Trees probably don't care about things like that. Maybe trees only care about being with their friends and worrying about wind, chain saws, squirrels and dogs.)

Once each piece of timber is cut, it goes back into the huge piles until it is time to fit them. Once they are fit (and this seems to take FOREVER) they go back into the huge piles until it is time to raise them up into the frame house we have planned for them.

We are making progress but the going is slow. All of 16 posts, 18 girts, 48 braces and four of the eight trusses are completed. Only two of the posts have been fit. We can see there is much work left to do to get to the raising. Mid-July would be very nice for this, but Scott says I'm dreaming. Okay, just let me wear my rose-colored glasses for awhile.

When we finally get to the straw bale part of the straw bale house, we will be dancing and drinking a toast to this huge accomplishment. Until then, it's back to those huge piles of timber and our chisels.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


We received word from the state of Utah’s Renewable Energy Program that we have been granted a reservation for a rebate in the amount of $3,547.00. This will help with the cost of the installation of our solar thermal hot water system. The system must be in place and operational by March 3, 2011. By that date we must provide a signed rebate claim form with the required supporting documentation.

Luckily we have made great progress on the radiant heat floor which is a large part of heating system. Along the way we have learned a few new skills. It is quite a stretch, however, to say that we are skilled. Most of what we are doing seems to be something of a flounder after which we are required to learn a new “skill.” While we have always admired people who can build things with their hands, we now regard truly skilled workers with the highest esteem.

Here is a snapshot of the evolution of our floor...

 Gravel delivered

Bernardo distributes the gravel across the floor space

Bernardo and Tyler level the gravel

Vapor barrier over gravel layer

 Insulation over vapor barrier

Road base over insulation in the center of the house where we will eventually complete the earthen floor.

Our friend, Dee Jukes-Cooper, tamps the road base of the earthen floor.

Scott and Doug lay down rebar over the road base. PEX for the radiant floor will be attached to the rebar in the earthen floor section of the house. PEX is attached to a track on the insulation in the other parts of the house.

The four-man team of Scott, Mary, Doug and Shanna install the PEX.

Mary works on the manifold which will control the system.

All of the PEX is in and the manifold is completed.

Tyler's crew pours the cement floor for our bedroom and for Scott's office.

Tyler's crew puts the finishing touches on the concrete pour.

Bernardo smoothing the cement

Jed working from a unique perch

Kyle doing his part. How can he do this work in shorts?
The next day Jed and Bernardo return to cut a 3-foot by 3-foot grid into the floor. This will control the cracks that will inevitably appear in the floor. We hope the pattern will look like very large stone tiles.

The floor is basically done until we get to the very end. That's when we will seal the concrete and finally create the earthen floor. Here is a link that will give more information on earthen floors.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

It's Complicated

You would think that a floor is a floor. Maybe that is true, but our floor seems to be complicated. After much discussion and a lot of research, we finally decided that two thirds of the floor (Scott’s office and our bedroom) would be pigmented concrete and one third (the main living space) would be earthen floor. The actual deciding was the easy part. The building is a bit more involved.

The first step Tyler Torgerson and his crew had to take was to grade and level the soil that would be the bottom layer of the floor. Next they put in four inches of gravel that will act as a capillary break. That means that any moisture lurking under the floor will be unable to wick to the surface because the spaces between the stones will disrupt the flow of water. A thin film of plastic was placed over the gravel and two-inch solid foam insulation was placed on top of the plastic. Two inches of road base were compacted on top of the foam in the living space. This brought the entire floor to the same level.

This morning Shanna and Doug (Scott’s sister and her husband) plus Scott and I put rebar in a 3 foot by 3 foot grid pattern over the road base in the center of the house. The next step will be to install the track for PEX which is the key component of our radiant heat floor.

Between now and next Tuesday we will install the PEX track and the PEX itself. Phillip (our plumber) will complete the manifold. This will control the whole affair. Tyler will pour the concrete on Tuesday then cut the control joints to prevent the concrete from cracking in the wrong places.

The next to the last steps are to add two inches of 3/4 minus road base then 1/4 minus road base. The final one inch of earthen floor will be completed when the rest of the house is completely done.