Monday, August 8, 2011

The Satisfactory Solution End Note

Last Thursday, the satisfactory window solution arrived in the form of Rich Barker (our sales representative) and Dane Knudsen (the window technician Rich has worked with before.) We were a little worried about the timing of their arrival because the previous day's day hike began with blue skies and ended with rain. When we returned to Torrey that day, we learned it had rained over an inch. By the time Rich and Dane pulled up to our house, dark clouds were already building in the west.

We hoisted the first window onto sawhorses.
Nonetheless and without delay, we faced the first big hurdle, moving those big windows into position so that everything could be done at a comfortable height rather than on the ground.

Shortly after work began, the rain began to fall. Luckily, Rich and Dane were able to do some of the work under the porch.

Perhaps they imagined it would be a hot day of working in the sun, but the rain, and eventually hail, had other plans. Rich and Dane soldiered on despite the inclement weather.

The first window was completed without incident.

The second window was installed without incident.

Scott, Dane, Rich Mary, Shanna and Doug
The entire team is reflected in a window after the project is completed. Without the efforts of Rich Barker on our behalf, nobody would be smiling. He is a terrific representative for Serious Windows.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Adobe Bricks

The interior wall that abuts our Tempcast masonry heater will be built with adobe bricks which will then be plastered. The logic behind this design is that the masonry heater will heat our house and, at the same time, the adobe wall. The heat from the wall will radiate into the room on the opposite side of the wall, Scott's office.

Monday we had a family work party. The goal? To make 150 adobe bricks, 5 1/2 inches wide by 3 1/2 inches tall by 14 inches long. While Doug and Shanna manned the mortar mixer, the rest of the family went into production mode.

Wesley rinses brick forms.
Barb, Wesley and Kelli fill forms with plaster.
Kelli smooths plaster.
John uses a double form.
Wesley uses a stick screed to remove excess plaster from form.
Jessica fills buckets with clay for the mixer.
Casey keeps Missy company.
Adobe bricks lined up inside the house.
In less than half a day, we made one hundred and fifty-one bricks. Eventually they will go into our heater wall.

First Layer - Part 2

We are definitely plaster novices. That fact became very apparent when Doug stood his straight edge up against our walls. As you can see in this picture, there were gaps, some wide and others small, from the eaves to the drip edge at the bottom of each wall. This was due to the irregularity of our bales. In some places, they bulged out. In other places they swooped in.

To make the application of our last two plaster layers easier, our plaster team - Scott, Doug, Shanna, Linda and I - made a second pass around the house with our trowels, straight edges and plaster bins. That means there is lots of plaster, almost three inches in places, while some spots have a very thin layer.

Part of the charm of a strawbale house is the organic curve of the walls. We wanted to preserve that feeling, but we also didn't want the walls to look like a lumpy chocolate layer cake either. Without being overly fixated on straightness, we now have a much more even plane upon which to place our second plaster layer. For most of the house, this will consist of clay, straw, water and sand. On the north bump-out, this will consist of clay, straw, sand, lime putty and water. Scott will begin the second layer in late August.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Since we've never done this before, we don't know if other folks have the same experiences we have. However, once we finished the first coat of plaster (Part A),  and everything began to dry, a few cracks appeared. We didn't know if we should be concerned about them, but a crack is a crack. Maybe those cracks will telegraph through our next two layers of plaster and we will get to enjoy them everyday for the rest of our lives. That would not be a wonderful way to spend forever.

The few cracks that were superficial we just ignored, but there were several major cracks, all of which are situated at the bamboo / plaster junction. Scott responded in his usual fashion, research and more research. Using Natural Finishes, a step-by-step guide by Adam Wiesmann and Katy Bryce is our new bible. Pages 46 and 47 discussed "Covering repairs in the wall surface," so we followed their advice. We think it has really worked well. Here's how we did it ...

Dig out the cracked plaster until the straw bale and bamboo is fully exposed. Then fully moisten the problem area.

Carefully force new plaster into the void, making certain all gaps are
completely filled.

Press burlap (sometimes called hessian) into plaster.

 Moisten burlap.

Rub water / clay slip into the burlap. Be sure it adheres to the plaster beneath the burlap and surrounding areas.

Here is the patch two days later after the plaster has dried. No crack!

We hope future problems have been avoided.

Monday, August 1, 2011

First Layer - Part One

Scott covers the last bale with plaster.
Linda scoops up plaster
Many deep knee bends, push ups and stretches later, we are finished with the first layer of plaster on the exterior of the house. We couldn't have done it so well and so quickly without the help of our friends:

Doug and Shanna apply plaster to southwest wall.
Shanna Moler, Doug Moler, John Lee and Linda Peer. The only thing they got out of the deal was a good upper body workout. How lucky we are to have friends like them.

We were careful to attend to several small but important details along the way.
Electrical boxes masked

This included wrapping the exterior electrical boxes with masking tape, tucking wiring between bales and and behind poles, filling gaps behind bamboo and bringing plaster to the edges of plaster stops.

Scott covered in plaster at the end of a day's work
In several places we have wood abutting bales. These are problem areas because wood and plaster don't like to stick together.  Using Natural Finishes by Adam Weismann and Katy Bryce provided suggestions, but we conferred with our architect and decided to cover the wood surfaces and overlap the adjacent bales with expanded metal lath. This should provide the plaster a strong attachment surface between the wood and the straw. So far no cracks have developed at these joints.

Less than three weeks after we started stacking bales, we have now completed the first big step in the wall-building process. It is time for celebration.
We celebrate at Cafe Diablo.