Friday, January 6, 2012

Cutting Edge

As I have mentioned earlier, one of the interesting aspects of strawbale construction is learning how to solve problems. I'm guessing that folks with years of building experience could have avoided many of the problems we've had the pleasure to unravel, but now we have one more under our belts.

Two years ago when we installed the sill plates for the bales of straw to sit on, we didn't have a clear picture of how those plates would be integrated into the interior walls. Now that we have moved on to plaster preparation, we discovered that we should have set the sill plates farther back from the doorways.

Here you can see the 4 X 4 treated-wood sill plate beneath the bale wall. The door is visible on the right. Two inches of plaster will eventually be applied to the wall as well as to the sill plate. We also need to put trim around the door. It is clear that there won't be enough room for the plaster and the door trim. In addition, Scott and I want bull-nosed corners on all of the walls. How will that work on a square sill plate?

Earlier we had purchased a handy Dremel Multi-tool. It is great for sanding tight corners. Its small saw feature can also be used instead of a chisel and mallet. Scott went to work and cut away two inches of sill plate and we now have room for plaster and trim. The cement under the sill plate is rough and unstained, but now we have another opportunity for a design detail. More on that when we've figured it out.

It Could Have Been a Big Mistake

One morning as I walked from the house to garage to get some tools, I noticed wet plaster just below a window sill. This is not something you want to see on any house, but it could spell impending catastrophe on a strawbale one. I hollered for Scott to reassure me that there was nothing to worry about, but the look on his face told me there was plenty to worry about.

We walked around the entire house, inspecting each of the 16 windows. Three of them had wet plaster under the sills. This was puzzling since there hadn't been any measurable precipitation. Plus, how could moisture like that accumulate when we have that strategic 8-foot porch around the entire house?

Fearing the worst, we checked the still-exposed interior bales of straw below each window. That's when we realized we had made an error that really could have spelled trouble with a capital T. After installing the windows last summer, we should have filled the gaps between the window frames and the window bucks with insulation. Instead, in preparation for future plaster work, we covered the windows with plastic and forgot about them. Now that we were in the house and heating it with our gorgeous masonry heater, moisture in the air had condensed on the frames then dripped down to the bottom of the window bucks and out to the exterior plaster. Again, a big problem for a straw house and something of a duh! moment when we realized what we had almost done.

Luckily Loa Builders was open when we arrived to purchase cans of that handy expandable foam. Scott filled the gaps. This solved the problem. No more condensation on the window frames, no more dripping, no more wet plaster. Disaster averted. Whew!

Christmas Hearth

Scott and I spent the Christmas holiday in, yep, Torrey. We had a short list of things to do...all of them related to preparation for a spring plaster festival. (Extra hands, energy and heart are always always welcome to join us.)

The most exciting event of the entire week was arriving to discover Wade had completed the facade for our Tempcast stove.

This is what greeted us when we first arrived.

Wade came over to make sure we were happy with his work. Who wouldn't be. It is absolutely beautiful. You can find more of Wade's work here.

It kept us toasty night after night, just as advertised. It is entirely possible that this stove could warm the entire house even without the radiant heat in the floor. However, I'm sure we'll be glad to have both systems in place.