Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Exterior Light Fixtures

Long before we even began erecting our yurt (and construction residence) five summers ago, I perused every strawbale book I could get my hands on. Each time I came across a feature I loved, I’d add it to my design notebook. Periodically I reviewed the pictures in order to remember what items I wanted to purchase should they go on sale.

Restoration Hardware had a sale on light fixtures at about the same time I was marking books. They had fixtures that were exactly the same as one I had bookmarked. I bought them immediately, and they have been waiting in storage until the time our walls were done.

This week, since the plaster and paint on the outside of the house are finished, Scott installed all seven lights. Each one can be turned on or off independently from the others. They are shielded from the night sky by our porch, and they are identical to the one I marked in that book four years ago.

Painting with Lime Wash

Once again, we’re arriving at lasts…this time the last exterior paint. This will be applied to the north and south bump-outs. This paint is a lime wash because we applied lime plaster to the bump-outs which have limited protection from precipitation. The questions arises – what color should we use?

On the south bump-out, we selected yellow ocher. We’ve used this color frequently throughout the interior of the house—we must really like it. We chose it for the south bump-out for a specific reason: the intensity of the southern sun. We have noticed that the dark frames of our windows become very hot in the midday sun and cool quickly at night. The thermal expansion and contraction of the frames have caused a small bit of plaster to slough off in several places. A large dark plaster wall would also be subject to increased thermally-induced movement. Therefore, we opted for a light color to minimize the expansion and contraction that occurs during the day and night  and across the seasons. Plus, the dark window frames in the pale yellow wall look fantastic.

Scott repaired the plaster with a commercial concrete patch mix with polymer additive to make it more elastic. He made an expansion joint at each problem area around the frames. Then we covered the south bump-out wall with a paint created from pigments we purchased from Capital Ceramics in Salt Lake City - a mixture of yellow ocher, ceramic brown and raw sienna. In addition to the pigments, the lime wash consisted of one part Type-S lime and three parts water.

 We were uncertain about the color for the north bump-out, so Scott mixed several colors and applied test patches.
We contemplated these for several days and decided upon eggplant (or aubergine in the world of color design). Aubergine is the darkest color in the set.

Two friends – Jean and Catherine - arrived just in time to help with all of the painting. After completing the south wall, they jumped right in on the north wall with three coats of aubergine.

Yikes! It wasn't the ugliest thing we had ever seen, but it wasn't working here. Scott said this color might be nice somewhere...but somewhere far from here. The coats seemed much lighter than the test patch, and, despite all our efforts to smooth things out, we could see every brush stroke. This wouldn’t do at all.  Scott declared that we were going to revert to our tried and true color – yellow ocher.

He mixed the same pigments as before – yellow ocher, ceramic brown and raw sienna with a slightly greater proportion of ceramic brown – and we did the entire wall over again with much better results.
With patience, stick-to-it-iveness and friends, you can do anything.

Painting with an Aliz

We’ve built our walls with two types of plaster – earthen plaster made from the beautiful southern Utah red earth on our building site and lime plaster created by combining type-S lime, sand, pumice, kaolin clay and soda ash. The earthen plaster is on the walls which are completely protected from weather by our 8-foot-deep porch. Lime plaster covers the walls of the north and south bump-outs. In both places, an 18-inch (about) overhang provides some protection from precipitation, but that is not enough to keep direct rain from the walls. These walls need a material that won’t melt in the rain. We remember the melting witch scene from the Wizard of Oz and don’t want a melting wall scene in Torrey.

Each type of plaster requires a different paint. Earthen walls receive a clay paint called aliz (alis). Lime walls receive a lime wash.

We wanted the walls under the porch to be the same color as the natural Torrey earth. To produce this, we wanted smaller particles of clay, so we sifted our 1/8-inch screened clay to even finer particles through one of our sieves.

Next we combined water with what Scott calls his special polyvinylacetate polymer additive. He means Elmer’s white glue.
Then we combined the sifted clay with the water/glue mixture.
Painting the walls with this aliz went very quickly and resulted in a wall with a strong finish in a color exactly matching the landscape that surrounds us.

Final Exterior Plaster

This is destined to be a summer of lasts. Typically lasts and goodbyes are not my favorite moments. I’m much more comfortable with firsts and hellos. However, the lasts of this summer are ones we’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

Take last week for example. We needed to add the very last coat of exterior plaster. If we went by the book, that would have meant ¼ inch of finish coat over the 2nd layer that’s been on the house since last fall. In our case, because our walls have undulations, some of which are significant, that final ¼ inch of plaster has been as great as one inch in some places. Our goal? To make the straightest walls possible while, at the same time, keeping the earthy, hand-made character of a straw bale house that we love so much.

Scott has spent more time with plaster than I have. Here he applies that ¼-inch layer that books talk about.

His small Japanese pool trowel was his favorite tool.

I really got into it.

After four long days of work, that last coat brought the walls to their full depth. As you can see, the windows are now flush with the walls. It looks finished.

I applied the very last handful of plaster.
The exterior plaster is complete. It is a fond farewell. The next step...painting all of the exterior walls.