Archive for February, 2010

After all the less exciting work staking the foundation lines, it was finally time to dig.  We got a couple hours of earth moving in, and the rubble trench is off to a good start.  The weather was amazing, and as the air temperature creeped up into the 60s, I was reminded that winter wouldn’t last forever.

Here you can see where a cob garden wall will extend out from the northeastern portion of the building:

We’ve been piling the clay subsoil near the site for future foot mixing.  You can see here how the color changes as we dig deeper, or dig in different areas.  We have a wide range of clays here on our land, and depending on where you dig you might find yellow, brown, white, or red clay.


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The permanent position for the foundation has been staked out.  The first afternoon Noel and I went out there we started out by marking some key points on the house plans, and then transferring those points onto the ground using triangulation.  It was boring, and frustrating at times, and took forever.

The next time we went out to work on flagging the foundation, we decided to use our own methods.  We had enough marked already that by looking at the plan and the existing points we could figure out the rest, checking our measurements as we went along.  To figure out how dramatically the rounded “corners” of the space should curve, I would just mark a curving line in the clay, stand back and study how it made me feel, and then keep changing it until the space felt comfortable.  Each of the “corners” has a somewhat different curve to it, with a more dramatic curve to the southeast corner, and more squarish curves on the northern corners.  In what in the end amounted to around one full day of work, we had it all staked out, and felt really satisfied with our results.

Here I realized we could add another 2 inches to the width of the house.  It’s going to be so spacious:

Check out that nice curve:

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model making

I haven’t done much work on the house lately, due to all the snow (and me leaving town again…).  But the other night, after working on a cob garden wall with my friend Greg, we were inspired to gather some cardboard, tape, and scissors, and settle in for an exciting night of model making.

I’ve been having trouble figuring out the roof for our house.  The roof line.  The materials.  The pitch.  The whole roof design in general.  I’ve done sketch after sketch on graph paper, and ended up no closer to any roofing inspiration.  After making this model, I realized designing a roof in 2-D just doesn’t make much sense.

Deciding on the materials for the roof has been difficult, partly b/c we are interested in doing rainwater catchment.  When collecting rainwater people generally use metal roofing, but metal just doesn’t seem fitting for an earthen building.  I was into the idea of making wood shingles/shakes, but that would require a steeper pitch than I want for a house already so tall and skinny, and there is also the whole issue of tannins when collecting rainwater.  Thatch, in my opinion,  is the most beautiful roofing material, and I definitely plan on experimenting with it for other buildings on our land, but thatch, too, needs a steeper pitch (thatch generally needs a 45-60 degree pitch).  Originally I was against the idea of a living roof, b/c I selfishly didn’t want those plants up there using my rainwater, but I’m leaning that way now.  We are playing around with different green roof designs that would still allow for some amount of rainwater collection.

And, because I’m a nerd:

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site leveled

The site is pretty much level now.  I haven’t broken down yet and bought a used level, so I’ve been working with an 8″ level duct taped to a straight board.  The pile of clay excavated from the leveling is bigger than I imagined, but even after digging the rubble trench it probably won’t be enough clay for the house.  We’ve been digging test holes at some potential pond sites, to determine if the subsoil at those sites would be suitable for cob.  Stevie gathered up some jars and set up a bunch of shake tests:

There’s about half a foot of snow covering the site at the moment, but once it melts away the next step will be marking the exact location for the rubble trench, and then digging the entire trench by hand.

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