Archive for September, 2010

a roof for an outdoor bed

So last week we completed all of our carpentry projects for this stage of the house, and we are finally back to cobbing.  Our last project with wood was the framework for a small roof over the spot for our outdoor bed.  The weather is mild here most of the year, and we love to sleep outside as much as possible.  It can rain quite a bit in our area, with our average yearly precipitation nearing 50 inches, and with this roof we’ll be able to sleep outdoors during many rainy nights.

We looked through our neighbor’s brush piles until we found a nice beefy cedar to use for our post.  For the pieces on which the rafters are resting, I wanted some curvy lengths of roundwood that would allow the roof line to have a more organic shape (an angular roof just wouldn’t match a house with no corners…).  So we spent a while walking through the woods looking for a tree with all the right bends and twists.

In contrast to tulip poplar’s telephone pole-esque habit of quickly shooting straight up to the sky, sourwood takes a different approach, creeping sideways through the understory in an attempt to maximize patches of sunlight.  The sourwood trees in our woods are full of curves, and we found just the right tree for our roof line.

For the rafters we used mainly tulip poplar. On one end they’re notched where they rest on the sourwood, and the other ends are attached to the house, screwed into the last floor joist, and also attached to plenty of “deadmen” that will further anchor them into the wall as they all get buried in cob.

tulip poplar rafters

For now we have a tarp stapled to the rafters, mainly to give our eyes an idea of what the roof will eventually look like.  Later on we’ll lay some decking over the rafters, and from there I’m not totally set on what our final layer of roofing will be.  I’ve been thinking lately about using tin cans, or aluminum cans, cutting them open, flattening them, and then laying ’em like shingles, but I need to do a little research first.  Does anyone have any experience with this kind of thing?  I’d love to hear about it!


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We’ve been doing some more carpentry this last week, and the house now has an 8′ by 4′ balcony above the entrance, and those exterior stairs finally lead to something.

We decided to use some roundwood for the floor joists.  Noel went off into the woods with a 4 foot level, checking all the tulip poplars until he found the straightest ones, destined to become part of our balcony.

Steve and I notched them on one side, where they rest on the girder, and the other sides got cobbed in.

I have three cats that I love so dearly it borders on worship.  Each day, every time I see them, I fall in love with them all over again.  And the truth is that I really built these outdoor stairs and balcony for them.  So the other day I decided, why stop there?  Once they take the stairs up to the balcony, wouldn’t they love somewhere to go from there?  Steve and I decided to build them a catwalk on the south wall of the house, and they’ll be able to walk right onto it from the balcony.

steve & noel securing the supports for the catwalk

Steve took some pictures of us on the house, and in this one you can get a nice view of the completed balcony and cat walk:

We’ve begun to work on the roof for the outdoor bed, and hope to have all the rafters attached in the next few days, and then we can finally get back to some foot mixing.  I’ve actually started to miss it…

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Last week our wood finally came.  I ordered rough cut pine, 2×8’s for the floor joists, and 1×6’s for the flooring.  The wood is beautiful, and working with it has been really, really fun, and a nice break from mixing cob during one of the hottest summers on record here.  I have almost zero carpentry experience, but my friend Steve, a builder with Habitat for Humanity, does, and I’ve been lucky to have his help a lot lately.  Sunday morning we started with the girder…

Our design for the floor might be a bit overkill for a room with an interior that’s somewhere near a rounded off 9’x9′, but I’m a perfectionist, and I like the idea of an excessively solid floor.  So we put in this girder, a large beam running east-west which has the dual purpose of breaking up the distance the joists will have to span, and also cantilevering out through the west wall to support a balcony over the entrance.  Kristin, Steve and I worked on placing the girder into the walls, making sure it was perfectly level.

Next we started laying the floor joists, spaced 16″ apart.

When Steve came back over on Monday he brought his electric planer, and I planed wood for what seemed like years while he framed out the opening for the ladder.  This was the first time I had used a power tool while working on the house.  It was loud, and boring, but the smooth, glowing pine was worth it.  Soon we started laying some flooring, beginning with my favorite 1×6.

the first board!

Building with cob is a slow process.  It’s fun and satisfying work, but there is no instant gratification when working with cob.  Laying flooring is a completely different experience.  The floor formed underneath my feet, transforming the look of the entire house along with it.  It was so much fun we kept working until it was too dark to see where to place the nails.

When I got off work Tuesday afternoon I worked for a while by myself laying more flooring.  Soon my friend Joe showed up to help, and in no time all the flooring was laid.

the ladder opening

from below

Joe testing the strength of the girder

We”ll be continuing to work with wood instead of clay this week, working on the balcony above the entrance, and then building a roof that extends from the eastern side of the house to cover the area designated for an outdoor bed.

Building this floor seems like such a milestone in the life of the house.  A while ago I was talking with my friend Melissa  (who is also building her own cob house), about what it’s like to be taking on a such a huge project, and she said sometimes it feels like being pregnant, except no one can tell.  In a way it’s true.  Building this house consumes almost all of my spare time, and my thoughts throughout the day always come back to the house, and what needs to happen next.  If the site work, excavation, and foundation stonework were the gestation period, and then the first batch of cob on the walls was the birth of the house, then yesterday felt like her first birthday.  It was a cause for celebration, and once all the flooring was laid I stayed up there for a while with some wine, admiring the view as the sunlight faded away.

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