Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Three Little Pigs

We all know the story of the Three Little Pigs.  Each had their own opinion of the best material to use to build their house.  We also know how the story ends.  What the author left out is the benefits and faults of each type of building material.  You may wonder what this story has to do with our plans for our homestead.  As you will see it has everything to do with it.

Straw Bale Construction

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the idea of building a home made of straw.  It has gained acceptance as a green resource in many parts of the country.  Straw has low embodied energy, it is after all a waste that would typically be left to rot.  When used as infill for the walls it has a high insulation value.  I have heard the argument of straw walls leading to infestations of mice and insects and peoples fear that they would be living in a tinderbox just waiting to go up in flames.  Why these are valid fears I have come to learn they are unjustified.  Straw may be used to build a home in two different ways.  One may use straw as the load bearing structure or simply use it to fill in between the load bearing structure.  Each has its benefits.  After the straw is stacked it is stuccoed.  As long as it has not been exposed to moisture and the stucco is properly applied you have no worries of mice, mold, or even fire.  There have been numerous studies performed showing that it is actually very difficult for a fire to sustain itself in a straw bale wall. 

The benefits of using straw include the fact that you are using a resource that otherwise would be a waste product, it has a high insulation value,  t is found in nearly all parts of the country and would be easy to get, and it would be reasonably inexpensive. 

Some of the cons to using straw as a building material include the low level of public acceptance.  After all, some day you may want to sell your home.  Possible problems obtaining financing and insurance, and it is pretty darn heavy!  That is the sticking point to me.  While I can live with the fact that we would have to find like minded folks if we ever though about selling and we do not plan on any financing as we will be paying as we go, I can not get around the fact that I have had a spinal fusion and I do not know if I would be able to lift, carry, and stack that much straw. 

Stick Built Construction

Everyone is familiar with stick built construction.  More than likely the home you are in now was built using this method.  It has been the primary building method for many years and there are codes in place for building with wood.  Financing is not a problem and there wouldn't be any problems with obtaining home owners insurance.  The problem with stick built homes are numerous.  There is a tremendous amount of waste if you are building a site built home.  While it is possible to eliminate some of the waste with proper planning about the most efficient method of stick building is with modular homes.  They are built in a climate controlled factory which eliminates the possibility for mold which can be a problem with site built homes and they have become very proficient at building with little waste.  Some of these factories are very impressive and look much like what one would think a car assembly line would look like.  Another problem with stick built homes is thermal bridging.  While you can make the walls thicker and add more insulation you still have the studs every 16-24 inches.  It is relatively easy to frame a house.  Most of the work can be done by two or three people and it is not a problem obtaining plans or building materials as there is a big box lumber store in nearly every mid-sized town.  Another problem with stick built homes is the fact that there is low thermal mass.  We plan on using passive solar techniques to assist in heating our home and I do not think we could get the level of heat storage I am wanting.

Concrete Construction

While I hate the idea of using concrete as a building material, it makes me think of Soviet era human warehouses, it is a very efficient method of building.  I have been doing tons of research on various methods of using concrete and I will share a few here.  One method of using concrete is to build forms and pour solid concrete walls.  Another methods which intrigues me is using an insulated concrete form which is basically a hollow block of foam which is stacked and then concrete is poured in the center.  The third method I have researched is dry stacked concrete block.  This is simply taking concrete cinder blocks, mortaring the first row and then stacking the subsequent blocks on top.  Every five or six rows would need another layer of mortar to ensure the wall remains level.  After the wall is up one places rebar in every fourth cavity and fills it with concrete.  After the interior is filled with the concrete you use a surface bonding concrete to cover the inside and outside surfaces of the block walls.  These walls are said to be just as strong if not stronger than mortared block walls.  I think it would be more realistic for me to be able to build using this method.  It does not take a great amount of skill to set the blocks.  The wife and kids could help with the process, not something they could likely do if we used straw bale or even stick built construction.  This would take care of my need for high thermal storage potential and work great with a good passive solar design.

We have yet to decide which construction method we will use we have started playing around with some floor plans.  We will probably end up with a hybrid home using some of all of the mentioned construction techniques.  Here are some samples of the floor plans we have come up with so far.

Most of the plans I have drawn are roughly 32' x 60'.  We do not want a large house but lets face it, we need enough space to live.  This plan has the master bedroom on the west side of the house.  The great room and two bedrooms on the south side would have plenty of windows to let in the winter sun to help heat the house.

Here is the same plan with some furniture in it so you can get an idea of the layout.  The bottom of the picture is to the south to take advantage of the sun.  The rooms on the north side of the house will have fewer windows and be super insulated.

This is the same plan in 3D form.  I found a website that lets you make floor plans in 2D and 3D.  It lets you add flooring, wall coverings, furniture, the works.  It is free and does not even require registration to play around on it.  the website is homestyler.com.  Check it out it is alot of fun.

We are getting excited about this adventure the closer we get to actually starting it.  I hope you find it interesting following along.  It is sure to entertain as we will tell it like it is.  Until next time Peace!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Doing it Old School

As we begin our journey to self sufficiency we need to take a moment to give thanks, thanks for what we have, thanks for the people we have in our lives, the knowledge we have available to us, and last but not least, the tools we have.

Try to imagine life as it was one hundred years ago.  The simple act of making supper would have been a chore.  You would not simply jump into your car to go to the local A&P to pick up a frozen dinner.  You would have had to thought about what you were going to have, found the ingredients, and actually put them all together.  You would not have a natural gas or electric range to cook them in but would have to cut wood for the fire.  The simple act of making supper is no longer a simple act.  It would consume most of an afternoon.

Just imagine how yard work would have been.  Today we have powered mowers, edgers, trimmers, tillers, and everything in between.  Some of these things the hardest part is starting them.  Can you even begin to imagine how our forefathers did it?  I bet it was a little harder, took a little longer, and involved alot more sweat.
My wife and I stopped in at a local flea market some time back.  I found lots of neat stuff I could not do without. 

The first item I found is this old time reel mower.  It has a date from the late 1880's stamped on it and it is in amazing condition.  The wheels are metal with a rubber ring around and other than the blades it is all wood.  It is in amazing condition and after a little lube it worked well enough to cut the grass in our front yard.  About the only downfall it has is it does not mulch.

This item is some type of roto tiller.  It has a metal drum with cut outs that look like teeth and on the rear it has three tines which have been welded together.  I have never seen anything like this but the price was right and it is in excellent condition so I had to have it.  While it can not keep up with my new rear tine roto tiller it is a neat artifact from our past.

Now that I can mow the grass and till the garden with human power alone I had to have something for the weeds.  You guessed it, a hand held human powered weed wacker!  No need to buy that expensive line and no fossil fuels required. 

After the yard work is done we can head to the workshop for a little wood working.  Forget those expensive power saws we have something better.  You do not have to worry about the motor burning up or ruining your hearing from those loud saws.  It will cut as long and as fast as you can move your arm.

While we are at it, how about a way to get that lumber..

I know it is not the best picture but I had to throw this in here.  It is an old two man saw.  You know like the one your grandpa's dad used.  Other than the rust and a broken handle with a little tlc this thing should work like a charm. 

After looking at these items and imagining the time and effort that those before us used to accomplish simple tasks I am more thankful that technology has made alot of these chores easier.  The best part is I spent about $50 for all of these items!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

No More Trespassing

Well as you know we have purchased land for our new home.  It is raw land meaning that there are no utilities, phone, water, drive, nothing!  To access our property we had to enter on our neighbors lot and drive across it onto ours.  While this worked for awhile it obviously was not ideal and we knew we had to get our drive in ASAP.  We had been trying to get our driveway put in for several months but it had been one thing after another.  Either our money went somewhere else or the state decided to replace a bridge.  A friend agreed to utilize his expertise and equipment to build our drive.  We got the culvert hauled out to the property and were ready to go.  We were talking about having the gravel hauled out when we got to thinking, how much does a dump truck full of rock weigh?  The reason I ask is because the state decided to replace a bridge leading to our property and entering from the other direction requires crossing two low weight bridges that definitely would not hold a heavy truck full of rock.  Well the goal was to have the drive in before winter and I am pleased to announce, It is in!  The bridge was finally finished and my friends schedule was clear and he so graciously placed the culvert and laid the rock for the entrance to our property.  You may notice that we only set the entrance over the big ditch.  No I was not being cheap there is a reason for this.  See we have yet to decide where we will place the house.  If we build in the front part of our property the sewage system will need to be installed so we do not have to rip out all our expensive rock.

This is what we started with.  This picture is misleading as the ditch is actually deeper than it looks.

Here you get an idea of how deep the ditch was.  We used a lot of rock building up so our entrance into our property is level.  One option for the location of our future house is to build it in the front of our property.  Basically it would sit in about the middle of the top of the picture.  We would have to cut down a few trees so we could sit it back far enough for privacy.

Here it is.  The entrance to our long term dream.  You can see the pass to the rear of our property in the upper right side of the photo. 

Now that we can get onto our property we have to make a decision on where the house will sit.  I prefer to site it in the rear of our property, it is secluded from the county lane, has beautiful views to the stream to the south, and is further off the road which may help keep down the dust.  The only problem is getting electricity back there.  I have spoken with the electric provider and was told that the first 300 feet of line is free and then it is $5 per foot.  If the power has to be brought in along the road this may be a no go.  It would be cost prohibitive as we would have to pay for the extra 50 feet along the front and then approximately 500 feet to the back.  We have to make a decision soon because I am wanting the power in place by spring so we can get to work with the actual building.  Of course the best thing would be to go all solar.  If Missouri and the federal government got their acts together to sweeten the pot with rebates that would be the way to go.  It does not seem fair that if we lived out west it would cost us 50% less for the same solar system.  As it is now we plan on starting with a small solar system so that we reduce our power bill and have an emergency power source as we get lots of ice storms in the winter and severe weather the rest of the year.

We have really started looking at different house plans.  We found one today we both like with a few modifications.  When I finish drawing the revisions I will scan it onto this site.  It will be fun to look back when we are finished and see how close we were to our plan.  No matter which plan we decide it is going to be passive solar.  We are going to incorporate stained and stamped concrete as our finished floors which will reduce allergens, dust, and increase our ability to utilize the sun to heat the house.  Thank you Mr. Sun for providing all that energy and thank you to our neighbors M and R for letting us cut across your lot to get to ours!