Thursday, 27 March 2014

What a week!  Plenty happening – but not much to see…unless you count a lot of meshing, wiring and never-ending stuffing!!!

We started and finished the northern wall – faux strawbale as it is only 75mm thick – but somewhat easier to stuff with the mesh only partially attached: 

And apparently, the ol’ ‘nail into the water pipe’ trick had to happen ;-)


(Kent the plumber has already replaced it J).
Plus the guys got the bathroom sliding door in too – in only two takes J:


See why we need to do the stuffing though – big gaps to fill in some bales (…compare seeing wood and not seeing wood):

 But, boy doesn’t it look incredible when it is all done and neat and tidy?

I think we will all need a massage and a manicure after tomorrow – when the stuffing will be finally finished – yippee!!!!!!
And a big hello to Andy’s folks back in England – he tells me you are keeping an eye on this blog – and can see how hard he has been working!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The boys are going straw crazy!

Here was a conversation this afternoon:
Andy, “I am making no hay-stee decisions until I am straw”
Ryan, “That wall is looking stuffingly good!”
Michael, “Strawpendous even!!”

I had to leave (well, it was school pick up time anyway…)

It is looking strawpendous though J:
Front wall J

Curved window reveal in our hobby room J

 One of the advantages of the internal wall frame – easy fixing points for the electrics:

 And after all our stuffing, these walls need a haircut (more of the “put something in, then take some of it out/off method of building”). 

 Just wish we called this a weed whacker rather than whipper snipper – sounds more fun...

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Well, we are exhausted – but all baled up and progressing well J!

We didn’t quite get all the 150 bales in the walls last weekend – despite our best efforts and the wonderful help of our neighbours, Jo and Craig.


Jo and Craig already have bought and live in a strawbale house, but are going to be building an extension soonish so were keen to have a go before they tackle their home.   Thanks so much for your help guys!! (We tried to keep Jo sitting down because she is eight months pregnant – but she still wanted to help and joined me in retying thousands of bales – well, it sure felt like that many!!)
So after that busy, busy, busy weekend, Ryan and Andy were back on site and raring to go – and during the course of the week we have ended up waiting on four different supplies so it was a bit of a roundabout week – doing things as the supplies became available.  But they came through with great progress of course – laundry lined with ply; verandah ceilings all but complete with recycled colourbond (one skinny row to go); 5 windows in place and two external walls meshed and the gaps stuffed with straw (yep, still my job –and I am in pain I tell you! – and that is with Andy helping as he can).


Here is the nicest progress though:


Our front door and windows and their strawbales – all meshed and curved and ready to go J.   Loving this so much!!!  
And I can’t wait for the rendering so we can see those gorgeous curved reveals in all their glory.

Just an update to finish – Richard let me know that the R value of the strawbales being ”face-aross” has been measured – and it is higher than stacking them the normal sideways J.

Monday, 10 March 2014

So vertical strawbales into a double framed wall – let’s chat about that for a moment.
If you know (or don’t) about strawbale houses, they are usually divided into two types – load bearing and infill.  They mean just what they say – you can build a wall out of strawbales all by themselves and it will bear the load of the roof, or you can use a frame, and the strawbales are infilled into that (and mainly act as insulation as the load is borne on the frame).  Obviously we have infill – but there are a few different types of infill too – post and beam (where the frames are in only the edges and top of the wall) – and then stud walls (lots of uprights and horizontals, something like ours – and is very similar to how any other wood framed house is built).  From what I understand, the choice in strawbale wall type is basically personal (they all work) and in how ‘easy’ the different styles of strawbale buildings can be to get council approval.
So vertical strawbales into a double framed wall – why did we choose this method – so different to all the other styles of building??  Well, we kinda didn’t – it chose us, in a way.  This is the method Richard (our building supervisor) uses, and we were happy to go along with it – we have never been involved in any strawbale building before, so can’t have any preference really.
I questioned Richard about why he has ‘evolved’ to vertical baling and how the extra wood frame scores environmentally.  These are my notes of his answer:
-        Vertical bales give a smaller footprint on the slab, so less concrete is required (good for concrete, but what about a possible decrease in insulation with decreased thickness?)
Vertical bales, face outwards, have the direction of the straw stalks against the outside (wind side) – so theoretically the insulation value could be higher (no studies have been done from what I understand, but since the bales are so thick either way the R value is still amazingly high. ETA – Richard tells me some studies were done and the R value is actually higher with the stalks being across the face J 
-        Laying bales vertically uses less strawbales in total as each bale covers a greater face (wall) area.  You could use them on their side and still get the greater face area, but the bales would tend to sag, so vertical is stronger in that respect

-        Vertical bales can’t support themselves so need supporting and the double frame does that.  Tying to the external frame is also possible (and Richard has moved away from this due to the last point below)

-        The pine used in framing is ‘stick’ timber, from young, quickly grown trees so not the massive environmental impact of old growth trees (which are typically used in post and beam bale construction for the extra strength required, albeit very often are recycled wood)

-        But isn’t straw faster growing I asked, so better for the environment anyway?  Pretty much even he reckons.

-        And, with modern homes, we usually like to attach things to the walls (which don’t hold at all well in just straw), so the extra internal framing provides plenty of fixing points for cupboards, shelves, electric points etc J.
Now my big question – would we build again using vertical strawbales??
Well, I don’t think I would do it exactly as we have already done, put it that way.   If there is ever a next time (and there might be, for a smaller building somewhere around), I think I would prefer to try a way that is much easier to actually get the bales in.  I would most certainly size the walls to fit multiples of full bale sizes to lessen the number of re-ties required!!  I really like the extra strength and positives of the double framing for a house but for a smaller building I think easier bale raising would take preference as it just seems more ‘user friendly’, and I think I would like that.  I think I would like to actually be able to be more hands-on in the bale raising (probably because I imagine I would be more hands-on in the whole building process, maybe even having a go at wall framing too??).  It would be good to be involved in that type of construction and compare…cubby house one day maybe eh?
(ETA – I typed this post up a couple of days ago and as I went to sleep the thought popped into my head – one of the reasons I feel some apprehension to vertical baling is that the physicality of it seems somewhat aggressive and I don’t want that for our home.  There has been plenty of physicality already, but it has seemed persuasive compared to somewhat aggressive so didn’t seem ‘wrong’ – but really, how weird I feel to be anthropomorphising about this house!  But that is me… and to be fair, we could have spent a lot more time trimming the bales to ‘size’ so they fitted in easier and therefore eliminated much of the physicality required too).

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Wow, what a busy few days!

Ryan and Andy finished flashing the roof (that could sound bad to some – but in context it is good and correct LOL).  And I love our finials J.  That is one of the patterns in Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language (the book I keep saying you should read if you are thinking of building a house).


Then the gyprockers finished the three coats of plaster so the walls all look pretty now J - they are back tomorrow to a final sanding to finish off.


And Michael, Andy and I spent time getting strawbales in.  We let Ryan and Andy have a few days off so we could do this job to catch up a bit before we need them again but Andy volunteered to help out for several hours today – what a champion!  And I mean CHAMPION because this is no easy job!
There is nothing elegant about trying to get those strawbales vertically into the wall frames – it is just pure, brute, strength (from menfolk, not me…).
It looks something like this:


And this:

 And we use these whackers too!

Andy has his own method – which works well too.

Now despite it being way beyond possible for any of us to get the strawbales in easily, we did get the kids to attempt one bale each into their bedroom walls ;-)
They had fun trying at least!

And my job has been to fill the gaps between the bales with the loose straw – no shortage of that stuff around here I tell you!

At the end of two massive days of baling – there is one wall complete – and 4 others over half complete – and we estimate we have about 150 bales to go.  Roll on the weekend when we can get them all in J. 
If you are free, come on down, friends and family are always welcome to join in the fun!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Strawbale walls?  Nah, we decided we like blue tarp instead!

Kidding, just kidding!! 
We have strung this up so we can paint clear sealer on our spectacular jarrah window and door frames this weekend.  I keep running my hand over the jarrah – they are just incredibly beautiful and I can’t wait to see them in our home (will be a few weeks yet … …)


And isn’t this a beautiful sight too?  Yep, we ran out of water from our rainwater tank 2 days ago – so getting a truck load in was a big relief.   Happy to have a good bit of rain after next week when the roof is fully flashed and finished – please.

Of course we couldn’t build without water available, so we are very lucky to have a certain generous building supervisor who let us grab as much as we wanted from his tanks – Thanks Rich and Kate!