We've been off grid for nine years now and started off with the most efficient "regular" refrigerator we could afford at the time. Due the constant cycling of the auto defrost, especially at night, it put a strain on our system. We finally made the switch to a converted chest freezer and boy has that made a difference! I no longer cringe when I hear the fridge kick on! We've discovered we need to be more creative with organizing the space and there's some condensation that needs to be taken care of now and then but our veggies do seem to last a lot longer in there!
Wow, what a great discussion. Thank you Jay and Bill for sharing all your knowledge.
Here's where I'm at. I am not a builder by trade so I tend to mull ideas over for quite some time before executing and wanting to build with minimal impact on the land is always foremost in my thoughts which makes the mulling that much longer. I am planning on putting up a shop/pottery studio soon and have been contemplating foundation choices for sometime now and it seems the raised earth foundation or a variation of it may be just what I've been looking for. I will be building on what is now my parking area which is built up runs of stone and bank run gravel that is compacted. What I'd like to do is add layers of compacted stone directly on top of the existing stone/gravel and then place some plinth stones and build from there. I have a couple of questions and was hoping for some thoughts/suggestions.
First, what size stone and how deep of a run before compacting and should the size of stone get smaller for the final run to help with drainage? How deep total would I need to go? (I have a feeling that last one will be answered with something beginning with "It depends..." )
The second is similar to what John is asking regarding tying the building to the ground. Does the weight of a timber framed building alone negate the need for securing it to the ground?
Finally, a bit off topic but in relation to it, with regards to insulating the floor of a building that sits on this type of foundation. What are the most effective options?
A couple of things I've learned, from those who've been stacking a lot longer than me, here in Vermont, are to run your stack north to south so that both ends get sun and if you don't have a woodshed or old metal roofing to cover it, stack the last layer bark side up to help keep some of the rain/snow from getting deeper into the stack. They've both worked well for me for the last 13 yrs.
I love splitting and stacking wood so much that there are times that I wish I needed more than 2 cords to heat my house for the winter!
Rob Roy has used one for years. Here's his website: http://www.cordwoodmasonry.com/index.html# I don't think you'll find info on the pump but you'll find contact info there and I'm fairly certain he does consulting as well. Good luck!
I am almost afraid to ask this but.... does anyone know of the legality of creating dams on a seasonal creek? My son and I have been messing with small dams in our creek for the past few years and are looking to go bigger but I don't really want to ask any gov't sources and don't know where to find the answer otherwise. It also sounds you all are doing what we intend to do.
I have also found that the debris dam works well, whether it be logs or stones. And i've often thought, as I sit and watch the water flow, about all the leaves that are being steeped in the water hole behind our little dam. I sit and wonder if those leaves are collecting all sorts of minerals and nutrients from the water and if so, I should be harvesting them for use elsewhere. Any thoughts?
jay william wrote:Interesting. We just looked at an old farmhouse in NC built in 1920 that has 2 locust stumps in the crawlspace, as part of the foundation holding up the 2 story house.
They seem in fine shape to me, but it does give me pause for a number of reasons... I was wondering if anybody had seen this sort of thing before, and whether or not we should look into updating them. Im leaning toward yes.
Isn't it amazing how ideas and solutions people used to build with, that may seem a bit crazy, can withstand the test of time? I love the barns here in VT that are standing on dry stacked stone piers that seem way too small to be holding up such a large structure!
If they still look good, you could always leave them and add other supports. Just a thought!
Thanks for the replies and the interesting thoughts!
The concept would definitely make the most sense with rot resistant species but I've got to work with what I have. The trees have to come down anyways to allow more southern exposure for growing more food and will be replaced with fruit trees planted nearby. So I may just build a funky chicken coop a few feet off the ground and see what happens!
This did get me thinking more about foundation alternatives though and I am thinking what if I just use rot resistant timbers on a compacted gravel bed ( taking into account the normal precautions regarding drainage, etc.) and build off them. I could design it so the timbers could be replaced with relative ease. Just thinking out loud...
So I'm driving down the road today and I see in someone's yard a kid's fort built on top of a tree stump that is six feet high or so and it got me thinking...
The one part of building that I am constantly struggling with is the foundation. I don't like to use concrete if I can avoid it. So, I see this awesome fort and think, "Why not?" I am trying to think of any drawbacks to using the stumps, from some hard maple and black birch I am in the process of clearing, as the foundation for a small outbuilding. Other than the typical drawbacks to building on piers what else is there? Will they rot out too fast? Large stumps seem to be solid for quite some time and these would be protected from direct exposure. The idea of building off of them at 4 or 5 feet above ground and using the trees placement to guide the design of the building seems intriguing and fun to me!
"I found some vegan road kill (downed tree branch) " - that is awesome! I'm going to have to use that sometime if you don't mind!
I use straight up canola oil and have for five years now with no problems. A friend who is a logger suggested it because he had heard that they were using it in Europe with success. Of course, I got a lot of funny looks from the guys who run the saw supply shops and now they sell overpriced bio bar oils...
I would answer that Ms. McBride 's answer is more correct , as that Hay is for animal feed. Also, Hay can spontaneously combust , thus - I would NEVER BUILD - with hay bales – nor would I build with Straw bales except for emergency construction situations. I might would also say, don’t build with cob either , go ahead and build a proper wall by ramming the building soil in place . Rammed Earth ( a higher form of Cob ) makes for much safer and longer lasting walls!
Additionally, If your lucky enough to have a quality Hay Field, If your not feeding it to your live stock, you might should be selling it and buying Wheatstraw as that even just good quality Hay, brings a pretty penny .
Best Wishes & Happy Building !
Joe Woodall, Rogue Eco-Architect
Well I can agree that hay is usually used for animal feed and in your neck of the woods hay may bring a pretty penny but here in VT hay is one half or even less the cost of straw. Also, as far as spontaneous combustion goes, moisture is key, "over 22% increases the risk." so as long as your hay bales are below that you'd be safe. And if your using the hay in a cob mix then it won't matter at all as it will only combust in large bales or piles, not as individual pieces. That is why it is best practice to have a moisture meter when you buy your bales and for monitoring them once the structure is built.
As far as straw bale goes, I wouldn't trade mine for the world. It heats with 1 - 1 1/2 cords for a Vermont winter, needs no a/c in the summer and moisture levels are 10 - 11%.
Mr. Woodall, in your opinion, would rammed earth work in a cold climate? I suppose once the walls are heated it would be only a matter of maintaining that heat, no?
here's a link with a lot of info: http://www.thelaststraw.org/resources/rg06/code.html and there is a woman in Nova Scotia, Kim Thompson, I believe, who did some studies of her building in a maritime environment. I'll try to dig through all my info from when I built my straw bale house here in VT and see if I can find that type of info. (although we didn't need any research, just had to pay the permit fee, no visits, nothin'!) Where in MA are planning to build?
For what it's worth I am pretty sure the author of Serious Straw Bale lives in a house made of hay bales. I had some straw sprout in my plaster and it was easy to pick and died off fairly quickly. So the hay provides the long fibers for strength and if any seeds do sprout they ought to die off fairly quickly.
Sounds like a cool project! I know that bales on their edge have been used as infill but am not sure about as load bearing walls. But for maximum insulation it is best to lay them flat. I only know this because I did TONS of research before I built my own straw bale house. What are you going to use for plaster?
There is a lot of rye and oat straw grown right around here. As a matter of fact there were two fields of rye growing just down the road while I was building our frame. I had hoped to use it for my house but the farmer's baler was beat and couldn't compress the bales enough. He's since got a new baler and is planning on doing more straw this year, lucky me! I could find out the cost when it becomes available if your interested.
I don't remember exactly what we paid per bale, I'm thinking $3-4. Definitely not the $1-2 cost of hay! But still our house is under 1000 sqft and the south facing wall is mostly glass so we didn't require a ton of bales. I also know that all the "horse people" around here drive up the cost of good quality straw, only the best for their horses! I am also considering using hay bales for our studio due to the cost and also just for some experimentation/comparison fun. Heck, the author of Serious Straw Bale lives in a hay bale house somewhere down near you I believe. Sure the hay doesn't insulate as well but properly designed, sited and sized I would think it should do alright especially with the reduced cost factored in.
I just purchased/downloaded Owen Geiger's earthbag building book and he specifically talks about using gravel filled bags as an alternative to a concrete bond beam on top of a rubble trench foundation. His book touts being "engineer approved" if that holds any weight, does for me. I've also come across the idea in other natural building books and websites. Tying a wall system such straw bales into the bags is something I do need to research more...
Many alternative foundations only work well for a reasonable time in dry climates. You can minimize concrete use with a rubble trench and bond beam, but the only way to eliminate it (IME) that works well in wet places is the wooden post foundation or the treated wood wall foundation - and then you have rot or preservative issues, as well as drafts, frozen plumbing and animals under the house issues. Charred black locust posts might do if you can find a good source of large black locust. Works well for sheds without plumbing to deal with.
I suppose I am skipping over dry-laid stone, which is a drafty foundation and expensive, time consuming and not trivial to acquire the skill to do well enough to put a house on. In most parts of Vermont you should at least be able to find material without looking too far, though it may not be good material for the purpose. Glacially processed rocks don't stack well, on average. If you plaster it to keep the drafts and rodents down or build with mortar, you might as well have used concrete in the first place...and you might actually use a good bit less, as a rock wall needs to be a lot thicker than reinforced concrete.
Depending what you have (or what the glaciers left you) there is another alternative, as seen in the barn I grew up with - large glacial boulders under each post of a post and beam. Think of it as "guilt-free precast concrete" and also as something that will crush you if it gets a chance, so move them with care. With care, you'll live and it will work. They simply need to be of sufficient size to spread the load depending what your soil will bear, and get below frost (or be sited on drained rubble that does not frost heave, as in a rubble trench). Then you need wood for the beams that support the floors...
I have at times looked to both strawbale and cob (which turn out to be silly here where straw is an expensive import from far away) and compressed earth blocks - and in all three cases a concrete foundation to get them up off the ground was highly advised.
I guess I have read of someone using baled plastic bottles as a foundation, but given what I've seen of plastic bottles+time, I have doubts about that long-term, so I would not bet my house on it.
If you have time and opportunity, I think it's a great idea to build several small test structures (shed, chicken coop, well or spring house) using whatever schemes you are considering for the house before diving into the house with a technique you've read about, but not actually built and observed over time at your site.
Makes sense about the plastic becoming brittle but I wonder if it depends on the type of plastic? I was just trying to help out the OP not trying to use plastic bottles myself, especially in a foundation!
I've thought about those other foundations and agree with you on the use of dry laid stone and treated piers. The charred locust has been an idea as well and is still a potential for me as the next thing I build will be a pottery studio and not residential so the animals and drafts are not that big of a concern. I do think that a rubble trench with gravel filled earthbags acting as the bond beam would eliminate the need for concrete.
Interesting that you found the straw to be expensive and only available at a distance. I'm in SW Vermont and was able to find bales within several miles and weren't expensive at all.
Yeah, I'm not sure about the baled plastic for a foundation either!
As an architecture student, I can comfortably tell you that concrete is the only standard code compliant foundation material you can use without an engineer's specifications to bring to city hall now a days.
Luckily, or maybe not so, depending on how you look at it, I live in rural Vermont where my town has zero building codes; you just have to pay them the permit fees.
Thank you for pointing me towards The Hand Sculpted House. I've been looking for an excuse to add that one to my collection!
A thought that runs through my mind at least once a day!
Cordwood building can be done with cob and many of the buildings have glass bottles incorporated in the walls so I would think it would work with plastic ones, especially if they have some sort of texture for the cob to key into. Perhaps doing some small test samples would be helpful?
My search in building without concrete lies in the foundation. I used a rubble trench foundation with a concrete beam on top for my straw bale house and if I had to do it over I would probably use earth bags on top instead. Then there are wooden pier foundations but I would think there would be a need of larger framing members for the floor if you were to put a lot of weight such as cob or straw bales on it. Any thoughts or experience in this aspect of building without using concrete?
In our first attempt at sheet mulching we ended up with the top layer being straw. We created very small pockets (about the size of a fist) of a soil/compost mix and planted directly into them. We had great success and are constantly expanding! Have fun!
We used the Tirolessa to apply the slip coat to bith the exterior and interior walls of our straw bale house. I found the sprayer to be messy but effective for this but when in came to the stiffer mix we wanted it didn't work so well. I could apply it faster by hand. Plus I enjoyed getting my hands dirty and could get a better "read" off of the walls as to how it was adhering and what spots needed more material. I intend on playing with the sprayer more on my next structure!
Thank you Delvin and all those who created the wonderful workbook! I just downloaded it and gave it a brief look over and from the little I saw I can see how useful it will be. I look forward to reading it tomorrow!
I wonder if it might be good to link to Transition Towns? There's 1 in Manchester.
The site will be most productive when school is out. Does the town have a summer program for kids.
Ben Falk has done a Pc site for a prison, I think. He's up north (Moretown?)
The school is in Bennington where there is also a Transition group, however they are just embarking on their own edible forest garden in a park in North Bennington. Our school has a great summer program that includes a school garden group and they do a wonderful job and are committed to the garden. I will definitely be enlisting their help and use it as a teaching opportunity. Funny you mention Ben Falk as a group of friends who are all permaculture newbies as well were talking about setting up a visit to his place just last night!
Where are you in VT? We're in Sandgate. 40 mins NW of Bennington.
Toby Hemenway wrote: If you are new to Pc, start with something you know how to do and then learn from there. It would be a shame to fail right off the bat. There is a teacher in Hood River, Oregon, Michael Becker, who is doing incredible school garden work, way beyond anything else I'm aware of. Google him, as there are articles on his work.
Thanks for the lead on Michael Becker. I found a great article that was very inspiring! You're totally right about starting small. Maybe a test garden on that field to prove the system works is in order!
Hi all and thanks Toby for being here this week. The timing couldn't have been better! This idea of mine has been brewing for some time now and I am hoping that I can get some insight from people here. I am fairly new to permaculture, lots of reading and planning with some implementation on my own, so please bear with me! Here's the scenario:
I teach art at a middle school in southern Vermont that was built on agriculture land. A beautiful spot, even better before they built the school seven years ago. In order to build the school the town had to get special permitting which included that a certain amount, 20 or so acres of prime ag land had to be kept as ag land and the GOOD part is that the school is REQUIRED to integrate the use of it across the curriculum. Within the past several years a group that works with older kids started an organic garden where they grow food for community members in need. A couple of years later the school started their own section of the garden. Both gardens are getting bigger each year and the school garden has been supplying some of the veggies for the school lunch program. I am also going to be starting an "art" garden this spring in a bed that was previously used for some heritage wheat trials by on of the sixth grade teachers. My plan for that is for another time. Quick version is I want to build a "U" shaped hugulkultur bed that creates a suntrap. I then want to plant it with mostly edible perennials. So I'll be asking for advice for that at another time!
My specific project
There is an upper field that is south facing and designated as prime ag land. I'm not sure how many acres, let's just say it's big enough for a field hockey practice field and then some. How do I know this? Because they turned the field into just that. I guess the SIX other playing fields weren't enough. Not bitter, nooo. So basically the field was seeded and turned into a playing field under the reasoning that that field was all construction fill so it wouldn't be good for growing anything in.
What I want to do is reclaim that land and turn it into permaculture site for the school. I think it would be a great long term project that would be able to tie into the curriculum in so many ways. What I need is a plan to present to the Ag Committee in order to gain permission to move forward. I am wondering if there is a single resource out there that would provide me with an overview of how to start such a project? Whether or not there is I would love to hear from everyone here and maybe build a plan that way!
I was thinking I would come up with an overall design and implement it in stages, maybe moving across the field in sections. It is definitely going to be a long term project! If the soil is really construction fill then I guess I start by tilling and planting a cover crop mixture that is something similar to what Sepp Holzer uses on his terraces. I open to all questions, ideas, comments, etc. I'm sick of typing so I'm going to end it here!
We planted immediately in our first attempt at sheet mulching and had great success. We didn't have enough compost/topsoil to cover the whole area so we created little pockets of compost for each individual seed/seedling within our top layer of straw. Everything grew amazingly well and we've been expanding ever since! Good luck and have fun!
Nice yurt! I am sending your link to people that I know that may be interested.
Are you interested in selling the generator separately? If so, can you send me more info such as what brand, etc? What would you be asking for it? I live in VT near Cambridge and Shushan, NY so it would be easy to come get if we can swing it!
I've got my hole pretty much dug and am in the same spot as you. I've been thinking an earthbag dome, there's an article in Mother Earth News about one that is fairly in depth. I just was talking to a friend about what to do and he suggested to check with the local concrete company and see if they have any sewer pieces that were mistakes that they would sell for cheap and then just put a lid with a hatch and ladder to access it.
Hey looks good! I've been contemplating a similar structure using wood in the round! How are you attaching your rafters to the beams?
I built a straw bale house with a living roof and have been living in it for the past year and it is awesome.
I have some concerns regarding your roof. What are the layers and the depth of them that you intend to put up there? Our roof is considered a "lighter weight" living roof. We used, on top of 2x6 tongue and groove decking, a waterproof membrane, 5" recycled insulation, 6 mil plastic, lightweight drainage material, 2-3 flakes deep of straw and hay and then 1" to 2" of soil. We live in Vermont so we also took into account a large snow load but all that sits on top of full 2x12 rafters on 8x10 beams and 8x8 posts. So I am wondering how those 2x6's are attached to the posts? And how big around are your rafters?
By no means am I an expert and don't pretend to be one in fact I had my design checked twice by an engineer because my family is sleeping under it all! But if your just building an outbuilding go for it!
Sorry to keep going but I'm excited to finally be able to share my experiences with people on the same path! My neighbors were taking bets that I'd never finish or it wouldn't work, HAH!
To all of you planning or building if you haven't considered or decided on an exterior earth plaster I say go for it! We live in Vermont and just experienced the snowiest winter in ages and a super wet spring and with our overhangs (around 30") our plaster is absotootely 100% FINE. It's been hit very little by moisture and even in the driving snow/rain the one wall that got hit is totally fine, no erosion. Earth plaster is so much fun to play/work with and there is NO gloves needed and it is the least energy intensive of all the plasters.
Whatever you decide is what will be right for you and whenever you have decisions to make while in the building process my advice is to always go with what your "gut" is telling you. There were several times I listened to so called "experts" in different fields where I listened to them and REGRETTED it because they weren't familiar with straw bale building.
We just completed our first year in our straw bale house with a rubble trench foundation and so far so good!
We put a concrete beam on top of the drained rubble trench, sealed it and then built a 6"-8" "toe-up" out of wood where we ran all our wiring and then packed it with cellulose insulation. This keeps the bales off of the concrete and higher off of the ground and kept our wiring out of the walls. Just food for thought!
That looks awesome, boss! Wish I could come help. Do you have any info for a DIY on how to build it? If not take lots of pics and vids as I'm sure people would be into it. We just celebrated our first year in our straw bale house that I built here in VT and are loving it. I kept my design simple and rectilinear as it was my first time building and using bales. We now need to build a studio and I would love to try something like that! I have been thinking about using bales within an A frame but your vault will be beautiful!