• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Anne Miller
  • Nicole Alderman
  • r ranson
  • Pearl Sutton
  • Mike Haasl
  • paul wheaton
stewards:
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Dave Burton
  • Joseph Lofthouse
master gardeners:
  • jordan barton
  • Greg Martin
gardeners:
  • Carla Burke
  • Ash Jackson
  • Kate Downham

Plan to build timber frame w/cordwood infill in Upstate New York - suggestions, advice, experience?

 
Melody May
Posts: 8
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hello! I am new to the permies community but I am so thrilled that a forum like this exists. I have been doing lots of research on building a cordwood home, with plans to turn my acreage into a full on homestead that features a pond, a greenhouse, chicken coop, etc. -- all in due time, of course. I fully plan on posting/participating in other topics on this website so I can get the best advice on each of these goals.

The property is 10 acres, heavily wooded, south facing, on a paved road with access to power (haven't decided if I can do solar to remain 100% off grid yet). The first 1/4 or so of the property is level but begins to drop off the further back you go (it's long and rectangular). It descends to low, muddy, fern-heavy wetlands (perfect for a pond!). There are only a couple of these spots but the rest is wooded, as I mentioned. Predominantly biiiig red pines, eastern white cedar, hemlock, and sugar maples.

My plan is to build a 1800sqft -ish house (still finalizing my designs) and I would like to break ground Spring 2022. I intend on using the pine from my property for the timber frame of the house, and the cedar for the 16" cordwood infill. My research suggests that a rubble trench foundation is best for the humid/wet climate of Upstate NY (St. Lawrence county) so that the soil can drain appropriately and prevent heaving when the water in the soil melts. This also seems like the best option for me because, although labor intensive, I can build this kind of foundation by myself. Ideally then, a grade beam on the rubble trench to support the timber frame. One question I have is, what dictates the need to dig the trench in certain spots? For example, I'd like to make my exterior walls the cordwood and make interior walls out of cob and some structural wood (like stud walls but then infill with cob). Does every cob wall need support from the rubble trench/grade beam? I would assume it's only for the posts that are supporting the frame/roof. Is this a correct assumption? Further, what kind of flooring works well with rubble trench foundations? I'm quite drawn to earthen floors (I looked up some permie posts that discuss earthen floors and PEX radiant heating) but I would also like to use the wood from some maples for flooring somewhere.

Also, in timber frames, what would you suggest is the best use of all the head space? Would I lose significant heat if I chose to keep the cathedral style ceilings? (A lot of my focus is on keeping my house airtight and warm in the winter. I am not from a cold climate.) I am not fond of two-story homes which is why I am neither digging a basement nor making it two stories. I like to walk on solid ground, lol. I'd consider room-in-attic trusses but then I'd need to invest in having stairs made and I'm not sure how expensive those are.

I surely have plenty more research to do (HVAC, electricity and plumbing specifics, etc.) but I also wanted to come here and consult those of you who have embarked on similar projects or who live in the freezing cold north country and can offer advice with building. If you have ANY advice pertaining to all or even just one of the questions I posed, I would so greatly appreciate it!! I am still exploring articles daily but there's so much info on the internet, it can be hard to sort through it all and not get totally burnt out. Thank you in advance!
 
Rob Lineberger
gardener
Posts: 600
Location: Durham, NC
216
hugelkultur gear urban cooking building writing woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Welcome! That's a great first post.  It sounds like you have solid plans and expectations.

I have some of the same questions you do so don't take this as expertise, but my research on rubble trench has always shown the trench surrounding the perimeter of the house and with robust french drain type channels to divert all of the water away from the home.  In that case I think the square/round/house-shaped perimeter is needed to siphon water away.  

My inference is that that leaves the interior floor dry enough for earthen floors.  This comes from earthbag home research.  The ones I've seen begin with a tamped gravel floor.
 
Melody May
Posts: 8
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Rob Lineberger wrote:Welcome! That's a great first post.  It sounds like you have solid plans and expectations.

I have some of the same questions you do so don't take this as expertise, but my research on rubble trench has always shown the trench surrounding the perimeter of the house and with robust french drain type channels to divert all of the water away from the home.  In that case I think the square/round/house-shaped perimeter is needed to siphon water away.  

My inference is that that leaves the interior floor dry enough for earthen floors.  This comes from earthbag home research.  The ones I've seen begin with a tamped gravel floor.



Hi Rob! Thank you! I was hoping to hear the earthen floors were possible especially in wet climates. So it sounds like if the proper precautions are taken I should be able to use that method of flooring. Also didn't know they start with tamped gravel so that's good to know!
 
Gregg Brazel
Posts: 14
Location: Detroit
1
cooking building woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Melody,

Your plans sound fantastic! As you know, there is a lot of ground to cover in your scope, but in early planning stages I would highly recommend that you put a lot of focus on Passive Solar Design principles as they will have a huge impact on the thermal performance and comfort of the structure. The main considerations are siting, building axis/orientation, window placement, ventilation, thermal mass, overhangs, and vegetation (existing and/or future). Here's an intro to PSD: http://lthr.ehrlum.com/14.htm

There are of course several books on the subject, and if you're not already well versed, you might want to pick one up because it is IMO one of the most important design considerations.

Best of luck with your project and feel free to contact me if you'd like more specifics.

Gregg
 
Melody May
Posts: 8
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Gregg Brazel wrote:Hi Melody,

Your plans sound fantastic! As you know, there is a lot of ground to cover in your scope, but in early planning stages I would highly recommend that you put a lot of focus on Passive Solar Design principles as they will have a huge impact on the thermal performance and comfort of the structure. The main considerations are siting, building axis/orientation, window placement, ventilation, thermal mass, overhangs, and vegetation (existing and/or future). Here's an intro to PSD: http://lthr.ehrlum.com/14.htm

There are of course several books on the subject, and if you're not already well versed, you might want to pick one up because it is IMO one of the most important design considerations.

Best of luck with your project and feel free to contact me if you'd like more specifics.

Gregg



Gregg,
Wow, those diagrams and videos are so helpful!! I've not seen those before. Thank you! I have definitely heard of the importance of passive solar design. I have had two separate sources recommend reading "A Pattern Language" by Christopher Alexander et al which highlights the importance of southern facing windows and creating light within a space. The numbers I've been told are to take 15% of the sq footage of the whole house, and translate that into the sqft of windows on the south side (ex. 1000 sqft home should have 150sqft of windows on south side). The only downside to this is that PSD minimizes windows on the north side, which is basically the entire view of the beautiful wild forest in the rear of my property. I may have to put at least one window to allow for a view, haha. As it stands, my plan is to only employ PSD, radiant heat with PEX tubing, and a wood-burning stove to heat my home. Do you think these three in combination will be sufficient enough?
 
Rob Lineberger
gardener
Posts: 600
Location: Durham, NC
216
hugelkultur gear urban cooking building writing woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
When you say wood burning stove... are you familiar with Rocket Mass Heaters?  If not I encourage you to read up on it.  This site is the perfect place to start.
 
Gregg Brazel
Posts: 14
Location: Detroit
1
cooking building woodworking
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Melody,

I'm not sure about the 15% ratio, but you are correct that most windows should be placed on the south side (in N. hemisphere), but there are almost always windows on other sides for ventilation and daylight. On the north elevation, you might look into high performance triple glazed units. You can also install heavy curtains / insulating blinds to reduce heat loss at night / when not home.  

One heating source could handle the job if properly designed. You might want to check out Walker Stoves, beautiful and efficient (on youtube also). You could heat your space, water and cook on one well-planned stove.  See sheet 15 for ideas here http://ehrlum.com/port/archdes/g-mobile.pdf

Also highly recommended for what you are building: Northmen, Birth of a Wooden House on YT.  1/2 education and ideas, 1/2 art film.  

g
 
Melody May
Posts: 8
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Rob Lineberger wrote:When you say wood burning stove... are you familiar with Rocket Mass Heaters?  If not I encourage you to read up on it.  This site is the perfect place to start.



I keep seeing the little sidebars for the free plans to build a rocket mass heater! I hadn't done much research into them, but after briefly looking them up I now see that there are many different variations. Something worth researching for sure.
 
Melody May
Posts: 8
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Gregg Brazel wrote:Melody,

I'm not sure about the 15% ratio, but you are correct that most windows should be placed on the south side (in N. hemisphere), but there are almost always windows on other sides for ventilation and daylight. On the north elevation, you might look into high performance triple glazed units. You can also install heavy curtains / insulating blinds to reduce heat loss at night / when not home.  

One heating source could handle the job if properly designed. You might want to check out Walker Stoves, beautiful and efficient (on youtube also). You could heat your space, water and cook on one well-planned stove.  See sheet 15 for ideas here http://ehrlum.com/port/archdes/g-mobile.pdf

Also highly recommended for what you are building: Northmen, Birth of a Wooden House on YT.  1/2 education and ideas, 1/2 art film.  

g



I hadn't heard of triple glazed units -- thank you! That seems like a great way to allow me the view while keeping the home warm. I'll start researching them immediately. I will also definitely check out those other recommendations.
 
Gregg Brazel
Posts: 14
Location: Detroit
1
cooking building woodworking
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Sure thing.  Keep in mind that they will come nowhere near the R-Value of your wall system, so you should consider the cost/benefit of the units over time. That said, windows in general should be a high budget priority as cheap once perform poorly and have a short lifespan. There are countless buildings around the world with their 200+ y.o. original wood windows still in perfect working condition, and beautiful. Wood with ext. aluminum cladding or quality metal units are probably the best options IMO.
 
John F Dean
gardener
Posts: 1723
Location: southern Illinois.
382
composting toilet food preservation homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Melody,

The recommended window % changes from decade to decade and source to source.  While you should not ignore it, also factor in your tastes and wants. After all, you will be living in the house. And while south side windows are great in the winter.....they can present a problem in the summer. Consider how you will deal with this.
 
Lorinne Anderson
pollinator
Posts: 376
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
158
dog
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am beyond jealous and overjoyed for you and your plans! I can't remember exactly where, BUT in Alberta an experimental stackwood/cordwood building was built (decades ago now) as a test facility to prove the thermal capabilities and structural integrity - for building code purposes. I believe this was attached to a university, and was a very long-term study, that seemed to have no end date.

I clearly remember the temperature fluctuations were negligible, as was supplemental heating - believed to be due to the thickness of the walls, and their incredible thermal mass.

Weather in Alberta is notorious for being both very cold and very hot, sometimes experiencing. 30-40 degree change (farenheight) in less than 12 hours. My memory may be faulty, but I am sure the temp stayed mid 60's to low 70's day in, day out, 24/7/365; this was not used as a "home" but more like a "lab" or classroom - a living experiment.  So heating may not be the challenge you expect, nor require anything but a small well placed woodstove.

The building had massively outperformed ANY and ALL expectations from a building cost, heating, cooling and maintenance perspectives. I believe it was in an old Harrowsmith Countrylife (from the 80's?) edition that featured the Albertan experiment, along with extensive discussion on the topic, from multiple builders who had shared their successes and what they would do different.

Rubble trenches were most common, BUT due to the weight of the walls, needed to be SIGNIFICANTLY wider than one would suspect - I believe the Albertan structure went 4 feet wide for it's trenches, and somehow, I believe there were old railway (yeah, yuck...) ties possibly incorporated in these trenches, or as the first layer (?) and definitely long (4-6 foot) squared timbers, (6x6's ?) to create the corners; stacked loghouse style, infilled with cordwood, and secured by spiking or threaded rod in the corners...  

One of the common regrets (by others featured in this Harrowsmith edition) was under building the foundation - sagging over time led to mortar separation and cracking, and instability.  After foundation issues, the most critical issues proved to be mortar mix and insulating barrier between the two mortared ends. Failure of the mortar mix led to shrinking and cracking that was a nightmare to maintain and recaulk.  

Insulation was another issue. Some suspected they had introduced wood boring insects by using sawdust (others wondered if the cord wood used was infested) as insulation, and was more prone to dampness inducing potential rot and loss of insulation. To this end, a NON biodegradable insulation such as fibreglass or rock wool may be advisable.

Another note, very WELL seasoned wood is critical; wood that was not fully dry, shrank and pulled away from the mortar and the wood itself split/cracked. Don't forget to include lintels and other external "framing" components in this (minimum) 2 year curing process

The flooring used in these multiple homes escapes me...I suspect there were multiple surfaces, hence the reason it didn't stick.

Attaching/supporting the structural members for the roof was also a challenge, I recall...something about the weight pinpointing on narrow portions of the stackwood walls... honestly, can't remember, but you may want to look at concrete piers within the rubble with some sort of structural component (such as your wood frame) that would adequately both support and distribute the weight of the roof structure.

You may want to consider exposed electrical conduit for housing electrical wires/supplying your electrical needs either beneath or atop the interior COB walls. Offers an extra layer of protection when placed BENEATH the COB.   It is an easy, albeit somewhat industrial look, left exposed, whether you go with COB or you stay with the exposed stackwood for electrical fixes/upgrades later.

I hope from my memories you can track down the Alberta Experiment and the Harrowsmith edition - they fueled my decades long addiction to this method of building that I finally had to give up, but still remains dear to my heart, and alive in my fantasies!
 
Rob Lineberger
gardener
Posts: 600
Location: Durham, NC
216
hugelkultur gear urban cooking building writing woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Wow those are great pointers, Lorinne!
 
Legend has it that if you rub the right tiny ad, a genie comes out.
100th Issue of Permaculture Magazine - now FREE for a while
https://permies.com/goodies/45/pmag
reply
    Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic