We got some more done on Saturday, and also ran into some challenges. I got the window buck built in the morning, which was pretty straight forward, while Ernie showed the crew the process of sewing up the bales to make the complicated cuts needed to fit the bales around the various shapes of the posts and beams within the wall. I got the window buck installed level and square within the wall, then we realized it needed to be moved forward to the front of the straw bales, so I repeated that process over again. Meanwhile the other ants were trying their hand at sewing up and cutting bales, with varying degrees of success. I tried my hand at shaping one of the notched bales to go around the door catch beam, but my first try was pretty ugly. It had to be redone, so we went to get more bales and made a disheartening discovery. Save for the three baled that I grabbed from under the red shed at base camp, all of the rest of the bales we have on hand at the lab have black mold growing through them due to improper storage. They have been kept under tarps for some time, and the tarps have not always been exactly waterproof. I learned from Erica that even if there wasn't rain getting through the tarps, the moisture from the soil would rise from the soil into the air in the heat of the day, and then condense on the tarps at night, dripping down onto the bales. In this whole project I am learning more and more about a form of building I have never done, and a material I have never worked with, some of the lessons are harder than others.
After a hectic week of long work days and lots of unexpected challenges popping up, including Ernie having some potentially serious problems with his leg, learning that all the straw bales we have on hand are unusable had me feeling pretty down and I was happy to take a couple of day rest and do some re-thinking. When I keep running into a string of problems with a project it is a sign that there is a flaw somewhere in the basic design or strategy behind it. Brian came by Allerton Abbey this morning and we talked over the challenges and problems. One of the biggest things I learned about straw bale construction in the past week is that its value is as a complete system, in which the structure is designed with the straw bale dimensions and construction methods in mind. In this project we are attempting to force straw bales to fit into a space and structure that was not designed or built with a straw bale wall in mind, a very complicated retrofit. This is why Ernie and Erica were teaching the crew some of the most complex cuts in straw bale building instead of the basics first. These cuts are very time consuming, up to an hour for each bale, and there are upwards of 80 different cuts to make in the whole project. My experience on Saturday had me very doubtful about being able to complete this job anywhere near on time or in budget. This morning, Brian and I talked about ways to simplify the process of building this rear wall, creating square edges to but the bales up against and using other strategies to fill in the areas around the posts and beams with straw. The goal with this project is not so much to utilize straw bale construction, but to create a well insulated and sealed wall to keep the cold winter air from stealing heat from the wofati thermal mass. I need to get the back wall built and completed, then we will re-evaluate or strategy before starting to build the front wall. Brian is ordering a new batch of bales, and this time they will be stored in the new berm shed, under wood and well protected from the rain.
In the absence of good straw bales to work with, and in the presence of more rain today, we got a little bit of work done on the downhill wing walls. The permies staff and other volunteers have all left, so it was just Carol-Anne and I today. She continued to fill in the cracks in the wing wall with cob, and I installed some boards along the bottom of the walls which will serve to tie in the future watershed/insulation umbrella into the wall. I attached 2x6s to the logs and filled the spaces behind it with wool, to continue the seam of insulation from the wall into the umbrella, then I cobbed over this space. The final plaster layer on the wall will come right to the outside edge of the 2x6s and complete the seal. Another 2x6 will be attached to these, with the umbrella tarp pinched between to hold it in place. The future porch deck will wrap over these 2x6s to hide and protect the umbrella. I also installed the 2x6s to the outer support log for the wall, with enough space below the sill edge to fit the deck boards on top, but still well below the sill. This way water on the surface of the deck will not be able to blow into wall during heavy wind and rain. I will likely extend the lintel across the whole front of the wall to act as another sill plate that extends over the deck a few inches.
A porch/deck just outside the door, in between the wing walls, will be such a great space, and go a long way towards keeping dust and mud out of the wofati. I can't wait to see that!
Will there be a wooden floor inside as well, some day?
It's great to see that projects are ongoing - I wish I could have done more. I planned to, but then the unexpected gift of trees and other plants required immediate action at base camp. And then, of course, huckleberries.