I would like to start construction on a straw bale house this year, but the site has no water! My local well companies are backed up with work and it could take a year before I get a well installed, not to mention around $15K. Obviously, I'll need a lot of water for construction, especially for the wall plaster.
Dig a pond. Collect rainwater. Pump the water to the building site.
Attached is a cartoon of the site's layout. The house site is about 10' up on soil. Down the way is a clearing that often floods and is all rocky clay. It retains water extremely well.
I am in Southeast Tennessee, and a Google search tells me I get an average of about 55" of rainfall per year. Just a surface area of 10'x10' should yield 200 to 300 gallons per months. So a 10'x10' pond just a few feet deep would definitely hold all that.
Is this a reasonable solution?
How much water should I have on hand for straw bale construction?
For the pump, how many gallons per minute do I need to make plaster mixing reasonably easy?
How much gas can I expect to go through running the pump?
Please tell me what you think and what you would do!
This is great idea!
I don't know squat about strawbale building but I have an idea concerning the pump.
Rather than a gasoline pump, maybe use a solar powered 12v bilge pump.
Run a hose uphill to a series of 55 gallon barrels next to the job site.
Run a second hose back down to the pond and let it trickle in , which can add aeration
It will be slow, but the energy will be free and you can accumulate water while you are away doing other things.
With 55 " of rain a year, I would not muck around with a well or a pond.
Just put up a roof that may finish as a shop for you and capture the runoff into a large tank, 5000 gallons.
Fit a 2 inch ball valve at the bottom, and a first flush unit near the tank.
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I am sure it will cost less and give you cover during construction.
You will be able to drink the water when the house is finished.
Consider dry periods and evaporation. If you do the pond route, I would consider something larger in all dimensions. In fact, I would consider John C Daley’s option with a larger pond. That way you will have more than enough for drinking, livestock, and gardening. I currently have a 26000 gallon cistern with an overflow that goes to the pond.
Be sure to pay attention to the depth of the pond. Having at least part of the pond that is deeper can be helpful. It is important to have areas that do not freeze in the winter as well as to have colder areas in the pond during period of higher heat.
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You will need a roof to keep your straw dry. 55 inches a year and it rains at least once a week (no dry season) will ruin your straw really quick.
You might end up digging a pond, too, to get your hands on clay. Might as well have a useful hole when you’re done.
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So really it seems you need a multitude of extra works before you start;
- Roof to cover straw
- Tank to catch water with overflow to pond,
- Pond as a source of clay
- raised seating for the spectators to watch proceedings
- bigger roof to keep spectators out of the rain
- Bigger pond to hold the additional rainfall runoff
- Fish in the pond to keep it clean and provide food for all
- Bigger seating capacity to allow spectators to observe the fishing contest and
- the live cooking show
Just addressing the question about how much water you need for plastering activities. You’ll need about one gallon of water per square foot of plaster at 1” thick. Estimate the total square feet of exterior and interior wall surface on your project, multiply by one gallon....
Here’s the math. Think of plaster as a four-part mixture: 1 part binder (clay or lime) and 3 parts aggregate (sharp sand). (Note that mix ratios vary—it might be 1:2 or 1:2.5 or 1:3.5 depending on binder and aggregate, but 1:3 is common and also makes it easy to explain the calculations.) The binder almost completely disappears into the voids between the sand particles, so if you add four units of these materials (1 unit binder plus 3 units aggregate) you’ll still end up with 3 units of plaster. Although the water amount will vary with both the type of binder and how wet the sand is, a rough rule is that you need as much water as you have binder in any given batch. In my experience, a little more water with lime, and little less with clay, but again, much depends on binder type and the sand’s moisture content. The water also mostly “disappears” into the mix and doesn’t count towards an increased volume.
So, if you put 1 cubic foot (7.5 gallons) of binder (clay or lime) into a mixer with 3 cubic feet of sand (7.5 gallons x 3, or 22.5 gallons), you'll need about one cubic foot (7.5 gallons) of water to yield a workable 3 cubic foot plaster mix. (The order you add these materials also depends on the mixer and binder type).
How much wall surface does that cover? Imagine a cube that is 12” on all sides—a cubic foot. Slice it into layers 1/2" thick, which is a typical clay or lime plaster thickness for base coats over straw bale walls, although 3/8” is also common. You’ll have twenty-four of these 12” squares, so a cubic foot of plaster will cover 24 square feet of wall at ½” thick.
The 3 cubic foot mix you have will cover around 72 square feet of wall surface at ½” thickness, and require about 7.5 gallons of water to make. Just 1 cubic foot of plaster will need 1/3 of this water, or 2.5 gallons (7.5/3) for 24 square feet, which works out to be about .83 pints per square foot (2.5 gallons x 8 pints per gallon = 20 pints/24 square feet = .83 pints). I’d round up to 1 pint for simplicity. If you have two base coats, each ½” thick, you’ll need 2 pints per square foot. Add some water for the much thinner finish plaster mix and any damp curing for lime plasters—might as well round up to about another pint or two (½ gallon) per square foot of wall surface just for the plaster mix.
Then there’s tool and equipment clean up after each plaster coat—it’s amazing how much water gets used to wash out mixers, hose off ladders and scaffolding, and clean off tools. Unless you’re really miserly with water, this can easily add another pint or two per square foot. Now we’re talking about somewhere between ¾ and 1 gallon per square foot of wall surface for all three plaster coats, including clean up. Because there’s going to be some waste—people accidentally forget to turn hoses off and let buckets overflow—I’d use the higher number. You really don’t want to run out of water midway through plastering a wall!
If you have a building with 1000 square feet total of interior and exterior wall surface you’ll need at least 1000 gallons of water on hand—preferable clean water—not muddy or full of algae or other organic material. Also, be cautious about mixing lime plaster with warm water (that has been sitting in a tank in the hot sun) because the plaster will set up more quickly, significantly reducing the working time. I have noticed this effect more with natural hydraulic and artificially hydraulic limes than with Type-S or quick lime, but when it comes to mixing plasters I expect that cool water is better all around unless you’re working in cold weather conditions.
Welcome to the neighborhood! Do keep in mind that in this area our dryish season is July and August. My 10 x10 pond is just 2 feet deep, and becomes, a soggy spot during this time. So you may want to be finished before then.