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considering timber frame with clay-straw infill

 
Judi Anne
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Let's see. Where to start.

I live in the southeast. Growing zone 5a. Hot, humid summers, humid and therefore bone chilling winters that are often overcast. Not much sun for weeks on end.

We have provided manual labor on as many builds as we can for the chance at observing..... Structural strawbale, post and beam strawbale infill, cob, and rammed earth tire with cob overlay. We are pretty green on all aspects of structural design other than modern framing and roofing. My husband has done some timber framing as a teen as his culture of origin still practices it in some builds. But just a little. He seems to have gotten the genetics for it though. I know he could do it. Slowly.

On all the projects we have seen I think the primary flaw was in foundation prep. All the projects -100% - are failing because of moisture problems. Not a good advertisement for natural building, but we still want to try it at some point in our lives.

The old buildings around here are bone dry inside and the foundations are all the same on the ones that last, the structure itself is usually "post and pier" with the pier being drylaid stone and the timber framing or post and beam framing of oak just sitting on top of the piers with no tie down.

We have concluded that good foundation design and good design or understanding of the surrounding earth works is imperative. Loved the raised earth foundation thread, very helpful in understanding the mechanics of doing the rubble and stone in such a way as to prevent wicking. I'm confident that when it comes to actually designing for whatever property we end up on we can get the foundation dry and dryer.


We have ruled out strawbale building. No confidence that it suits us or our climate. I'm sure it can be done, but the high potential for failure is too much risk for us. It is appalling how fast they can fail. I wouldn't be able to sleep for wondering if there was moisture getting in somewhere. And moisture is the consistent theme if our climate.

Cob and stone have mass and that can work against you here it seems. Condensation from top to bottom of the wall can be a problem even on a dry foundation (not sure yet why in the places I've seen it but have thought on the exterior it could be from the rapid temperature swings. Interior not sure why.) and for more than half the year it seems the mass is either accumulated too much heat to offer relief to indoor temps or so cold it sucks off more heating btus than necessary. I suppose with enough thickness to the mass and an effort to properly charge the mass at the beginning of winter and maintain the charge properly and shaded in summer this could be overcome, but we think we'd do better off just starting with something more insulative.

Many old local buildings have sawdust insulation. We'd like something more fire resistant and rodent and bug proof.

So that brought us to clay-straw. But we've not experienced this modality at all in a build. Only saw a test 8" "wall".


Our ideal design at this point would be timber framing versus post and beam to avoid thermal bridging of metal parts and resultant condensation points. Timbers set to the inside and left exposed on the interior because we love the look. Clay straw infill, transitioning to a thick cob plaster as the outside cladding supported by a wide foundation sill. Entire wall to be 18-24 inches thick at least 12inches of clay straw.

Occasionally we still consider encapsulating the framing in clay -straw and earthen plaster (would have to be timber framing with wood joinery only, we think, because of the risk of internal condensation points of metal joinery) Encapsulating makes it more fireproof as far as we can tell, but more risk of missing termite damage in the case we didn't get the foundation built well enough to discourage them.

Question 1 how can we ensure no thermal bridging at the timbers? (We have observed thermal bridging on a post and beam strawbale infill design. Moisture means softening which means cracking, which means drafts and more moisture. No good.)
Would encapsulating help reduce thermal bridging? And facilitate drawing moisture away from the wood to the exposed wall surfaces?
How much mass would need to be on the outside to insulate the timbers?


Question 2. Does clay straw need wattle or trussing for structural integrity? The test spot we saw was very hard, built up incrementally to dry between runs rather than poured all at once. Not sure what is traditional.

Question 3. We know we want standing seam metal roofing, but are unsure what our insulating material should be. Ideally we want the attic floor and ceiling to be the insulating point and the roof left alone.
Question 4. How to overcome thermal bridging at corners, top of wall to eave and from eave to attic floor?

Sorry this is disjointed. End of a long day,but these are rolling around in my brain and I want to put them out there.


We have lots of time to understand the potential flaws and redesign any areas as needed. Plus our first build will be a small shed, then a two room cottage and, then the house we hope will stand 100s of years.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hey Judi!!! awesome post that really put some great points forward about many challenges that face first time builders. I think your post thread could really be one of the better one and of great worth to many new DIYers trying to build a good natural house.

On all the projects we have seen I think the primary flaw was in foundation prep. All the projects -100% - are failing because of moisture problems. Not a good advertisement for natural building, but we still want to try it at some point in our lives.


Wow...100%

I am usually a bit more conservative and say about 50/50 because I want to be positive for folks and supportive. I will admit that sometimes...for some styles of natural building...100% isn't far off for at least major challenges, and you nailed the main reason..."moisture."

I can say happily and positively (one of the reasons I haunt the Permies.com so much) is that it can be done, but not as "simplisticaly" as too many think they can...not for a long term and durable build. These structures take great planning, thinking and understanding to facilitate a multi generational build with little but routine maintenance. It would seem you are well ahead of that curve and have already learned that from practice and observation...Most excellent!!

The old buildings around here are bone dry inside and the foundations are all the same on the ones that last, the structure itself is usually "post and pier" with the pier being drylaid stone and the timber framing or post and beam framing of oak just sitting on top of the piers with no tie down.


Well...again...you nailed it. Little will beat a regions known and understood vernacular system of building and it isn't until some "new age" DIYer thinks they can build a better mousetrap that we start to see some challenges "pop up." Like they say..."if it ain't broke...don't fix it," and if the wheel turns...no reason to invent a new one unless you really need to...

I felt great hearing that you enjoy the "raised earth foundation" post. I wrote that for folks just like you and hope that it continues to be of "good service" to folks in illustrating some very ancient wisdom and methods.

We have ruled out strawbale building. No confidence that it suits us or our climate. I'm sure it can be done, but the high potential for failure is too much risk for us. It is appalling how fast they can fail. I wouldn't be able to sleep for wondering if there was moisture getting in somewhere. And moisture is the consistent theme if our climate.


Sound logic there...again! I am constantly amazed at folks putting so much energy into building "I think" projects, trying to re-invent wheels, or the most common..."MAKING something work." I am sure I can (and have) made many things work, but I do it for testing purposes and elucidation...not to build myself or a client a durable home. I look at where a build is, and then look to the historic vernacular for that region and/or biome type and copy that style as closely as I can.

Cob and stone have mass and that can work against you here it seems. Condensation from top to bottom of the wall can be a problem even on a dry foundation (not sure yet why in the places I've seen it but have thought on the exterior it could be from the rapid temperature swings. Interior not sure why.) and for more than half the year it seems the mass is either accumulated too much heat to offer relief to indoor temps or so cold it sucks off more heating btus than necessary. I suppose with enough thickness to the mass and an effort to properly charge the mass at the beginning of winter and maintain the charge properly and shaded in summer this could be overcome, but we think we'd do better off just starting with something more insulative.


Thermal sinks and the "flywheel effect" are great concepts...and I stress..."CONCEPTS." If they are thoroughly understood within a regional application modality of building and the design/builder has experence with them and other vernacular systems...they can work really well. Alas...many do not, just as you have shared.

Many old local buildings have sawdust insulation. We'd like something more fire resistant and rodent and bug proof.


Sawdust, if understood and treated with vernacular wisdom can be proofed to all those things if you would like to explore that. This is one of those..."hows"...and not the "what's" deals...

So that brought us to clay-straw. But we've not experienced this modality at all in a build. Only saw a test 8" "wall".


Better than most new builders and well within you scope of skill sets it would seem...

Our ideal design at this point would be timber framing versus post and beam to avoid thermal bridging of metal parts and resultant condensation points. Timbers set to the inside and left exposed on the interior because we love the look. Clay straw infill, transitioning to a thick cob plaster as the outside cladding supported by a wide foundation sill. Entire wall to be 18-24 inches thick at least 12inches of clay straw.


Well...heck...sign me up!!!

That is just about verbatim what I call in the "perfect range" of styles for most places. Excellent choice!

Occasionally we still consider encapsulating the framing in clay -straw and earthen plaster (would have to be timber framing with wood joinery only, we think, because of the risk of internal condensation points of metal joinery) Encapsulating makes it more fireproof as far as we can tell, but more risk of missing termite damage in the case we didn't get the foundation built well enough to discourage them.


I can support an encapsulation method if wanted...It can't have any...I mean NO...metal in it at all...period, as it isn't a mater of "if" but when oxidation will have its way with the metal. I am currently dealing with several "rust jacking" issues in some historical work with colleagues that people just don't think about.

Question 1 how can we ensure no thermal bridging at the timbers? (We have observed thermal bridging on a post and beam strawbale infill design. Moisture means softening which means cracking, which means drafts and more moisture. No good.)


Good design...best short answer...

Would encapsulating help reduce thermal bridging? And facilitate drawing moisture away from the wood to the exposed wall surfaces? How much mass would need to be on the outside to insulate the timbers?


Hmmm...No...no...and it depends?? I would have to have an actual schematic or CAD to really dig into it.

Question 2. Does clay straw need wattle or trussing for structural integrity? The test spot we saw was very hard, built up incrementally to dry between runs rather than poured all at once. Not sure what is traditional.


All depends on...you guessed it...the design. Creole Bousillage styles for example have their "batons" or "rabbits" (aka wattle) and each system usually does for the most part but some don't have to per se.

Question 3. We know we want standing seam metal roofing, but are unsure what our insulating material should be. Ideally we want the attic floor and ceiling to be the insulating point and the roof left alone.


Excellent choice again...heck I am just going to move to where you are...sounds like its going to be a great home!

Question 4. How to overcome thermal bridging at corners, top of wall to eave and from eave to attic floor?


We want to "mitigate" TB but we don't have to be compulsive about it if other design elements are really good. These things will work themselves out as you get into the finer points of a final design style to build with.

We have lots of time to understand the potential flaws and redesign any areas as needed. Plus our first build will be a small shed, then a two room cottage and, then the house we hope will stand 100s of years.


One of the best laid out, thought out and planned for approaches I have ever read...right out of what I try to teach...A+

If I can ever help, please just let me know...It was great reading this post!!! Thanks!

Regards,

j
 
Judi Anne
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Thank you for the reply, j.


Thermal sink, "flywheel effect"... concepts I've run across but don't have a good grasp of.Is there one particular book or source that does a good job of explaining concepts such as this? I think we have the observations, but not the right terminology to find teaching materials and diagrams.


Interstitial moisture as you called it on another thread is the area that we wish to understand better right now. We understand, I think, the "hat and boot" concept of keeping things dry but want to understand how to prevent condensation points in the wall better. Any resources for that? We do understand the concept of keeping the wall breathing. No vapor barriers in a natural built wall for us. but even with a breathing wall, certain spots can create condensation. Obviously metal is the worst at doing so. Some stone types do so more than others. Why? Is it all in the "thermal conductivity" or is there something else to consider?
Then there are the "dead air" corners of a poorly designed room perhaps exacerbated by thermal bridging in that area and so on which isn't necessarily interstitial moisture at first but can lead to it. And surface condensation is as unwelcome as interstitial as far as I am concerned. Mold can be a big problem here inside or outside a wall.

We don't want to rely on air conditioning and dehumidfying machines. Our design needs to address these things.


Sawdust....would love to hear more of the how's. Maybe a whole new topic? The only person I ever found that knew anything of the how simply remembers topping off the sawdust insulation with his grandfather after it settled enough to cause a drafty cold area. Remove wood paneling enough to scoop it in, fill, close the wall. Sounds too simple.



Termites.... why do some buildings escape for a century and others get infested in 5 years?
So far on the old buildings we know are not being maintained with chemicals we've theorized that the foundation is designed to be so dry it discourages termites because they'd have to go so far for water.

The crawlspace was usually left open to chickens. We have wondered if that is important?

What other vernacular design concepts might we be missing that kept these buildings termite free?

 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Gosh...you are fun!!...and have fantastic questions...!

Thermal sink, "flywheel effect"... concepts I've run across but don't have a good grasp of.Is there one particular book or source that does a good job of explaining concepts such as this?


I haven't done a great deal of searching for this, but what I have done suggests that what texts there are...these are aim at "high academics" with very boring stats, and other low interest data. The best (some not so good too) is just on the net...

Interstitial moisture as you called it on another thread is the area that we wish to understand better right now. We understand, I think, the "hat and boot" concept of keeping things dry but want to understand how to prevent condensation points in the wall better. Any resources for that?


Not specific but spread everywhere, and, unfortunately, much is aimed at academics, PE, and esoteric researchers like myself. I may start sounding like a broken record on this post...sorry...

We do understand the concept of keeping the wall breathing. No vapor barriers in a natural built wall for us. but even with a breathing wall, certain spots can create condensation.


Yes...and the goal is to understand where this does and may occur in your design and mitigate the effects or embrace them in some fashion...Like understanding that "bathrooms" are "wet areas" just like kitchen can be with all that cooking and boiling. I strongly recommend "Summer Kitchens" and "bath houses" as found in Asia where these "very wet" areas are built specifically for these characteristics.

Obviously metal is the worst at doing so. Some stone types do so more than others. Why?


Micro and macro interstitial structural matrix within the mineral formation...like certain sedimentary lithics compared to ingenious or metamorphics. Placement modality and location within the architecture can also exacerbate this phenomenon.

Is it all in the "thermal conductivity" or is there something else to consider?


Yes...and sometimes...

Then there are the "dead air" corners of a poorly designed room perhaps exacerbated by thermal bridging in that area and so on which isn't necessarily interstitial moisture at first but can lead to it. And surface condensation is as unwelcome as interstitial as far as I am concerned. Mold can be a big problem here inside or outside a wall.


YES, yes, yes...!!

Like I tell many students...you know more than you are even conscious of knowing you know!

We don't want to rely on air conditioning and dehumidifying machines. Our design needs to address these things.


It can, and at worst if you had to "air condition" a key space, it would be such a limited time and such a small space (perhaps a nursery of "sick room" during a heat wave) that you would have any issue creating this micro climate within the home for that short duration.

Sawdust....would love to hear more of the how's. Maybe a whole new topic?


Its on my list...but I am actually trying to use premise as a way to help me to formulate "readers interest" and chapters in a book(s?) I hope to get published over the next few years.

The only person I ever found that knew anything of the how simply remembers topping off the sawdust insulation with his grandfather after it settled enough to cause a drafty cold area. Remove wood paneling enough to scoop it in, fill, close the wall. Sounds too simple.


To a point, if a good old vernacular design...it can be that easy! The challenge is to having that old vernacular design working in concert with any augmentations we "modern folk" add to the architecture.

Termites.... why do some buildings escape for a century and others get infested in 5 years?


Wood species selection, application and understanding how these wee beasties operate...Ancient wisdom and modern entomology are both at play here!!

So far on the old buildings we know are not being maintained with chemicals we've theorized that the foundation is designed to be so dry it discourages termites because they'd have to go so far for water.


Yep...you got it...

The crawlspace was usually left open to chickens. We have wondered if that is important?


Yes...depending again...on region and vernacular design.

What other vernacular design concepts might we be missing that kept these buildings termite free?


Can't really say with out know exactly where we are talking about...

Regards,

j
 
Judi Anne
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I see a mistake in my first post and can no longer edit. Our grow zone is 6a.

We are in the Cumberland mountain and plateau region. We have not bought the land yet that we hope to make a multi-generation stewardship piece, but it is very likely to be in the Appalachia. Probably Cumberland Mountain land. Lots of oak and hickory, lots of limestone, lots and lots of clay.

j, as far as the kitchen and bath areas- a summer kitchen and an outdoor shower, pool, and steam hut area are high on our priority list. They will happen though the finer details of the the design are open. Certainly traditional designs, not just locally but globally! Good common sense will lead you right back to these ideas even without the vernacular how tos being available.

The summer kitchen we first thought would be attached to the main house by a dogtrot breezeway, but we are now leaning towards making it a standalone structure with a pergola or covered patio area in between it and the house. It might give us more flexibility to make sure the best possible ventilation is achieved. Site will dictate.
All the food preserving and bulk cooking as well as all summer baking and cooking would happen in that structure. In the winter it will double as a periodically heated space for kid play and projects we'd like to be able to separate from a quieter, less rambunctious main living area. I had not heard the term "stackingfunctions" before permies. I'm just motivated by efficiency in survival technique. As a mom this use of the summer kitchen seems quite necessary to surviving the winters sane and happy. There are also a great deal of items and tools that might easily be stored conveniently there keeping other areas less cluttered....if not for the winter uses, the summer kitchen might actually just be designed as a porch area rather than a walled structure.

For the indoor bath areas, we are not sure whether the big house has an indoor shower at all. The cottage probably does. At any rate the bath area I would like to see designed right behind the wood cookstove with a sliding panel wall on the stove side of the room to be opened making it easy to really warm up the bath room air before bathing and dry it out after bathing. Summer use would be minimal due to a pleasant and practical outdoor shower design.

We are too modernized to leave indoor kitchen, toilet, and bath rooms entirely off, but do want to find efficient, easily maintained therefore enduring designs for these areas. Hopefully we can glean enough insight to do so even if our final design is not quite traditional.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hi Judi,

Another wonder post, that only reflects someone that has really taken many steps back and truly examined this picture of natural architecture. I simply love it when folks look at things with "simple wisdom" and don't "over romanticize" of "over think" a building modality.

...the kitchen and bath areas- a summer kitchen and an outdoor shower, pool, and steam hut area are high on our priority list...


Excellent, I don't think you will be disappointed at all with having these. Two "kitchens" or food prep areas was very common in vernacular homes of higher quality and living condition. As seasons changed, food changed and the ways we processed and prepared food change. No one wants to cook in a hot kitchen in the summer, nor freeze and fit with frozen foodstuffs in the winter...Common sense, as you said...

Baths are the same way....Why introduce all that extra moisture into a living space that may not be able to effectively "load" and store it before it can be effectively dissipated. "Wet" architecture typically has very different means, methods and materials of construction...whenever possible.

The summer kitchen we first thought would be attached to the main house by a dogtrot breezeway, but we are now leaning towards making it a standalone structure with a pergola or covered patio area in between it and the house.


Both are wonderful concepts...and have merit. It is totally a "choice" decision on this one. The final building site will probably have a lot to say about this aspect of the design.

I had not heard the term "stackingfunctions" before permies. I'm just motivated by efficiency in survival technique.


"Stackingfunctions" (aka multitask architecture) is brilliant. On the "survival techniques"...if I may suggest...try looking at these more in the light of "living skills." When I start a class, long or short on "indigenous life skills" often new students will ask what the difference is "technically" between "survival skills" and ILS. It really is a psychological element more than anything. "Survivalist" tend to focus on just that..."survival." In ILS, for example there is not concept of "survive" or ever of even being "lost." Wherever a ILS person is...they are at home in both their minds and in their bodies what of adapting to that given biome.


...the summer kitchen might actually just be designed as a porch area rather than a walled structure...


An enlarged porch area that is part of a small home can make a wonderful summer kitchen and even...in some design types and building modalites, be fashion into the "bathing area," as well...

For the indoor bath areas, we are not sure whether the big house has an indoor shower at all. The cottage probably does. At any rate the bath area I would like to see designed right behind the wood cookstove with a sliding panel wall on the stove side of the room to be opened making it easy to really warm up the bath room air before bathing and dry it out after bathing. Summer use would be minimal due to a pleasant and practical outdoor shower design.


And that can work to if the moisture is managed properly, and the space is heated with a "dry heat" such as wood burning.

We are too modernized to leave indoor kitchen, toilet, and bath rooms entirely off, but do want to find efficient, easily maintained therefore enduring designs for these areas. Hopefully we can glean enough insight to do so even if our final design is not quite traditional.


I would never, unless a client requested it, leave out these amenities to the "primary living space." It is more a matter of "when they get used" and "how they are designed and built," along with the material types selected.

Since you are posting, I will presume you have a computer, and if so, perhaps I could suggest downloading the free CAD program from SketchUp to do some of the modeling for the project. The program is easy to learn and more than enough to get your basic ideas into a model. There are also thousands of "free models" out there to play with and experiment on while you learn.

Till later,

j
 
Judi Anne
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J, .....Living skills. I like that terminology so much better! It diffuses the paranoia and fear that the term "survival skills" implies. Thank you for that. As much as anything THAT is what I wish to learn and practice.... to be whole and connected, mind and body "at home" anywhere. One might even say that without that all the rest will fall short of permaculture goals.


I post from a mobile device, but will look at sketchup when I have access to a computer, which I do occasionally. It sounds like a fun and useful tool to experiment with and left new insights and ideas from.


"wet architecture" deserves a whole topic of its own. My father and I share a fascination with mills and springhouses and have spent hours looking at the stone work. I've always hoped to have an ideal spot on whatever land we find to build a springhouse with him when he retires. It's also always fascinated me that below grade and below waterline foundations can actually be dry inside.

Anyway... I think the house comes first and on mountain land I probably don't have to delve into those architectural styles just yet.
 
Bill Bradbury
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Hi Judi,

I was talking with my friend Stan who lives in a straw bale home that he built himself about natural building and he thinks straw bale is out and will soon be upstaged by light straw/clay; a much older and more thoroughly proven system. The combination of mass and insulation is hard to beat.

Check out this thread on how to design living buildings http://www.permies.com/t/46859/books/Timeless-Building-Christopher-Alexander

All Blessings,
Bill
 
Judi Anne
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Two more theory questions....

Are there potential problems with installing closed cabinetry against natural material, breathing walls? Exterior walls. I think it might work better against interior walls that are not wet areas on the either side. Closed cabinetry installed on an exterior wall seems it might create temperature differences creating condensation and just reduce air flow along the wall too much. Is there a definitive answer to this?

Most old-fashioned furniture and cabinetry I've seen examples of are either open shelving or built with legs and set a few inches front from the wall. I prefer furniture built and placed that way in my current modern spaces because of occasional mildew on exterior walls in cold weather and just ease of cleaning in general. I like knowing air and light and my broom get behind the furniture without wrestling it around.


Second questions is about windows in natural building. I looked through permies a bit and didn't see much on the topic. We do want to have many windows. I like bright, naturally lit spaces, so while I know it's not traditional to have so many windows it is a luxury we want to include and design out as many of the problems as we can foresee. being able to open for ventilation is also a big deal for us. When it's nice we like the breeze to pass through the house.

Is there any reason vinyl frame, gas filled Windows should not be used in a natural materials build other than objections to purity of material choice?

We have made double pane in wood frames with old glazing technique. Some got condensation and needed to be reworked, but overall we could build and maintain them. That is our second option. However, at least in the short term gas filled do seem to be more energy efficient letting less heat pass through. Observations? What would you choose?

The second part of window design is where in the thick wall to install them. I would prefer installed to be flush with the exterior (minus the finish plaster depth.) The house will be designed with a deep overhang so Windows and plaster will be well protected from precipitation. The wide interior sill can be useful space, and gives a buffer zone with heavy drapery for insulating at night or during extreme weather.

However, I've been thinking of the stone house I lived in briefly in Europe and there the Windows were installed to the middle or even flush with the interior. What is preferred in a thick wall?and why?
 
Dillon Nichols
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I recently read 'the hand-sculpted home', about building with cob. It has a section which discusses light, and makes the point that you get a far greater amount of light from a skylight compared to a window of the same dimensions. The book suggests simply adding more panes of glass beneath skylights to improve efficiency.

As far as siting the glass in deep walls, with a pane set at the outside wall, sunlight hitting the shoulders of the window will be inside, collecting heat. If the glass was at the inside edge, this sunlight on the wall would be outside, not collecting as much heat.

Another interesting thing about windows in thick walls is that they can be angled in unconventional ways, in order to change the angle at which sunlight strikes the glass, and to manipulate what is reflected in the glass when viewed from outside; a window reflecting the sky is pretty hard to see anything through!
 
Bill Bradbury
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Judi Anne wrote:

Are there potential problems with installing closed cabinetry against natural material, breathing walls? Exterior walls. I think it might work better against interior walls that are not wet areas on the either side. Closed cabinetry installed on an exterior wall seems it might create temperature differences creating condensation and just reduce air flow along the wall too much. Is there a definitive answer to this?

Most old-fashioned furniture and cabinetry I've seen examples of are either open shelving or built with legs and set a few inches front from the wall. I prefer furniture built and placed that way in my current modern spaces because of occasional mildew on exterior walls in cold weather and just ease of cleaning in general. I like knowing air and light and my broom get behind the furniture without wrestling it around.

Hi Judi,

Breathable walls or no, it is best practice to install cabinets on a "Dutch Cleat". This is a piece of 1x that has a 45 cut on the top, mounted on the wall and a matching piece on the cabinet. This makes the cabinets easier to hang and provides a small air gap behind them. A matching 1x is attached to the wall at the bottom of the cabinet so they sit straight and a small trim covers the gap at the sides.
the cabinet
Judi Anne wrote:

Second questions is about windows in natural building. I looked through permies a bit and didn't see much on the topic. We do want to have many windows. I like bright, naturally lit spaces, so while I know it's not traditional to have so many windows it is a luxury we want to include and design out as many of the problems as we can foresee. being able to open for ventilation is also a big deal for us. When it's nice we like the breeze to pass through the house.

Is there any reason vinyl frame, gas filled Windows should not be used in a natural materials build other than objections to purity of material choice?

We have made double pane in wood frames with old glazing technique. Some got condensation and needed to be reworked, but overall we could build and maintain them. That is our second option. However, at least in the short term gas filled do seem to be more energy efficient letting less heat pass through. Observations? What would you choose?

The second part of window design is where in the thick wall to install them. I would prefer installed to be flush with the exterior (minus the finish plaster depth.) The house will be designed with a deep overhang so Windows and plaster will be well protected from precipitation. The wide interior sill can be useful space, and gives a buffer zone with heavy drapery for insulating at night or during extreme weather.

However, I've been thinking of the stone house I lived in briefly in Europe and there the Windows were installed to the middle or even flush with the interior. What is preferred in a thick wall?and why?

Yes, for thick walls, the middle is optimal. Well more like 1/3 in from the outside. This allows for another window(interior or exterior storm) to be installed when needed. I prefer exterior storms and interior window treatments like you mentioned. This lets you use the interior ledge as a plant shelf and provides sufficient shelter for the window from sun and rain, etc.

As for double panes, I don't use them because they always condense water eventually, whether site-built or factory. A single pane window with exterior storm will outperform most double pane gas-filled windows and outlast them by generations. Speaking of outlasting; those PVC windows don't last compared to wood. The plastic gets brittle and they begin to fail. They also come with shoddy weather stripping that is a tape. This starts to come off after only a few years of use. Then when the windows have yellowed and lost their weatherstrips and condensation is creeping in between the panes where the Argon has dissipated long ago, they can not be rebuilt like wooden sash windows.
My advice is to save some money and rebuild old wood windows. They can be had for free from your local window shop. They actually pay to have them disposed of!
http://www.permies.com/t/41578/natural-building/Window-Performance

All Blessings,
Bill
 
Judi Anne
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Dillon, good point about skylights yeilding a lot of light. I am not sure I want to go that route, first because they are so prone to seal failure and leaking and secondly because with that light comes heat. It could be shaded, I know, but there is still some heat gain. In total it just seems wrong to put a hole in my roof other than for a chimney. We will probably choose a central masonry heater and I struggle enough with balancing the benefits of centering it versus putting it on the exterior just so I can avoid even the smallest screw hole in my standing seam metal roof investment.

I suppose I also am particular in that I want lots of "diffused light from many angles" for most of the space rather than "workspace bright illumination from above". I know there must be good terminology to express these concepts with. I apologize for not knowing- not recalling them at the moment.

In our climate my primary concern is to have a dry, cool house in summer without a lot of energy inputs, and a draft free space in winter with minimized inputs from wood burning to aid in warming and drying the main indoor spaces. Keeping cool and dry is a bigger challenge, I think, than heating. Minimizing solar gains for 5-6 months of the year becomes priority over maximizing gains for 3 months when we tend not to have much sun anyway. Many natural builders are looking for that maximized solar gain so I'm a bit off center stream in that regard.

Interesting tidbit on framing and mounting for an angled install. That's not something I had considered.

Bill, ok so I have seen (and installed) Dutch cleats for closed box cabinetry so familiar with the concept. I've helped remodel kitchens several times and have seen lots of mildew in that space despite the small gap thus my concern and equating it to flush mounting. It might work better in a earth based breathing wall than on a stick built wall actually.

Still a finer point in design and not something I must hammer out immediately. Will keep rolling it around in my head awhile.
 
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