In taking over a neighbor property, I now am the owner of a badly thought out not-quite-completed building. To describe it:
- on a concrete slab, basically a 2 car garage closed in
- it's typical store-bought 2x6 stick frame with OSB sheeting on the outside
- besides the 2 car garage part, there's a hallway on the south side - storage room and potential bathroom, I guess
- it has a roof, but seems to have been built with the idea of putting a 2nd story on it - the ceiling rafters are 2x12s, at 16oc
- the current 2nd story is a short loft, 5ft at the peak. (pretty useless for anything but storage or a sleeping cubby)
- it sits nestled into the NORTH side of a hill
- has a chimney in the roof, but it's in a stupid spot.
- no plumbing, no electrical, no insulation, no propane
- too far away from my other buildings to be a useful workshop - and I have one already.
I have some ideas on how to loft part of the ceiling and add some round-wood posts and beams, but that still leaves me with the rest of the issues.
facts about the area:
northern CA, where wildfire is a huge issue. Super hot in the summer, not too cold (freezing a couple times) in winter. damp, wet winters.
We built our own cob house and continue to do a lot of natural building, but I don't know what to do here.
So the question is: How do I work on this building to make it something useful? The only really useful thing would be to make it some sort of residence, or, I guess, office-type space. So that means finishing it or knocking it down.
- what can I do that would be 'permie' for insulation? for interior surface?
I'd love to do something unique and natural and fire-safe and inexpensive... and ideally not years and years of work. ha.
added photo of exterior as attachment here.
Much as it hurts me to say, finishing it conventionally might be the way to go.
Renting it out might be the only way to get any yield to speak of.
OSB sheathing is trashy from the get go, but you could cover it with a stucco mix. A moisture barrier would be necessary.
I am not sure, but an light clay straw infill and earthen plaster interior finish could work.
Rent it out as a "writer's retreat". Put in propane lights and stove, maybe a propane fridge.
Get your cash up front. Make sure there's nothing in the cabin you can't stand to loose. (I realize I'm painting with a broad brush and am not wanting to offend, but writers are seen as more "colorful" than, maybe accountants.
Years ago I knew a guy that built a cabin in a sheltered grove of trees on a peninsula sticking out into a big lake. One winter he rented it to a writer. The entire area is heavily wooded and he told the writer to not cut the trees near the cabin. The writer had him drop him off with plenty of supplies with instructions to pick him up in 2 months. When my friend returned, the writer had cut down and burned every tree near the cabin, leaving it exposed to the winds that blew in off of the lake. Dramatically reduced the comfort level of the cabin.
When you say there isn't any electrical, do you mean electrical service? There are lights in both photos
Is the exterior really OSB or is it T-111 siding (exterior grade plywood with grooves)? I see OSB between the garage and the hallway which could be replaced with anything you want. But the outside looks a bit more finished than just plain old OSB.
Since you get more heat than cold, might a North facing hill be a good place to situate it?
Maybe I'm just seeing the glass half full.
Tys Sniffen wrote:- what can I do that would be 'permie' for insulation? for interior surface?
Well, I wouldn't do styrofoam and cement as mentioned above. That's towards the other end of the spectrum from "permie". I'd take a look at mineral wool insulation (Roxul is one manufacturer) or blown-in cellulose. How much of an R value do you need? Or do you need thermal mass more (like an adobe house in the SW)?
It looks like it was wired for electricity. How much would it cost to have the electricity hooked up? Can the electricity be run from your property to this one?
Was it plumbed for water and sewer?
I like Mick's idea for a writer's retreat and using propane for lights if the cost of adding electricity is just too much.
I can come up with WAYS to use this thing - yes, writer's retreat is a perfect example of what I'd like... or, short-term rental or something similar. It's how to get it to a point where someone (even me) would want to spend time there.
answers to questions:
Electricity: there's the beginnings of wiring, with some outlets and some totally inappropriate ceiling lights. We're off grid ourselves, and this structure is too far - 200 yards? - away from our house AND our house has as a just-big-enough solar array for us. And, there's no real way to even put solar panels on this thing, or near it, given the hill and the trees. That wiring was designed to run with a gas gen. (lovely, right?)
Plumbing: zero. no in, no out. I'd do composting toilet anyway.
Propane: if I get this thing up and running, yes, a propane tank would be part of the plan, for water heat, stove, fridge.
Outside sheathing: yes, you're right, that's not OSB, but that plywood designed for exterior. Still... not ideal for this permie/naturalist guy.
Insulation: yes, I can buy something, anything, but I'm hoping to get ideas on ways to use salvaged/scrounged or natural stuff. I don't need much R-value, as it is CA, but in winter, this thing sits in the shade all day. cold and damp doesn't make for a happy writer.
Loft: no, there's no stairs. yes, I think it was set up as a sleeping loft or storage area. Still, there's not even that much storage.
Thermal Mass: I *might* do some sort of cob-surround for a cast-iron wood stove, but given the small space, I don't really need to. (I think the main room [2 car garage] is 20x24 = 480 sq ft) so if it was insulated enough, the stand-alone wood stove will do fine.
The electrical's tricky. Maybe propane lights? I dunno....
Insulation wise I'd watch craigslist or other sites for free used insulation that could work. Otherwise there are likely some natural methods that could work. I'm not smart about them but I'd research something with straw and clay that you pack into the stud bays. Or something like that.
While writers could be one type of resident, there are lots of other types of people who would like to rent a cabin in the woods. Either to live in full time or as a week long permaculture get-away. Permie bed and breakfast? Woofer housing? Air BnB?
I understand not being thrilled with T1-11, but since it's in place, leaving it the will consume no further resources. If your concerned about fire hazard from external sources I would suggest a good coat of lime or cob to the outside. Even a 1/4 inch will help a lot since a lot of wild fires burn hot but fast. Also, of course, clear out brush and grass near the building.
The reason I suggested the Styrofoam/cement mix was because the thin cement coating of the Styrofoam fuzz renders it very heat resistant and pretty much not flammable. The Styrofoam is waste anyway and you're recycling it. A similar effect could probably be achieved with a clay slip rather than cement, although it will dry slower and may be more crumbly. You're not wanting strength, you are basically trying to make the Styrofoam not flammable. If you can get hold of a waste stream of styrofoam it would make a good, cheap, fire resistant insulater.
I'm not in a situation right now to find the link, but there several on youtube.
As to the subject of fire safety, there are really only two things related to the house that would improve its chance for surviving a fire: drywall and removing the chimney. There are good reasons to keep a chimney, but if you are interested in fire safety above all else — don't have inside fires. Houses themselves are really only designed for fire safety in terms of interior fires getting started. If a wildland fire is hot enough to set the building on fire (ex: in the crowns of the trees surrounding the house), it's going to burn down even if it's made of steel.
But, there is a lot that can be done outside of the house to better survive wildland fire. I can already see there is a tree nearly touching the house, as well as a series of small-medium-large trees that make for perfect fire ladders (allowing the fire to get into the crowns of trees). I'd suggest reading a bit about designing Defensible Space around the structure. Most of this can be done with a little pruning saw and a rake. Defensible Space is how you stop a wildland fire from burning down your home.
Paper adobe, cheaper still.
Whats the roof surface? Steel would be ideal, it could be the siding as well.
That strong ceiling calls out for hammocks, sky chairs, etc.
1. Wildfire, has been addressed above.
2. Faulty wiring. Not a problem since you have no electricity.
3. Grease fires, etc in the kitchen. A couple of fire extinguishers and a big container of salt or maybe baking soda.
4. Moveable lights like lanterns, candles. Provide enough fixed lights and ban the others.
5. idiots being idiots. The only defense is to keep them away from your property. This is difficult because habitual idiots don't carry a sign around their necks. Also, everyone is a idiot at least once in a while. Alcohol and drugs tend to let the inner idiot escape, but some don't need the help.
Internally I would try earth blocks layer in front of the timber stud wall, after wiring and water has been run.
As for power, why not have the gene, with battery storage for times when you don't want the gene going,
and maybe install some solar panels on a ground based frame facing back to South, they may work quite well in Summer
and provide some power in winter.
To that end, it seems you have done some green building in the past, and are a little disappointed that they cannot be used here. That is okay though. I fully understand getting into a comfort zone with a particular way of building, but the first rule of permaculture is to observe and assess. In this case you have the start of a structure, and so the best thing to do is use what has been created, and apply new techniques. This might be foreign to you, but there is wonderful things to gain from research and experimentation.
My first thoughts are, what about using rock in some way to protect the building from wildfire?
Otherwise to install then vertically, additional horizontal wall girts would need to be installed.
Thats the reality, now into the sublime
COOL is a term that may be used for the horizontal look, I guess its a personal issue.
Here in Australia, most building with Corr iron have them installed horizontally simply because of the use of less timber.
Although, since there's T111 on the walls already, it will hold a screw so the tin could go on in whatever direction Tys wants. I vote for 45 degrees.
John C Daley wrote:45 deg. will create a lot of waste
It is actually only 25%.
Here, we build a lot of buildings with rough sawn lumber (lumber taken from the persons own land) so sheathing in is often done with boards instead of plywood. Running the boards at a 45 degree angle makes the structure super strong because it resists racking so much better than horizonatally laid lumber, but the addional material required is only 25% more.
Mick Fisch wrote:Another insulation possibility is straw with a clay slip applied to reduce flammability.
Exactly what I was going to suggest as I am doing some right now for the interior walls of my new outhouse. I got free slabs of pine from the saw mill - the sides they cut off before making boards - to do the outside so it looks like a little log cabin and am finishing the interior walls straw, clay slip. May or may not finish with a clay/manure paint.