Galen Johnson

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since Mar 01, 2010
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Recent posts by Galen Johnson

Well, Barb, if I have any advice, let it be those words of Scott Nearing, "Pay as you go." Never leave any money in a bank, never go into debt, pay as you go, make a living in a rural area. I read Helen and Scott Nearings book "Living the Good Life" a long time ago and it has been a real inspiration. Scott was seventy when he and Helen moved to Maine and started building a new house of stone. They worked only four hours a day, anyway, maybe more to finish the house. From what I hear, their climate in Maine is like what I will be moving to in Alaska. What is the climate like where you are?

--Jesse, Denver
5 years ago
Greetings, Barb, I'm Jesse in Denver. I'm 65, retired, looking to build a farm or cabin Somewhere-Up-North, I was thinking Alaska, but Canada is a really civilized place, or so I hear. I have no family, not much interested in romance any more, just want to live my life out in peace. I was an executive-manager type guy but the system screwed me, I lost fifty years of savings, house, car . . . I would have done better to live in the woods, with the wild animals, than to live in "civilization." I just want to say hello to perhaps a kindred soul. ---Jesse, Denver.
5 years ago
This is the exact same size and shape (circular) abode that I intend to build. I've done a ton of research on this, built spreadsheet models, CAD drawings, etc. A two-story, twelve-foot radius roundhouse with a loft breaks the 1000 square foot barrier for house-versus-cabin. If you have a center post (one only), not only will you find it FAR easier to build a roof with something to pin to, but in addition you will reduce your horizontal clear spans to twelve feet, a very important consideration in putting in second stories or lofts.

People have lived in circular houses and teepees for ages and have yet to find themselves desperately seeking square angles, like they had a gene for that or something. You build-in everything on the walls . . . not like Americans, who stack their furniture in front of the walls. The walls are rock-hard, you use them, and you don't build sideways, you build up. You put planters around the central column. You build-in a rocket mass heater, heating a couch, run it halfway around the circumference, exit with a stove pipe and put your stove right there, using the same exit stovepipe. Stairs go the other way around. There is plenty of perimeter to work with. Use those walls, put shelves and pegs everywhere above eye level, for instance.

As for the roof, go with a 3-4-5 triangle (53 degrees, or rise of 4, for run of 3, for cant of 5) because that is the traditional roof pitch for all ancient roundhouses, for many and various excellent reasons. (Mainly, if you don't do it right in the first place, do you have the money and time to do it all over again?) DON'T be so stupid as to make a roof with a big hole in it.

Let the roof overhang the walls by at least a yard to protect against rain and give it a dry, high foundation. Slope the ground away from the building and dig ditches to carry away any water. Never use concrete finishes like stucco, or oils, or paint, or sealants on it. They trap water inside. That or any roof leak will ruin it.

What you use on your roof depends on your climate. Shingles or roof tiles are okay for temperate climes, to keep rain and the occasional snow out. Yurt roofs are fine providing you repair or replace the canvas and felt yearly -- and people also lift these roofs up, slide inside and steal your belongings. For Alaska, I would definitely consider two-foot thick thatch and an overbuilt roof to handle heavy, thick snow load. Don't plan on snow just sliding off. Does it just slide off your car windows?

You said you were going to build your roundhouse to house a water tank? Are you kidding? You can't tar it or plaster it?

6 years ago
cob
Let's face it, a lot of people just don't want to do a I-Love-Lucy grape stomp on their cobb. There is enough work in house building as it is. I've seen various hand operated concrete mixers at good prices, and they do cut the work by at least a half, from all reports. They look like good deals for the cobb housebuilder. But you can only get them in India or China or South Africa. They don't make them in the U.S. or at least, they don't sell them here. Has someone out there adapted a 55-gallon drum, or a salvaged concrete mixer, to operate manually? Or even better, hooked up a bicycle to one, so that a peddler can turn the thing? Is there no better way to make cobb but the Israelite-slaveing-for-Pharoah way?
6 years ago
cob
The stuff from Finland sounds great. It sounds like the climate where I am planning to build a cob place, Alaska. Where the summers are short, but filled with sunlight, posing a challenge to any cob builder. For instance, will a frozen cob wall continue to dry or not? Will frost on a cob wall prevent more cob from sticking to it? Will (dry) snow hurt a cob wall? Will wet snow? Will melting snow? How warm does a cob wall have to be in order to stick more cob onto it? What if the cob you stick to an existing wall freezes overnight? Is that cob still good?

Other questions arise. Assuming you build a cob wall on river rock or crushed rock, to provide a good, water-free foundation, what happens if the foundation gets water in it anyway? And the water freezes?

There are a lot of questions like these that I have never seen answered, since most people who build cob do so in sunny California or New Mexico. But not all people live there. Some of us live in cold climes like Alaska or Finland. Questions like these become important to us.
6 years ago
cob


Well, if it heats up, it does. As far as the number of radiant heaters you need, that depends on how the room is styled. A forty-square-meter room that is square can get by with one heater in the dead center of the room, since the room would be a little over 6 X 6 meters, and six meters is the maximum distance a radiant heater will heat. If the room is rectangular, it will require a heater six meters from each end, and spaced twelve meters or so from each other, as near the centerline of the room as possible. Two sound sufficient.

Chimneys are required. A fire in an enclosed room will suffocate you in the dead of the night with carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

As to the size of the things, just make them big ones. A toy won't work. RMH's require smaller logs, sticks really, and you do have to feed them. Russian masonry heaters are something you should look into, since it sounds like their slow-release of heat is what you are looking for.
6 years ago
I came back from Nicaragua. I have this advice: do not go to Third Word countries without friends.

The reason I came back was not the money or the difficulties I faced -- it was that there was no one to spend time with, or socialize with, or even to merely talk to. No friends, no companions, no women (in third world countries, 100% are married), and it didn't help that there was no mail, no TV or radio or newspapers or magazines that I could read.

The gringos that lived there were NOT like-minded. They were scum. They were either big-time drunks or else they spent their very generous money on as many whores and collecting as many comforts as they could. No wonder the words 'American' and 'gringo' are slurs and curses. Managua is packed with whorehouses, bars, strip joints and casinos, but not one library or museum. My entire diversion in the three months I spent in the capital city, Managua, was buying one Stephen King book I found in the foreign language section at the University of Nicaragua. Every day I was there I was taken aside and seriously warned by someone not to dare to go out after dark. People didn't live in houses, they lived in compounds surrounded by fences topped with razor wire. After a while, you do start asking why.

Despite all that, I would go back if I could, that is, if I were part of a group. With friends, people to talk to, at the very least.
6 years ago
I am sorry, but you will never get the house warm, not with uninsulated, three-feet-thick stone walls, with their thermal mass and momentum. You could put a blast furnace in it, but the second you turned off the heat, it will go back to being frigid again. You can aim for a warm room, maybe, at best, but you will have to enclose it from the rest of the house.

These types of houses were not built to keep the cold out, they were built to keep the wind out.

No radiant heater will work beyond ten feet, twelve feet maximum, no matter the type, rocket mass heater or Russian Masonry or cast iron. I don't understand that the house doesn't have a chimney, does it have a thatched roof that lets the smoke filter out? Only very old, medieval houses had no chimneys -- or else houses far out in the country.

6 years ago
You don't put anything in them, particularly if they are more ditches than swales (less than three feet, top to trough). If you do put stuff in them, especially big things like logs, you defeat your own purpose of digging them in the first place, the better to retain water. Putting straw in the bottom does work for larger swales, which act as intermittent ponds, and hold water for long enough periods for the straw to decompose and act as fertilizer; it also keeps weeds down. But you don't pack anything in by hand -- save that sort of work for zone 1.

About logs: their virtue is that they don't decompose fast, so use that virtue rather than fight it. Put them on the bottom of the mound, hugelkultur style, burying them deeply enough so that they don't decompose fast, along with any big rocks. Otherwise, if you want them to rot, keep all stumps and logs covered with mulch, and wet, as Scott Nearing mentioned in 'Living the Good Life.' They will rot in their own good time, you need do no more, although throwing part of a rotting log on top of them will introduce the right fungus to them. A low spot would be good for that, but not a swale!

For even lower swales, plant vetiver grass on contour instead.

By the way, according to a Lawton video on ponds and swales, you should have a flat section at one end of the swale to allow overspill into a gravel spillway. It is a good idea to combine them with a pond that they can feed into.
6 years ago

Nicaragua is a functioning democracy and is the safest place in Central America.  There are no guerrillas, no narco-traffickers, little crime. 

There have been plans to build a Nicaragua Canal since before the Panama Canal; efforts have never ceased to build one.  Boarder squabbles happen all the time.  I am not interested in politics. 

As for gringos, ALL the countries down there welcome the hard currency we bring in and will do nothing to distress their source of free money and investments.

8 years ago