Our cozy 400 square foot “nest” was built in 6 months for under $5000. We wanted to show an example of what is possible using primarily raw materials off the land, recycled materials and a lot of hands-on labour.
There is probably nothing more gratifying than building ones own home with your own hands! All the love and consciousness that goes into a building is visible and tangible to all that step over the threshhold. Not to mention the feeling of good conscience by opting out of using materials that are toxic to us and the planet such as drywall, concrete slabs, plywood and fiberglass insulation!
Come along for the tour …….
Sunny started with a levelled spot on the land and some hand-peeled logs from the forest to create a simple post and beam framework.
We originally planned on making this our outdoor living area with a frame and roof and no walls. But we soon realized the need for an enclosed and insulated building for processing our homegrown milk, fruit and vegetables for storage so we decided on straw bale and earthen plaster to fill in the walls.
Sunny worked every day through the winter to peel the bark off the logs and get them ready for construction.
The roof rafters all attach to a center pole and to posts and beam on the outer edges, making it look like the spokes of an umbrella.
The local rough-cut lumber came from our neighbour up the road who owns a small mill. Once the boards are fastened to the roof rafters, the roof becomes like one single cone- one of the strongest structures known and capable of supporting tremendous weight. Each roof board was cut with a hand saw!
Pond liner was later added to the roof to keep things dry through monsoon season.
To fit the site, Sunny chose an oblong building with ten sides. Very unconventional but that’s the fun part of building to match your environment. This way we could build around the trees on the hillside, rather than have to cut them down to accomodate an arbitrary design.
Rocks from the building site were used to create a stem wall as a foundation for the straw bales. Rebar was later embedded in the rock wall to fasten the straw bales and there is a rubberized membrane between the bales and rocks.
The subfloor was moistened tamped down to create a solid base before putting down the initial layer of plaster for what will eventually be an earthen floor. The mix was made from sand and clay soil and cracked heavily but will be covered at some later point with another 1 1/2 inch thick final layer to make a beautiful burnished earthen floor that looks like leather.
Window frames are placed and Sunny begins to fill in the spaces with straw.
The insulation value of straw is about R-46.
Once the straw is filling all the gaps, a weedeater was used to trim off the longer stray wisps that might keep the plaster from sticking.
Now the two months of mudding begins! Here Sunny is filling in the spaces with earthen plaster so that the final coat will be somewhat smooth and consistent.
We originally tried plastering with the on-site soil but it turned out to have too much sand and not enough clay( better for gardening than for plastering). So we had a load of nice red local clay delivered that proved strong and beautiful for our plaster. Sunny mixed it with finely shredded straw( done in a wood chipper) and water.
More hands make the work go faster.
On the one wall that we knew would get more weather exposure, Sunny tried adding a tiny bit of concrete to the plaster for stability.
As fall arrived, we were feeling more hurried to get the plastering done as freezing temperatures will make the plaster crack and lose its integrity.
Earth plaster is definitely the most labour intensive part of a straw bale building. Before mixing a batch in the wheelbarrow, the dry clay must be sifted through a screen to get the little pebbles out of it.
After the mud dries a little on the wall, it gets troweled smooth for a nice finish.
We were originally thinking to put a coat of lime wash on the walls after the mud but we liked the colour of the mud so much that we decided to leave it be.
One ( of the many) aspects that we really love about this house is that it breathes; moisture, cooking smells, stale air and EMFs are “pulled” outside through the “wicking” action of the negatively charged clay.
Even with no insulation in the roof through the first winter, the nest stayed warm and dry with the south-facing windows and heat-storing mass in the 1 inch thick plaster on the walls.
Water comes to the kitchen through gravity feed pipes from our storage tank on the hill above us. And hot water comes from using a thermo-syphon system of pipes that heat the water as it passes through our woodstove.
A Mesquite( “Kiawe” in Hawaiian) kitchen counter adds a unique touch
We decided on an un-insulated earthen floor because we didn’t want to lose our connection to the earth when we spent time indoors. Now we can sit at the computer and “ground” ourselves while we work! The clay/sand/straw mix was the same ratio as that which we used for the plaster on the walls and was sealed with a Bio Shield hardwax oil and beeswax finish. Non-toxic , durable, easy to maintain and pretty to look at!
Simple and sweet!