' the Woodlouse: Underground, overground...


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Underground, overground...

We're finally out of the ground!  Hoo-bloomin'-ray!  A lot of stuff has gone into and under the ground be it drains, water pipes, gravel or limecrete.  The limecrete footings for the loadbearing strawbale extension went in last week on top of an epic 33 tonnes of stinking stone in the wide and deep foundation trench (it really did stink - limestone gravel, very strong metallic smell).

The strawbales arrived before the gravel was all in place, so we had to work around them.  They're a bit in the way at the moment but it's reassuring to have them on site.  They're the single most defining part of the build afterall.

On Saturday I went to Taunton station to collect my friend Adam who'd left the sunshine in Manchester to help me building.  He arrived in the midst of a month's rain falling in 24 hours, floods, road closures, and a ridiculously protracted journey as I tried to find a way clear way back into Bridport.  It took two hours to find a clear route from Beaminster to Bridport (normally a 6 mile journey), trying every route I could think of, with lots of through-the-car-window "don't go that way!" exchanges with other people increasingly desperately looking for an un-flooded route to wherever they needed to be.  There was a lot of driving down narrow lanes that had become streams, knowing that us and the water were heading to a valley bottom and it probably wasn't going to work out.  Then doing multiple-point turns to head back up and try the next possible route.  Eventually we ploughed through the last flood that was in the way and returned to a largely flooded town, the usually tiny river behind where we live a raging 1.5 to 2 metre deep swathe of water.  I am so happy that project bungalow is up a hill, and that the bungalow we currently live in is raised a few feet above ground level on the river-facing side.

After a belated lunch and a check to see that the river level was falling (meaning no need to worry about flooding for us, thank goodness) we managed to set out the string lines to follow when building all the plinth walls that will support the strawbale walls.  Adam has experience of working on big building sites so he was incredibly helpful, making sure we got the lines in the right place and squared up properly.

On Sunday we started to build the first wall, part of the bale support for the strawbale wrap.  This felt momentous to me - construction at last and directly related to the strawbales.  Yaay!  The first brick took a ridiculous 15 minutes as we faffed about getting it lined up properly, but I was relieved to find the speed picked up significantly after that, even if we were still two people doing one person's job quite badly. The wall is very pleasingly straight and accurate, but will need pointing up in places.  In stark contrast to the day before, the weather (whistling innocently) was hot and sunny.  Adam got sunburned.

Here's the usual slew of photos, with some floody ones first.

Heading down hill with the water to the bottom of valley.  This was clearly not going to end well.

Sure enough... One of many times to turn around.

Behind the bungalow we currently live in, after the water level had dropped about 30cm from highest point.  This is normally a few centimetres deep, a couple of metres wide and about 1.5 to 2 metres lower than this.  Further downstream where there are no flood-defence banks there was a lot of flooding.

Clay plaster tests, left to right - 2 clay : 1 sand, 1 clay : 1 sand, 1 clay : 2 sand

Makes very strong plaster

The Bales!  (in bundles of 21)

The first bales cross onto the site ...

... and begin to take over

Anna peeking

Bales wrapped, trenches filled with 33 tonnes of compacted stone.

Seedum in our neighbours gutter - the green roof will have similar stuff growing on it.  I can't wait!

New waterpipe and ducting, in new regulation-depth trench.  Not yet connected. Old narrow copper pipe just visible to the right of the trench.
Last of the cake-mix footings
Construction!  Above ground!

Don't look too closely at it, it's messy, but it is straight and true.

New Straw Works siteboard, to proudly announce our strawbale, sustainable credentials to the world (and promote courses).  People have started to pass by and look so it's about time we got this sign sorted.


  1. Looking good! Always so nerve racking when the bales are in waiting. I had mine in a 18 wheeler semi box trailer for over a year.
    Will you be applying the clay plaster by hand?

  2. Yes, I think so. External lime render probably sprayed as that's the finish we want anyway, but clay on the inside by hand