' the Woodlouse: 2013


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Clay plastering opportunity

I'm now clay plastering the inside of the bale walls and the internal dividing walls.  It's great stuff, clay plaster.  Highly beneficial to the bale walls and the living space (regulates humidity, stores heat), and lovely to use.

I'm looking for volunteers to help over the next few weeks.  So, if you think you might enjoy turning this...

...and this...

...into this...

...and putting it on these...

...and also doing a bit of window-reveal shaping...
then please get in touch using the contact form on the contact page of this blog (click here).  I'll provide lunch, tea/coffee/herbal-tea and biscuits.  No previous experience or skills needed, and there are various tasks to suit different abilities.

UPDATE.  Crucial missing information: it's in Bridport, Dorset, UK...

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Tentacles of Doom and a Giant's bellybutton fluff; the end grows nearer.

The whole bungalow and extension now has ceilings and insulation (video above shows the insulation being sprayed into the main loft space) .  I'm very excited by this, especially as the insulation nearly didn't happen, causing a day of mind-bending stress when the already stretched final works schedule looked like disappearing into the wind (see http://thewoodlouse.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/enthusiastic-visitors.html).  That would have made moving in this year impossible.  As it is, with the ceilings up we've entered the next phase of building, and I hope things will come together quite quickly now.

I'm waiting for quotes and potential dates from plasterers to get the ceilings skimmed (which should start soon); the stove will have a chimney and all-being-well a test firing in a couple of weeks; the thermal store (hot-water) tank should be going in shortly, along with pumps for the stove's hot-water-heating system and solar-thermal.  That will leave clay plastering the bales, lime-plastering a couple of exposed brick walls of the old bungalow, insulating and laying the floors, fitting kitchen, and general second fix plumbing and electrics.  Then move in!

Still really quite a lot to do, but it feels like the end is, if not quite in sight, then at least should come into sight soon.  For the inside at least.  Landscaping is a whole other ball game, but crucially can happen once we're living in the place.

A lot of little jobs have happened since I last did a general update, so the photos below are an attempt to cover it all.  I've also made a small start on clay plastering but will save those photos for a more specific post on clay-plaster when more of it is underway.  I hope that will be soon, so once again: if you or anyone you know might be interested in playing with clay and straw, learning a bit about clay-plaster, and helping me plaster the walls at the same time - please let me know (email johnbeebutler @ gmail . com   - without the spaces).

Bath full of lovely clay slop.  This time for the first clay coat on the straw.

And there it is.  The "reveal" coat on the walls (so called because it reveals all the uneven bits and hollows, which will be filled-out soon).  Also called key-coat, as it provides an excellent key for the body-coat of plaster to stick to.

MVHR - Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery - in kit form.  Bends, T's, reducers and connectors.  All numbered, with matching numbers on the ducting plans.  One big 3-D jigsaw, to be assembled in a variety of awkward, confined and spidery spaces.  I didn't especially enjoy this bit.  A friend called it the Tube Monster, and the name stuck.  I found thinking of it as The Tube Monster and the Tentacles of Doom somehow helped.

The straight ducts for the MVHR

And the silencers, to cut-out any fan noise and prevent "cross-talk" - sound transmission between rooms.  The product code for the silencers begins SHUSH which I found pleasing.

An MVHR supply duct in place.  I've since taped it to the plasterboard, to ensure airtightness where it goes through the ceiling.

The Tube Monster extends it's Tentacles of Doom through from the loft, into the bale extension

Cables and pipes, waiting for a dividing wall.  Thankfully I only need to know what the pipes are for.  The cables are for the electrician to worry about.

More Tentacles of Doom

Through-the-wall silencer, taking the air exhaust duct to the great outdoors.

Intake and exhaust duct grilles.  The bungalow has eyes.

The heat-recovery unit (heat exchanger and low-wattage fans), with (from left to right) extract air from wet rooms, supply air to rooms, exhaust to outside, and intake from outside (doubling back over the top of the unit).  These will all need insulating.

These poppies really were this bright.  In the area previously known as the front lawn.

Also out front - this is what our home is built from!  Wheat straw.

The cable/pipe mess from back up the page, contained in a freshly-plastered wall.

Chamomile drive.

Utility room, plastered and painted, ready to receive thermal-store tank, pipework and pumps.  I think I did okay on the walls but the ceiling's a mess.  Very satisfying to have a finished room though, complete with window sill.

Reed mat on timber-frame wall (sound insulated with thermafleece sheepswool), meets strawclay wall.  Whole lot will be covered with clay-plaster before too long.

The toilet to be.  Awaiting plaster.  And toilet.

Rain Director and pipes supplying rainwater to the header tank in the loft and on to the loos.  Also mains backup.  The unit runs the pump in the underground tank when the header tank is nearly empty, and turns it off when full.

Fitting VCL (vapour control layer)/airtightness-membrane (recycled paper) to the big-room ceiling.  To keep moisture-vapour out of the insulation, and stop heat-loss through air-movement.

Counter-battens hold the membrane in place, holding back the insulation when it's pumped in, and allowing for it to bulge a bit without stopping us fitting plasterboard later.

The first bit of Warmcel (recycled newspaper) insulation is pumped in.

White-wrapped bales of insulation, and the pumping machine.

The bellybutton fluff of a giant (aka: Warmcel)

Tim and Mike chasing the insulation installers out of the building, boarding the ceilings up behind them (we got Tim and Mike back to speed things along.  I'd forgotten how nice it is having them around).

Bedroom ceiling! (with clay plaster tests on reed mat)

We have ceilings throughout the bungalow.  This is amazing.

Looks like the contents of a billion hooverbags, but that there is 400mm of quality insulation in the loft.  The MVHR ducts still need to insulated.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Enthusiastic visitors

This Saturday just gone we opened up the bungalow to anyone interested, as part of a local open eco-homes event (see here: http://www.transitiontownbridport.co.uk/Content/open.asp).  It was an intense but lovely day.  The photo above of me gesticulating wildly is from then (thanks very much to Sam Wilberforce for the photo, especially for managing to take one I'm not grimacing with "photo-face" and am actually happy to post online).

We had 91 people through I'm told, in 5 groups.  In the days before I was regretting having agreed to take part.  It was a particularly hectic and stressful week, that started off with the cellulose fibre (recycled newspaper) contractor trying to refuse to do the job - the day before they were due to start - because they'd completely misunderstood some boring details about vapour-control/airtight-membrane fitting with cross battens.  I refused to take "no" for an answer, especially at such a ridiculously late stage, and eventually convinced them I did know what I was doing, it would all work fine, and I was following the manufacturers specification for injection of blown insulation in any case.  I felt pleased with my seemingly improved assertiveness skills, but the work was delayed by a couple of days, which meant that at 4:30pm the day before the open day the insulation contractors were just winding up for the day and Tim and Mike (friends/builders who I asked to plasterboard the ceilings in an attempt to get back towards schedule) were still putting up plasterboard on the ceilings that had just been insulated, and the site was a mess!

I'm really glad I did do the open day though.  Before anybody even came it was nice just wondering around the (now) unsually clear and clean site.  I was expecting maybe a trickle of people throughout the day, and was fairly terrified by the large group that assembled.  I started talking about the project, and explaining things, trying to remember important details and think what would be interesting to other people, but without any real idea of whether it was interesting.  I was immensely relieved when people started asking questions that helped me shape what I said, and made me think anew about things.  Different questions came up throughout the day, which was great.

By the end of the day I was exhausted, had a sore throat (I probably haven't spoken that much in the last few months combined), but was really enlivened by the day and by people's responses to the build and baley/clayey goodness.  I've been flagging a bit lately - we've been working on site for nearly a year and a half now - and have been re-motivated by the enthusiasm of the visitors.  If you're reading this and were one of them: thankyou!

A huge thankyou also, to John and Sam who marshalled visitors, made coffee, and generally made sure everything went well.

Meanwhile, I've put the photos together for a progress update and will be posting that here in the next few days.

I have another call for volunteers too: the much delayed clay plastering should be happening soon and will be greatly aided by extra enthusiastic hands.  No particular skills are needed, there's lots of different bits to it so I can find tasks to suit.  If you might be interested in playing with clay and straw, either late Septmber, early October, or both, please let me know (email me at johnbeebutler @ gmail . com - without the spaces).

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Strawclay - combining my two favourite materials

I'm still way behind with this blog.  I'll try and make a concerted effort to catch up in the next few weeks.  Life on and off site is as full as ever, but I have had a few days off to go to a friends wedding in Spain.  That was lovely!  As has been the fact that we've actually been having a summer.  After seemingly constant rain last year and working in a world of mud, that is particularly welcome.  I did spend the first week of sunny weather stuck in the dark, hot, sweaty loft running ventilation ducting, but I'm now back in the daylight and enjoying it.

Around the same time as the masonry stove was being built (see last blog: http://thewoodlouse.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/lovely-cosy-heat.html) we were building the thick strawclay wall.  The hope is that this wall will provide reasonably good sound separation between Anna's studio, my office, and the corridor, so that we can both make noise (listening to music, playing music, running sewing machines, swearing at computers) without annoying each other.  I'm particularly hoping it allows me to play my small selection of musical instruments in the evening without keeping Anna awake (she tends to go to bed early, and that would often be the best time for me to play).  My mandolin, trumpet, whistles and vocal chords have been neglected and I look forward to rectifying that (some results of when they have been used are here: https://soundcloud.com/bicipital-groove).  I also hope that the thick strawbale walls, triple glaze windows and well-insulated roof will prevent anyone outside the building hearing us.

As you might expect, strawclay is a mix of straw and clay.  Clay slip is poured over a pile of loose straw, and this is mixed together with pitch-forks (I tried using the cement mixer but it wasn't much help).  When there is just enough clay in the mix to lightly coat the straw it's ready to use.  This is then pushed between boards fixed to the timber studwork of the wall, and lightly tamped down with a bit of 4x2" timber.  When the boards are full they are moved up and the process repeats.  The tricky bit is just below the ceiling, where it is impossible to fill from above.  Here the board on one side is fixed right at the top, and on the other side about 150mm below the ceiling.  Strawclay is pushed into the space as well as possible, then the board is raised and fixed at the top to compress the mix into the wall.

Some people mix Boric acid in some form into the mix to prevent mould and insect attack.  I didn't do this, but I can see that it could be a good plan.  Boric acid is fairly innocuous to humans, but is very effective preservative treatment (this site has more info on boron and it's safety: http://www.woodworm-info.co.uk/tech_info.htm. Disclaimer: it is a site connected to a boron preservative shop, so maybe not a neutral source of info).  A week or so after finishing the wall a few patches of Ink Cap mushrooms developed.  The mushrooms themselves aren't such a problem, but like icebergs it's the bit you can't see that is a potential problem.  The mycelium fibres that the mushrooms spring from will rot the wall (basically they'll digest it from the inside out) if given a chance.  They may have died off (or at least gone dormant) once the wall was dry, but given it's thickness (around 200mm) the wall has taken a long time to dry.  I was concerned that the mycelium could spread during the drying time and either cause a lot of damage, or re-activate one moisture from the clay-plaster reached them after plastering.  Ink Caps have been known to lift concrete so clearly clay plaster would be no match for them!  In the end I caved in and injected the wall with a boron paste, and sprayed the surface with liquid boron preservative.  I'm not wildly comfortable at having had to do this, but it does seem to have saved the wall.

For good sound separation I'm told a mix of dense and less dense materials are needed.  Apparently  the less dense materials absorb higher frequencies of sound, and the more dense ones absorb the lower frequencies.  Straw is low density and clay high density so in a way the strawclay is already a bit of both, but in reality it makes a relatively lightweight structure, as it is only loosely compacted.  Listening to the radio through the walls it does sound bassier as the higher frequencies are effectively absorbed by the strawclay.  To absorb those bassy frequencies we'll plaster both sides of the wall with a thick layer (about 30 - 40 mm) of dense clay plaster.  Together with the strawclay, and the fact that the studs are acoustically separated from surrounding structure by rubber foam (see http://thewoodlouse.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/emerging-from-dark-winter.html), this should contain sound pretty well.

A bath full of clay.  No strawbale building site should be without one.

Clay is soaked with water (the clay is from the site - it was dug out to install the rainwater harvesting tank and soakaway)

Mixing clay slip in the mixer.  I later found it more effective to mix the slip in a gorilla tub with a drill mixer.  When mixed with sand the clay breaks down readily in a mixer, but on it's own like this there are always lumps remaining in the cement mixer.

John forking a mix.  Looks ready to use. (photo Sam Wilberforce - thanks Sam!)

Strawclay tamped down between shuttering

The shuttering can be removed immediately.  The strawclay holds it's shape well and be built up straight-away.

The alternating position of the studs on each side, with the mix woven between them, prevents the strawclay from falling out of the wall.  It also aids sound separation

Sam and John filling a section of wall.

It's messy.  But lovely.

Debs, Sam and John prepare another mix.

Thanks to Sam for this photo.

The awkward top bit.  Board on the far side is at full height.


Uh oh... Ink Cap mushroom.  I tried to make sure any mouldy straw didn't make it into the mix but some got through, clearly.  Given the near-impossibilty of keeping spare straw dry through all the rain last year, we not surprisingly had quite a lot of mouldy straw.

The wheat-grass has died-off now the wall is dry.