Posts regarding ‘Wall Systems’

Firewood: Don’t Burn It, Build With It

April 22nd, 2010 by

This article by Clarke Snell was originally published in the New Life Journal.

Western North Carolina is becoming an incubator for green and natural building. As far as green building goes, homes built to Healthy Built Home standards have skyrocketed. We’re also well stocked with the latest cutting edge technologies and building concepts. For example though they were rare only five or ten years ago, you pretty much can’t shake a stick without hitting a hydronic in-floor heating system these days. Solar hot water is WAY back in, too, I’m happy to say. On the natural building side, it’s a real smorgasbord around here. We’ve got a number of code approved straw bale houses in several area counties. I know of two Earthships (a housing system that uses old tires packed with dirt as the wall system) in good old Madison County for god’s sake. We’ve got some cob, adobe, clay-slip straw, and the other earth/straw permutations around, too, though they seem to be more often built below the code radar than not. Conspicuously absent from our collection has been cordwood construction….until now. Toby Crawley and Maria Muscarella are nearing completion on a code approved cordwood house in Leicester. Let’s check it out.

What is Cordwood Construction?

Cordwood is firewood: air-dried, unmilled wood cut to length. Cordwood construction (often called “cordwood masonry”) is a technique for building walls with firewood. In the most basic approach, sticks of wood are placed in two beds of mortar separated by a space, usually several inches wide, which is then filled with some kind of loose insulation such as sawdust or vermiculite. (PHOTO). There are many possible mortar mixes. One popular mix contains sand, wet sawdust, lime, and Portland cement. Another uses lime and sand. Another paper pulp. Yet another simply clay, sand, and straw (cob). Cordwood walls can be designed to carry roof loads or they can be installed in combination with some form of post and beam structure. Since wood can shrink or swell, species and drying time are variables that are often debated by cordwood enthusiasts.

Cordwood Pros, Cons, and Performance

Pros: If you live in the forest, then the main advantage of cordwood is obvious: it’s an abundant, locally available, affordable building material. If you choose to go with a cob mortar and sawdust insulation, you could collect almost all of your wall volume from your building site. That’s saying something these days! In addition, laying cordwood requires only basic tools and simple skills. Once laid, cordwood walls require no additional finish such as drywall or wallpaper with sea shells on it. (Note: I’m only talking about the cordwood portion of the construction here. You still need a foundation, window and door framing, a roof system, heating and cooling strategies and systems, and all the other things that make a house a complex animal.)

Cons: Laying cordwood is a lot of hard, physical work. It also takes a lot of forethought in terms of cutting and drying the wood. (It’s a good idea to let cut and split wood air-dry under cover for at least a year before using in a wall.) In addition, the exposed end-grain of each piece of wood facing toward the exterior is susceptible to water infiltration and therefore mold, insects, and other damaging forces. Good design such as a proper foundation and good roof overhangs can go a long way to solving this issue. For me, perhaps the main functional cordwood con is wood shrinkage which can cause gaps and cracks that lead to air infiltration and even separation of cordwood from the mortar.

Performance: Comparing cordwood’s thermal performance to a more conventional wall system is difficult to generalize and beyond the scope of this column. However, I will say that since cordwood is made on site, it’s thermal performance can be adjusted to suit the specifics of the house project it is serving. The thicker the wall, the better it will resist the flow of heat, so you can theoretically generate the performance you need by adjusting wall thickness. In colder climates, an option for increasing thermal performance is double wall cordwood masonry, a system employing two cordwood walls separated by a space filled with insulation. Wood is both a decent insulator and a good thermal mass, so it is competent at both resisting heat flow and holding heat. Another potential performance plus for cordwood is it’s hygroscopic nature…it’s ability to take on and give off water vapor in response to changes in humidity levels. This trait theoretically helps wood to balance indoor humidity levels and therefore potentially improve indoor air quality.

Toby and Maria’s House

As someone who has been hangin’ around the natural building water cooler for a number of years, I have to say that I’m always skeptical when I hear about the next wave of novice owner builders taking a shot at home construction. Sometimes it works out great and sometimes…well it’s a disaster. I’m happy to report that Toby and Maria are doing a good job and look like they are going to make it through intact. In my opinion, their secret to success has been (1) an initially somewhat realistic budget and (2) the financial flexibility to go well over their initially somewhat realistic budget.

After doing their research and checking out a variety of options, Toby and Maria chose cordwood over other “natural” building options because they thought they could muster the skills and reasoned that cordwood could pass code in the area. This turned out to be true probably mainly because they chose a post and beam structure with cordwood infill. The post and beam construction was stamped by a structural engineer leaving the cordwood infill with no official structural role. They cut cordwood from poplar harvested on their property and bought most of the rest of the framing lumber from a local mill. They salvaged hardwood floor from a dumpster (it looks great!) and bought most of their doors and windows from Habitat for Humanity.

The approximately 1,400 square foot building is 16-sided and roughly circular. It will have a living roof planted with sedums. The north section of the first floor and the small second floor are wood framed and insulated with Icynene spray foam leaving roughly the east, south, and west areas of the first floor in cordwood. Though they are hooked up to and existing well and septic system and have a flush toilet, Toby, Maria and family plan to continue using their sawdust toilet and composting their humanure for use in the garden. (Yeah, baby! See my rant against flush toilets in other of my writings or just stop me on the street to get an earful.) They have hydronic in-floor heating fed only by solar collectors, i.e. there is no boiler back-up and therefore no petroleum based fuel input. The back-up heat source is a high efficiency wood stove. Last, but not least, they are using Earthpaint finishes throughout the building. (If you don’t know about local paint and finish manufacturer, Earthpaint, get with it already!)

If you want more information, Toby and Maria have graciously agreed to supply a contact email address (tcrawley@gmail.com). They still have some cordwood to lay, so get in on the next cordwood party! As for me, I’m always looking to deepen my knowledge of the local natural and extreme green building scene, so don’t hesitate to send me leads and contact info for interesting projects at clarke@thinkgreenbuilding.com. Until next month, keep it green.

Cordwood Education Center on the cover of Backhome Magazine Jan/Feb 2010

February 5th, 2010 by

There is a fine photo of a team of Percheron’s pulling a sleigh on February 14, 2009 in northern Wisconsin on the cover of Backhome Magazine (which is published in Hendersonville, NC.)
www.backhomemagazine.com

The Cordwood Education Center in Merrill, WI

The Cordwood Education Center in Merrill, WI

There is a 3 page article entitled Community Constructed Cordwood which details the volunteer labor used to build and then donate this 850 sq. ft. building to the local school system. The cordwood building is constructed using Best Practices and Energy Star Guidelines.  There is more information at

http://www.daycreek.com/dc/html/cordwood_education_center.html

To read the complete article go to:     http://www.daycreek.com/dc/pdf/Backhome_104.pdf

A recycled bottle end (stained glass) wall at the Cordwood Center.

A recycled bottle end (stained glass) wall at the Cordwood Center.

Richard Flatau

Cordwood Construction Resources

Merrill, WI

flato@aol.com

www.daycreek.com/flatau

Cordwood Bookstore link
http://www.daycreek.com/dc/html/dcrflatau3.htm

The Latest in Prototype News

January 22nd, 2010 by

For the last couple weeks, Matt and his crew, plus volunteers, have been continuing the second floor Hemcrete installation.

If you’re interested in volunteering for the Nauhaus Prototype Project, please contact Billy.

Click here to view the entire Nauhaus Prototype Construction Chronology.

Current View of Southeast

Current View of Southeast

Current View of Southwest

Current View of Southwest

Hemp Stacked and Waiting

Hemp Stacked and Waiting

The Trusty Mixer

The Trusty Mixer

Ben is the fastest Hemcrete installer in the West!

Adam is the fastest Hemcrete installer in the West!

Support for the upper forms on the North side.  The black landscape fabric covers the CMU blocks, which will be beneath grade.

Support for Upper Forms over CMU Wall

Closeup of Form Attachment

Closeup of Form Attachment

Scaffolding

Scaffolding

The forms are built up almost ot the overhangs, and are stuffed by hand.

The forms are built up almost ot the overhangs, and are stuffed by hand.

Completed Window Opening

Completed Window Opening

Thermally broken mounting bracket for roof supports.  The pink is foam insulation.

Thermally broken mounting bracket for roof supports. The pink is foam insulation.

Closeup of Hemcrete in Form

Closeup of Hemcrete in Form

A combination of custom and pre-made forms is used on the 2nd floor.

A combination of custom and pre-made forms is used on the 2nd floor.

This Week in Prototype News

January 4th, 2010 by

The big blizzard of ’09 temporarily put the kibosh on construction, but we’re back up and running.  The Hemcrete forms have come off of the first floor, Serious Materials windows have arrived, and the roof is moving forward, with horse drawn, local, sustainably harvested hemlock fascia boards from Mountain Works installed this week.

If you’re interested in volunteering for the Nauhaus Prototype Project, please contact Billy.

Click here to view the entire Nauhaus Prototype Construction Chronology.

Wall with Custom Hemcrete Forms

Wall with Custom Hemcrete Forms

Wall after Hemcrete Forms are Removed

Wall after Hemcrete Forms are Removed

Serious Materials Windows Have Arrived

Serious Materials Windows Have Arrived

Serious Materials Windows Waiting for Installation

Serious Materials Windows Waiting for Installation

Head and Jamb of Hemcrete Window Opening

Head and Jamb of Hemcrete Window Opening

Jamb and Sill of Hemcrete Window Opening

Jamb and Sill of Hemcrete Window Opening

Sustainably Harvested Hemlock Fascia

Sustainably Harvested Hemlock Fascia

Closeup of Future Patio Connection at West Wall

Closeup of Future Patio Connection at West Wall

Nauhaus Prototype as of December 31, 2009

Nauhaus Prototype as of December 31, 2009

Hemcrete Installation Continues/ Mountain Works Stops By

December 10th, 2009 by

The Hemcrete installation continued today in the freezing weather, and is up to the second floor.  Ian Snider from Mountain Works dropped by yesterday to discuss some of the sustainably harvested wood he will be supplying to the project. Ian’s company uses horses to remove the trees that they selectively cull as part of a forest stewardship process.

If you’re interested in volunteering for the Nauhaus Prototype Project, please contact Billy.

Click here to view the entire Nauhaus Prototype Construction Chronology.

Ian Snyder and Jeff Buscher

Ian Snider and Jeff Buscher


House with forms on the South side.

House with forms on the South side.

elisha measures

Elisha measures.

Shutter being attached.

Shutter being attached.

elisha

Elisha

Sarah tamps the Hemcrete.

Sarah tamps the Hemcrete.


mixing

Hemcrete in Mixer

madera-mixing

Nauhaus Building Systems mixes Hemcrete.

interior forms

Shutters line the interior South wall.

Interior of South and West Hemcrete walls with no forms.

Interior of West and North walls without forms.

Electrical Box in Hemcrete

Electrical Box in Hemcrete


Hemcrete Installation/ LEED Consultation

December 8th, 2009 by

Yesterday, the full-on Hemcrete installation was started.  Thanks to the volunteers who continue to come out and shovel hemp in this wet, cold weather!  If you’re interested in volunteering for the Nauhaus Prototype Project, please contact Billy.

Click here to view the entire Nauhaus Prototype Construction Chronology.

Bucket of Hemp

Buckets of Hemp

Custom forms were built out of plywood to supplement the plastic shutters provided by Lime Technology.

Custom forms on Completed Framing

Exterior Bracing at Plywood Forms

Exterior Bracing at Plywood Forms

Custom window forms were built so that the jambs could flare out and let in more light.

Custom window forms were built so that the jambs could flare out and let in more light.

Horizontal form supports are painted orange, as they will be removed after the the Hemcrete is packed in.

Horizontal form supports are painted orange, as they will be removed after the the Hemcrete is packed in.

Matt pours hemp into the mixer.

Matt pours hemp into the mixer.

Nauhaus Team and Volunteers Installing Hemcrete

Nauhaus Team and Volunteers Installing Hemcrete

A volunteer tamps down Hemcrete around the studs to ensure a tight seal.

A volunteer tamps down Hemcrete around the studs to ensure a tight seal.

Sarah Brinker tamps Hemcrete.  At this point, the forms are 4' high because the first lift is completed.

Sarah tamps Hemcrete. At this point, the forms are 4' high because the first 2' layer is completed.

Today, as the Hemcrete installation continued, Amy Musser of Vandemusser Design came out to give us a LEED consultation.  The Prototype is still on track to receive LEED Platinum certification.

Amy Musser, Luly Gonzalez and Chris Cashman discuss LEED.

Amy Musser, Luly Gonzalez and Chris Cashman discuss LEED.

White Earth Reservation Cordwood home

November 17th, 2009 by
Built by Bill Paulson

Cordwood Bear Paw for Native American owner

In the spring of 2008 the Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation made contact, to inquire as to the possibility of building a cordwood home on the White Earth Reservation in NW Minnesota (50 miles east of Fargo, ND). The original idea was to build a daycare and early childhood center and a home, but, for various reasons the home came first.

Anishinaabeg Cordwood Crew 09

Anishinaabeg Cordwood Crew

After many, many months of consultation and conversation, we were on our way to Naytahwaush to begin construction on September 22, 2009. The General Contractor, Robert Zahorski of Clearwater Building and Design was ready with the foundation (radiant in floor heat in a sand bed, using off peak electric hours—3 cents a KW); post and beam cedar frame, 12/12 pitch roof with 2 large bedrooms and a half bath and storage (shingled), a well, a mortar mixer, mortaring supplies and power!) What a great guy to juggle all these parts of the project.
The Native American Group Leader Bill, had been working to gather a cordwood masonry crew. Bill is a very talented individual with a skill set that defies description. Needless to say, he and Robert became our confidants and close friends. We are grateful for time we shared with them and the crew. The staff at MMCDC was most excellent in providing everything needed to make this a success.

1700 sq. ft. cordwood home in Naytahwaush, MN

1700 sq. ft. cordwood home in Naytahwaush, MN

There is a link that explains more about the home and the project.   http://www.daycreek.com/dc/asp/forum2002/display_topic_threads.asp?ForumID=2&TopicID=2058&PagePosition=1 The plan is to build 5 more next summer.   There was an interview about the cordwood home on Minnesota Public radio.  That link is at the bottom of the first link.    Give a look-back at the daycreek link (above) as the building progresses.  There is a bottle end medicine wheel built into the wall and a feather in addition to the bear paw.

Richard & Becky Flatau
Cordwood Construction Resources LLC
W4837 Schulz Spur Dr
Merrill, WI 54452

flato@aol.com
www.daycreek.com/flatau
715-212-2870
715-536-3195

<a title="Cordwood bookstore"

http://www.daycreek.com/dc/html/dcrflatau3.htm

We’ve Got Hemcrete!

November 12th, 2009 by
Northwest Corner of Nauhaus Prototype

Northwest Corner of Nauhaus Prototype

………………………..

Well, one wall anyway.

Yesterday Ian and Mario from Lime Technologies came out in the rain to help us install some Hemcrete, starting the first home in the United States to be built with the product.

The rest will be installed after the Eco Panels go up.

Click here to view the entire Nauhaus Prototype Construction Chronology.



Click here to watch the full interview with Ian Pritchett.

Electrical Completed, Lime Technology Pays a Visit

November 9th, 2009 by

Click here to view the entire Nauhaus Prototype Construction Chronology.

We were excited to have Ian Pritchett and Mario Machnicki from Lime Technology, makers of Hemcrete, come by to check out our building for the first time.  We had some great discussions about Hemcrete, earthen blocks, construction details and more.  The electrical work has been completed, and the walls are ready for the hemp installation.

Jeff Buscher, Tim Callahan, Ian Pritchett, Mario Machnicki

Jeff Buscher, Tim Callahan, Ian Pritchett, Mario Machnicki

Ian Pritchett and Jeff Buscher talk about earthen blocks.

Ian Pritchett and Jeff Buscher talk about earthen blocks.

Southeast View

Southeast view of the nearly-completed framing of the Nauhaus Prototype

Electrical Box Installation

Electrical Box Installation

The electrical boxes are mounted on blocking so that they will be flush to the inside of the 12" walls.

The electrical boxes are mounted on blocking so that they will be flush to the inside of the 12" walls.

Thwart the Diabolical Extraterrestrials: Buy Local Paint

November 5th, 2009 by

This is the tenth in a series of articles for the New Life Journal.

By: Clarke Snell

Are you going insane like me? Do you ever sit in a parking lot and imagine the forest that used to be there? Do you ever look at the eastbound river of cars while you’re flowing westbound and ask yourself, “Where are we all going? Why can’t they stay where they are and do what I need to do there, while I stay where I am and do what they need to do here?” In the deep of night while the bedbugs bite, do you ever ask yourself, “What do rabbits know that I don’t?”

Yes, I must be crazy. So crazy that I’m completely baffled by how we humans come to find ourselves in the present world of our making. I’m so bent that to me we seem to be the only critters on the planet that can’t go with the flow. You know: live, eat, have babies, die, become compost for plants that are in turn eaten by our babies…repeat cycle. Is it my demented ramblings, or is our obsession with experimentation and childish competition grinding us to dust? Here’s my call for entries to all scientists, priests, freaks, and super-models: What the hell are we doing here?

My favorite theory about the existence of human life on planet earth is that we were seeded here by extraterrestrials. Sort of like bees making honey, they knew that we’d bring all the raw materials of the planet to the surface, process them into useful compounds and units like plastics and alloys, then concentrate them in piles (cities, landfills, etc.) where our masters could then easily harvest these goodies for their own use. If this process eventually killed the worker drones (us) or adversely effected the lifecycles of the planet itself, that would be of no concern. The point was efficient resource extraction. Though admittedly ridiculous and based on no facts (sort of like our present foreign policy), this theory has a compelling internal consistency and does offer an explanation for certain strange human behaviors such as packaging small amounts of water in plastic bottles. At the very least, it allows us to feel like we’re doing a good job.

Whatever the origin of our shenanigans, we’ve become so intransigent that the planet itself seems to be trying to throw us off. That’s the image that scientist James Lovelock used in an interview I heard recently. He said that humans have become an invading virus on the organism that is planet Earth. Global warming is the response, the fever attempting to combat the virus. The earth, though, is in the latter stages of its life, and therefore, like any senior citizen, may not be able to survive the fever.

Gawd. The more it all sinks in, the more I understand Disneyworld: Attention Citizens, just don’t think about it and watch the big mouse with the white gloves… I mean, how do we stop being a virus!?

Well, I’m no genius, but one thing I can do is pay attention. When you do that, you start hearing a lot of good ideas. Here are a few: Let’s not drive lettuce in from California when it’s being grown right here. Let’s not drive wood in from Oregon when it grows right here. Let’s not drive paint in from who knows where when it’s made right here….What?

That’s right, if you live in the distribution area of this magazine, you have access to locally made, non-toxic, environmentally conscious paints, masonry sealers, and wood finishes. The company, based in Asheville, is called Earthpaint. It’s founder, Tom Rioux, started his career in painting at the age of 14. After many years as a professional painter, Tom become deathly ill. His kidneys, liver, and lungs were failing and he had horrible arthritis. After 3 years of chemotherapy and major diet and other lifestyle changes, Tom pulled through. He was convinced that it was paint that almost killed him, so he decided to dedicate himself to researching and developing better paints.

After literally more than 1,000 failures and a major investment in lab time and other entrepreneurial necessities, Tom has developed a line of finishes that are truly amazing. They are biodegradable; made up of non-toxic, native ingredients from plants, minerals and other basic elements. Except for a single ingredient in one product, all of Earthpaint’s materials are harvested within an eight hour drive of Asheville. Most travel less than four hours. What’s more, they not only compare to modern synthetic finishes in price, but in many cases outperform them. For example, Earthpaint’s Interior Clear Skies wall paint carries a full 25 year warranty!

Talking with Tom about paint is a true inspiration. Not only because he’s fun and really knows what he’s talking about but because, well…you’re talking to him. He’s not just a billboard, a label, or a trademark. He’s your neighbor telling you real-world, no BS stories about the reality of paint. (Ask him about VOC’s, for example, if you want to hear a real nail-biter with a surprise ending.) Tom’s business is family-owned (no pesky stockholders demanding his soul) and truly local which allows his intentions to be personal and passionate. It also makes him accountable to us.  If we have a problem, we can talk to him about it. Such a set-up will by definition be “green” to the max. The rationale won’t be based on barely meeting provisions in compromised government regulations vetted by corporate interests, but on the simple and obvious credo that you don’t soil your nest.

To me, that’s the transformative power of building a truly local economy. Earthpaint’s success is our success. If Tom fails, we all loose. Perhaps our only problem is that we don’t really believe that we’re all in this together. As long as there is a mythical Bahamas to retire to, then people will continue to soil their bed before they sell it to someone else. What we need is more Earthpaints. They are out there trying to be born. All they need is our help. It’s a no-brainer, people. Buy, sell, eat, drink, build, live, and die local…unless you want some two-headed ten-eyed aliens coming down here to steal plastic from our cold dead hands.

For more information about Earthpaints, visit their website www.earthpaint.net) or call them at 828-258-2580.