Well the nesting urge is definitely upon us. Less than 7 weeks until my due date, and we are trying to figure out when we think we might be able to get a certificate of occupancy (C of O) and move in!
We are having a home birth, and have had our eyes (and hearts) firmly set on being in our straw bale house to birth our baby - til now!. We have set ourselves targets and dates to finish so often, for eg end of August, then Sept, then end of Oct, end of Nov etc that we have pretty much given up on guessing when we might get in!
We were blessed again with mild weather for rendering. Brad and Mark arrived to a lovely cool morning at the house on Sunday morning, and before long we were getting stuck into the third and final coat of render on our inside walls.
We had almost forgotten to do some test renders, but thankfully the hot weather dried them out quickly (Peter did them Friday morning), and his combo of 5 parts washed sand, 10 parts local red clayish sand and 1.5 parts lime, was just the thing. This was a real bonus, as we didn’t have to muck around changing the render mix on the day. As an added bonus, we loved the colour of it as well.
After a blast of a weekend, we are still recovering! I hope our renderers Brad and Mark have recovered sufficiently as well. It really was an amazing weekend getting the first coat of render on - every time I see the house now with it's new look, I think about all the work that lead up to it, and all the people who have contributed over the last month or so to get everything ready for render. The radio bit that Peter did with 774 has also brought additional interest and we met some fabulous people, Hans and Cath on Saturday and Trevor and Carol on Sunday. We also had our fabulous Kiwi friend Logan come over on Sunday, and the three blokes got into some hand rendering - lots of fun.
I have been on our build on many a freezing cold day, so I felt quite well prepared this morning when I was getting dressed:
It's been an interesting time - we've been getting so excited about getting near the end of the build (and I have been so eager to finish and move in) that our planning and forward thinking has been a little lacking. I am working tomorrow (Saturday) so took today (Friday) off, got to sleep in a little and then go out to the house building with Peter on a spectacular September day.
We have met the most amazing and generous people whilst on this house building quest. Today we had visits from our beautiful friend Sharon, and the always dependable Nicole (Nic) along with her two gorgeous daughters. These two were a power house and were fabulous wall stuffers (and Sharon, thank you so much for all the goodies your brought for us to eat!).
Then we had a lovely visit from Peter's kiwi friend Polly, and her friend Zoe. It seems that this wall stuffing thing is contagious, as they too were donning the gloves in no time, keen to get into some straw action. Thanks guys!
Sometimes some rain makes for a change
But lately the wind is always the same
It stops for a laugh then blows down my walls
Is wind the bad wolf I tried to ignore?
Our wishes for a still day must have been heard by someone importatant, because today we had a perfect day for roofing! Tim and Darren (our roofers) arrived early this morning, as did Peter, to a cool but clear sun shiny day, with hardly any wind. And thankfully, it stayed that way!
We've had a few questions about the actual building of the house, so here's a start:
* Timber - Treated Cypress Pine (termites don't like it)
* No of stumps - 104 plus 13 verandah posts
* Stump holes - 400mm diameter
* Depth of stump holes - 1000mm
* Depth of concrete pads in holes - 200mm
* The stumps were put on the concrete pads and held with packed earth
* Soil classification - H (highly reactive clay)
Stumps to sub-floor:
* Joists and Bearers - 140x45 (but we accidentally did joists at 190x45)
* Sub-floor - yellow tongue particle board (glued and nailed)
* Insulation - Pink Batts F2
* Post & Beam
* Pine posts 2 x 90x45 and 2 red iron bark feature posts, beams 190x45 & 290x45
* Timber stud walls with chicken wire on both sides (straw stuffed inside and rendered) Brian Hodge from Anvill created this type of wall and its registered trademark is Kram wall.
* Insulation - sizalation + bulk
* I-Joists -300mm high
External Straw Bale Walls:
* Wheat Straw (Bickley Farms)
* Polyester strapping for compression and strength
* Bottom boxing with F2 insulation
* Intermediate and Top boxing
* 3 coats earthen render
* First coat: 9 parts red sand/clay mix, 1 parts local earth mix (sandy/clay).
* Second Coat: 8 parts local earth mix (sandy/clay), 4 parts triple washed sand, 1 part lime.
* Third Coat: 10 parts local earth mix (sandy/clay) 5 parts triple washed sand, 1.5 parts lime.
We have been blessed to have had some fantastic suppliers and contractors during our build. Please note, some of this information is a few years old now.
Brian Hodge - Anvill (Training consultants for Straw Bale Construction)
Soil Classification: (structural & civil engineers)
George McLaren - Phone 0429 311 657
Building issues - Phone 03 5441 4149
Terry Stevens Consulting Engineers - Phone 03 5444 1633
Greg Gil - Konrads Australia Pty Ltd - Phone 03 9339 1435
Mark - Satech Communications - Phone 0414 477 517
CB Concreting - Cory Phone 0407 687 754
Dingo Digger/Hole digger:
Stuart Farrow Phone 0418 363 724
Paul Love - Phone 0409 674 143
Turd Burglar - 0418 363 030
Timber & general building supplies:
Bacchus Marsh Building Supplies - 03 5367 6101 19 Station St BM
Straw Bale Tools & Pump Rendering: (strapping, tensioning tool, clips)
When I first saw the truck arrive with our straw bales on Thursday, I felt a flood of emotion - I wanted to burst into tears of joy!
There is something very special about working with straw to build our home. It smells wonderful, feels great, is very pliable, and very forgiving - AND it's a waste product, I love it! It also reminds me of my youth, of horse riding in Port Fairy - some of the best memories I have.
Life has its funny ways. Patience is a virtue they say, and it's a quality I've not been particularly rich in. Over the past 7 weeks or so I have been pretty scarce on the building site - and for good reason - I'm pregnant, and 24-hour nausea has kept me resting and horizontal more than usual. It's also pretty much forced me to develop some more patience!
I had a visit from an old friend today, or maybe son/daughter of old friend because he/she was not so big. Or too small for that matter. As mentioned in a previous blog, I came across a huntsman lurking in our portaloo and this must be just the spot for these beasties. I was just yesterday thinking about how I haven't seen any spiders for a while. This one hitchhiked over to the house on a deckchair and stayed put long enough for a portrait - it didn't smile but it did look at the camera.
It's not long 'til winter, but we are still having come cracker jack blue sky days for building. Having been to Brisbane for three days this week and experienced the incredible rain up there, it was quite a different world to come back to the drought-ridden west of Melbourne.
Another beautiful day for building and the veranda posts are looking beautiful too! All posts are in, thanks to a great day's work from myself and Ivan. It's been a funny feeling putting posts in the ground, kind of like a flash back to when we were putting in stumps but without the angst of not knowing what was in the ground.
We were starting to wonder where the rest of Autumn had gotten to... was it hiding somewhere? Just when we thought the Convent was going to freeze over, we've seen the sun and glorious blue sky come out to play again - and it has been divine!
I feel like I left out some things in the last blog, so here goes!
We reckon we are aboout half way in our build. It has certainly taken waaaaaay longer than we thought so far, for all sorts of reasons, probably the three main ones are a) we are relatively slow and have made mistakes that needed to be fixed, which takes time, b) rock in our stump holes put us back by about 2 1/2 months and c) all the angles of the house has made things quite complex and this taken taken up A LOT of time.
Well another weekend has flown by, and once again, we have to wait a whole 5 days to get back on to the build. With some fantastic workmanship by Ivan & Peter on Friday, and with the addition of fabulous Teresa (and me) on Saturday, we have put up more internal walls, and have almost completed building all of our stud walls. Yay!
I've also had my first 'hammering ones finger' incident, which wasn't as bad as I imagined it would be, and I managed to get through a long day (packing up in the dark isn't such a good thing!) with a cold, so today I have been resting whilst Peter is in at work making up for a Friday swap.
We knew we would get a fair bit of interest about this house of ours, but it never occured to us that complete strangers from other states would find our website and get in touch with us....and offer to help us build! A few weeks ago, Phil did just that, and on his holidays, he has driven down to Victoria from Sydney and hung out with us today on the build. I might add, he is also a qualified carpenter looking to build his own straw bale house..... and we are very appreciative of his generosity.
We started off the day with by putting up one more beam, 4 more ridge beams to go. Then we moved on to wall framing and by the end of the day we had 5 done. It's very satisfying doing the framing and Natasha and I get a really good rhythm going. We can't wait to put them all up and walk around the house from room to room and then get our framing inspection done. It's another great milestone to aim at.
We were blessed with a beautiful day to get stuck back into building yesterday. After being interstate for work during the week, and with Peter back at paid work in the city, I was hanging out to get out to the land to do some physical work, get back to nature, and get some progress on the build.
Assume nothing is my mantra for this build. I didn't follow my mantra for getting our sewer trench dug. I went against my better instincts and let the guy we got in to do the work without me there. There was one primary instruction given and that was to avoid putting the trench through any of our painstakingly made post holes. Guess what?
Today is the equinox, the day when the hours of day and night are equal. What better time to put up our almost identical feature poles.
Yesterday Ivan and I spent the day cleaning up the poles and then cutting one of them to length. The check outs had to be made too, so after an initial pass with a circular saw we set about chiselling the checkouts to fit the beams that will soon slot in there. This is not a simple procedure as it was with the standard posts.
Sunday was the day to strip our new poles of bark and get a look at the timber underneath. Natasha went to work on this, hard work it was too. Once the timber was exposed, she both sprayed and brushed on a coat of Borax to repel borer and termites. The poles are looking great but there are still a couple of termites in residence to we'll continue to apply the Borax, especially to the areas where they've been spotted. Once we get the poles up on to the floor, it will create a barrier to the ground for the termites so they wont hang around long.
We're a bit stuck at the moment. We have the timber, we have a plan, we have lots of fabulous hands ready to go, but there's some stuff that's just not adding up. The height of our two biggest posts doesn't seem right when we take into consideration the beams and rafters that need to sit on it, and the size of our cloistery windows.
Another brilliant contribution from Ivan over a few days has lead to the near completion of our ring beams. Just one small section remains. It's going to be big weekend that will test my organisational abilities, as we have lots of timber arriving and lots of new things to embark on and some extra hands to embarkify.
Over the weekend I want to have the central ridge beams on and some internal walls up. This also means finishing marking out the location of all the walls which is exciting, and even better of course when they really are walls.
There has been no action today as it's been too windy. I'm not too keen to be up a ladder by myself trying to wrangle tools and heavy pieces of timber. I have taken the opportunity to visit the chiropractor and get my body straightened up. Not only this, but I have been looking at the best way to get our internal framing pieced together. Neither our books nor our DVDs say how to do funny angled framing so it's down to common sense.
I've put a stain on our two posts, now tentatively named Arthur and Martha, not sure which is which though. The next thing is to trim the ends to the right size. I used linseed oil to treat them, they've darkened a bit more than I intended but they'll contrast nicely with the lightness of the walls in the lounge. When we have walls that is.
It's amazing how fast things happen with help around, especially when that help comes in the shape of Ivan, a man who knows how to use a nailgun, and Ari, a woman nearly finished building her own strawbale house. We did so many posts in the last couple of days that we ran out of timber. I need to order more now and start looking at doing some internal framing. Now that is exciting!
Hot and dry and windy again. I spent the day finishing off the little items of flooring which needed to be done, and I'm very glad to say it's all on now. Just as I was finishing them up I looked up at the horizon and saw a big tower of smoke coming from the north west. Immediately I turned on the radio which is by far the best way to get information on bushfires and it turned out there was a fire burning out of control just south of Daylesford. That's about 40 kms away from us so no immediate threat but who knows what to expect from these fires?
The house that love built
When we started building our house, we had no idea just how much interest it would generate, and how many people would contribute to building it.
More than 90 people have helped build our house, and we are very grateful to each and every one of them. It has been one of the most special things about building - having our friends and family, as well as lots of people we had never met before, help us build, and contribute in so many special ways. We are definetly blessed!
We obtained our certificate of occupancy back in March 2010. We have no need for working bees or people to help anymore, as we are really only putting on some finishing touches and maintaining things now.
If you are looking for information, contacts or ideas, please Contact Us, we would be pleased to help.
We had been looking for a block of land for years, and finally took the plunge and bought some land in Merrimu. Merrimu is 10 minutes' drive north of Bacchus Marsh, which is 55km west of Melbourne on the Western Highway towards Ballarat.
The land is 1.158 hectares which is 2.89 acres, and has water, phone, sewage and electricity connected. It's one of 17 blocks on a subdivision with a stack of environmental covenants on it. These kind of blocks are pretty rare.
There's lots of wildlife in the area, kangaroos in particular, and we basically walk from our property into Long Forest. It's our idea of heaven.
At different times, there are some vacant block of land for sale. Twelve out of 17 lots have been built on.
Check out more photos of our land in Photo Gallery.
Our block borders on Long Forest Nature Conservation Reserve, which is 532 hectares of beautiful bush. The Bull Mallee found at Long Forest is the only patch of Mallee found South of the Great Dividing range. This nature reserve is literally our backyard. We feel so so so lucky to have found this block, especially with all the environmental agreements which come with it.
Here are some photos of Long Forest we took in February 08.
Here are the answers to our most frequently asked questions:
Why build with straw bale?
Being acutely aware of the 'not so good' state of our beautiful planet, we wanted to minimise our impacts on the environment whilst building our house - these are just some of the big pluses of straw bale building.
* low embodied energy in the bales - it's a by-product or waste product from producing crops like wheat (ie not a great deal of energy has gone into making them)
* very forgiving building material and method for owner builders (ie make a mistake and it's fairly easy to fix)
* provides amazing insulative qualities to the house ie warm in winter, cool in summer
* has great sound-proofing
* is less expensive when owner-building
* allows for lots of creativity ie wall thickness, curves, alcoves & shelves in the wall etc
* curves create a fantastic feeling - they are lovely houses to be in!
* we reckon they look fantastic
* anyone can help build, it's not hugely complex
How long did it take to build?
We started building in late October 2008, and we got our certificate of occupancy early March 2010. This was with Peter working full time (mostly 5/6 days per week) for all but 3.5 months on the house - and we had HEAPS of help from other generous people. Except for a few jobs, like plumbing, roofing and electrical, we did everything ourselves.
How much did it cost to build?
It has cost around 170k to build. This is excluding the pre-building costs (like trench digging for electrical and plumbing, fees and documentation/application work).
How much experience did you guys have in building a house?
Very little. Natasha did a 4 day course with Brian from Anvill in April 2006, Peter had some experience in helping a friend Ari build her straw bale house mid 2008, but apart from that, nothing. Prior to this, Peter had only picked up a hammer to put a nail in the wall to hang a picture. Brian was our building consultant and we would be lost without his guidance.
How did you build your external walls?
We have just added another section with details about this. Click here.
What are your internal walls like? Are they made of straw?
Yes, most of our internal walls are stud framed walls with chicken wire stapled either side, with straw stuffed in between. Brian Hodge developed this idea/method, and has called it a Kram wall.