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An Artful House

So much has happened since my last post. We were so excited about finishing the cellar that we just kept pushing to get more of the house done. Our summer was flooded with rain, so we lost a lot of building time. We picked one of the wettest seasons to build a cob house!

First things first! After the cellar we started on the dry stacked foundation.

Alexor working on the dry stacked foundation

Ready for cob!

With the foundation ready to go, we started cobbing and… covering the house and uncovering the house, cobbing and… covering the house…. and uncovering! Repeated over and over again!

Wheres the house?

 Amazingly we survived all the rain.

One of our visitors was an a incredible photographer. Don Orkoskey. Check out his photography and the rest of the pictures he took of the cob house at Don Orkoskey Photography.

Don stole my heart with this picture

If you look closely at the rock shelves you can see the lintel wrapped in chicken wire. I decided to do a lintel instead of an arch to accent the two square windows.

Another one of Dons shots

I love everything about this picture! It is chaotic and has so much meaning. The rain tarps are peaking over the wall just above hatch leading down the cellar. The ladder shoved in the corner because it was the only way it would fit until we have a door for the cellar and the straw bales are in just the perfect place to say “Hey! Don’t forget about me”! Thank you Don, for capturing the playfulness of my house!

Last week we had such beautiful weather and we took absolute advantage of it! We pushed and pushed to get a roof on our house before the next rain. I am 100% happy to tell you that we did it!

Everyone lifting the heavy beams onto the walls

After the support beams came the joists! Which I will admit was somewhat of a pain due to using round rafters and 2x8s together. A draw blade and shims came in handy!

Alexor putting in a joist

FLOOR BOARDS!!

I can honestly say with all the rain we had been getting this year that I didn’t think we would ever get to this point! BUT WE DID!!! WOOOO HOOOO!!! The floor is absolutely beautiful. We bought $0.40 sqft rough cut, kiln dried lumber from a local lumber yard. We are finally high enough to repoint the rest of the chimney. That will be a warmer winter day project.

We haven’t finished the whole floor yet but I am anxious to see what it will look like. I know it is going to blow us away.

I was pretty satisfied with getting a few floor boards on so I left Alexor to it and went to finish a few things I had been itching to do. A mislaid tarp allowed rain water to damage some outside niches that I had been working on and I had started another rock shelf that I wanted to work on.

My lantern, creeping plants, candle niche!

My new rock shelves!

After a long week and a half, Alexor and I sat down and just stared at the chimney in the living room.

It feels so cozy and romantic!

We just stared at it completely in awe. Completely stunned that we built this house… with our feet!

We have battled many things this summer! Our biggest challenge has been the weather. In spring we had so much rain, later on we had a small drought and for the past week nothing but rain. All of this wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if we had built our roof first. I am making note for our next house!

A lot has happened since the last post. We finally finished the cellar!! It has been a very long process. We dug it all out by hand with a pick-ax, shovel and buckets! I am very excited to finally be done with it!

China anyone?

Our cellar idea is completely experimental. Since the hole we were digging was solid clay we thought about leaving it and just building a roof but then we started thinking about using cob. Why not? We are young enough to try out new ideas. Thinking (hard) turned into doing! We started collecting tons (literally) of stone, started mixing cob, and then started building up the walls.

We started adding shelves

The walls are narrower at the bottom and slowly widen out as they get higher. We thought that it would make the hole more structurally sound. We also wet the clay walls down and tried to meld the cob with the clay wall. It may not stick but who knows. Redundancy! Redundancy! Redundancy!

More Shelves!

Interesting view of the cellar

Last shelf in

We finished building up the walls and started cutting down trees. Building the roof was pretty easy. Nothing compared to the roof design I am working on now and the work it will take to finish the first floor on the cob house!

Alexor pre-drilling holes

We secured the roof of the cellar by notching the wood, screwing it together, and then cobbing all around the side of the locust posts.

finishing touches

After covering the larger posts with chicken wire we filled in the gaps with smaller posts and then started cobbing over the roof. We also leveled out the floor surrounding the cellar and filled it in with rocks.

Need more rocks!

After we finished pouring our rock floor we then started our first layer of earthen floor!

How many tons of rocks?

Finally!

It seemed like this day would never come! Digging a hole isn’t as much fun as cobbing but it is completely worth it! Food (wine) storage is just as important as having a home!  :)

So much has happened in the last two months. The most incredible part of building, to me, is picking out where you want a window, niche, or a rock shelf, ect, and then watching it being built up and around with your hands. While cob is sometimes very strenuous it is also ridiculously relaxing. You get into the zone and go into your own little world. Every thing you do just flows as you imagine what the wall will look like when it is done.

Through out this process I have learned so much, not only about natural building, but also about myself. You learn your strengths and use them to your advantage. You also learn your weaknesses and work on them. I am realizing more and more that cob is not only physical but it is mental as well. When you don’t see instant progress, sometimes that can feel overwhelming. “Maybe I won’t get my house done by winter.” Sometimes  you see so much progress in one day that it really uplifts your spirit. You just keep going, keep working and it begins to piece together like a big puzzle.  I love it :)

Every window on the house now has a hand print! My way of saying we built this with our hands.

We have been doing a lot of night cobbing thanks to John and Michelle Connor! They gifted us an absolutely amazing solar light system. We have been mixing and building at night!

We also just bought some scaffolding! Which will most definitely come in handy, as the walls are getting higher!

Luckily for me… pictures are worth a thousand words :)

First Window

The past week and a half the weather here has been crazy. I feel as if I have been living in a rain forest! The plants love it and so do I. The cob house however, does not! We had to keep the house covered for a few days so the walls weren’t able to dry as quickly. I don’t mind so much though because everything here is absolutely beautiful and in full bloom. It is inspiring to see everything growing while my house is too.

On the rainy days I read as much as I could. Researching everything from ancient cob to timber framing. While researching I found an old article talking about how in old cob houses they used “shillet”; small gravel sized pieces of shale. Then it hit me, substitute shillet instead of screenings. Luckily for us there is a shale pit right above the cabin.

Shillet :)

So we made a test batch. Two parts sub-soil, one part creek sand, and one part shillet. It turned out to be the best batch of cob we have made so far!

Incredibly… we have everything on the property that we need other than straw bales. We are actually waiting/looking for some right now. Then we can start building up the north walls!

Trevor and Alexor

We had a lot of help this past week. My cousin Jake stopped by and helped us finish some foundation work. Alexors brother Trevor came up and helped us get ready for straw bales on the north wall.

Alexors mother DMarie, his aunt Darlene, and his cousin Mitchell also came up and cobbed!

DMarie and Darlene mixing their first batch of cob

Darlene adding straw

My family was in town due to a new arrival! My younger sister Joslyn had a beautiful baby girl and my whole family got together for Memorial Day weekend. I have a really big family! :) Alexor and I took a much needed break and hung out with everyone.

My mother Mitchelle, my dad John, my sister Audrey, and my two younger sisters Clare and Gracie, and my baby brother Jack came up to check out our new place. They helped us clean up/organize the site and cleared some invasive bushes away from our retaining wall.

The next day my sisters Emma, Myah, Clare, and Gracie came up and helped us gather materials and cob.

Alexor, Mitchell, Emma, Myah, Clare, and Gracie screening sand

After gathering two loads full of sand we all went up and started cobbing.

Emma and Myah seemed to enjoy mixing cob

Clare too! :)

I am pretty sure everyone did!

Because of all the help we have gotten lately we were able to build up our north walls and to put in our very first window!

First Window

Outside view of window

Thanks to everyone who has come out to help us so far. You all are greatly appreciated!

In the past few weeks Alexor and I have been hard at work. Our main focus was the foundation. We walked up and down the creek bed looking for the flattest and strongest rocks. Carrying them up the steep bank was a job in itself! In two weeks we probably loaded and unloaded the jeep with a few tons of gorgeous stone.

After collecting as many stones as we could we started mortaring the foundation. Alexors brother Trevor, cousin Mitchell, and our friend Paul came out and helped us! None of us had ever done it before and were flying by the seat of our pants. I think we did pretty good for our first try.

We decided to use mortar. Finding hydraulic lime where we live is virtually impossible and expensive. For a 40lb bag it was $60 not including shipping. Unfortunately that isn’t in our budget!

Sophia checking out the foundation

Another project we have been slowly working on is re-pointing the chimney. Alexors Mother, DMarie came up and helped us. Whoever had built the chimney used clay to fill in between the stones, and over time weather and age took its toll.

Re-pointing the chimney

I also took a chisel and hammer to the front to remove the wall they had built to convert the fireplace into a wood stove exhaust. Only to find that after they built up the wall a little they poured concrete in and filled it to the top.

It was pretty scary looking up and wondering when the stones might move :)

Chimney so far

As tedious as mortaring is, all in all, it was a lot of fun.

We worked on a ton of small projects. Screening clay, digging a hole for our cellar and building a bird feeder kept our down time productive. We also started a medicinal herb garden, a vegetable garden and planted some tobacco. And… we got our new baby chickens!! :) Sophi loves them more than we do.

Finally after all of that we were ready to start cobbing. Our local 84 Lumber started saving us their used wood tarps.  Thank you! After that everything just seemed to fall perfectly into place for cobbing.

Shake test

Screenings and sand from the creek

We are trying to use everything from our surroundings. We have screenings and sand down in the creek that are perfect for our cob mixture. There is clay right under the house where we want to build a cellar. For some reason, everything just seems to keep working out perfectly.

We started soaking lime

Alexor mixing our very first batch of cob

It was extremely enjoyable to start cobbing! It was immediately like second nature. My mom, Virginia, and my sisters Emma and Audrey came up to help us cob. We mixed 5 batches today!

My mom supervising my sisters

My family applying cob

My mom using a cobbers thumb

Our first spine and ribs

Today was a very rewarding day. Thank you to everyone who has helped us this far!

Our total cost for the house at this point is $129.95

The title says it all. With the help of Alexors  father, Stan, we were able to tear down the remaining walls. Clearing the way for us to start preparing for the fun part. Cobbing :)

Alexor and Stan

One wall down

The next wall was a little tricky. We had to cut through some of the cabin logs with a chainsaw so the porch wall wouldn’t fall with the chimney wall. We plan to keep the porch wall with the original logs and fill it in with cob. The top log of the porch wall was completely rotted and trees were growing out of it! Fortunately there are  salvaged logs in our wood pile that we can cut to size and place on top.

Porch wall meeting chimney wall

Before the fall

After the fall

Last wall down

While Stan had the Chainsaw out he started clearing the overgrown bushes away from the rock wall in the back of the house. It looks incredible. It is as if I am in a dream world when I am back there. Everything is so peaceful.

Rock wall

All that stands now is what we will be restoring with cob and salvaged wood.

The part of the cabin we will be restoring

Side view of wall we are trying to save

We are going to have to buy  cement, lime and sand for the  mortar  mixture to fix the chimney and the foundation.  Another cost will be the straw bales, and AFM Sealant. Other than that we can find everything we need from the earth. Cob is a mixture of clay, straw, sand, screenings (or in our case we will be using small stones from the creek beds), and water. Tomorrow we plan on cleaning up the site from todays deconstruction and to start gathering stones for the foundation. Hopefully we will start cobbing by the end of next week!

Day 2

Clean up

Today Alexor and I started cleaning up the site a bit. Before we got to work we took a leisurely walk down to the creek. It was the perfect weather to work. There was a slight drizzle all day, with a cool breeze, that allowed us to work harder without evidence. It was entirely too beautiful. The lighting was perfect, not too sunny, not too dark, and the birds were singing to us. We had a perfect “first day”.

The waterfall

This is my favorite spot along the creek. Right under that big rock in the middle is a nice little water hole about 4ft deep that I know will come in handy when summer finally reaches the valley. I can imagine just laying in the cool water after a hard days work in the hot sun.

We tore down one of the cabin walls!

After our walk, we got right to work. We tore down one of the cabin walls and carried all of the heavy beams to a pile. Some of the beams may be too weathered to use for construction but I am sure we will find some use for them.

The pile

We cleared out all of the wood and beams that were piled up in the foundation. Here is a before and after picture.

Before

After

After that we started cleaning around the rock wall. We removed some wood beams and a big black plastic tarp. We were lucky it wasn’t too hot or there might have been snakes under the tarp! We ran into a big black snake that was just hanging out in the tree next to the front of the house yesterday. Today we were moving some of the tin in the metal pile and we ran into him and a baby black snake with a yellow ring around the back of his head.

We decided that we needed a dry place to store tools and salvaged wood. Alexor removed all the nails from the wood and I organized the pile on the porch.

Porch

Today we also worked on cleaning up the small room that used to be the old kitchen.

The old kitchen

By the time we had finished cleaning out the kitchen it was 6pm and we were absolutely exhausted.

Day 1

 Pretty good for a days work :)

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