The Straw House Blog


The big tall new toy

Spent the day working on a job for a client, but still ran into the back room every hour to check on the wind generator, batteries, and charger. For the first part of the day we had both sun and wind, but as of yet we still don’t really know how much power we’re getting off the wind generator at any given time. Dad hooked my multimeter up to the DC outputs on the controller box so we can see how many volts we’re getting, the high was around 57VDC, and the average, seems to be in the 50VDC range. But it’s not just the volts that are important, it’s the watts, and both rise and fall according to the wind speed.

We’ll learn, and we’ve got a new metering system coming very soon.

Took the dogs for a nice long walk around the land tonight, beautiful night, not too many bugs, and everything is green green green. ‘Course I just walked around looking up at the tower, ‘cause it’s the cool new toy.

Oh, and I took the camera.




One of the concerns that people have about straw bale homes is the issue of fire. We can now address that concern with actual experience.

At about 3:00pm this afternoon, our generator, which rests on the ground under the eaves just outside the utility room, exploded. We have no idea why, Dad was on the other side of the house and heard it stop, he thought I’d turned it off, then a little later he heard a BOOM. Around that time I was out walking the dogs, I heard the boom and thought it was hunters, shooting near the house, I ran toward the house in a rage. Then I saw the smoke.

The generator was burning, flames were running up the stucco, engulfing the window and reaching up into the soffits. The ground all around the house is still littered with straw - why worry, it was gonna be buried next week - and some of it started to burn. Some nearby bales were smoking fiercely but weren’t actually burning. That’s generally what happens to bales, because they are densely packed they don’t burn, they smoulder.

I ran into the house, yelling, and grabbed a fire extinguisher, Dad was trying to hook up the hose. I aimed the extinguisher at the generator and let it rip. Then I sprayed up across the wall and over the window. The fire dropped considerably, but the gas tank blew. I ran inside looking for the other extinguisher. Passing Dad with the now spraying hose, I yelled at him that it was a gas fire and to concentrate on the straw. Running out with the second extinguisher I used half of it on the generator, and sprayed some on the wall just in case.

Dad was spraying the straw but the the water stopped. I grabbed a shovel and sort of dragged and rolled the generator away from the wall. Then we started shovelling burning straw away from the house. When Dad and I tried to drag the bales away they broke up, then they started to burn. Once the sheaves are loose they burn quite well. We got them well away from the house and shovelled sand over the sheaves to smother them.


In the end the generator is toast, we lost one layer of outside stucco, the window blew, the soffits are bent and damaged but the wall is perfectly sound and there is no structural damage of any sort. If it had been a stick frame house…. I’d rather not think about what could have happened. We also lost our phone lines and something is wrong with the pump.

I cannot describe the sensation of seeing part of your house engulfed in flames, just four days after you’ve moved in. I was shaking for a half hour afterwards, just coming off the adrenaline.

Once I calmed down, I went and took some pictures.


My Dad & music

Just when you think you’ve got them pegged, they surprise you. We’ve had the iPod hooked up to an old stereo at the house for a while now, and we listen to music most of the day. The challenge as I’ve talked about before is finding stuff that has some giddy-up to it (for working) and remains acceptable to my parents.

Today after lunch Dad wandered over to the iPod and started fiddling with it; the first time he’s really showed much interest in the thing. Next thing I know Steve Earle is singing “John Walker’s Blues”. I suggested to my Dad that that particular album might not be totally to his liking, but he said, “This sounds OK to me.”

Then as we were working on the fibreglass we had a discussion about Steve Earle, and country music. Colour me freaked out. I wonder what would have happened if he’d hit on the Jurassic 5, or the Black Keys?



A Day of Adventures

...and more tours. Glen and Ron did a huge clean up job in the morning and Donna and I joined to help. The place looked fantastic, and our plan to move in a few weeks didn’t seem so crazy. Just as Glen and Ron were unwrapping the fridge and getting it ready to plug in, my Mom and Dad arrived (Anna and Nick) for the birthday/Mother’s day celebration. Then it was more tours as Ron and Donna’s neighbours Jim and Michelle stopped by with their kids and some friends.

My sisters and their families arrived a short while later and wandered around exclaiming “It’s so much bigger than it looks on the web!” After a great lunch Glen and Ron took Karen and Bob and their boys Tommy, Andrew and Matthew and Kim and Gene’s daughter Claire on their first adventure past the gravel pit and up the big, back hill. Then they headed through the west bush, along the logging road to the fields and back along the Porcupine trail where they discovered the “mushy, trampoline” part, where you walk on cedar tree roots. Donna, Mom, Dad Kim and Gene and I stayed and played with their adorable younger daughter Kate. After cake and some wonderful birthday/Mother’s Day gifts, I took the three boys and Claire on the next adventure - over to see the dead porcupine. Then it was back along the Porcupine trail.

Altogether it was a fun day with gorgeous spring weather. At the end of the day Glen put the shelves in fridge. It really started feeling like a house with the fridge in place with food in it! 

Somehow in all the confusion, pictures got taken.



Happy Birthday Jo

Yep, today’s her birthday. I’m not telling how old.

Pete and Tina got two sections done today, they’re back on Monday. Phil brought Joanne up, helped put up one piece of drywall, helped bring in the shower base, and then had to leave to go to a job interview. He got the job, but it’s a night gig so he says he can still come out and help us. We need the muscle.

For some reason Dad really wanted to have the kitchen lights up in time for the tour today. To get the lights up they had to be rewired, which involved cutting off the old leads and soldering on new wires. We removed the metal rods and hung the lights from the new wires. They look amazing, and we’ll leave them up for tomorrow, then take them back down to protect the glass.

The tour took up a good portion of the afternoon, so we didn’t really get much work done. Everybody seemed quite impressed with the house and the land.


A block of time

Happy times for the next week or so, I launched two sites yesterday, the RCMP Veterans Association Store and a stub page for Scott Morris Architects full site to come soon. I’m taking the next 5 days off to work on the house, next week Jo and I have our first appointment with the doctor in Peterborough. This is our temporary doctor, she’s helping us only until the baby is born, then we’re SOL. The doctor situation outside of Toronto is really bad.

Pete and Tina are in the house again, applying the final coat of plaster to the interior walls. We’re mixing the plaster with white marble dust, it should look pretty cool. Another nice thing about working with Pete and Tina is the music. Music is delicate balancing act in the house, the trick is to find stuff that is enjoyable and good to work too, but doesn’t offend my parents. They’re pretty accepting of most light country, acid jazz, and light rock type music, and Paul Simon. We’re starting to get a bit tired of those albums. So after my Dad left today we threw on the new White Stripes, Elephant, which seriously kicks ass. After that David Holmes’ Bow Down to the Exit Sign. Both great albums to work with.

This week we also have one group of my parent’s friends coming through on Friday and Joanne’s whole family comes up to celebrate her birthday. Somehow I don’t think we’re going to get a bunch of work done those days.

Pete was saying that some of the straw bale house owners he knows have gotten so sick of the constant stream of visitors they have started charging admission. Another house only allows visits one day a month. I wondering if we’re going to get that frustrated. We get about one visitor per weekend, usually neighbours, who we enjoy meeting, but occasionally we get strangers who’ve just heard of the house and are curious. Those people we’re a bit less happy about. We’ve also learned that for most people, a No Trespassing sign is pretty meaningless.



Tour Day

We really didn’t get much work done today. Mom did some sanding and Dad and I worked on the drywall. Just after lunch friends from Toronto came up, with Joanne. David and I worked together over the last year or so, and he came with his wife Angela and super cute daughter Veronica. We toured them through the house and around the land. A good time was had by all. Seeing parents like them (ie good calm together parents) gives me hope that this whole kid thing will be OK. Veronica loved the dogs and had an altogether splendid time wandering about the the land exploring. She was a treat.

As we were walking back to the house Steven and Laurie pulled up with their wee daughter Malaika. Malaika is just two months old. She basically slept the whole time, but even so she held her own in the cuteness department.

Then they left, and the Morton’s came buy. We bought the land from Hector Isaac Thorton Morton. His nephew is Anson Morton. Anson’s sons Randy and Kevin farm the front 25 acres of our land. They live just up the land, you can actually see their place from ours out the front door. Anson told us stories of the area and his family. His father and uncle built the barn on our land. His father was born in the house on the 100 behind us. It was a nice visit.

But we got nothing done this afternoon. Jo took some pictures though.



I was gonna rant…

... but now I’m not. I had a big ol’ rant prepared on the age old topic of contractors who don’t show up. Except it turns out he showed up, at night, after we had left. Now I could deliver a mini rant on the subject of contractors who don’t call, but really I’m just happy to find out that the work is done.

On Wednesday my cousins Steve and Phil came up to help. Steve’s in visiting from Vancouver and it was the first time he’s seen the house. He seemed really impressed with the place, and with the land. Being city boys we all have trouble with the scale of 100 acres, Steve and I walked around a fair bit, but he seemed a little overwhelmed. Steve is a few years older than I am, when I was younger I worshipped him. He used to take me to see the Star Wars movies when they came out, and he loaned me his Eurhythmics, Human League, Heaven 17, and Thompson Twins LPs and 12"s. He dressed cool and he moved out when he was 17. That was a long time ago, but Steve and I have grown to be good friends so I was very excited to have him come out to visit.

His brother Phil (who is 5 years older than Steve) loaned me his Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, and Lynyrd Skynyrd albums. Steve and Phil more than anything else are responsible for shaping my adolescent musical tastes. Phil is far more handy than Steve, he helped us hang drywall, and hopefully he’ll be back next week to help hang more. We might even get him mudding.

We gave our notice two weeks ago and the landlord has already rented it out for June first. So we really are committed. Everything now is a milestone, everything is another immediate step towards the big move. This week we put up the mailbox, got most of the plumbing done, sanded a bunch more beams, urethaned the outside of the bathroom, put up drywall, and did a bunch of electrical work.

In addition Simon was in to plumb up the solar hot water system, and Dan Peel rewired the the radiant system to use thermostats out in the house in addition to the hydrostats on the return loops. The boiler has been replumbed so that it supplies hot water to the heat exchanger, and all of the pumps have been configured to work independently depending on whether the request for heat comes from the floor system or the tank.

They’re late but here are the pictures from Wednesday.


World of Ends

If you haven’t seen this and you’re at all interested/involved in Internet stuff please go give it a read. It’s well worth ten minutes of your time.

World of Ends


Because building the house wasn’t exciting enough

Ooops, I forgot to mention that Joanne is pregnant and that we’re expecting our first child in October.

Sorry to interrupt. Please carry on…