The Straw House Blog


Who was that masked man?

Joanne here - a new voice. We had a few more visitors this weekend.  On Saturday the president of Thermotech Windows stopped by to take a look and get some pictures. We had broken a lever on one of our front casements and he brought a replacement. He said he’d keep our spare window in mind and suggested we post it here. Window anyone?

Mike the roofer also stopped by to check out the completed soffits and discuss eavestroughes. We didn’t work on Sunday - family event at Aunt Joan’s. On Monday we were back up and were joined by Nick (my dad) who came all the way from Grimsby and spent the day sanding the big double beams in the gallery. I finally got a few pictures since I stupidly missed getting any pictures at the beginning of February when he and Anna (my mom) came to visit. We didn’t even do a blog entry that time! They came all the way from Grimsby, helped out, and we went out for a wonderful dinner for Glen’s birthday and there has been no record of it. It’s been bugging me since then so I’m happy to have finally put it in the blog.

Glen and his dad were working on the bathroom. Today they got the glass in the doors which means we really have a usable bathroom now! Donna and I applied another coat of urethane to the outside bathroom walls and doors. Then I started sanding the posts with 120 grit—I got five done, only twenty-three to go.

At the end of the day Ian showed up, he hasn’t been out here for a couple of months so he was seeing some big changes. Later this week Glen’s cousins Phil and Steve are coming out, Phil to work and Steve to visit (I’m not sure that Steve’s all that handy). The plumber’s supposed to be out tomorrow or Wednesday to fix a few problems. When that is done we can put up the drywall in the kitchen and back bathroom.



Pictures from Sunday

Well I had hoped to do an entry about Sunday sooner than this, oh well.

This Monday I gave our landlord notice that we would be moving out as of the end of May. So we’re committed. The bathroom’s looking pretty good, Dad got one of the doors fitted, and a good portion of the plumbing is done. We now have a toilet and a sink. Unfortunately there seems to be some issue with the water pump and we have no pressure or hot water. Simon’s working on that though, and promises results before May. We met with Andrew the plumber and discussed various plumbing related issues with him. Hopefully we’ll have a people bath, and a dog bath very soon. The shower won’t be installed for a couple more months as the shower base was a special order and might not be in until June.

The major to-do list now consists of kitchen cabinets, final stucco, drywalling, and sanding/sealing the posts.


Some good news

The plumber was at the house yesterday, and he should be there today. We might have plumbing for the weekend. Mom and Dad are going into Peterborough today and they said they’ll pick up the glass for the doors and windows (of the bathroom), so we might even have a bathroom with privacy. You know, versus, “I’m going to the bathroom, everybody go to the opposite side of the house.”

The engineer from Bell called this morning and she said they can put in a phone line to the house. It’s going to cost us $2,400.00, and given that the driveway is nearly 1km long that doesn’t seem so bad. In comparison Ontario Hydro wanted $35-$50 per metre to bury their cable. Bell’s going to put in three test boxes along the road just in case something happens and they need to test the line. They’re going to run 3 pairs to the house so we can have a maximum of 3 phone lines. That won’t be going in until mid-May. Right around the same time as the septic bed.

I think we’re going to bite the bullet and give our notice on the apartment for the end of May.


Mid-week Update

There’s a lot going on this week, the roofers are back putting on the fascia and soffits. The plumber should be making his way in to connect up our plumbing. It’s bad enough going in the bushes when it’s cold out, the women have made it very clear that no plumbing in black-fly season will not be acceptable. The Wiremold conduit for the perimeter electricity, phone and data is ready for pick-up, as is our glass for the bathroom doors and windows and back room door.

Now we’re having fun with Bell Telephone. Two years ago when we started this whole thing we called Bell and they came out and told us that they could run the wire, and it would cost just over $2K, they actually sent people out who measured the driveway. Bell pays for the first 165 metres, our driveway is 900 metres long, $2K didn’t seem like much. I called them on Monday to get that particular ball rolling, and of course the whole thing began to unravel. An engineer came out today and she told my father that she isn’t even sure they can run a phone line that long… uh pardon? She’s going to go back to find the original file and see what they told us and why. Great. They did reserve our phone number though and it is a seriously kick ass number. The kind where you hear it once and it’s memorized. It’ll be really great, if we ever get a phone.

Remember folks building a house is a full contact sport. Do not forget your cup.




I’m sick. I blame Joanne, whatever this is, she brought it home.

Some neat pictures today that show the effects of the sun shading provided by the cupola.  On December 21st the sun was nearly to the back of the main house, today, it was only in about 10 feet. If Paul is right, and so far (on this) he’s batting .1000, on June 21st the sun will not enter the house at all.

I’m going back to the couch.


Questions. Answers.

Trent asks: “I was wondering how large your house is? It is hard to tell from the floor plan. I was also wondering what made you decide on straw-bale construction.

Finally did you have any issues getting financing for a mortgage and was insurance an issue?”

Glen answers: The house is about 2500 sq.ft. We chose straw-bale because it was ecological, economical, and cool. First we wanted to go straw-bale but didn’t think we could manage it on our own (it’s very labour intensive), then we found Camel’s Back, so we changed our plans (again! Sorry Paul), and went back to straw-bale.

Insurance hasn’t been a problem. Pilot Insurance had no problem insuring the house for construction and say they’ll have no problem insuring the house when it’s done. The mortgage… we haven’t applied yet, we have ‘self-financed’ the home construction. I doubt we’ll have a problem getting a mortgage, just whether the mortgage will accurately reflect the value of our house.


But, but, why?

One question we get asked a lot, not all the time, but enough that I would remark on it, is some variation of, “Why?” Off-grid, passive-solar, strawbale, these are not common terms, common materials, or usual ways of building a house, so.. why? Yes it was a dream, yes I’ve always wanted a unique house, but I also offer this quote as at least partial explanation for what might seem to others as a bizarre, expensive form of lunacy.

“Just occassionally you find yourself in an odd situation. You get into it by degrees and in the most natural way but, when you are right in the midst of it, you are suddenly astonished and ask yourself how in the world it all came about.”

- Thor Heyerdahl



Drywall Part Two & fun in the snow?

Taped and mudded today. Joanne came up from the city in the morning. The first coat is done. The second tomorrow, if we have time.

Monday, Simon’s coming up first thing to give us a lesson on the off-grid system. Then we’re up to Pete and Tina’s for lunch. Pete’s done some examples of his stucco with marble dust for us to check out. We’re hoping we can get that done soon.

We had many guests today. Paul came by with his friends Jill and John. He wanted to check out our progress. He promised Jill and John a pleasant snowshoe around our land. What he didn’t tell them is that we got another six inches of snow last night and that we don’t exactly have any groomed trails. Even with snow shoes it’s not easy going. The extra snow certainly didn’t make things any easier for the dogs. Both were porpoising around just to get anywhere.

When we got back Mike Cooper and his wife Karen were there. Mike hasn’t been to the house since before the New Year. He was pleased with what he saw, and gave us some advice for the drywalling.

That’s it. I’m about as tired and sore as the dogs.



Drywall Part One

Saturday. Beautiful day. Sunny, warm (-2C). The panels were pumping out 10 amps (which is about the max). We ran the generator all day to refresh the batteries. The timer seems to be working, Dad ran the generator on Monday, and it wasn’t run again until today. The batteries seemed to be just fine.

I got lucky again at Eurolite, somebody returned five of the lights we wanted to use in the kitchen, so they gave us a deal. Earlier we lucked out with the fans. We like Eurolite, they’re good people.

So today I hung the first kitchen light to see what they’ll look like. I’m going to Photoshop in all five at the proper heights, I might post the pic. We also took delivery of this really fantastic Italian florescent fixture, two 4’ skinny tubes and one hell of a reflector makes a bright bright light. Plus an electronic ballast for low noise. So I put that in the battery room and it really helps.

Mom continued her taping, she’ll be happy when that job’s done. Dad worked on the bathroom doors. And then, after lunch, we drywalled. Yessir, nothing says fun like drywallin’. We got one wall and the ceiling done, taping and mudding tomorrow. We’re thinking of doing the entire west wall in tongue and groove cedar. After we got home Dad and I spent a couple of hours planing and jointing some of our cedar. It looks like we’ve got enough for the west, north and south walls. “But Glen,” you say. “What will you do behind the shower?” Hey all of that boat building experience hasn’t gone to waste, we’re going to put a layer of fibreglass and epoxy over the wood in the shower stall.

This morning and this afternoon I took the dogs for a walk. Apparently all of the rain that we got in Toronto last week was snow up here. The snow is up to my knees in the bush. That’s a serious impediment to the dogs. They are exhausted.

Last, but absolutely not least, a big congratulations to Steven and Laurie who just gave birth to their first child, an (undoubtedly) beautiful baby girl named Malaika. Way to go guys!

I have no pictures of the baby, but I did take pictures at the house.


What’s Going On?

We got snowed in on the weekend. Went to a wedding on Saturday of some good friends (congrats Mike & Alex). One of the best weddings that Jo and I have ever attended, nice ceremony, great food, fine company. When we left it was snowing somewhat and we decided to wait and head up Sunday morning. Big mistake. We woke up and there was a winter storm warning in effect. So we lost a day.

Fortunately/unfortunately I’m going to have more time to work on the house in the immediate future. My largest client is going through some tough times and has released me (and all other contractors) from my contract. Bummer. So I’m going to take this as an opportunity and try and get as much work done as I possibly can before I have to start looking for work in earnest. That said if anybody come across any web or UI gigs… I’m your guy.

On the agenda for this week is drywalling the bathroom, checking out stucco samples at Pete and Tina’s, and installing lights. Oh, and I’m using my spare time to work out some stuff with my various web-sites, I hope to have comments working tonight on the blog. Dad’s apparently been busy planing cedar which we’ll probably use on the bathroom walls.