The Straw House Blog

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.



More of the same

Pretty much the same deal as last weekend.

Come back tomorrow for a longer entry.



Easter? Ah, no.

We had an interesting weekend.

The driveway is nearly impassible, if you don’t have 4-wheel drive, don’t even bother. Thirty acres of fields with at least 3 feet of snow are currently melting across our driveway. I spent the morning on Saturday walking along the road with a shovel trying to clear some of the crown and ruts that were blocking the flow of water across the road. On the one hand when you have a lot of water flowing across the road you risk it washing out and just disintegrating into the fields, but on the other hand where it pools the road can get very soft and in some places the mud nearly swallows the truck. We have come to the conclusion that we really need to dig some bigger ditches, and probably add a few more culverts, that or for two months of the year we park at the road and walk in. It’s only 900 metres, do you think Joanne would mind? Yeah, me too.

So we have an wrecked driveway, there’s still 2 feet of snow on the road to our gravel pit, which is soft at the best of times, and there’s a 5 ton weight restriction on the county roads. All of which means that we won’t be able to dig a septic system until mid-May or early June, and that means we won’t be moving for a little while yet. So Easter was just a dream.

We were up Friday and Saturday this week and we got quite a bit done. The bathroom is now ready for plumbing, the shower base we ordered won’t be in for 10 weeks but that’s the only real hold up, we’ll be able to bathe anyway. We’ll start staining/sealing the cedar next weekend and Pete will be stuccoing the walls when he does the rest of the interior. It’ll be nice to have running water. We’ll also be hooking up the dog bath in the back room, given the amount of mud around the site that’s going to get used quite a bit.

We also installed the fans up in the cupola, and they look fantastic. I couldn’t be happier with them. I installed two pot lights in the front bathroom and I’ll install the pot lights in the back bathroom next weekend. The back bathroom is just going to be storage for the foreseeable future, but at least it will be well lit.

The fellows at Eurolite sold us these great florescent fixtures that we’ve installed in the back room and the systems room. They use the small T-8 tubes and have this super high quality reflector and an electronic ballast (so they don’t buzz). They throw off this great light and have really improved both of those rooms. One of the problems with the grey stucco walls is that they just eat up light, there is almost no reflection off of the walls so you need a really bright fixture in any area that doesn’t have a lot of natural light. Or you need to paint the walls white, which we’ll get around to some day.

I’m hoping that the week after next we’ll be able to get the truck up the hill and get that wind generator installed. We’ve noticed already with the slightly longer days and the different solar angle that we’ve been getting more power off of our panels, but it still isn’t quite enough, and if we had a fridge running, we’d be in trouble. We’re in a shoulder period now and we need the two systems working together.



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.



Sweet smell of cedar

Everybody was busy today. Mom continued her onerous task (but cheerfully), Joanne worked on the drywall and then sanded posts. Dad and I put up the first of the cedar boards in the bathroom, then we ran some wires for the front rooms, then we attempted to put up the cement board for the area around the dog bath.

Now I’m tired and I think I’m getting Joanne’s cold. Blah.


Laundry Lists

I’ve been feeling like the entries have been more like lists lately, and I’m not happy about it. The thing is we’re getting down to the end, or at least if you squint, and the light’s right, you can see the end, somewhere, out there… The tasks are changing, it’s no longer about the big strokes, and the house doesn’t change massively from week to week anymore. It’s harder to take pictures for the same reason. I think the tenor of the blog may start changing, does anybody have any suggestions? Any questions about the house?

So here’s the laundry list for today, Dad and I have been working on the cedar planking for the bathroom. Dad planed and jointed most of the cedar we had left and last night we ripped it to common widths. Today we took it down to the house and laid it out on the floor to try and match the boards for colour and clarity. Our cedar isn’t very clear, there are a lot of knots, so we have to try and find the clearest sections to cut our boards from. After cutting them to length we brought them back to Dad’s and routed the tongue and groove into the boards then cut out the larger knots and glued in plugs. Tomorrow we’ll put them up on the wall. After they are up we’ll fibreglass the boards behind the shower. Once the boards are up we can install the last of the plumbing and get the water hooked up and running. THAT would be a big step towards our goal of… IN BY EASTER!!

The weather is actually supposed to turn warmer tomorrow, I think Ceara will actually be relieved to see some of the snow melt. She’s be somewhat less than enthusiastic about her walks lately.


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



Scotty! I need more time!!

There just isn’t enough time in a weekend. It’s a cliche I know but it has never seemed more true than now. I have got to start taking a day or two a week and heading up to the land to get stuff done. I just can’t get enough done in two days.

We did have a very good weekend though. Dana came by today and provided a great deal of help to Joanne who was quite sick. Except for a final sanding the bathroom is drywalled. We have a bunch of the drywall up in that back portion as well as the between room insulation (for fire retardation and sound proofing).

Dad and I started putting up the barn boards on the outside wall of bathroom. This wall faces on to the mudroom immediately adjacent to the front door. This is the only part of the house that will appear ‘old’ (since our style is definitely modern). The bench in the mudroom will be made from one of the original barn beams. The mudroom will be our homage to the barn. We started to run out of boards though so Dana and I went out and I climbed up to the top of the barn. Between the two of us we got the rest of the boards down and into the house. We’ll leave them stacked for the week to dry and equalize with the house humidity.

Mom (bless her heart) continued the thankless job of cutting and taping the vapour barrier. Someday she’ll be done.

We saved the dog walk for Dana. When she got there Dana and I strapped on the snowshoes and took the dogs out. We got more snow last night. The snow is now deeper than the dog’s shoulders, they can really only walk by following in our tracks. We could just walk them along the road but twenty minutes through the bush is better than an hour on the road. This was also the first time that Dana has done any real snowshoeing, talk about your trial by fire! She did very well.



The big jobs left at this point are planing and routing the cedar for the bathroom, but since we have to do that in Dad’s unheated garage we prefer to wait for the temperature to get nearer to zero. Then we have to install and stain the cedar. When that is done we can finish the plumbing and start on the kitchen. At the same time as we’re finishing the bathroom we can do the final coat of interior stucco, installation of the Wiremold baseboard, and finish the the drywall and other various trim type jobs. Somehow I don’t think we’ll be installing the windmill for a couple of months.



Drywall Part Three - The Dust Storm

Dad and I worked on drywall and insulation, Mom taped the vapour barrier seams. And Joanne, Joanne worked on the drywall seams, sanding and mudding in the bathroom. That just about sums up the day.

Dad and I have to find some time to work on our cedar. Even after it has been sanded and planed all of the knots have to be removed and plugged. Then we have to route the tongue and groove into the side of each board. Then we can put them up. We’re going to put our maple and oak into a kiln this month and get it dried out so that we can use some of it on the house.