The Straw House Blog


Dirty Boots

After a week of various delays and problems Jerry and his guys managed to get most of the boots attached. The boots hold the main posts in place, each is 7 1/2 inches square and is made of 1/4 inch welded steel. They are held down to the slab with 4 inch long 3/4 inch lag bolts. Before they put the bolt in they fill the hole with epoxy. Those bolts are in there for life! They are seriously attached.

Unfortunately, due to the delays in getting Jerry started, and due to concerns about doing the straw bale without the roof in place, we have had to postpone the straw bale raising to the first weekend of November. The delays were not Jerry’s fault, and mostly had to due with a combination of weather and supply issues. We took some pictures of the boots on the slab.



Curb it

We put the curbs in place for the straw bale. The curbs are made of 2x6’s, 5” of rigid foam and 2x4’s, for a total of 14”. They support the straw bale from beneath, and protect them from any water that might get under the walls (floods, spills etc.)

Jerry showed up to work on the post and beam but we discovered that we really need more information before we can tackle that. It looks like the lumber place may not have supplied all of the right wood. They also did not supply a schedule for the metal fittings so Dad and I sat down when we were done and tried to figure out where they go. There are a bunch of fittings all of various shapes and sizes. They are meant to fit on top of the posts so that they can support the beams and hold them in place. Anyway Dad and Jerry are going to go in to the lumber place in the morning to try and straighten things out.


First Posts!

After several weeks of trouble and problems we finally have our first posts standing. My father deserves all of the credit for getting us to this point. He has had to do an incredible juggling act with the lumber suppliers and the post and beam guys, but that all seems to be settled and we’re moving forward.

Dad took three of the nicest pictures I’ve seen in a long time.

We might even make our new revised straw bale raising date of November 2.



More posts

Jerry and the guys got more of the posts up today. On Monday they have a crane coming and they’ll be putting some of the beams up. The posts for the front part of the house won’t be standing until Wednesday. Some of the posts were spec’d at 5 1/4” square and we changed them to 7 1/4” square for strength and to match all the other posts.

This weekend we’re going to be building up the door and window bucks in preparation for the straw bale.

It’s going to be quite a change up there this weekend, for most of the summer we worked through quite oppressive heat, 30+ degrees for most of August and part of September. This weekend it’s looking to be just above zero degrees. Ya gotta love Canada - real seasons.

Some Reflections on Building

We’ve come a long way this summer: excavations, footings, bracing, foundation walls, bracing, the slab, more bracing, and now the posts. We’ve done a lot more of this ourselves than we expected, and in some ways we’ve done less than we hoped. We’ve had the normal problems with (sub) contractors that don’t return calls or that cancel with little or no notice, and with materials suppliers that sit on cheques but don’t fill orders. And the scheduling! Oh man, the nightmare that is scheduling. The whole experience so far has been frustrating and exhilarating and maddening and exciting. We’ve learned so much, and really, we’re only about half way done.

I’m reflecting on this because we came up this morning and we got to see (in person) the posts standing (this week, like everyone else, we only got to see them in my Dad’s pictures). Now with the posts going up it’s starting to look like a house, you can see were rooms might go, and you can start to get a real sense of scale about the whole thing. But it’s a little depressing at the same time, this is the part of the process that I had hoped to be able to participate in, but my work is very busy right now and I’m just not going to be able to spare much time.

I’ve said before that we got lucky with our choice of builder, even if we got unlucky with his schedule, well we also got lucky with the guy doing our post and beam and truss installation. Jerry and his crew seem to be excellent. They know their stuff, they’re taking the time to do everything right, and I hope we can get enough of their time to take it right up to the steel roof.

This weekend we’re fixing a problem with our straw bale curbs, and we’re building the door and window bucks. These bucks are inserted into the bale walls as they are built and provide the openings for the windows and doors.



Window and Door Bucks

We did some work on the door and window bucks today but got rained out. I also replaced the inside portion of the straw bale curbs - I had made a mistake and didn’t leave enough space for the weight of the outer layer of stucco. The curbs are now 16” wide, that should do the trick. Next week they continue with the post and beam, I’m hoping to get up the for at least one day. I hate just getting the daily report from my Dad, I want to get up there and participate a bit more, the weekend just isn’t enough.

As has happened several times over the course of this project a subcontractor has gone AWOL, this time it’s the roofer. This always leaves me in an uncomfortable position, they might be off on another job and just temporarily out of contact, but ready to do your job as soon as they get beck, which has happened before. Or they might be busy with some other large job and they have no intention of doing yours, nor are they going to call you to let you know, which has also happened before. So what do you do?




We rented a crane for this morning and moved the beams over to the slab. Jerry and his boys also placed a couple of the beams while they had the crane there. They’ll put up the rest of the beams with a ‘material lifter’, a small crane that can lift up to 600 pounds up to 24 feet. The biggest beams are too big for this so they might rent a second (one for each end) or get the big crane back. The materials lifter costs $60/day, the crane cost $90/hour. Thanks go to Jerry for suggesting we rent this thing, it’s nice when the contractors are working to save you money.


Dad sent pictures. The small yellow thing on the slab is the lifter.



More Beams

Dad sent pictures of most of the beams erected. Hopefully they’ll be done today, and then we can get started on the trusses. After the trusses we prepare the top for the steel roofing. We’ve calculated that to cover the roof we’re going to need around 130 sheets of plywood!



Getting closer

We didn’t get a whole lot done on the structure this weekend but there was lots of work none-the-less. We had a meeting with Paul and Mike Saturday morning and discussed various aspects of the structure as it stands now and going forward. It should be noted that Paul and Mike have remained remarkably congenial over the course of this endeavour, any disagreements have been smoothed over quickly, and neither has lost sight that the end goal is to get our house built. For those who don’t know disagreements, and even outright warfare between builders and architects is, while not exactly legend, certainly very well documented in the annals of home building.

We met with Pete Mack in the afternoon, he’s going to be our contractor for the straw bale portion. We chatted with him for nearly three hours, he’s a great guy and we’re looking forward to the raising. The raising will now be on the weekend of November 9th. I have every confidence that we will be able to make this deadline.

The post and beam should be done this week, there’s only five short posts and one beam to go. We have to get some more custom boots made, so they can’t raise the rest until we have those. Until then Jerry and his guys will be working on the trusses.

There’s about a million little details that have to be in place before straw bale can go up, we have to take care of all of those over the next couple of weeks.

We took some pictures of the house with almost all of the posts and beams in place. The front sure looks tall.



Trusses & Nitwits

With the back part of the post and beam structure done the guys could start on the trusses. Dad sent some pictures of what they got done today.

The trusses for the front had to go back to the manufacturer to get adjusted. They were too short to sit on the beam at the back of the high part. This beam was dropped 16 inches by the fellow who designed the trusses (for reasons far too opaque to go into). Originally hangers were to be attached to this beam and the trusses would have butt up against it, however when the beam was dropped the trusses should have been lengthened 5 inches to allow them to sit on the beam for support. When my father went into the lumberyard with this piece of info today the fellow said, “I knew that would be a problem!” So why didn’t he fix it then? This is when you do your calming exercises.

Unfortunately this has been a pattern for this whole stage of the process. Beams have been supplied too short, measurements for posts have been incorrect, the trusses for the cupola are completely screwed up, and we’ve had to make several trips to an engineer - at our own expense - just to make sure that things are correct. All in all we are deeply unimpressed. And yet, they are going to send a truck pick up our trusses and fix them, presumably on their nickel (though I shouldn’t speak too soon) and return them. And they are doing this without our even asking, it’s odd, just odd.