The Straw House Blog

I have a hammer!

Headed up to the land today to work on the trusses, unfortunately they weren’t back yet. It was just as well though since I showed up right in the middle of a snow squall, and you really don’t want to be working on the roof in driving snow.

So Jerry and the boys went home, but promised that they’d be back for at least two days next week to help get things finished. That was great news for us. The trusses then showed up about 2 hours later. We off-loaded them, and then started to ‘hand-bomb’ them up to the roof. Apparently hand-bombing is the term for lifting trusses (and truss-like things) up to the roof without a crane. Everybody’s gotta have their own lingo. We got most of them up there and then started nailing them down. After all this time working on the house it was nice to actually be swinging a hammer. We stopped half-way at 4pm because we had to move the scaffolding over, after that we called it a day.


Tomorrow we’re going to finish the trusses, and hopefully get the corners filled in. Sunday we’ll work on the purlins and maybe even get some plywood nailed down.


Ian’s coming tomorrow, and hopefully so is Mike Cooper. Rene put in a good weeks work and he’s taking the weekend off. The inspector will also be paying us a visit tomorrow so it’s going to be a busy weekend.


I did take some pictures today, here they are….


Winter Wonderland

What a wild day we had today. We arrived at 9am to fairly heavy flurries. Our game plan was to get the corners filled in and as many of the trusses up as possible. We hand bombed the final four trusses and I went up and nailed them in place. Meanwhile Dad and Mike worked on the corners. Because the roof tapers at the edges the corners have to made up special.

Joanne, Ian and Tiffany showed up at noon so after we had lunch we started on the side trusses. By 4pm we were nailing in the last west side truss, and we were right in the middle of another major snow flurry.

Tomorrow we’re going to get the other corner roughed in, the east side trusses down and hopefully we’ll get a bunch of purlins done.


Yes, there are pictures.



Purlin - An English Word of Unknown Origin

Today was quite the day. It started out with the entire countryside covered in about 2 centimetres of the most pristine white fluffy snow. The temperature was just below zero and the sky was clear and blue. Beautiful.

Jo and I arrived at 8:30 and we started clearing snow. Mike showed up shortly after that. He and Jo started on the corners while I went up top and finished up the west side trusses. Dad and Mom had to drive into Peterborough to pick up some lumber, when they got back Dad started helping Mike, and Joanne came up top to help me start on the purlins. When Ian and Tiff arrived they got started on the east side. They had those done by lunch, and we got them started helping us with the purlins. That’s when the wheels started to come off the wagon. 

The purlins are much more time consuming than we had anticipated, not to mention that the first nail has to go in at the very end of the truss which overhangs the beam by six feet. That’s quite the stretch, and if you don’t have a head for heights bracing both feet on wobbly trusses is not a great deal of fun.


Then we discovered (by accident) that the ends of the front trusses on the east side did not match up with the ends on the back part of the roof. It seems that the long front-to-back truss had a fair bend to it and that had caused the curve in the ends. We attached a come-along by rope to the truss at one end and a post at the other and gradually pulled it back into true. Most of the long trusses have a bend to them, as we put the purlins on we have been straightening them, but that’s pretty time consuming. All told we did not get quite as much done as we had hoped.


We did take pictures.



Preparing for Straw - Part One

We have two days to get ready for the straw bale raising on Friday. We have to finish the purlins, plywood and corners so that we can get the Ice and Water shield down. We have to put plywood under the trusses around the outside edge. The straw bales sit on the curb, and they rest against the plywood at the top.

Hopefully Jerry and the boys will be back for a couple of days of work this week, with their help we could get it all done. Without them it’s going to be tricky.

Today we had Mom and Dad, Rene, Joanne and myself.



What a day.

We worked all day today, and still didn’t get done. So some of our volunteers are going to be doing some carpentry tomorrow. Early morning tomorrow, 8am. Gotta get more done.

We had lots of other stuff going on as well. Bob Coulter, the welder, showed up to attach the extra saddles to the front posts. These are necessary to hold the beam that ties the front part of the house to the back part.

Pete (the straw bale fella) showed up to drop off the mesh and check things out. I don’t think he was pleased with our lack of progress but he remained in good spirits.

The scaffolding, cement, and sand all got dropped off. Dad picked up the flashing, and we bought a generator.



Tomorrow we bale!

Another long day today. In attendance today we had: Mom and Dad, Pete (the strawbale fella), Dana (a coworker), Leslie, Andrew, Andy, (three more straw baler’s), Rene, Joanne and myself.

We got one corner finished and covered over, we’ll have the other one done tomorrow (or die trying!) Pete, Lesley, Andrew and Andy showed up to help prep for the bales tomorrow, they helped hang the soffit boards that sit above the bales and they hung the mesh that sits in front of and behind the bales. The mesh is stitched to the bales and helps hold the stucco onto the bales.

Rene got most of the roof boards up and he’ll be done tomorrow no problem (or so he tells me).

We also had a visit from two officers from the conservation authority, they noticed all of the tracks into the land and came in to make sure that we hadn’t been having any trouble with trespassing hunters. Nice to know the right people are watching out for us.

Tomorrow we actually start laying bales. Pete said that he has a hemp bale that we’ll use as our first bale. Pretty cool. They’ll also be mixing hemp fibres into the stucco to give it strength and to help it cure.

We took a bunch of pictures. Don’t we always?



Today We Baled - Part One: Saturday

What a great day. A chaotic whirlwind of a great day. From 8am to 9:30 we did prep work, by which time the majority of our volunteers had arrived. Also in attendence were the building inspector (Andy Van Hoof) and Paul Dowsett (the architect). Then we gathered round for a quick demo on how to tie half and part bales. We moved to the other side and had a small ceremony when we placed the first bale. We wanted my parents to be there helping do that because without them this house would not be where it is now, and there is as much of their sweat and effort in this house as ours.

Then they stacked.

I say they stacked because when we placed the first bale Tina (from Camel’s Back Construction) explained that the owners place the first bale because frequently they end up so busy during the day with little details that they never get to place another one. Boy was that true. Every time I tried to place a bale or do some ‘real’ work I’d hear, “Glen, could you come over here and answer a question?” My father said the whole day was like that for him as well. I figure over the course of the day I got to place about 6 bales, grind one, whack one, and stuff a bunch of gaps. But I tell you few things can top seeing your friends and family all with huge smiles on their faces building up the walls and all saying how totally cool they thought the whole experience was. I’m sad that my cousin Phil had to miss it (due to serious hockey accident) and that Ian and Tiffany couldn’t be there (they’re coming Sunday).

The east wall was the Jason, Kimmy, Chrissy wall, with a bunch of help from Aunt Joan, and my mom. Two Camel’s Back volunteers, Vince and Dave, also helped with the back portion and corner.

The north wall was the Karen, Jay (yes, a Jay and a Jason), Jenn and Neil wall, with lots of help from Steve, another Camel’s Backer. Neil took to the grinder like he was born with one in his hand - a mental image that would surprise no-one who knows him.

Paul and I started the west wall. Then both of us got diverted, I mostly saw Jay, Dana, my Mom, and Joanne. It was the real pot-luck wall, everybody threw in a bale.

We got tons of work done, and as an added bonus Dave McCracken came out and he and my father got the last corner finished. Rene and Dave quickly had the west side planked and later in the afternoon Mike showed up and they got started on the ice and water shield. They got 2/3 of the roof done before they ran out of shield. We’ve bought the rest and if the rain holds off we’ll get that done tomorrow.

All in all an incredible, fantastic, fun, exciting day. I am so thankful to all of our friends and family who came out to help. I’ve had fun building this house, I’ve learned alot, but this is the first day that I can say that I’ve really had fun. The first day building the house that I’ve felt really happy.

We took tons of pictures, here’s a bunch - two pages!



Straw Bale Day - Part Two: Sunday

Well, we got to do a bunch more on the straw bale today. Mostly we worked inside stuffing holes with straw and stitching the inside mesh to the outside mesh. The rain broke briefly after lunch and we grabbed a bunch of bales and finished off the back wall.

I arrived at 8am with my father and with Mike, Mike’s son Ben, Dave, and Rene. We got a whole bunch more of the roof covered with ice and water shield until rain drove us off.

Unfortunately the rain got a bunch of our standing bales wet, we won’t know until tomorrow if they have to be pulled out of the wall or if they’re going to dry out.

Today Ian and Tiff came up again, Dana was there, my parents, two folks from Camel’s Back Steve and Andrew (both very cool), Rene, Joanne and myself.

Somebody took pictures.



Straw Baling, Day Three: Monday

Same stuff as yesterday basically. We finished off the west wall, and we got most of the stuff laid out for the inside walls. Tomorrow we should be able to get the ice and water shield finished.

We had a huge thunderstorm last night. We had three bales in the west wall saturated, they had to be pulled and replaced. The east wall had some damage as well, we’re hoping that we can dry it out ourselves.

Wednesday I have to go back to the city and back to work. I need the break, there are barely any parts of my body that don’t ache. Five days of construction is more than this city boy is used to.



The Last Day (for me)

Today was my last day at the land, I’m posting this from the city. It’s been a wild 6 days, every joint in my body aches. That’s a lot of manual labour for a guy who’s used to sitting in front of a computer all day.

Today we finished up the west wall, Steve and my mom sewed the whole thing themselves. Rene finished up the insulation stops at the top of the trusses. Dad and I got some of the bale stops in for the inside walls and I restacked and covered over the bale pile. Pete and Tina worked on various odd jobs around the house getting it ready for stucco.

After lunch Tina went and got their big mixer, which was cool, but she also brought tarts! Good tarts. I’m seriously impressed with these straw bale people, they’re always cheerful and pleasant to be around, and they’re seriously concerned with doing a good job. If I could have them and Mike Cooper full time, I’d be a happy guy, and I’d sleep a heck of a lot better at night.

They start stuccoing tomorrow, hopefully dad will send some pictures. We’ll head back up this weekend to finish the inside walls.