The Straw House Blog


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.

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.




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.



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.


More of the same

Pretty much the same deal as last weekend.

Come back tomorrow for a longer entry.


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.



Mike and the guys started on the soffits today, they got most of the way down the east side. The soffits are silver aluminum, the fascia is silver Galvalum. So everything should match.


Now if we could just get the plumber out there we’d really be moving along.


No word from bell today.


Soffit picture courtesy of my Dad.



April in Ontario

Not a lot of work got done today, lotsa driving around in fairly crappy weather. Over the course of twelve hours about 8-12 inches of snow fell around southern Ontario. Our driveway has 12” of snow on it, and it hasn’t been ploughed. I managed to get in with the truck, but it wasn’t fun. So the roofing guys weren’t there, the plumber couldn’t get in, and Joanne is stuck in Toronto, since all Go trains were cancelled this afternoon. The weather people are calling for more of the same tonight.

Dad and I went into Peterborough to pick up our Wiremold conduit and glass for the doors. We got the conduit but the glass place was closed, probably due to the weather. So, as has become the norm for this project, we’ve pretty much lost a week. Good news though, we were hoping to do the outside window trim in Western Red Cedar, because it would match the doors, and because it contrasts with the grey exterior stucco so nicely. Turns out that the quantity we need will only cost about $300. For the interior window trim we’re going to use either our own oak or maple.

Dad’s got the cedar up on the outside face of the south end of the bathroom, we’ll stain that tomorrow. He also did a test of laying the fibreglass over the stained cedar. It sticks fine, so after we finish staining the shower wall we can apply fibreglass.



At low ebb

There are times working on this project when I just don’t feel like we’re getting anywhere. The task is so huge that, as close to the end as we are, it still seems like there is way too much to do. Our Easter move in date is long since history, we’re looking at the end of May right now. Our landlord wants six weeks notice on our apartment so if we want to move in at the end of May we have to give notice next week. It’s a bit of a gut check to give notice when we have no appliances, no water, and the whole place is covered in dust. We really can’t afford to bring in any help at this point, so it’s all up to us.

Here’s the laundry list for today:

Mom put the first coat of urethane on the bathroom walls, and the Wiremold conduit covers. She applied stain to the shower back wall since Dad’s experiments showed that fibreglass will adhere to stained wood.

Dad worked on the outside walls of the bathroom. It looks like we’ll have just enough of our wood to finish.

I put the third coat of drywall mud on the back walls, sanded the outside walls of the bathroom, and built the dog bath.

Dog bath? You can see it in the pictures.



A fine winter day

However odd it might be having a day like today in April, it was a beautiful one. Just above 0C, blue sky, bright sun, and everything coated in ice. Everything was glittering like fields of tinsel.

We got a late start at the house because Dad found some nice cedar boards in his basement that we had missed, and that gave us enough to finish the outside walls. So we had to do the plane, joint, rip and rout process all over again. So Dad and I (but mostly Dad) got the last boards up on the outside bathroom walls. Mom spent the day with a paintbrush in her hand sealing baseboard, bathroom walls, and priming the dog bath. I (finally) put up the outside backdoor light, and worked on the dog bath and bathroom. After Mom and Dad left I sanded the bathroom walls and got one end stained.

The house is passive solar, and it has been designed with the sun in mind, but it really is amazing the dramatic effect the sun has on the house. The temperature (and comfort level) goes up about 5 degrees and the solar panels were producing 10 amps. Sweet. Plus the whole house just lights up, it’s so much brighter and inviting.