Senin, 24 Desember 2007

The biggest Christmas present...

Two Fridays ago, I arrived home from a work retreat to find my crazy parents had been slaving away on their knees for many hours grouting our newly stained and sealed floor (I say "crazy" with a lot of gratitude and amazement at their energy). I quickly donned my grubby clothes and got to work - we finished that night!

We were scheduled to move in that Sunday afternoon, but the weatherman (I have several other names for him that I won't use publicly) was forecasting the storm of the century... of course. We haven't had this much snow in December in many years! We couldn't switch to Saturday because it was the only time Dave & I could get into a prenatal class before our birth due date, and lord knows we need all the help we can get in the "soon-to-be-first-time-parents" department.

Once again, my parents surprised us and moved a large load of furniture while we were tied up and helped us load up our vehicles so that we were ready to go early Sunday morning. With the help of our friends Charles and Phil, we finished moving in mid-afternoon on Sunday. And, yes, it was storming...*a lot* by that point, but we finished ahead of the dangerous part and everyone made it home safely on the snowy roads.

This week has been as hectic as ever with the usual Christmas preparations still to do - only I did them WEEKS later than I normally would have each evening after work. Note to friends: our Christmas cards will come in the form of...hmmm...well, they may not come at all, even in the the new year. Now we have to finish unpacking, preparing for baby, and making the transition to take a year off from my university gig. Dave and I have always agreed that we enjoy a challenge...good think we're both on the same page here...

Above, a glimpse of our newly arranged dining room. Still some finishing touches to do, but this gives you a view of our finished floor.

An image of our fireside seating area in the same room. Miraculously, between unpacking many, many boxes (and there are still many to go) I managed to decorate the Christmas tree after my Dad and the tree finished WWIII (hmmm... my Dad and tree stands have never gotten along well... it brought back many childhood memories of me trying to watch the classic Rudolph and Grinch cartoons amidst flying fir needles).

The artwork above the mantle and on the next wall are Bruce Stonehouse originals...couldn't resist the plug for Dad Stonehouse...

We still have much to do in preparing our other rooms for the long term, so look for more of the story to be posted in photos later this week as I work my way through each room over my holiday week (while Dave works away at the newspaper).

A Carol Taylor angel snuggled into our living room nicho seemed like an appropriate bookend for a Christmas eve blog post. Happy Holidays all!

Jumat, 07 Desember 2007

A test: the acid stain

After moving the three pets with us out to our little cottage last Sunday to enable us to finish the floors, the week brought more snow than we've seen in a long time. More snow meant we had to move back in the straw house b.c our cottage in the country would leave us in peril of not getting to work (at least not safely, or perhaps not at all). It snowed off and on all week, messing up our floor staining schedule drastically, but this week, we'll finally get things wrapped up.

Above is a pic of the acid stain test patch we mopped on with a sponge mop. I like the colour and it's a lot less messy than spraying it on with a garden sprayer.

This is the StainAstar product we're using to colour the concrete to look like tile. It runs about $65/gal which covers 400 sq ft. We'll apply a concrete sealer after we stain it, then grout the cracks. The grout is the most expensive part.

This is a test patch we did using the garden sprayer. A lot more liquid was required to cover the surface, making the overall colour much darker. Having liquid sit on the surface was bad for our wood work and plaster - it soaked right through the painter's tape and stained both surfaces.

A little view of the beauty brought by the multiple snow storms around our house.

Believe it or not, I wouldn't give up a view like this for anything. When I lived in the American South (yes, it must be cap'd), I desperately missed winter of this kind.

Here's a sneak pic of the antique wall sconces my Dad installed in our master bedroom in the little nichos we carved in the wall.

Senin, 03 Desember 2007

A brief update in pics before we move in...

The soon-to-be new babe's room (10 weeks to go!). None of the main floor is finished yet.

Dave working the phone in the living/dining area with lots of junk piled 'round.

A partial, poorly photographed take of the kitchen. (Who has time for tripods and good composition when you're desperate to move in??)

One of our new fan fixtures installed in the loft.

The master bedroom with some wall scones still to be installed.

The west end of the loft (where we're currently sleeping). Possibly a spare bedroom or home office...or both. The debate is still on.

The east end of the loft to become our movie/reading room.

The dormer area in the loft and top of the stairs.

Dave hard at work scrubbing the concrete floors in preparation for the acid staining. Most our free time will be spent cleaning and taping off the walls and woodwork in preparation for acid staining...

Selasa, 20 November 2007

Christmas is coming early

I have had butterflies of excitement in anticipation of finishing the house and moving in. HUGE milestone reached this week: the last spot of mud was covered in lime plaster and the finishing touches (blending seams of plasters and touching up small spots along trim work etc.) have been mostly completed. Thanks to Charles and Phil for sticking it out with us and doing some gorgeous finish work. My trowelling and surfacing abilities are much inferior to theirs!

Charles has also been assisting us by sanding and oiling the loft floor and stairs. We are using tung oil on the floors as opposed to a varnish. It seems healthier and easy to maintain.

I had hoped we would be ready to acid stain the floors tomorrow, but there is *so* much clean up work to do! Plastering is indeed dirty work, and a year of mud and lime dirt requires a lot of vacuuming, sanding, scrubbing, get the picture.

We will likely move in with a bit of finish work left to do like filling nail holes, varnishing trims etc., but I can do a lot of that over the Christmas holidays. How different life will be not living in a construction zone....

Visions of a clean, settled home are dancing in my head...

(photos to come soon).

Rabu, 31 Oktober 2007

Pumpkins and our porch floor

It's Halloween night here and we await the little gobblins of the neighbourhood. Being our first Halloween in the 'hood, we're not sure what to expect. Without subdivision masses nearby, we may have a few hundred mini candy bars and such not to feast on for the next few months!

Monday, the crew from Lafarge arrived and began preparing the base for our porch floor and main entry door step. We decided to go with stamped concrete so that it would have natural cobblestone or slate look, but without the uneven ground that stone usually offers. It's close to the same price as installing a deck, only we won't have to replace it in 10 years or less and we won't have much maintenance.

On Tuesday morning after our first snowfall, the crew poured the concrete and trowelled it smooth as you can see here above. They ran into a brief snag when the snow began running off the roof like rainwater as it melted and splashing back onto the wet concrete. Fortunately, I had some extra plastic they could use to create a barrier.

Then they applied a powder they call a "release agent" which enables them to apply a stamped pattern without pulling the concrete apart. It also colours the crevices of the concrete to give it depth.

Here's one of the stamp pads they used yesterday.

Here's a glimpse of the pattern on the porch floor before they seal it.

A wide angle view of the porch floor before it is sealed or landscaped.

And a view of the front entry before sealing and landscaping. I'm thrilled it's done before Spring! It will make the house feel so much more finished.

This week we'll be applying flashing over the exposed rigid pink insulation that wraps around our foundation. We hope to finish spraying the drywall with plaster.

And, Charles and Phil are back in town, so we're hoping to make a big dent in plaster the straw walls. The countdown in on... Can we move in before the end of November??

Rabu, 24 Oktober 2007

Ah, at last. A night at home. Work has been incredibly intense for a couple of months now, sucking up all free time, but we're beginning to get back at it. Fortunately, I also seem to be moving into a "nesting" phase with more energy than I'd had earlier in my pregnancy.

We've had two friends - Charles and Phil - working on interior plaster work for more than a month, though they've both been away for the past two weeks. We decided that we couldn't handle this alone and they have been a great boost. They finished the earth plaster first and have been working on lime plaster in recent times. At top and to the right, you can see their work in the east gable end. It's amazing to me how the house has brightened up with the lime plaster. I love it. In contrast, here you can see the west gable end with the earth plaster still.

Dave and I, with my Dad and Mom in the lead, have been focussed on applying plaster to all of the interior drywall to give it a textured effect that blends it in with the style of the house more. We're more than half-way complete. Two more days of work (and most of it spent on covering wood beams, ceilings and floors to protect them from plaster drips and spray) and we'll have all of the drywall complete. Here are a few photos of the plaster before it was completely dry.

I'll share more once we've finished next week.

Here's a photo of the kitchen entry door that Charles plastered. We've put in a decorative arch to provide an interesting niche for a piece of art.

The great news of the week is that we found a company to install our porch patio on the north side and a small stamped concrete doorstep on the east side by the arch door. The better news is that they believe they'll be able to install it this week since the weather is so warm, as opposed to next Spring! A few pics of the outside.

Next up: sand and oil the loft floor, and acid stain the main floor!

Rabu, 10 Oktober 2007

Hampton EnviroFair

I know, I know...I've been totally delinquent in posting updates! I will *soon* post some new photos and details. In the mean time, I'm putting together a presentation for the Hampton EnviroFair on our straw bale building experience. It's happening this Saturday, October 13th at Hampton High School. Check out the Town of Hampton website for details on presentation times and other activities at the fair:

Other activities at the EnviroFair:

Sabtu, 08 September 2007

Surprise, surprise...

Nearly two years ago when we began our research into straw bale building, we noticed that there seemed to be a theme of increased fertility and little "surprises" along the way amongst the straw bale owner-builders we visited and spoke with. seems we're no exception. Our little "surprise" (and it was a surprise) is due in February, so we're incredibly inspired to finish this house *immediately*!

Tomorrow, we'll be plastering fiends in hopes of making good progress. We have a lot of "fill coat" work to do on the inside with our clay-dirt plaster before we can apply a final lime plaster coat. Once we're done our plaster work, we've only the floors to finish, and the porch/patio floor to install. We're so close, but yet so far...

Volunteers welcome!

Senin, 13 Agustus 2007

Le Grand Unveiling

The outside is still being whitewashed with limewater, but we finally removed tarps on all sides except the south(!). We decided to leave the south side for another two days to be safe. Good-bye blue plastic house!

Jacob, our visiting straw bale apprentice (above), moved on to Halifax on Saturday to his next adventure before he heads home to Montreal. Rob, our resident straw bale expert, leaves today for home in Nova Scotia. That leaves just me, Dave and the pets in our home for the first time in a month!

Charles T. is seen here helping Rob M.
& Dad Wiggins remove the tarps on the east side. Charles is going to continue working with us to finish up west gable end and interior plaster.

Here's Dad throwing down the last corner of tarp.

The west side unveiled, with staging still in place to complete white washing and trim.

The east side (faces the road) sans tarps, staging and completely white washed!!

Kamis, 09 Agustus 2007

The outside plaster is done!!

I know you'd expect some amazing photos of the exterior of our house with that kind of title, but the house is still covered in tarps to allow the lime plaster to dry slowly without cracking! In fact, we have to mist it two to three times a day for at least another week. The removal of tarps, or the "Grand Unveiling" as we like to call it, will be an exciting moment for us after living in a blue plastic covered house for many months.

Wicked high winds kept me awake last night as they whipped the tarps around, and brought in a cold, fall-like air. The fresh air will make a better working environment for our three crew members who have had to endure some very hot work days. Rob McLean of Straw Bale Projects in NS is still with us (Andy and Meg returned to NS for other obligations), Charles Trenholme has joined this week, and last night, Jacob L. arrived from Montreal. Jacob wants to learn how to build his own straw bale house, so he's spending a few days with Rob to learn the ropes. The guys are now working on plastering the interior gable ends. The end is in sight!

Once the plaster is done in the next couple of weeks, we'll stucco the interior walls, sand and oil our loft floors, acid stain our concrete floor and tidy up various finish jobs such as protecting the woodwork, cleaning up lime plaster splashes etc.

More pics to come!

Selasa, 07 Agustus 2007

The Things To Do or Not List Begins...

A couple that participated in our workshop last year is about to begin building their house (!). In preparation, they've asked us to send them a list of what we'd do differently, and what we'd do the same. Here it is! I'll keep building on it as I think of things:

Things we would do differently:
-The top plate. It was made to be the same width of the bales. That made it stick out a lot (b.c of the irregularity of the bales) and it caused our straps (part of our compression system) to stick out. If we had made it 2 or 3 inches smaller, we wouldn't have had the same problem. We've had to use an awful lot of mud to cover that puppy up.
-The mortar mixer. We went to great lengths to try and buy a used mortar mixer (since they're so expensive new), but to no avail. Instead we rented one, but it cost a fortune too! We ended up buying a brand new cement mixer (Red Lion brand) and it worked fine for us, and it was much cheaper than a mortar mixer.
-The straps. If you don't need the straps, don't use them. They're a pain to work around. (we had to use straps b.c we were required to treat our walls as load bearing. We designed the house with the beams away from the wall so that we could plaster behind them, but it meant the bales couldn't be tied into the beams.)
-Burlap on the wood. we spent weeks trying to attach that stuff effectively (so that the mud would stick on exposed wood frames around the doors and windows), and in the end found that it wasn't all that useful. It was better to use mud with long straw on the bare wood. Some still swear by it, but it only made me swear *&%$!
-Double check the measurements that other people make. We had one door frame that was too small by several inches and several things were not plumb. It was very stressful.
-We would have had the timber frame and roof done earlier - at least a few weeks before the workshop, though we were at the timberframers whim. It was incredibly stressful having the roof not done and keeping the bales covered for months. It wasn't the plan for us, but that's how it worked out.
-Don't buy a cheap chainsaw. We went through two of them (small electric ones) b.c they're made of plastic inside and won't stand up. Consider finding yourself a good machete and keeping it super sharp (Charles taught us this!), and/or buy a decent quality chainsaw. If you have a bit of land, you'll likely need it for years to come like we do.
-We cut more than 100 alder branches for corsetting, but only used about 20. Depending on your design you might not need very many. If there are stretches of wall where the straw bales have little to attach to, estimate two every 16 inches and add a few extra to be safe.

Things we would do the same:
-Invest in an air compressor and texture sprayer (we got ours at princess auto) to spray slip.
-Screen the slip through window screening so that it doesn't clog up the sprayer
-Work parties with lots of food
-Workshop (it drew in lots of people's interest, even if they didn't get to join the workshop, and we gained a lot of long-term volunteers from it)
-Tonnes of rubber gloves in various sizes to protect hands. Purists use their bare hands, but keep in mind that gloves keep volunteers coming back b.c they're hands aren't bleeding when they leave.
-2-3 rolls of bailing twine. You won't even believe what you'll use it for.
-Dozens of buckets. You'll break some and you'll need loads to keep up with the crew.
-2-3 wheel barrels.
-**Find out about the new sprayer that Kim Thompson has from Mexico called the Tirolessa. You can buy one for $215 US online, or you can borrow hers. It could speed things up significantly. We totally underestimated how long putting mud on by hand would take (we're still not done!), but the Tirolessa sprays it on, driving it into the straw, and you simply trowel it from there. We're using it now. It's a big relief. We can also apply our final lime coat with it. This is a big point! (here's a website to check it out: You might need a slightly heftier air compressor, but it's worth it!**
-Lots of shovels (at least 3, maybe 5)
-Lots of barrels. We used a bunch of the usual rubbermaids, plus a number of free steel barrels. In total, we use eight - ten and could use a couple more.
-Palettes. You should be able to get these for free from a hardware store. We need them to store straw (put plastic under them so the dampness doesn't rise up though), to raise up our cement mixer, to create temporary steps, to store wood, to put under workers' name it.
-Expect to spend a lot more than you plan on trips to the hardware store. It shocked the heck out of me. We probably spent more than $500 on runs for extra screws and nails along. Thousands $$ on odds and sods of wood, and misc. supplies.
-Lots of gyproc/carpet knives (at least six). Buy at least two good quality ones for the long haul.
-Lots of basic tools (we didn't previously own a lot of power tools, and had to invest in a few hand tools as well). Skill saw, Jig saw, drills (two would be good), a paint mixer attachment of the drill to mix slip and lime, table saw (we borrowed), tin snips, the usual hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, staple guns, mallet, nail set, a whipper snipper to trim the bales and chop straw for the finish coat (it has to be chopped for the Tirolessa too)
-Leave easy-to-see garbage collection bins for people to clean up after themselves
-Face masks to sift lime and chop straw
-Hardware cloth to make screening to sift sand & clay and attach over flashing to hold the plaster
-Tarps. You'll buy/scavenge lots. You'll need more.
-Cardboard. You'll save lots. Again, you'll need more.
-Rolls of plastic. This can work well to cover the beams, but it can also cause them to develop blue/black mold. Cardboard is better.
-Always leave yourself with enough time and energy to get the tarps back in place at the end of the day and clean up your work site. You can save yourself a lot of headaches and heart breaks.
-Remember to enjoy it! Our biggest stresses were based around sub-contractors, but the straw bale and plaster work was always enjoyable to us and a great relief from the conventional side of building. The people we met (besides the sub-contractors) also made it a real pleasure to do.

Kamis, 02 Agustus 2007

Photo update

I'm back in the office job after two weeks with a mile-high stack of urgent-must-be-done-yesterday stuff, so I'll just post photos of our crew at work with some of the progress. We've enjoyed a wonderful "vacation" with the Thunderbay Stonehouses helping us (working like dogs) with the house. The outside mud is done and the lime plaster is underway! The lime should be done early next week and then we can move indoors...More to come later!

Dad Stonehouse installing flashing.

Andy Cragg hard at work with a trowel.

A first glimpse of the lime coat on the west gable end.

Rob M. at work with the Tirolessa - an adobe sprayer from Mexico.

Dad Stonehouse showing off a new tshirt.

Mom Stonehouse hard at work on the plaster.

Rob M. applying a fill coat under the porch roof.

Charles T. plastering to perfection on the west side.

Meg M. mixing the lime plaster and covered with splatter!

Beyla - an old (but young) friend.