radicle beets

Natural Building Workshop on Salt Spring Island by radiclebeets
July 3, 2012, 10:21 pm
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Jenni here, reporting back from the natural building workshop that I attended with the Mud Girls on Salt Spring Island from June 18th to the 22nd.  We built a straw bale wall for a client.  The wall is both for privacy and noise reduction from road traffic.  When it is completed, it will be a beautiful new landmark on the main road of the island, complete with a plastered mural on the front and a living roof.

Me with the almost complete straw bale wall behind me.

The first thing that I learned was how to build a dry stack rock foundation.  The term “dry stacking” refers to building without the use of a mortar.  The rocks are stacked in such a way that they are overlapping and the weight of the rocks themselves keep them in place.  This method of foundation building is stronger and will last longer because it doesn’t rely on a mortar, which will crumble over time.

Once the foundation was completed, we drilled holes into some of the rocks and inserted threaded rods.  We then covered it with a layer of cob, in order to make a flat surface for the straw bales.  Cob is a common and versatile natural building material made from clay, sand, water and straw.  We mixed the cob with our feet.  I chose to go bare foot, and I found that by doing so, I was able to feel when we needed to add more water or straw and exactly when the cob was ready.

Once that was done, we started stacking the straw bales in a running bond (like bricks) and pinned them together with lengths of rebar.  Some of the bales were impaled on the threaded rods, which are what is holding everything together.  The bales were leveled off and the spaces in between were stuffed with slip straw.  Slip is a mixture of clay and water, and slip straw is straw that is lightly coated with slip.  We topped the wall off with wood planks which were bolted onto the threaded rods.  We cut out and attached trusses to the planks and nailed down plywood for the roof.

Now the wall is being left for about 6 weeks so that the bales have a chance to compress and settle.  There will be another workshop in August where the wall and the cob benches we also made will be plastered and the living roof will be completed.

Discussion topics included, types of natural building materials, applications for different materials, house design and building methods, different types of roofs, earthen floors, ways of heating, insulation vs. thermal mass, different types of natural plaster, building codes, how to protect naturally built structures from the elements, and basic natural building principles.

I would love to share the skills and information that I have learned and am excited about the possibilities for future workshops and building projects with the Purple Thistle Gardeners.



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