Timberframe / Strawbale,
Ecovillage at Ithaca
This is one of the biggest strawbale projects I've worked on. It's certainly bigger and more complicated than most residential strawbale projects are, at any rate. See additional details, and many good pictures, here.

Sarah almost certainly took some of these pictures; we hand the digital camera back and forth pretty frequently.


( click thumbs for big'ns... )
<< Near the end of January 2003, volunteers gathered for a timberframe-raising in the EcoVillage at Ithaca for the Graham O and Michelle & Joe Nolan duplex residence. Made from recycled and locally-harvested mixed-species timbers, the frame had been cut on-site by talented local artisans. Sarah Highland (shown with arms extended), lead carpenter for the project, excellently led the raising.
<< Astute observers may be wondering about those box-columny / stickframey walls in the background: a timber frame inside a stick frame? Yes, oddly enough. Accommodating the wants and needs of the owners, the wants and needs of the ecovillage, the wants and needs of the local authorities and officials, the wants and needs of an opinionated architect with no previous strawbale experience, the wants and needs of the climate, etc., made for some, er... unusual... approaches to things.
<< The bales will be stuffed between the columns (made with a 2x6 on the interior edge, a 2x4 on the exterior edge, and a strip of plywood spanning them). The walls will be sealed inside and out with a lime-stabilized clay render; then, on the outside, wooden lath will be fastened on top of the render (nailed through it into the half-box beams), which will support a wooden rainscreen siding. The inside will be finished with lime-and-sand plaster.
<< The first bent in place. (Not pictured: I took a serious finger-pinch when the second bent was going up. The tip of my right-hand ring finger was about 90% ripped off, fortunately above the bone: a flap of flesh hinged by a bit of skin. It was the first bad injury I've had on a worksite. Be careful, folks.)
<< After my trip to the ER to get sewn together again, we came back and took a couple more pictures. The bents are all up, joists are in. It's clear in this photo that there's more than one kind of wood in that frame; altogether, something like four or five different kinds of trees are represented. Randomly, as far as I could tell.



And then we volunteers disappeared for a couple months
while more real work was done.



<< By the end of March the roof was on and all the framing carpentry done; ready for bales. Here, there are already two of them squeezed into place on the second floor of the Nolan's side of the duplex, above the front door.
<< Parts of the timberframe most vulnerable to getting dinged up and dirtied by laborers (paid and volunteer alike) were wrapped in cardboard, and the bales had been moved in under the roof.
<< Paul Lacinski, co-author of the book Serious Strawbale, led the bale-raising and plastering. His book is one of the most valuable resources for people doing strawbale in cold and wet climates. (The blurb on the front cover says, "A superior resource, covering so much ground that no other straw bale book does, with clarity and wit. An excellent, vital addition to the thinking person's literature of straw bale." Yeah, it was me who said that. And I haven't changed my mind.)
<< The toe-up was filled with sheep's wool (from the Nolan's flock), and dusted with borax powder as a precautionary measure.
<< Note the peppering of nails, a now-standard detail superseding the use of Imbalers for the first course.
<< How the bales went in: tallwise, strings-out, with muscles and kicks and shoulders and full-body-checks.
<< Looking down from the second floor, this shows the construction method of the half-box beams. That's Sue down there, a dynamo—half-crazed in a really good way—who works with Paul.
<< The bales were snug. Sometimes more than snug. Sometimes they were impossible to get in without trimming them back. Snugness is good, though.
<< There were at least four Persuaders on the jobsite. (Persuaders are those giant wood hammer-things shown in this picture and the previous one.) In addition, these folks were using a sheet of plastic as a Balehorn.
<< A more substantial Balehorn was made from a flat sheet of metal roofing; a handle was cut into it, and lined with duct tape. (The Balehorn concept seems to have originated from a Canadian name Gabe Prost a few years ago, who developed a light-frame system where center-notched bales were popped between a frame of studs bale-width-on-center.)
<< Each bale, once crammed between the half-box beams, was toenailed into place with Bale Nails. A Bale Nail is a squarish piece of plywood with a nail driven through it; a concept Paul and a friend came up with. Seems to be easier and just as effective as other means of tying the bales to the framing, such as nailed-and-pinned bloodlath brackets.
<< A Bale Nail factory.
<< A Bail Nail factory worker.
<< One of the things I didn't like about the half-box beams was having to stuff the vertical voids between the studs, ramming loose straw down the hollows with a 1x3. There are a couple other ways that this problem might have been approached, but nothing I can think of is any much better than the way it was handled. With enough willing volunteers on hand, what the hell anyway.
<< Note the size of this project. It's about 40 feet to the peak of the roof. The choice to use a wooden rainscreen cladding was a very smart one. (There are lots of places in the world where wood is an appropriate material, especially if it's locally and sustainably harvested. That said, this place did use quite a lot of it.)
<< So, anyway, yeah, not everyone lives in the desert... which makes for even more considerations and complications and unanticipated surprises and costs in doing a strawbale project of this magnitude.
<< Big machines, trained personnel. My heart loves—and my mind prefers—small, owner-built initiatives; but I do recognize the worth of the Grand Inspirational Strawbale House which appeals to a more suburban mentality than some of us might have. It can act as a gateway to the idea of sustainability for people who might not otherwise have given it a second thought.
<< Paul's preferred method of making custom bales (at the time; it may have changed by now) was to use plastic strapping and the associated tools. I'm still partial to the old style twine-and-knee approach, myself. And a bale press is nice to have on hand if many are needed.
<< Custom bales installed under a window.
<< On the second floor. The bales didn't go in quite as anticipated—note the emptiness on either side of the filled area—because some of them had to be installed from the outside, and others needed to be custom-notched. As a result, the bales didn't go in symmetrically, and there was some minor difficulty with the half-box beams bowing despite the temporary bracing. The horizontal strapping in this shot is pulling things back into place.
<< Kaki Hunter and Doni Kiffmeyer, dirtbaggers and just-plain-good-folk, coined the term "Plerking"—a cross between Playing and Working. This picture isn't of Doni and Kaki. And it doesn't quite illustrate Plerking, either, though it does bring it to mind. Anyway, it's a good word to know.
<< In the Witness Protection Program? Watch out for TV cameras at bale-raisings.
<< Newspaper-types come snooping around, too. (Could this shot possibly look more staged?)
<< Clark Sanders. I finally got to meet the enigmatic Clark Sanders. (People who read The Last Straw and/or the CobWeb and/or live up around New England may be familiar with Clark.)
<< A wider look at one of the upstairs rooms. Note how the windows are framed to accommodate bullnosing (that appealing curved reveal above and beside, and sometimes below, windows in bale walls).

Plastic masking had started getting put in place by this time in anticipation of plastering.
<< Endwall framing and bales.
<< Endwall with bloodlath. Cellulose will be blown behind the lath, including behind the window bullnoses. Other people have used loose straw, straw flakes, and straw-clay behind lath-formed reveals.
<< Bullnoses can happen this way, defined by shaped expanded metal lath...
<< ... or this way, defined by a shaped bale(s).
<< Room ready for plaster, with vulnerable wood and windows masked with plastic. (It was cold. Blue masking tape didn't stick to the wood worth anything. Tan masking tape was better, except on timbers coated with linseed oil. Tyvek tape worked about best overall. Staples were kept to a minimum in the planed timbers and boards.)
<< Paul's front-end plaster method: Make it in the mixer, dump it in the box, shovel it into the pump hopper. With a full crew inside, the mixing folk can't keep up.

The first and second coats were slightly varied mixes, but were approximately 2 clay, 2 lime, 7 or 8 sand, and 2 or 3 chopped straw.
<< Carousel stucco pump (without the hoses attached).
<< The lime-stabilized clay plaster, mechanically squeezed through the hose from the bottom of the hopper to the nozzle, combines at the nozzle with compressed air. For contractors and giant projects, what a great tool.
<< It blew out in gobs onto the wall. A quick pass first, then back over it again before moving on, building the first coat up to a minimum of three-quarters of an inch or so.
<< The hose, filled with plaster, got heavy pretty quickly. The plaster went on very fast, though.
<< Then trowelers came behind using rounded pool floats. They worked the first coat into the bales as much as possible, pushing up from the bottom of the wall, using the bottom edge of the trowel. You can see on the window how splattery the application process was, and why the wood needed to be masked. No real effort at smoothing this coat was needed; another one was coming behind it.
<< See the before-and-after texture.
<< See it better. (This could have been the first coat, but probably was the second.) After the second coat was troweled, it was scratched in preparation for the final lime-and-sand coat, which won't happen for another couple of months. "Scratching" literally means scoring the plaster, which will provide a nice mechanical key for the finish coat.

<< Glamor shot.
<< Another.




<< View from the duplex, with the EcoVillage's first neighborhood in the foreground, and Ithaca in the distant valley.
<< Same view a couple days later.
<< First neighborhood from the front door of the Common House. No cars allowed. Cool.




back to the gallery directory...





gadfly@potkettleblack.com
www.potkettleblack.com