The Redneck Way and some notes on our Hobbit hole

So far I’ve been inundating you all with scooter-ness. But today, since my brain is veritably afire with house-building thoughts, it’s time to introduce you all to alternative building. Yeah, hippie building as some of you might call it.

I read something a few years ago that pretty much explains our current life philosophy:

Why buy it if you can build it, why build it if you can find it?

Don’t hold me to the accuracy of that quote because my old brain can be a bit fuzzled at times. And don’t ask me who wrote it, either, because I couldn’t find it in a Google search. 😀

But it sums up exactly how I feel about things. I like to call it, “The Redneck Way”.

Look, most people, when something breaks down or stops working, think, “Oh crap, do I have enough money in the bank to pay someone to fix this?” and “Where’s the Yellow Pages? Lemme call so-and-so, they had this same problem and really liked who they used.” And off they go to call in a plumber or an electrician or a mechanic.

Rednecks, on the other hand, think, “Who do I know knows how to work on this? I better stock the fridge with beer and start thawing some beef.” and “Hang on a sec, what have I got laying around here that I can fix this with?”

A few years ago, when we were living in the ‘burbs of Houston, TX, and the better half and I were still in our getting to really know one another phase, the backyard privacy fence was in dire need of replacement. At the time, the better half’s reaction was the one I mentioned first, “Oh my God, this is going to be so expensive to get done!” My response was to laugh and reply, “What are you talking about? You can afford some beer and bbq, can’t you?”  Of course, in retrospect, laughing at the better half’s agitation probably wasn’t the best reaction, but I got my point across (and my insensitivity was forgiven, thankfully). The privacy fence was replaced, it didn’t cost $500, and life went on. And the better half learned, slowly but surely, the value of the Redneck Way.

Here we are, several years down the road, about to embark on probably the most redneck of redneck building projects. Everyone else, in this modern day and age, would call it an “alternative” or “green” building project. Ha! Rednecks have been perfecting the art of getting it done with what they’ve got for…well, I dunno, centuries? I like to think this country was built on the backs of rednecks. People who chose to do as opposed to people who chose to have it done.

All right, enough of my philosophical pontificating. On to the Hobbit hole notes.

This blog post began its life as a post to our House Project thread on Google Wave. If you need an efficient app for collaboration, I highly recommend it.

Anyhoo, I was writing up some information for an old architect friend of mine. He’s kindly offered up his time, knowledge, and advice to help keep us from killing ourselves. For grins, he will henceforth be referred to as Mr. Roark.

(Sort of ) the Wave to Mr. Roark:

Thus far I think that the better half’s new found love of cordwood walls may well be multipurpose. I’ll explain why in a moment.

First, I really think that rammed earth on three sides is going to be our best bet for a multitude of reasons.

cheap material (used tires)
exceptional insulation
waterproof
extremely strong (load bearing & hydrostatic)
long lasting
Some good data on rammed earth in downloadable .pdfs can be found here.

The one huge con with this idea is that rammed earth is extremely labor intensive. However, we have no deadline. If it takes 6 months, great. If it takes 2 years, no problem.

Ok, so rammed earth takes care of three sides. That leaves three more sides to think about.

The front wall, as mentioned above, will be cordwood. Now, the advantages of this are as follows:

The front wall is south facing. So, the wood is thermal mass (for winter heating) that will conduct warmth into the house.
There is, quite literally, tons of it available on our build site. Much of it is, in fact, cedar, which some Missourians consider a weed. Therefore we probably have all the wood we need; already felled and seasoned and close at hand.
It’s a relatively easy build method and extremely strong. We can configure the depth of our wall to whatever we wish. 6″? A foot?
It’ll be easy to add shelving, hooks, you name it, once the build is complete.
Which leaves the roof and the floor.

I’m not sold on a concrete slab. It’s expensive, for one thing. And for another our build site is, essentially, atop a hill with no road. Getting a concrete truck up there may be nigh on impossible.

It may be more feasible to do a strawbale floor sealed with cob or covered with wood flooring. A neighbor has a sawmill and there are hundreds of old barns around that folks will gladly allow you to tear down. Either way we have access to some pretty incredible wood flooring.

But back to the strawbale idea…

The strawbales are kept off the ground via wooden pallets. Under these pallets you place a waterproof layer, either plastic mil or Tyvek, to keep moisture away from the bales. If we decide to do wood flooring, I’d place another waterproof layer on top of the bales and then put down the flooring. What’s cool is this would result in a nice, springy floor. Of course it can rot, eventually, but I’m working on ideas to prevent that.

But don’t take the above flooring ideas as writ in stone, they’re not by any means.

Lastly, the roof.

There’s only one economical, efficient, and green way to do a roof, and that’s a living one. So, thanks to the load-bearing qualities of both the rammed earth and the cordwood, our walls can hold up several tons. I’m still doing research on the best method for our specific climate, so more on this later.

Right now I’m working on finalizing dimensions. Because cool temps predominate 6 months of the year here, I know that long and shallow is the way to go. We want the sun’s rays to be able to penetrate far into our home during the winter months. If it’s too deep the warming benefits of sunlight on thermal mass are lost. Too shallow and we’ll be living in an oven.

So it’s a balancing act. Too much vs. too little light. Cost-effective vs. efficient. Money vs. labor.

Well, lemme know your thoughts and if you need further links to the craziness. Have a good one!

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