Friday, November 23, 2012

Life at the coalface

Spring is in the air. Spring is in the step. Spring has sprung up my nose. Hayfever sucks ... but the mild weather has meant great progress on the house. As I have been somewhat silent on these pages over winter, guilt has got the better of me and I'm sharing some updates with the world. Besides, I'm stuck in town servicing the car and need to fill in some time (seeing as how I cannot do any building :) ). So much has been accomplished since my last entry here. Here's a quick rundown of what we've achieved. 

After the awesome efforts of our baling team, I spent several weeks getting the walls compressed and trimmed. The pallet strapping that we had so carefully installed under the bale plinths turned out to be fairly much useless when it came to compressing the bale walls. We could get only 5-10mm deflection using this method. As has occurred oft-times, plan B was put into action. We built horizontal ladder bars out of 4x2 and laid these on top of the bales. I had some car jacks onsite for this eventuality and used these (to great effect) to then squash the walls until they were quite firm. With stacks up to 7 bales high, I managed to get some walls to deflect over 350mm down. I then tied (using more timber and lots of loooong nails) the ladder bars to the adjoining wall and window bucks. This took nearly a week. Stuffing straw firmly into the cavities left remaining above took more than another week. Next / parallel step was packing straw and cob into all of the gaps between bales and structure. This had to occur in several layers to allow the cob to dry properly. Dana was doing lots of this on her days off and then applying a clay slip to all remaining exposed straw surfaces. Before this could be done, I trimmed each wall panel to some kind of straightness using the little chainsaw. The biggest problem area was the corners. Unfortunately, 5 of the 6 external corners had suffered from varying degrees of outward bowing ... however carefully we tried to lay the bales! Most of these were fixed with trimming and re-tieing but the NW lounge corner bowed out so much that I had to restack from scratch. In these places, I also added some el-cheapo bamboo screening from Bunnies which was pinned in with 6 inch staples made from fencing tie wire.

Weather is the great enemy of many steps in the building game. Just as things cooled down enough to spend a whole day working with minimal sweating, so too did the cob drying process. This happened to the point where it would take 2-3 weeks to go off enough for another layer (instead of the 2-3 days initially) and eventually saw the formation of white mould where the wet mud sat moistening the bales. Mild panic was followed with some strategic online research and some phone calls to knowledgeable people. Apparently, the problem in not uncommon and can be rectified with a variety of methods. Rectification options included: better air flow around any drying areas; spraying mouldy bits with lime wash; spraying borate; spraying chlorine; or, spraying bleach. There is no universal magic fix but, so far, the lime wash seems to be doing the trick. Huey's next enforced delay was the render soil. I'd done some labour at a mate's place as barter for many tons of deep red-brown subsoil that he'd made bricks from. Free soil in exchange for attaching fibre cement sheets to eaves sounded like a great deal. Waiting 3 months until the ground firmed up enough to get the digger in to fill the truck was the price of such 'free' materials.

There is plenty more to report on but that will have to wait for another day. Silly season has started early yet again and time is at a premium. Pics soon too.