July 2004 Archives

Interior Pictures of the House

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These interior pictures of the house are pretty much the same as the ones that appeared on MocoLoco, but larger and with additional captions.

Aside from from the ceiling and some minor pieces of trim the front part of the house is finished, or at least as finished as it is going to be for the forseeable future. The ceiling is a whole other matter. Right now it is nothing more than vapour barrier over insulation.

There are a variety of options available and the debate revolves around the inevitable nexus of cost, appearance and trouble. The normal, obvious choice is sheetrock (drywall), but I hate drywall, I'm not adept enough at mudding to do it over my head, and even professionals are going to make an unholy mess when it comes to that stage. One problem with open concept is that it is very hard to contain dust. Once it's up it needs to be painted, which is also a pain. Basically we would need to hire professionals for the whole process.

The next option is tongue and groove (T&G) plywood. Pre-finished T&G isn't that expensive, with a lift and a nail gun isn't that hard to install (similar to drywall). The cost is about $60.00 per sheet and we'd need 75 sheets, which comes out to: $4500.00, more than I'd like but not outrageous. We've seen lots of pictures of houses with this done and they all look very nice.

But not great, and whatever we do we're going to be looking at this for a long time. The best looking option would be T&G wood, and we're fortunate enough to have a great deal of wood available to us. BUT, we don't have nearly enough cut yet, and certainly not enough of any given species. So, we could cut down a whole bunch more stock, but the only species we have that is plentiful enough for the ceiling is cedar and I already have most of that earmarked for decks. One idea that is interesting involves taking all the various species and mixing them, creating a patchwork effect. None of this would be ready for a year or so though since the wood needs to be cut, dried (which can take a year or more without a kiln) and routed. The cost though is pretty minimal, the sawyer costs should be around $1500.00 for that much wood, and if get it kiln dried that will add another $1000.00.

We could buy T&G wood but that's quite expensive, 2400sq/ft at $4.00sq/ft is $9600.00, and far more than I want to spend on this.

One option that we've explored is Strawboard, but unfortunately it doesn't come in T&G or a pre-finished form. Either job is bad, but having to do both is a deal killer for me.

Regardless we're going to be staring at vapour barrier for the rest of the summer.

We're in World Changing!!

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World Changing a blog devoted to "Models, Tools, and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future", has picked up the story from MocoLoco and has mentioned us on their blog, and I couldn't be more thrilled.

But, it's important to note that while these sites refer to it as my house, I most certainly did not build it on my own. A whole lot of people helped and I want to thank them all again here, especially: Mike Cooper, Simon & J.P. at Generation Solar, Pete and Tina at Camel's Back Construction, Paul Dowsett at Scott Morris Architects, and my father, Ron Hunter, who was on site everyday, and without whom this house just would not be here. Thank you Dad.

We're on Mocoloco!

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The house has been featured on Mocoloco! A website devoted to modern contemporary design and architecture Mocoloco is one of my daily reads. Given the fantastic stuff that appears on the site I am totally stoked to be included!

Cladding the front of the house

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From the very beginning there has been a debate over how we would finish the front of the house. We went through the first winter with no cladding at all which was a mistake.

The front of the house before any finishing.

As you can see from the image above there are a great many cracks and crevices along the front wall. We believed that sealing up the inside would be 'good enough' to get us through the first winter. We were wrong. The house was drafty and at times cold. At the very least we should have put up house wrap and taped all of the seams.

We knew that cladding the front was a priority for this year but what material? We had always thought of covering it with western red cedar, similar to our doors, which contrasts nicely with the grey stucco and soffits/fascia. WRC also weathers well and is durable. The drawbacks are that it is (in Ontario) an expensive material and that with all the windows would require a great deal of custom work to make it all fit. Even then guaranteeing a weather-tight seal would be very nearly impossible. We talked to Paul (our architect) and he and Charlie came up with a plan. First we would prime the walls, then a layer of a material called Blueskin, which is adhesive and waterproof over the wood and attaching to the sides of the windows (which stand proud of the front of the house by almost one inch). Over this we would apply strapping and then the WRC would be attached to the strapping. As Paul says you start from the assumption that water is going to get behind the cladding and work from there. Unfortunately all of these layers would leave the wood about one and a half inches out from the windows - and aesthetically we were not very happy with that idea.

Earlier this spring I helped Pete and Tina from Camel's Back Construction on a stuccoing job at Camp Kawartha and I began to wonder about using stucco as our cladding. It has several benefits for this kind of job: it's very easy to shape which would make working around the windows a breeze, stucco as it is used in strawbale homes is breathable so water is less of a concern, and it is relatively inexpensive. So back to Paul and Charlie for a plan.

Paul and Charlie's new plan was very similar to the old one, primer, Blueskin, but adding rigid foam insulation and a sheathing to allow water to run behind that over the Blueskin (should water ever get back there). Over the foam they wanted mesh and then stucco. All told this came out to six layers and again would have resulted in cladding that was proud of the windows.

While I agree with the base philosophy - water will get in, so build to expect it - the whole thing seemed overly complex and to me six layers means six places where failure can occur. Water is just about the worst thing that can get into a strawbale wall, yet they're just covered with only two or three layers of stucco. Why does this work? Because the walls are breathable - moisture from inside passes freely through the wall to the outside, water from outside has a very hard time getting through the stucco to the bales. I believe this is one of the reasons that people find strawbale homes so comfortable to live in. Blueskin is not breathable, any water vapour that manages to migrate through the wall to behind the Blueskin would remain there. That's why the rigid foam was necessary, to move the dew point out of the centre of the wooden beams.

So we formulated our own plan. The cladding needs to perfom two functions: seal the house from drafts and water, and protect the front from the elements. First we caulked all of the seams in the structure and any gaps around the windows with a high quality caulking. Then we applied a layer of Tyvek house wrap and taped all of the seams with Tuck tape. Tyvek allows moisture to travel one way, from the house out, but not from the outside in. It will greatly (if not completely) cut down the drafts, but will be an imperfect water barrier since it's pierced hundreds of times by staples that hold down two layers of plastic mesh. The plastic mesh is in place to give the stucco something to grip onto, since it will not adhere to Tyvek. We're counting on the stucco to stop the bulk of the water from ever getting though to the Tyvek. Since the front of the house rarely gets directly rained on this shouldn't be too much of an issue. The east and west ends of the gallery do get some weather and we will have to keep our eyes on them.

There are some risks to our method: if a quantity of water gets behind the stucco, or the stucco gets saturated that could present problems to both the stucco and the Tyvek covered wood. While straw is quite breathable, wood is less so and if a quanitity of water (condensation for example) builds up inside the beams it may exceed the breathablility of the materials, mold and rot could occur (though this could happen with the other method as well). It's possible that the plaster could shrink back somewhat from the windows and we may need to apply a thin bead of caulking around the windows. We did use metal mesh for the corners but two layers of plastic mesh for the faces. Plastic mesh is not as strong or stiff as metal, but is much easier to work with. To test the plastic mesh we plastered the north face of the gallery first, left it for several days and checked it before starting on the front of the house.

In the end only time will tell if we have made the right decision, but there's no debate that it's made a huge improvement in the look of the front of the house.

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