Archive for the ‘Building’ Category

House Version 1.0

October 10, 2009

Here are some pictures of Version 1.0 of our future house. This first picture has the south side of the house at the bottom of the picture. As you can see, the south side is all windows. This is part of passive solar design, taking advantage of the low-lying southern winter sun (in the southern hemisphere it would be opposite, of course!). To the left/west is the great room and you can see the Lego table and chairs in that room. The living area would be to the south, with the dining in the middle and the kitchen at the northern part of the house. I thought it would be a good idea to have the kitchen to the north to warm up that part of the house. The right/east half is the greenhouse area. Mo added the bush thing and the white blocks are the outline of the pool. There are clear Lego pieces to the right to let in the morning sun, as well as tall windows between the greenhouse and the great room.

South side of house; great room to west and greenhouse/pool to east

South side of house; great room to west and greenhouse/pool to east

In this next picture, the view is from the west side of the house. This is another view of the great room and you can see the tall windows dividing the great room from the greenhouse, along with a few windows and the front door on the west wall.

view of house from west side

view of house from west side

This is just a close up of the great room. I’m not sure it’s big enough, but I’m pretty sure that table is too big. 🙂 Imagine couches near the south-facing windows and a kitchen near the north of the room. And lots of sunlight streaming in from the greenhouse in the morning.


close up of great room

This picture is a closer view of the greenhouse. The dead horse is not part of the plan, I assure you.


close up of greenhouse/pool

This is another view from the east side of the house. You can see the big windows that divide the great room and greenhouse, along with the door (black framing).

View from the east side of the house

View from the east side of the house

This view is from the east side again, but you can see the greenhouse to the south and the sleeping area to the north. Directly to the north of the greenhouse is a largish hallway, which I thought could be a pantry. That design idea didn’t make it past Tom, but more on that later. I had planned that the area to the north of the kitchen would be the laundry room, then the room north of that would be the bathroom. The reason for that was to make all the drainage and greywater systems easier. All water draining from the kitchen, laundry, and bath would basically be in one place. How convenient! It’s a good idea and I tried to do that in Version 2.0, but it’s a little different.


view of the sleeping area from the east side

This is the sleeping area, to the north of the greenhouse and great room. At the top of the picture (which is west) you can see the laundry room and bathroom. To the right/north of that is the master bedroom. Yes, it has a barrel in it. No, there is no reason other than it’s a Lego rain barrel and I needed somewhere to keep it. 🙂 At the bottom/east of the picture are the kids bedrooms. The big white piece is part of the roof as Mo insists the house needs a roof, even if it is just made out of Lego. I made a big hallway between the bedrooms so we could put bookshelves on every wall in the hallway and keep books there. That’s better than a room devoted just to books, I think.

view of bedrooms from east side

view of bedrooms from east side

This is a closer view of the kitchen, laundry, bathroom area (from the east side again). The thicker Lego bricks are about the right size to represent straw bales. I have those thicker bricks as an interior wall because most likely we will be building this house in sections. First would probably be the great room, so it would have straw bale walls that would eventually end up as interior walls. The thinner bricks are interior walls and will probably be made just like the interior walls of many earthships, that is, out of old bottles because bottle walls are beautiful!

kitchen, laundry, bathroom from left to right

kitchen, laundry, bathroom from left to right

So, what was good about this design? The passive solar, south facing windows definitely stay in Version 2.0, just with a lot more. The greenhouse is still on the east side of the house and is still next to the great room, with big, tall windows dividing the two rooms. I also tried to keep the laundry, bath, and kitchen drainage near each other, partly by combining the full bathroom with the laundry room. Our current house has the laundry in the full bathroom and it works quite well. I kept the kitchen near the north side of the house because I think that makes a lot of sense.

Some of the changes in Version 2.0 include a bigger pantry to the north of the kitchen, the sleeping area to the west of the great room, and a half bath. I added a half bath after talking to Tom. He just didn’t think one bathroom would be enough for a family of 4. He values his privacy while, um, doing his business in the bathroom. The kids and I don’t care, but that will probably change for them as they get older. The sleeping area of the house is long and narrow, to take advantage of the south-facing windows. In Version 1.0 the sleeping area is on the north part of the house. Even if that area is bermed with earth at the north side, it will still get cold in the winter. So, I took the sleeping area and put it west of the great room and made it long and narrow. I promise I will post pictures of Version 2.0 as soon as I take them.


Awesome Link!

October 8, 2009

OK, I’ve worked on another post about our future house. It’s almost done, but I need to find the time to finish it. In the meantime, check out this link for more videos on all kinds of natural building materials. This specific link is for straw bale videos, but if you explore the site you will see all kinds of other videos for other building materials. Check out the Natural Building category. Enjoy!

Earth Architecture: Building with Straw Bale.

House of our future

October 4, 2009

Finally, a post about building a green home. I admit I haven’t thought about our future home much over the summer and spring. Now that it is autumn and the oats will soon be taken care of, it will be time to explore our property some more and look for that south-facing hill that will serve as a building site. I am sure that our future home will be many years in the making, as we plan to do much of the work ourselves. Since the kids are still little (shhh don’t tell them they are little) it would be very difficult to start building. So right now we are in the planning stage, where we are thinking about materials, foundations, layout, and building sites.

One thing I have been able to build is a Lego house. I built Version 1.0 (and Version 2.0 after discussing things with Tom) and I wanted to post a bunch of pictures, but I think that I need to give some background before I rush into the pictures. Some of my readers are probably very familiar with alternative or “green” building ideas, but some might not be. If anyone is interested in an introduction, I recommend The Good House Book. This book has chapters on foundations, walls, roofs and shows traditional, modern, and alternative materials to use, as well as explaining what a good foundation or roof should do. As far as websites, I recommend Green Home Building as a place to start (this link is in the sidebar to the right, by the way).

I first learned about green house building after a friend, Heather, posted a link to pictures of her mother’s earthship. I had no idea what an earthship was. I remember looking at the pictures and not understanding what I was looking at as it mostly looked like a regular house, but a very cool one. So my next step, of course, was to ask Heather what the hell an earthship was. That, and Google, of course. Those two things sparked my interest and I read and learned a ton about earthships and other alternative building methods, including cordwood, straw bale, earthbags, cob, etc. Before hearing of earthships, I had an inkling in the back of my head that houses throughout the world were not all built the way modern houses in the US are built. I had heard of houses built out of straw bales, but didn’t know much other than the fact that you can build out of straw.

I’m not sure I am up for building an earthship as it seems like a ton of work, but I like the idea a lot. They are not just houses built of out old tires filled with rammed earth, but are supposed to be self-sufficient, zero waste systems. So it’s not a house, but a system. People who build earthships often live off-grid, which means they are not tied to power lines (or water or public sewage treatment or anything like that). The houses have solar and/or wind power, rain catchment and treatment, and greywater systems (the greywater is used to water the indoor plants and to flush toilets, assuming the toilets are not compostable). Blackwater, or water with fecal matter, is piped outdoors into landscaped areas. This way the landscaping gets watered while the water gets filtered through the plants.

If you want to learn more, here are a couple of videos you can watch:

Anyway, you can see how these ideas are really interesting and how building an earthship is really a lifestyle choice, not just a building choice. Anyone can build a log home or a straw bale home that is just like a regular home, with a furnace and air conditioning, public water and sewage or septic tank, and is tied to the power grid. You can build an earthship that way, too (and in some areas building code require a septic tank). You can build a straw bale house that is more like an earthship, too. So since I am not really into using a sledgehammer to ram earth into old tires, I figured straw bale is our best bet (though I’m not sure that is the best option since we are surrounded by woods!), but I want a lot of the same features as an earthship.

Some of our goals for our future home are:

  • to use solar and wind energy, and possibly micro-hydroelectric and be off-grid, if possible
  • to have a home that does not require a furnace or air conditioning
  • to reduce our energy use overall so that living off-grid doesn’t cost a fortune in solar panels and batteries or become a hardship
  • to use well water, but to also capture and store rainwater for gardening and landscaping and maybe to eventually use well water as backup from filtered rainwater
  • to not have a septic tank, but instead use graywater and blackwater for landscaping
  • use recycled, reclaimed, and natural materials to build the house, such as straw, dirt, aluminum cans and mortar for interior walls
  • to use materials that are local and abundant, as much as possible
  • to build into a south-facing hillside to take advantage of the thermal mass of the earth
  • to use passive solar building methods
  • to have a masonry oven heater

Now, we do live in a cold climate, so the idea of no heating might sound crazy. However, that is the reason we want to

  1. build into a south-facing hill, to take advantage of the thermal mass of the earth on the north side of the house
  2. have flooring that absorbs heat and lets it out later (another thermal mass), such as wood or tile,
  3. have a masonry oven heater
  4. have super insulation in the form of earthbags or straw bales, and
  5. design with passive solar methods, such as south facing windows to catch winter sun, which will in turn warm the earth to the north side of the house and warm the flooring and northern walls of the house, as well.

In cold northern climates, rooms should not be too deep, otherwise the northern side can get cold. Of course, it seems that if the northern side is also bermed by the earth this will be less of a problem. The straw bale walls also serve to keep heat in the house during the winter, and heat outside during summer.

A masonry oven heater is usually totally indoors and is made of materials that absorb heat and release it slowly (thermal mass again!). It has a chimney of course, but it looks like this on the inside. I really like the look of this one as well as the fact that it is in the middle of a great room. That is exactly what I want, a great room with a masonry oven heater in it.

So, here is one picture of the house I built out of Lego. I’ll post more pictures next time, as well as explaining why this was Version 1.0 and why I had to scrap it to make Version 2.0, which looks more like the Long House on the Prairie that was part of what inspired me to started the blog in the first place.

Version 1.0 layout (south is to the left)

Version 1.0 layout (south is to the left)

Garden covers

June 3, 2009

If you’ve looked at the pictures of my garden, you probably noticed the covers on the garden frames. These covers are necessary to keep out critters of all sorts, including rabbits and deer, raccoons and opossums, and cats and chickens. The cats and chickens seem to get in the beds the most: the cats to poop and the chickens to take dust baths or to peck at bugs and sometimes growing plants. This is not good, thus we have the frames. So far they seem to be working well to keep everyone out. A couple of weeks ago, Karen at ChickenSense commented on the garden covers. I figured it was worth a post to show how they are made. I can’t claim much credit as the idea is from All New Square Foot Gardening and the work was done by Tim, with a little bit of help from the kids and me.

Tim started with 2″ X 2″ pieces of lumber and cut them into 4′ sections. Then he used a screw to connect the corners. This part made a square and is the bottom of the cover. It is the part that rests on the the 2″ X 6″ pieces of wood that we used for the frames. Next, he took the chicken wire and stapled it onto the wood. This is the hard part since the chicken wire is in a roll and he had to hold the frame down while unrolling and stapling the chicken wire to it. Tim did this by himself more than once, but said it was easier when I helped him. 

Corner of garden cover

Corner of garden cover

Chicken wire stapled and zip tied together

Chicken wire stapled and zip tied together

After the sides of the cover are stapled on, it’s time to cut two or more pieces for the top, depending on what size chicken wire you are using. We used zip ties to connect the top pieces with the side pieces. The little white things are what is left of the zip ties after Tim clipped off the part hanging out. 

Zip ties to keep top and sides together

Zip ties to keep top and sides together

Side and top of garden cover

Side and top of garden cover

Zip ties holding top and sides of chicken wire together

Zip ties holding top and sides of chicken wire together

The great thing about these covers is that they are fairly quick and easy to make, while also being inexpensive. You need wood, zip ties, a staple gun with lots of staples, a few screws, and some chicken wire. The covers are lightweight and the kids can lift them so they can get a little snack of lettuce while we are in the garden. I’m not sure the covers would keep out a determined raccoon, though. I say this because we did see Swirly try to climb one and it kind of caved in. The garden is pretty safe from deer, rabbits, cats, and chickens, though. 

Eventually we plan to fence in the garden, but these covers work well. The frames can also be used to provide shade for garden plants or, if covered with the sort of plastic used in greenhouses, could be used to extend the growing season. So even after our garden is fenced in, we will still use these frames.

Super quick update

April 6, 2009
  • Movable coop is done, but it’s too cold to put the chicks in it even in the heated garage
  • Broccoli is sprouting really well
  • Spinach not sprouting so well, but that’s ok as it might be best just to plant directly into the garden
  • Chickens are making different noises, not just the peeping of chicks
  • It’s cold and I want Spring to come back!

That’s all I have for now, folks. In the meantime, if you want something good to read, try this article: The Amazing Benefits of Grass-fed Meat

Rethinking the coop

March 18, 2009

So I’ve been rethinking the coop and the whole issue of free ranging. I would LOVE to let the chickens out to wander around until their hearts are content. Yet, “trying” free ranging basically means doing it until something happens, which most likely means one of the chickens is killed by a predator. After getting the chicks, it’s hard to imagine doing it that way! So, I don’t want to let them free range, and yet I want to let them out to eat bugs and weeds and fertilize the ground, so we will have to figure out a way to do that while also protecting them from predators, which as I mentioned before we have almost all possible predators for chickens.

I have been rethinking this for a while, but yesterday we were outside and saw two hawks circling around. I am taking that as a sign and am currently planning a movable coop that will work until we eventually build a hen house with an attached run right by the garden. We should be able to work on a hen house and run soon, but first we will have to build a movable coop and get the garden started.

It’s kind of fun looking at coop and run designs. There are so many ways to be creative while making a coop for the chicks. I am also thinking we should insulate ours since it does get cold here in the winter, so maybe we will have to practice with some straw bales. Yippee!

A quick update: we marked out the garden today and it is about 38 X 34 feet, so it will be a very good size. We may not plant the whole thing right now, but we will get it tilled. Then I figured if we don’t plant the whole thing, we will just plant a cover crop for the chickens to munch on.


February 21, 2009

I find this Long House on the Prairie inspiring. What I like most about it is the layout. I like the fact that it is all one floor. I don’t really want stairs because it seems like they are a place for clutter. They are the resting place for things that are not where they belong. Also, I have never cared for basements. They are usually dark, sometimes damp, and always have scary machinery in them. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies where something scary happens in a boiler room of a school or some industrial setting. I’m not sure. I have been in some basements that are nice, but not one that is open and airy. While I’m sure that it is possible to build a basement that I would enjoy, I think it would require work that I’m not willing to do.

So, I like that there is only one floor. I like that it is long and narrow. When I try to imagine our house in my head, I try to figure out a way to have the bedrooms be warm, while also being separated from the living space. I don’t want the bedrooms at the north end of the house because they will be too cold in winter. So the Long House is ideal because all the rooms have a southern exposure and have warmth in the winter.

I also like the openness of the floor plan. I envision our living room, dining room, and kitchen as essentially one big room. That will be where we spend the bulk of our time when we are inside, I’m sure. I like the big louvered doors that can make a big open space, or can be closed to make a bedroom. I also like the breezeway. That would be great in summer! Although my dream house has a courtyard/indoor pool/greenhouse, which would be better than an breezeway. The combined greenhouse/pool/courtyard is a luxury that will probably have to be added on later, but it is definitely a part of my vision.

The things I do not like about this house are the exterior and some of the interior design elements. The house uses limestone for the exterior; I believe the article states it is locally harvested limestone. I appreciate the “greenness” of that, but do not care for the look. I like the idea of straw bales with earth plaster (something like this home in Tucson). That is a much warmer look to a house. Since we live in west central Illinois, I am sure we can get straw bales locally. Also, while I can appreciate the modern aesthetics of the freestanding steel lavatories but it is also not as warm as I would like. Maybe I’m old fashioned when it comes to bathrooms. I don’t really want or need to see all the plumbing, even if it is nice looking.

I like the concrete floors, but again would warm those up with some color and some nice area rugs, particularly in winter. However, I’m sure the cool concrete would be lovely on a hot summery day. There are many other things I like and dislike about this house. I think what I like most is the layout of the house. It gives me ideas, which is exactly what I need.


February 20, 2009

I intend this blog to be about our new life in the country, as well as a building blog. We plan to build our own “green” house, as well as a greenhouse and a workshop/train building/play house. We are also planning to get some hens and start a garden.  

Spring is coming soon, so there should be a lot to write about. In the meantime I will try to add some background on our family and where we grew up and why we moved to the country.