As we move closer to moving into our house I feel simultaneously overwhelmed, excited, anxious and impatient. The list of things we need to finish before we can move in grows shorter every day, yet some of those tasks that are looming ahead of us seem enormous. Take the eaves, for example. That's the little gap between the top of the wall and the bottom of the roof. I never thought about that little gap, never considered how we'd close it up, what we'd use, how it would be done. But now that Brett and I have started lining the ceiling, I'm noticing that it is quite a gap, and something will need to be done about it. But that task we will come to when the ceiling is lined. Hey - it might even get done after we move in. For now we have more pressing - and BIG - issues, namely the floor and the ceiling.
Day 3 after we made our floor, some cracks started to appear. This was not at all what we'd hoped, but it seems that even not-very-wet clay shrinks quite a bit when it dries. The cracks are everywhere. They're quite deep (around 2 inches) and about 1cm wide at the widest part. Not insubstantial, and definitely something that will need to be rectified. Some earth-floor literature suggests using a different-coloured clay slurry in cracks, giving the floor a kind of flagstone look. We're not massive fans of this look, and were really hoping to avoid it. But the thing we realised is that we, in this home-building exercise, have chosen to employ a little lady who has some of her own ideas. That little lady is Mother Earth. Unlike something like concrete, which is man-made and therefore predictable, ye olde clay is Mother-Earth made and therefore profoundly unpredictable. Take our workshop week. April was carefully chosen on account of it being (statistically speaking) one of the driest months in the Bega Valley. But do you think Mother Nature gives a rats arse about statistics? No way Jose. And to prove it, she flogged down on our uncovered bales, just to keep us on our toes. Did we learn? No way Jose! We thought we knew what to expect with this freshly-dug-from-the-earth clay we made our floor from, but we were wrong. Good thing we have a sense of humour.
Just to be a little different and try out something new for a change, we have decided to fill our cracks with wax. Reasons? I believe it will be easier to fill them up most thoroughly with something liquid, it dries pretty hard and fast, and it might look a little less like flag-stones than if we use clay. But that is a task we will complete after the ceiling is finished.
Yesterday Brett and I started insulating and cladding the inside of our lofty roof-space. Let's just say it was not the funnest job in the world, and leave it at that (though Brett did say he felt like we were "playing cubbies"up in the loft with a view of the tree-tops, eating chocolate in what looked for all intents and purposes to be some kind of elaborate dress-ups).
|Space person in the cubby/space ship nailing up the super-shiny mini-orb
Choosing insulation was a major, confusing, exhausting and ultimately inconclusive pain in the arse. So much information, so many salespeople, so much well-intentioned advice. While insulation should always be a big issue, not to be taken lightly, in a strawbale house it's even more so. The walls, you see, are rated to be something like R20. Your average housing batts are something like R3, if you're lucky. I read once that if you build a strawbale house and don't insulate the roof properly, it's basically like building a really expensive chimney.
The problem for us with our little strawbs is that the roof space, where we're s'posed to cram tons of excellent insulation, is where we're going to be sleeping. In total, we had about 12cm to fill with insulation. We needed bang for our buck, and bang for the minimal space. What we settled on is a special kind of compressed bulk insulation that is 85% recycled glass, which is spun into fibres and bonded with a glue that is, well, not exactly natural. It's normally used in industrial applications, and we had to order it direct from the manufacturer as it isn't available through any retailers. It wasn't cheap ($2000 for the whole roof), but this was one area we weren't prepared to skimp on. We wanted high performance and high recycled content, while still keeping within the constraints dictated by our tiny roof space. These batts are 5cm thick, so we doubled them, bringing the total to 10cm and, combined with the anticon blanket that is attached under our corrugated iron, we have an R rating of 3.9. Pretty good given the circumstances. In other situations, with other rooflines, Frank uses whole strawbales as roof insulation, creating what he calls an 'esky'. I love this, in theory, and was keen to give it a go, but the roof needs to specially engineered for an application like this, and when we priced trusses for this roof they came in around 3 times the amount we paid, and we wouldn't have had a loft space.
We're lining the ceiling with some mini-orb (mini profile corrugated iron) that I got at Eden tip for about $15 (the savings offset the price of the insulation). Score! But boy oh boy does it need to be painted. That stuff is shiny: at the moment it feels a little less like a cozy lofty treehouse and a little more like a crazy space-pod. Especially in my fibreglass-proof safety suit, goggles, and breathing apparatus.