Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Strawbale Workshop

I just got back from a week long strawbale workshop in Geraldine, New Zealand put on by Sol Design, Ltd. A solid week of nothing but strawbale. It was a fantastic group of people, including strawbale experts, builders, plasterers, eco designers, and architectural designers. Twelve of us built a small strawbale structure in a week. I had so many questions after building my virtual house, and they were all answered by the end of the workshop. I highly recommend a workshop before you build. There are things you learn in a workshop that you just can't get from a book. Actually seeing and touching the earth and lime plaster mixes to get a feel for the proper consistencies. getting to build and see all of the fine details, and asking questions while your doing it can't be beat. What a great experience! I am completely confident now that I can build a house myself, except for plumbing and wiring. Its only a matter of endurance at this point. Although the work is very fun, I think it will take a very long time to complete. I am rebuilding my virtual house at the moment with all my new knowledge, and counting the days until I get to Indiana.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

We have ten weeks left until we go home and start building. On Feb 14th I start a week long straw bale workshop in Geraldine, NZ, which I am very excited about. I've been spending time building a computer generated model of the house, board by board. Its a great way to visualize exactly what needs to go where. Every step of the way has been a bit of a research project. I started with a flat piece of ground and dug down, laying out all the drain pipes, with the proper slope and so forth working my way up to the roof. I think spending this time now might save me a lot of time standing on my lot scratching my head, wondering what to do next. I'm going to show the plans to a builder here in NZ next week to talk about what I've built so far in the computer. I hope to refine it even more during the week of the straw bale workshop. I want to have a good idea of how I am going to do things before I get home so I can hit the ground running. We have been sketching house plans for a few years now. Some of the earlier ones are funny to look back on. We knew you could build curved walls and build cheap, so the plans were elaborate and huge. After reading four straw bale books, and watching two straw bale videos, the house plan is now a small rectangle (one story). It appears to be a lot of work. We aren't even calling it a house anymore, now its called our straw bale cottage! I've tried to do an accurate estimate of the cost. I counted up all the materials in my virtual house and priced it out with a local lumber yards website. It came out around 30,000.00, not as cheap as I had hoped, but that is with all new building materials. I will see how much I can cut that cost using recycled materials wherever I can. The computer model gets more detailed every day. I have actual sun positions for any hour/day/month/year which makes designing for passive solar really fun. I can put in winter and summer sun positions and adjust my windows and roof overhangs accordingly. You can render out images that are hopefully fairly accurate for sun and shadow. I also had my Brother who lives next door stand on the house site and take a panoramic picture of the lot. I stitched this together, so that the view you see out of the windows in the computer model is pretty much what you would actually see. I'm thinking the virtual house might end up looking much nicer than the real house. :) Don't worry, Ill stop playing with computers once I finally get outside. Here are some virtual house pictures comped into real pictures of the site, with sun positions matching the time of day of the photographs... in theory.