Categories
Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar: Lots of Earth Finishing and … finally … an Umbrella

So (this post is already a few days too late to be written in the present tense … especially since we’ve more progress since then … but I will do so anyway) we had Razvan visit with us for 5 full days of work and we got lots done.

We had already started applying finishing (first two layers) on the left retaining wall and started looking nice:

Part of it was already “scratched” in preparation for receiving the final coat (a soon-to-come) experiment with lime finishing.

My attention  was constantly reaching one step ahead, making preparations so that Iulia and Razvan could continue working fluently. In this case that included applying a protective (mouse and rat proof) wire-mesh on the opposite (right retaining wall).

… and then one side started to take on its final form: it connected to the small retaining wall on top of the entry-roof … and the image I had been holding for two years started to come to life.

… and we crossed over the arch

… and so I finally had to take action on another small experiment … creating a “foundation” for the cob on the arch using bent branches:

… and I looked down and decided to finally liberate the form that was holding the earthen floor (which is cracking!):

… and to protect this new edge I decided to finally complete the concrete (again: protection against digging animals) entrance … which has a small “step” which is hopefully going to act as part of the door-stop.

… and in the back of my mind I started realizing we may be moving inside soon …. and so I started thinking about bringing electricity … and soon the first pieces of that sub-system were in place and we had (temporary) lights on in the cellar:

… and then it was time to face the outer end of the right-retaining wall. It was not in good shape: earthbags had torn and eroded (I wish I had taken more pictures … because this was quite a rescue). It is also the most difficult back-fill area … because it had limited access and a very steep incline (much learning taking place in this project!). So the first challenge was to gain access to the wall … and that took some careful digging:

… then after much cleaning, wetting, re-activating clay, carefully applying cob, adding a large mesh (a small part of which was needed anyway as the entrance to the ventilation pipe) … the wall was rescued. In this picture you can see the last three sack-edges peeking out … waiting to be covered with the cob rolled up at the bottom-center of the image:

… and then, suddenly, the full form that I imagined came to be … an earthen funnel that leads into the hill:

… here Razvan and Iulia are simulating the bench, soon to be incorporated into the wall:

We also added a bit more height to the top-retaining wall:

… and the arch was calling to us :

… and working on it inevitable led us to the inside:

While Iulia was cobbing inside, Razvan and I got to working on the water-shed umbrella (another experiment I was looking forward to encountering). This involved more physical labor, so I was grateful to have Razvan’s help with it.

We started by digging a slightly sloped trench around the back of the cellar.

The trench was planned to go all the way around, but because of the steep front slopes it couldn’t (not effectively). So we went around one side slightly, and connected a small trench on the other side.

We then laid out plastic that covered the structure and stretched over the trench and filled the trench with large gravel which should act as a drain:

… with an outlet to daylight (and will stay that way after the final burial):

We then folded the plastic partially back over the gravel (to hold it together):

and then came a layer of geo-textile that will prevent soil from clogging the gravel (and in the hope that it will offer some protection to the plastic layer from the roots of plants that will come in the last layer of soil that will complete the burial):

But the true highlight of this visit was that Tana (our 6 months old puppy) finally got a few great days with a playmate because Razvan brought with him Hera (his very large! one-year old puppy) and the two had a great time together (despite some conflicts between Hera and Indy who plays the role of the Bhudeva badass):

It was a very productive week … moving inside was a big step forward … we can imagine the cellar complete and filled with an abundance of food for the coming winter.

Categories
Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar – Guests, Roof, Floor & Burial

Iulia asked for a few pictures of the cob process … so: first we make a dry mix (we call a lasagna) of sand and our (clay rich) soil in a wheelbarrow … dump it on to a tarp and add water while dancing it into a consistent mix:

We then add straw and dance that in … then roll the mix into a sausage by pulling the tarp (we repeat all this twice … so that the straw is mixed in well and not clumped):

… and that results in cob (which can take on various textures depending on the specific recipe and what we want to do with it):

… and for us it has been many batches going on to the roof … we previously completed the roof on top of the small room (relatively thick cob layer to fill and seal round acacia logs) … and then moved on to the large room (relatively thin and uniform cob layer to cover and seal flat boards):

… and if I recall correctly after 10 batches of cob the large room was also covered:

… we then had an unexpected visit from Alin who stayed with us for a couple of days … his help meant that we finished the entrance segment of the roof earlier then expected (forgot to take pictures of that … but basically more cob).

… and we decided to take advantage of Alin’s presence to tackle the floor. The floor was originally planned for later in the project (after the walls  were done!) … but since we had Alin’s help, and since the floor takes a few weeks to set, and since we are going away for a couple of weeks … we decided to do the floor …. another first experiment for us … another cob recipe … and another application technique … and I am blown away by the versatility of this natural material:

We were then in for another surprise. Alin’s friend Sandu (a high energy athletic person!) decided to also stop by for a short visit on his way home. He arrived late (~21:30) just as we were winding down. He jumped out of the car, changed into work clothes and started cob-dancing … “one more batch” he said … again … (Iulia hung some lights) and again … and again …. and again …

….and we worked almost until midnight … got a large part of the floor done!

… then the next day Sandu called Alin again in the morning … he wanted to see the place in day light and help some more … and he came out with his wife and Alin’s wife:

… and we finished the floor!

The next day (monday) we were planned to have the excavator over to do the burial, but he was only able to get here on Teusday (yesterday). While Iulia was doing our weekly market shopping I completed the plastic covering (if you are wondering about water draining and a flat roof … there is more to come!).

… but then the weather got cloudy with potential for rain … and so I placed tarps back on the plastic to protect it

… fortunately the weather cleared and we were on for burying the cellar.

and the first corner started going under.

… and then the back was almost filled

… and I stopped taking picture because we needed to get involved in moving and directing soil (careful to avoid overloading the roof).

The front sides were a bit difficult because they ended up being very steep (it was a tight construction area). When we excavated into the hill I felt that we dug in too deep … it turns out deeper would have been even better.

the last part was the inner front corner … and that proved the trickiest place to fill (limited access for the excavator).

… and after ~3 hours the cellar was buried … and, as planned, only the opening into the hill remained.

we are going away for two weeks … while we are away everything will have a chance to settle: the newly placed earth, the structure itself and the earth floor. When we come back we will create the water-shed umbrella and do the final burial … then electricity, plenty of finishing work, doors, shelves … healing the surrounding earth … still quite a journey ahead!

We are both tired from the last intense weeks … so glad to be pausing the work and taking some time to relax and breathe.

Categories
Construction Earthbags

Earthbag – Roof: Wood & Cob

Categories
Blog Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar – 21 Belgian Scouts

Categories
Blog Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar – Roof Forming

We are off to a late(r then I would have liked) start this year. This was primarily because of my allergy and a very rain season. It was also because we got stuck with the roof!

Our primary plan to make a roof out of acacia vigas was deserted when we failed to source logs.  We tried using some logs we had lying around. When we did … I stepped back and felt a clear “no” … I felt they were not uniform enough to build a good roof.

I then decided that we would use standard (easily available) soft-wood boards to create beams (charred to preserve and protect them).

… and after we got the beams onto the large room and sat inside it … we felt the structure gained a whole new dimension of life … the shadows were striking:

Beams now stretch across the entire structure and are ready to take on a roof.

We’ve decided to conduct an experiment:

  1. The roof on the large room (intended to be dry) will be built using the same standard soft-wood boards.
  2. The roof on the small room (intended to be a moist room to store root vegetables) will be made of small acacia logs (long-lasting and rot resistant).

And so we embarked on a first-of-its-kind-for-us adventure into our small acacia forest to cut down some trees (while thinning a dense and overgrown forest). I thought I’d seen this car do everything … today it did this:

Tomorrow ad midnight a group of 21 Belgian youth are arriving at our village to spend 8 days with us (that may be more than all the people I’ve met face to face and interacted with during the last year!). If the weather permits (we’ve had a very rainy season), by the time they leave, the roof will be complete and the walls will be covered with an earthen finish and we will be ready for the final burial (so that the structure will no longer be eroded by the elements).

Let’s do this!

Categories
Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar – Walls Done!

After winding down from the full-house weekend … we got back to our “regular schedule”. Marta stayed with us a while longer and helped us get almost to the finish line.

We were excited to finally get to level 21. Here we are passing over the front arch for the first time:

When we finished that wall segment we finally got to pull out the forms … and … it was exhilarating to unveil the self-supporting arches … so simple, powerful (the more we weight we put on it – and we will be putting on quite a bit – the stronger it gets!)and beautiful (I’m really glad we decided to give arches a try!):

Yesterday we finished, with Marta’s, help going all the way around the structure and were left with only with two small segments of the outside wings.

Today Iulia and I went out and completed those two small segments – counting down the last of 6 sacks … and suddenly the the last can is tossed up, the last sack is placed down … the last tamping … earthbag walls were complete!

Fascinating journey from a crater to a structure… made of the same earth we dug out!

We are now waiting to see if we can get the acacia logs we want to make into a roof (our preferred option). If we do, they will be freshly cut and will need some time to cure … meaning that we won’t be able to place them on the structure before winter. If we don’t get the logs we will rever to plan B: regular 2×8 to build a flat roof. That may still happen in the coming weeks.

Depending on the weather we may be able to get some more primary rendering work done … but that is optional … maybe continue with the electrical wiring …  I am relieved and satisfied we got this part done … much to share … too tired to do so now.

 

 

Categories
Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar at Level 20

Categories
Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar at Level 19

The day before yesterday we finished level 18. Yesterday we started level 19 by putting in the ventillation pipes (for air flowing out of the two rooms). We cobbed them in place and then continued to work aroud them.

Today we focused on the arch above the entry door … and we started by adding two more arch pieces on each side until we were ready for the last 3 sacks that cap the arch.

… and cap it we did

I am soooo looking forward to taking out the forms … but holding off until we add the final layer on top of the arches 🙂

I thought we would be able to finish with 21 levels … but now that the first arch is complete and the highest point is set it looks like we will need to go up to 22.

Iulia is going away for a few days … after which we hope we will be able to finish before deep frosts settle upon us (temperatures are dropping rapidly).

If all goes well (we will in the coming days) we wil have acacia (strong and rot resistant) logs to cover the entire roof … keeping our fingers crossed that we will be able to close the cellar before winter!

 

Categories
Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar Second Backfilling

Originally we intended to backfill only once, about half way through and then at the end when we bury the structure. But, the structure is going to be a bit higher then expected and working higher up becomes trickier, especially for two people … so … after finishing level 16 we decided to backfill again.

Work started yesterday when we pulled up the plastic cover and scanned it for tears and wholes. Most of it was in good shape (it got buried in some soil which protected it from the sun). We replaces one section that was torn and brittle.

Florin arrived at 10am and started by clearing a path (we cleared most of it by peeling away soil as we filled the tubes):

He brought soil into the tight corner with the front loader then used the spoon to move / push it into a place:

Then he came around the top of the site and started filling behind the structure

And with a bit of manual labor we the first corner was full

And moving gradually along the wall … until is was all full

… bringing us to the other side which had better access so that the front loader could be used to bring soil in

then we went back around to the first corner (which we left slightly exposed in case we needed to bring in more soil) … and buried it:

… it was done in 3 hours … and now again we get to work at “ground level” … this time all the way to the top:

It is amazing to see how quickly wild grasses and weeds went to work healing the soil around the site … and now, after the excavator, how bare everything looks again … we are already looking forward to bringing in plants to heal the site and help nature take over once again.

Categories
Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar Level 14, 15 …and Arches

We tend give much attention to the growing walls, but we would like to acknowledge the unsung heroes of this project … the cans we toss up the walls to move soil from wheelbarrows into the sacks and tubes. We recently retired the first pair of cans … and here you can see side be side a new can next to a can that has moved ~25 cubic meters of soil (one can at a time!).

My sister, Orit came to visit for a few days and joined us for a few sessions … we now regularly sit on the walls to take in the sunset (horizon rising):

Istvan also visited with us briefly, showed us saturn in his telescope and joined us for a work session:

Liviu and Ana also visited with us and Liviu also joined us for a morning session (we forgot to take a picture … so you’ll have to take my word for it) … and we have finished levels 14 and 15, we are now working on 16 and the arches have started to form:

The arches have started to draw a finish line … the walls will be finished when the arches are complete and one additional level has been layed on top. Right now, my estimate is that 21 levels should get us there … but that will become more clear as we start to move up through the next layers.

We are currently inquiring about two options for a roof … more on that in an upcoming post.