Earthbag Cellar: Ready for 2nd Layer

When we finished laying the first layer of earthbags for the cellar walls we felt like “that’s done … on to the 2nd layer” … turns out that wasn’t the case … instead more preparations.

First we had to do finish the first layer by putting in the retaining walls. That required leveling the soil (by adding more soil and tamping it) and then putting down a layer of gravel (and tamping it). It greatly enhanced our sense of the structure and how it is built into the hill. The retaining walls acts as a funnel which converges on the outer door.

20160810_104417

Then it was time to finally prepare the 50 bricks to hold down the barbed wire (stay tuned to see what these do as we move up the walls) and then to put in the first layer of barbed wire. That went fairly smoothly.

20160812_171526

20160812_172841

With one level of the walls fully down we could not loger roll wheel barrows into the structure so we had to finally put down ramps over the two door frames.

The last task was to put in place the ventillaton pipes that would provide fresh, temperature moderated air into both rooms. This required positioning the pipes, creating supporting earth ramps that gently rise from the intake (built into the retaining walls) into the cellar rooms, covering the ramp with sand …

20160813_103535

… and finally connecting and laying down the pipes.

20160813_112346

now we are finally ready to get started with the second layer of earthbags.

Being at Bhudeva during Earthbag Cellar Construction

20160808_103009

We are, for the first time since starting this adventure called Bhudeva, considering inviting volunteers to partake in the earthbag cellar project. This is that invitation. If you are interested in being with us here at Bhudeva and experiencing earthbag construction first hand then please read through this invitation with care. It contains valuable information that will hopefully help you understand what the invitation is and if it is relevant for you.

Schedule

We have been developing this project since early spring. After much preparation we have taken major steps forward into the construction phase. After experimentation and learning we feel we have arrived at a working process which we can share with others. For the coming weeks we will be entering a flowing construction phase which involves building up the walls and preparing the structure for burial. There is a lot of physical work involved and we can benefit from more helping hands in doing it. The work is also becoming clear and organized enough that we feel we can bring others into the process.

Being at Bhudeva

Bhudeva has, over the years, settled into distinct rhythms and patterns. It is hard for me to describe, but as I write these words I feel that the people currently here (there are three of us) share an interest in practicing an authentic, grounded presence. We trust that our individual pursuits of these qualities result in a good shared existence. This is a delicate, intimate and sometimes challenging pursuit both individually and collectively.

Almost everything we do here is in service to that exploration. So while superficially it make look like we are making an earthbag cellar, we are actually practicing being authentically present and true to ourselves while doing the actions that lead to an earthbag cellar. If our actions (big or small) do not support our individual practices of being authentically present we stop doing them and reconsider.

20160402_163538

Who is Invited?

We don’t know. We have no experience hosting volunteers to draw on. However we can say this: people who resonate with Being at Bhudeva are welcome. If your presence here disrupts Being at Bhudeva, you will be asked to leave. If you DO NOT understand or do not resonate with Being at Bhudeva, you probably don’t belong here. If you DO resonate with Being at Bhudeva but are unsure what it actually means, you are welcome to come here and find out for yourself.

You do need to be healthy and physically able to do physical work.

What is work like?

20160619_124300

Moving around a lot of soil interlaced with some other tasks. It is a lot of physical work.

If you approach it with seriousness and force you may experience it is as difficult … and probably not get far. If you are playful and curious and are interested in learning to pace yourself and move gracefully and make every shovel swing good … it can be grounding, pleasant and even meditative. If you rush it, it is hard-going, if you pace yourself with correct effort you make good, reliable progress.

20160729_190937

What will you experience?

First and foremost you will experience Being at Bhudeva. It is difficult to do anything here without first connecting to the way life is lived here.

Depending on when you are here with us you will learn, through action, the basics of earthbag construction and in later stages (when we start to bury the structure) some additional things which are unique to underground structures.

You you will be partaking in a living process. You will most likely have questions that come up as we work together and we will try to answer your questions generously. We will be hosting no more than 4 people at a time. This allows for personal spacious interaction. However, this is not a course. There are plenty of theoretical subjects which have informed this process and we are not offering (at this time) a structured training on these subjects. So sometimes, you may get only partial answers, or pointers on where to look for more information.

How long can you stay?

If you don’t have much time but want to have a look around and get a taste of the work you can come for  one of our work sessions (typically a few hours).

If you want to experience more aspects of the work you may wish to stay longer. A longer stay makes it possible for us all to experience a more meaningful exchange where we can share with you more of what we’ve learned, you can practice more skills for more time and make a more substantial contribution to the process. This may happen if you stick around for a few days.

If you are into Being at Bhudeva and into earthbag construction (which you can probably discover by being here a few days) you may want to stay here for an even longer period of time. For that happen we need to experience a mutual connections that makes such a longer stay possible.

Living conditions

We are asuuming you will want to stay at Bhudeva, however there may be other options one of which is a new pensiune just outside the village (a few minutes drive) which has recently opened its doors to visitors.

If you do choose to stay with us, here are a few things you may wish to know:

  1. You will be camping in a tent (that you need to bring with you). We do not yet have built structures to house other people. We have one small house which is a private space and we prefer to keep is that way.
  2. We have one composting toilet in the house. If you stay here for a few days or more, you will learn not just to use it (make contributions) but also learn to care for it (emptying it in our humanure hacienda).
  3. If you are staying here for a few days we will provide you with a short warm shower at the end a working day. We know how precious this can be, we treasure it and expect you will too.
  4. We have a small outdoor kitchen.
  5. We eat mostly vegetables and fruits, with some dairy productions and eggs. Most of it locally (in the village) produced.

Families and Kids

… are welcome here. However their presence must also resonate with Being at Bhudeva. If you are interested in being here and your spouse is joining you for the ride, you are welcome. Children are also welcome. However you will need to balance their presence with the purpose of your being here. If a good balance isn’t found, then you will not be able to stay here during this time, when our focus is on the earthbag cellar construction project.

When it comes to families and kids sometimes more space is needed and at those times it is your responsibly to find and make that space. The living space around the house and the construction site cannot be that space. Being at Bhudeva is a delicate and subtle. We welcome and embrace the presence of families and kids, however we ask that you and your presence here be respectful of us and the place.

Money

We hope that with conscious effort from us and you, your visit here will be pleasant and mutually beneficial. We would like to believe that it will be a nourishing experience for you and that your presence will contribute to the progress of our project. We would like the exchange to be complete in that way without money.

We do ask for a contribution to cover costs of food and other facilities that make it possible to be here. We suggest a sum of 20 lei per day per person. We invite you to choose a sum that feels right to you.

What Next?

Let us know about you and your wish to be with us 🙂

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Your Telephone

When would you like to visit? (required)

How long would you like to stay? (required)

Tell us a little bit about yourself (required)

Wishes and intentions for your visit (required)

Earthbag Cellar: Getting Started

This year’s project is the most ambitious construction undertaken at Bhudeva: an earthbag cellar. Its design process was intriguing and inspired by some of the ideas I discovered in Christopher Alexander’s work … a gradual, adaptive approach, where each step informs the next (instead of having a theoretical master plan) … organically, during the spring months, a specific shape unfolded informed by a specific place behind the house.

Hopefully this will result in a hobit-like space where all you see is a door going into a hill and inside two rooms – one for dry storage and one for more humid storage). It will be completely buried, including a living roof … so that the hill will be restored (though somewhat reshaped) … and the whole space will become a pleasant place to be in and around.

Once we had a design that felt substantial enough we began preparations. This included clearing the site (overgrown with wild prune) which we had to extend twice (beyond what is show in these pictures) to allow a manageable work site (the cut wood pile is much bigger now). Until we had a clearing.

20160402_163538

20160423_173801

 

20160423_173637

Then we had to prepare some tools such as the tampers for the earthbags and forms for the two doors (an entrance door and a door connecting the two rooms).

20160619_124300

20160706_151609

… and finally, after preparations and some other life-delays … the tractor came to excavate … a powerful and brutal process … and converted the clearing into what we now call the crater.

20160721_092044

20160722_112656

20160722_163747

20160722_203119

In the crater we marked an outlines of the structure to be with some lime … that got washed out in the rain.

20160722_202908

Most of the structure has no foundations … however in the entrance area (the only part of the structure that is exposed to the elements and other life forces) we did put in some foundation to stabilize, to prevent rodents from being able to dig in underground and to insulate. We built a simple frame at ground level and used 8cm insulation on both sides as forms (that stayed in place)

20160727_183817

We borrowed a cement mixer (my first time using one) and filled it in.

20160727_183933

20160727_210931

We brought in some gravel and spread it out (on top of some geo-textile to stabilize it) on the site to have a clean work-surface … the concrete we were proud of making quickly disappeared.

20160729_190937

We re-marked the outline of the structures (this time on top of the gravel) … then added a door-frame which gave it a whole new feel …

20160804_202118

… and after some experimentation we were able to lay a first round of earthtubes.

20160808_103009

We have since made more progress and more pictures to come …

We are also going to send out an invitation for people to who may be interested experiencing earthbag construction to come out and lend a hand … stay tuned.

Old House New Deck

I’m still not really up to blogging extensively … but I’ve been asked about this numerous times. So here goes … a short review in pictures of last years construction project … a new deck, attached to the old house, which serves as an intermediate space between inside and outside and as a summer kitchen … a place to be,

It started by clearing out the space from the old and rotting benches and table which sat there and served us well for the first few years. It required quite a bit of touch manual excavation littered with stubborn tree roots:
P1070281

some measuring and layout, responding to the natural shape of the place and characteristics of construction materials:

P1070283

Leveling and placement of of forms for concrete pads (most of the concrete was underground):

P1070291

Construction materials arrive:

P1070299

A structure starts to appear:

P1070304

… a framed roof:

P1070319

… roof tiles going on:

P1070324

a space starts to become a place

P1070329

P1070330

… framing a floor:

P1070348

… putting in the floor itself:

P1070360

P1070361

… and a place is born:

P1070364

P1070367

some “utilities” are gradually added … cooking rocket stoves:

P1070371

… and a grill:

P1070546… a kitchen cabinet:

P1070534

P1070543

… including an experiment cob counter-top   (made of the same soil dug out from under the deck:

P1070560

P1070569

P1070579
P1070580

P1070603

Update: a view from the plan … what was built was fairly true to what I planned:

oldhousenewdeck01a_snapshort

We have not started building yet

Once in a while I get a question about the house that was to be built at Bhudeva … and also about what happened to updates on the blog … I thought to answer in a short post.

Construction of a new house hasn’t started at Bhudeva.

Me & We

One reason is that the “we” that we were is not the “we” that we are. There have been major life changes and transformations in and around Bhudeva. I don’t want to get into that yet because it touches intimately not just on my life but also on the lives of others. Personally it has been a surprising, sometimes pleasant, sometimes demanding journey … and it is ongoing. To meet that journey in a good way I have made it a priority to care for myself and my well-being (physicall, emotionally, energetically and spiritually).

I have turned most of my attention inward, where I have been able to find and sustain (sometimes with a lot of effort) a sense of center and stability. This affected many things, including my writing. I have written very little both on my personal site and here at Bhudeva. I am now starting to feel a desire to write again … but that has not translated yet into actual writing (this post being an exception). I am treating this desire with delicate care, allowing it to become and mature … not pushing it, not making any demands of myself, not setting any expectations.

Money

Another reason is money … this is another expansive subject of reflection for me … but for now I can say that when it comes to money I would like two conditions to exist for a house build to begin:

  1. The first is an initial sum of money that can be comfortably dedicated to construction.
  2. The second is a steady flow of money which can be directed towards the building project.

However, I believe that even if the money was available right now, construction still wouldn’t start because in my mind and heart creating a house is intimately related to me and “we” … and it will take more time for there to be “clarity” about who “we” are and what that says about a house and living at Bhudeva.

Design

Technically speaking I feel that I have found most of the information needed to build a suitable and efficient house for the climate conditions here at Bhudeva. However, until recently I have not found a good way to design a house – to give it good shape. This is something that has been on my mind for 4 or 5 years now … and I felt that any choices I made when thinking about the shape of a house were arbitrary … intellectual exercises. Some configurations felt like reasonable solutions to getting all the desired functions of a house in place. But how can I tell that a design is Good … that it will create a pleasant house to live in?

I have been living with this particular question for 2 or 3 years now. I have been looking for some knowledge that could guide me. During the summer of 2015 I discovered a fascinating work titled “The Nature of Order” by an architect named Christopher Alexander. It is a 4 volume work spanning ~2000 pages. It is touching me deeply, nourishing me spiritually and answering a lot of questions I had about designing a house. Reading it has been a regular part of my mornings for the past half year. I am in the 3rd book and I have been publishing some quotes that have inspired me as I am going through the book. I have been tempted to start thinking about the new house numerous times during my reading, but I have decided to wait until I finish all 4 books.

3rd House

Another piece of wisdom I’ve encountered for self-builders is that you will get things right on the 3rd house. It takes at least two construction projects to make some necessary learning mistakes, so that when you get to the 3rd house you can do it right. This has been my experience with rocket stoves and I have been trying to apply this wisdom to construction:

  • Two years ago I built a wood-shed.
  • Last year I built a sheltered terrace (wooden deck, an overhead roof, an outdoor kitchen ..) attached to the house (maybe I will publish post with a bit of information about this build).
  • This year there are plans to build a cellar with some of the building technologies that will be used in the future house.
  • There are also plans to renovate and transform the old summer kitchen into a living space .. this will be an opportunity to play with and apply some of the ideas I’ve learned from “The Nature or Order”.

How To Build

I have a lot to say about how to approach construction projects (maybe any project) based on my experiences in recent years at Bhudeva and amplified by what I have been reading in the “The Nature of Order”. I don’t know when and how I will be able to express what is moving inside me. For now I will say this. If you want to create a house that is vibrating with life then the process of creating that house needs to also vibrate with life. What kind of house will be created by a construction process that is painful, stressful, insecure, difficult …? My personal efforts are therefore directed at how to create conditions for a construction process that will be spacious, pleasant, inspiring, loving … I believe these conditions needs to be established before a single earthbag is filled with earth.

For me this is not about building walls … it is about creating a home.

 

 

My Power Woodworking Tools

I was recently asked about my set of power woodworking tools and thought it best to deliver the answer in a post.

woodworkingpowertools

My intention, when I set out on this journey, was to be free to create the things I needed / wanted … from small wooden accessories to furniture and even structures. Though I haven’t blog much about it (I hope to catch up with that story in the future) I have done what I set out to do. However I have experienced certain limitations that I think are as valuable to acknowledge as the tools I have chosen to work with.

The greatest challenge, and most of my time in the workshop, is spent on converting raw construction grade pine wood into workable pieces. This is an unpleasant task with power tools because it is noisy and very dusty. I believe that with hand-tools this experience can be very different … maybe even more pleasant, but maybe also more time-consuming. However I don’t have any experience with alternative hand-tools … except to say that good hand tools are as expensive as good power tools. This work also depends greatly on the quality and state of the wood I am working with. I have some air-dried (over a few years) wood left over in my attic which behaves very differently then the current green wood I am using to build a new outside roof and deck.

I consider the results I am able to achieve to be mediocre. The tools that I have do not enable me to achieve for reliable, consistent sizes. This effects my entire process of design and construction. I have learned to work within these limitations. I both enjoy the limitations and simplicity that this requires of me AND look forward to having better tools that will enable me to produce better quality materials and projects.

As you will see I chose to go with Bosch professional tools. When I did my initial survey my impression was that they had better build quality than Makita tools and similar quality to Dewalt (which are harder to find here). I consider this a long term investment and so opted to go with Bosch professional tools (blue products) and not the home tools (green products). Ideally I would have liked to go with Festool – I believe they are superior in quality but this also reflects in their prices.

A mitre saw (GCM 12 SD) is a very versatile tool but is often first in line for cutting long board to length. I chose this model for its large cutting capacity (effected by the blade size and sliding rails). A sale in the UK and a friend that helped in getting it shipped to Romania in an affordable way made it possible for me to enjoy this saw … otherwise I would have probably opted or a smaller size:

mitresaw

Next in line is a circular saw (GKS 55 CE) which I use for both cross-cuts (simple cuts on long boards that are difficult to get on the mitre saw) and length-cuts. The main choice to make here are the size of the blade and the strength of the motor. Sometimes I wish I had a larger blade, but I chose to go with this size thinking that on a construction site it is lighter to carry / lift / hold in less then ideal positions.

circularsaw

The next tool is the planer (GHO 26-82). The numbers reflect two dimensions – the maximum depth of cut (2.6mm) and the cut width (82mm). I rarely use a depth of cut deeper then 1.5. The larger the cutting width the stronger an engine is needed. I use it to convert the raw surface into something more pleasant, workable that can accept finishing more effectively. I use this tool a lot and I was wrongly expecting it to provide better results. I have not been able to use this tool to brings board to a predetermined size … I try to use it efficiently and make use of the resulting sizes as effectively as possible. This is not a substitute for a jointer and a fixed planer (where the tool is stationary and the wood is moved) or a combination planer-thicknesser (which is high on my wishlist).

planer

The results of the planer depend on the qualities of the wood and my proficiency in using it. Regardless, after planing there will be sanding to do … and plenty of it. The orbital sander (GEX 150 AC). I decided to go with only one sander (because of costs) hence the orbital sander which can be used for both rough and fine sanding. Because of the limitations of the planer I spend a lot of time sanding. I think the sanderis the machine with the most working hours in the workshop.

orbitalsander

The combined work of the planer and sander takes, by my estimate, 10 times (or more) time then it would to run the same piece of wood into a planer-thicknesser and the results (no matter how much care and efforts I put into the work) are lesser. I don’t enjoy this preparation phase and it is a demotivating part of the work that sometimes keeps (or delays) me from starting a project. This effect is magnified by the poor-to-mediocre quality of wood I have access to.

For smaller, more subtle, shaped cuts I use a jigsaw (GST 150 BCE):

jigsaw

… and a router (GOF 900 CE) is a very diverse tool, but is more complicated, takes more learning and experimentation to get to know and harness:

router

Though I rarely use it for wood-working an angle grinder (GWS 8-125) has been a priceless addition to this set. I didn’t initially get one and didn’t intend to. However I soon needed it and have since used it many times. It’s engine doesn’t run much, but it too is a diverse tool and when it does run it does precious work.

Despite their limitations I have been able to create almost everything I have wanted to create with these tools. The results are not particularly refined however I value more a freedom to design and shape things to be exactly the way I want them, to fit into the exact spaces I have available and to cater to the functions I intend them to do.

There are many more tools that serve me in the workshop … but these are the major wood-working related power tools.