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!

Blog Brick Laying Construction Energy Heating Rocket Stoves

Our Second Second Rocket Mass Heater

We finally decided to go ahead and rebuild our second rocket stove (the one in the living room). My primary wishes were to rebuild the core (better) and to convert the relatively useless mass into a (small) bench. Iulia decided to make it a workshop and …  3 interested people showed up.

During the first day we settled into being together. I left the existing rocket mass heater in tact so we could review its shortcomings together and learn from that. We talked about the basic workings of a rocket stove while talking about the existing stove.

… and then we took it apart:

We had only one wheel barrow of waste which was non-toxic and we dumped it as back-filling at the earthbag cellar.

Though there was some soot in the rocket (sometimes it didn’t burn completely clean) there was very little of it given that it worked for 6 winters. There was a 1cm layer of light and fluffy ash sitting at the top of the heat riser (accumulated over the same period of time).

Until we reached the brick platform upon which the rocket was built.

We then layed out the expansion of platform for the new rocket.

… and started building it … giving everyone their first experience at working with mortar and laying bricks.

The next morning we finished it!

With the platform done we built a mockup of the core (while learning about dimensions and sizing using standard brick sizes) and its place on the platform (and relationship to the bench).

We then settled into a rhythm in which two people were laying bricks (one working on the core, the other working on the bench) and two others were preparing soil for mortar and cob (and doing other support tasks such as cleaning bricks so that the brick layers could work smoothly).

As the chamber that is under the bench started to take for, I figured out how we were going to close the top of the chamber  (close from the chamber that makes the bench. The plan I came up with involved recycling two concrete slabs we had lying around together with some bricks. Next I had to figure out how to create a structure that could support that top while allowing a good flow of gasses through the chamber itself. It was a bit of a puzzle but we solved it.

… and the core was rising up

… and the chamber was rising up … and we were starting to apply cob (especially on the back side where access would become more difficult as the construction grew):

… and I think this is where we finished up on day 2:

On day 3 as most of the riddles were behind us and everyone had a better sense of the materials and the work, progressed flowed and accelerated. The core was completed and the chamber layout finalized. While the chamber was being closed up the heat riser was growing.

Pretty soon we were insulating the core with  perlite in a clay slip (recycled from the previous rocket) in the chamber built around the core:

… and then the insulation sleeve around the riser was put in place (recycled from the previous rocket) … and also filled with perlite:

… and finally the barrel came on (for the last time – we had quite a few fittings), we sealed all around it with cob … and lit the stove … and despite adverse conditions (a new rocket filled with moisture, on a warm summer day) we all smiled when we saw the flames getting sucked into the rocket and the dragon came to life. Very soon we were in an overheated room with a warm bench (that nobody wanted to sit on).

… in the excitement (and a bit of rush to accommodate the schedule of one of the participants) I missed taking a picture of the barrel on the “raw” rocket … but the next day (today!), with Liam’s help preparing soil and mixing cob, we were able to get much of the cob work done (and we may complete the rough structure tomorrow).

Even though it is using the same floor area as the previous rocket, the footprint of the new build is much larger … and it dwarfs the room … which feels a bit off. That is a price we’ve paid for having a warm bench to sit on (without taking on a much larger renovation).

It was an intense weekend. I’m glad to have had an opportunity to share rocket stoves with Tudor (missing from the picture below because he had to leave before we took it) , Dan and Liam and Iulia. I’m glad to have a good core with hopefully a comfortable bench for next winter.

Brick Laying Construction

Catalan Brick Vault

What a wonderful skill  … beautiful work with a basic element and basic tools. I can imagine something like this being built over eathbag walls (though I don’t know about using it for an underground roof that may carry alot of weight … will it hold?)

Construction PAHS

(Very) Passive (Not) Solar

The only place we’ve seen sunshine for the past … oh … I don’t know … at least a week, maybe two … was on a video call with Annelieke in Portugal. And this is what the 10 day forecast looks like:

This is that time of the year where the sun can be absent for weeks and the temperatures drop … and the theory of passive solar design simply cannot deliver. We simply cannot rely [for warmth during our winter months] on a daily cycle of solar charging and discharging.

That shortcoming hit me during the first winter at Bhudeva … and that is why I got excited when I discovered Passive Annual Heat Storage which is about creating a YEARLY cycle of charging abundant summer warmth and discharging it during winter.

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.



Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar at Level 20

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!


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.

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.

Construction Earthbags

Earthbag Cellar Level 10, 11, 12 and 13 … soon arches

We had one weekend of construction at the beginning of June with the help of Adi and Dan … we got 10 and half of 11 done.

We then paused because of my allergy-period and because we were busy finishing and launching the new Cutia Taranului website. In recent weeks we got back in the saddle, we finished 11 and 12 … and its feeling more and more like a place.

We’ve also put in velcros to which we plan to attach a grain storage and dispenser (planned to hold ~100kg of grains):

Sia, a new puppy who has been with us for a few weeks is getting acquainted with the site … and also has manifested a destructive quality … it seems she enjoyes tearing into earthbags and digging soil out 🙁

Today we started 13 which brought us to the levels of the rectangular door frames …. which means that soon we begin to form the arches on top of the doors.

And finally we have out overall progress indicator. This pile of soil is like an hour-glass … if my calculations were correct it should have enough soil to bring us to completion. When we started construction this year the pile reached out to where the mixer is currently standing so we’ve taken quite a bite out of it. It is nice to feel the space starting to open up and reconnect with the world beyond it.

I estimate we are going to end up with 19 or 20 levels.

And lastly some number I’ve collected:

  • We are currently mixing batches with a ration of 4 shovels of sand + 12 shovels of clay soil. This fills an 80 liter wheelbarrow.
  • A wheelbarrow is roughly the amount of soil that goes into a sack (1 meter long when flat, 80cm when filled to the max) … though we are using mostly tubes (not sacks).
  • Each batch includes 2 wheelbarrows.
  • Each wheelbarrow contains ~25 cans (3 liters in a can) … so it takes ~25 tosses to “move” a wheelbarrow of soil up the wall.
  • Each batch (of 2 wheelbarrows) translates into ~1.5 linear meters of wall (we are using 50cm wide – when flat – tubes and bags).
  • Which means that each can holds about 3 linear centimeters of wall.
  • At the current rate Iulia and I (neither of us particularly strong) are doing ~2 linear meters of wall an hour (though we will slow down as we move higher up the wall).
  • At this rate we can do a level in 3 or 4 days (we work at most 6 hours a day in two sessions … morning and evening).