With formwork in place we put in rebar and then had to wait for the weather to clear up and for a delivery of stones (for the concrete mix) for a concrete pouring day.
While waiting for the weather I completed work in the workshop on the window frames. Here are two large frames awaiting assembly:
The joinery work has really paid off … the frames assemble reliably and with great precision (square!):
Two frames assembled … these were given priority because we will need them soon for framing … having them ready will allow us to simulate their placement in the wall to get the best view:
Then, concrete day arrived. We tried hiring two workers .. but only one, Mirela – the shepherd’s wife. Iulia and I got an early start to get started, mix a first batch and see what it’s like to get it in place. The first segment went smoothly … though we did adjust the mix (5 shovels stones, 7 shovels sand + ~7 liters of water):
Then Mirela joined us and we started to find a rhythm. I was on the mixer, Iulia on the walls and Mirela moving material up to Iulia.
… and we were moving at a good place starting to go around the structure:
The 1st wider segment made the progress feel slower … but when we got past that we could see the end. This is what it looked like when we took a short break just before the last session:
… and after 30 batches (~1.7 cubic meters) … we had a bond beam poured:
Tarps went back on … and a couple days later … the forms came off:
… and then it was time for a wooden frame (I believe this is called a sill plate in wood framing) anchored to the concrete, on top of which we will frame the 2nd level:
Iulia is waiting for me to finish drilling wholes in the concrete for another segment of wood:
… which brought us back to the charred beams … here is Iulia cleaning off the loose char … preparing them for cleaning and oiling … while I was doing some more charring
… we are about to start (rapidly) ingesting the pile of lumber into a 2nd floor and a roof.
The hole in the wall window (we left off with last time) healed fairly quickly:
Once we put in a properly dimensions and straight frame in we learned how un-straight the wall is. As a result the frame sticks out and will require some “integration work” … to be dealt with in the future.
With that done we have set our sights on going up to the second floor. After “shaving” the top of the structure flat(ish) we had some placed that required mending and filling in with cob:
The water level is a simple, beautitul but somewhat cumbersome tool to use … we got pretty close to level.
We continued to have a rainy season and we’ve gotten pretty good at covering the walls with tarps. The pigeons also seem to appreciate our efforts:
While the cob-on-top-of-the-walls was setting and in between rains I experimented with wood charring over an open fire. I usually use a gas torch for this, but we have LOTS of wood to char … and we have leftover scrap wood. After some fiddling around I came up with a system that works pretty well, makes for good paced work and creates a good char (deeper than what I would typically do with the torch):
It felt nice re-cycling the “waste wood” we’d just torn down into fuel for preparing the new wood … which will hopefully protect it and give it a longer life!
Then it was time to build the formwork into which we will be pouring a concrete bond beam. We used a combination of new (and charred) beams, boards, and re-used materials. We started with a peripheral frame:
… and then moved on to constructing two internal frames:
… and according to the water level one corner (the one in the foreground of the image above) is 1.4cm higher than the other 3 corners … and we decided that was close enough for us.
The formwork also provided us with a clear reference for the cob walls. Gaps in height were clear and easy to tend to … so it was another round of cob-on-top-of-the-walls to level and seal all around the formwork.
Meanwhile, I’ve also been spending a few full days in the workshop preparing the window frames for the second floor … so that the framing, when we come to it, will flow well. The thicknesser has been working overtime … and the dogs love it 🙂
We’ve put in some rebar … and if all goes well … tomorrow will be concrete day. We are hiring help for tomorrow … aiming for two people … unclear if both will show up. Concrete needs to be poured in one continuous effort … so tomorrow will be an early start … and hopefully pleasant work … with correct effort!
After completing the “wall move” we moved to the hallway to convert the gaping hole in the wall into a window frame:
This was put off until we decided on what kind of window. We finally resolved that and I could build a frame to build in and around:
All this time the rain was unrelenting. It was raining almost every day (some days less some days more). This is a screenshot I took of the forecast during this period … basically “rain forever”:
One day this is what I found – Litsa making good use of the small pile of (now soaked and useless) straw for cob in what otherwise felt like a miserable scene:
We were having a difficult time protecting the walls (new and old) with tarps because the remains of the roof were in the way. We decided to try a different approach. Instead of trying to cover the structure with tarps (which acted as excellent water collectors that drained into the structure) we decided to remove the remaining roof elements (beams and board) so that we could drape tarps over the walls. Water would get in (and help to recycle the dried cob by soaking it) but the walls would be protected.
So on a “clear” day I went up and started pulling apart and tossing down the ~7cm layer of rough cob that was placed on top of the ceiling boards and then it was time to take off the roof. It was an unpleasant job, mud, rot, and increasingly (as the work progressed) unstable footing.
At one point it became so unsafe to be on top that we pushed off the remaining boards from the inside of the space … until only the beams were left:
The beams … oh the beams … some had scratching went into these … it took some figuring out how to approach them … but we found an approach (I am not inclined to get into … too much work just to explain the challenge). The chainsaw played a key role … and we started bringing them down:
… and we were left with a truly naked structure … felt like a ruin … with tarped walls:
Then it was back to the completing the hallway window:
… and it too became a place … with a framed view … it looks out to sunsets:
The finish level of the cob above this window became the reference level for the entire structure. This is in preparation for a concrete bond beam that will carry us up to the second level (my primary objective in navigating and prioritizing our work is to get a new roof on). So we started “shaving” and patching the rest of the structure to this level (using a simple water level). This was tedious work.
The last wall we did was the one that still had the old window in it. I was hoping to put off replacing this window until after the bond beam. But there were some questions marks that led us to give it priority. We were wondering if the ~25cm of cob above the window opening (~1.2m) would hold if we removed the window and if we could expand the opening to receive the new window frame. We carefully dug out the wall around the window … gradually released it … got it out … and were left with the rough header – some roundwood pieces that were layed across the opening. We pulled them down carefully … and got our answer:
NO! It came crashing down … at least saved us the work of slowly working it down! We were left with yet another gaping whole (and the bond beam moved a few days further into the future).
I anticipated we may need to take care of this window/wall and had already built the frame for it … here it is in fitting just before assembly:
… and just before a nut came loose in the relatively new thicknesser rendering it useless (it has since gone to service and returned yesterday):
I spend the better part of a day finishing all the other parts needed for the complete frame … including charring them … and today we were able to fit it into place. Here it is, after the last fitting test, just before it went finally went in, on the pile of rubble which was the cob that came crashing down (all of which will be re-used!):
… and here it is fit in place … plumbed and leveled:
We’ve already cobbed around the base and in the coming days will finish rebuilding the wall around it and complete the frame itself and the header which will bring us almost to the top of the wall (~2cm of cob will be required).
It hasn’t stopped raining since we took down the roof so we focused solely on completing the “wall moving”. Now that the roof was out of the way and we were moving up the wall we could tamp the earthbags from above, standing on the remaining walls and beams.
I had just removed the rain gutters and found Kiwi confused. She has a growing repertoire of Parkour moves and one of them was jumping from the tree to rain gutter and on to the roof. Here is she is deliberating what to do with the rain gutters gone:
she didn’t make the jump!
In this picture the “moving wall” is becoming increasingly clear. The wall in the foreground is shrinking while the one in the background is growing:
… and working under the tarps while it is raining (soon it is my turn to go out into the rain to tamp down those earthbags.
As we reached the top of the window frame it was about time to complete the window header. I went with a design of a reinforcing grid sandwiched between two layers of solid boards. The grid was already built but needed charring:
… and then packing the gaps with insulation:
… and installing it in place … gave the window more presence and wholeness … and started to feel more like a picture frame to the outside:
During one of the sunny spells Kiwi climbed up and parked herself in a folded tarp close to where we were working:
Watching her there reminded me of George Carlin’s line “why are we here? PLASTIC!”
When we finally arrived at the old door frame the feeling of “we moved the wall” became real:
We reached the top of the window. We installed the boards that completed the window header. We used cob-bricks we set aside from the “destruction” phase to rapidly fill the space above the window. We used cob to fill in the remaining spaces (when there was no more space to work with earthbags) … and the new wall was suddenly done:
In designing the window I was working with the “Window Place” family of patterns from Christopher Alexander’s “A Pattern Language” … and even amidst the mess of construction, the window does indeed feel like a welcoming place:
.. and the old neighboring mullberry tree feels like a friendly neighbor:
We then had some “easy” earthbag work (compared to the constrictions we’d encountered in the window wall) rebuilding the base of the opening we took down during the “destruction” (where there was a traditional oven):
The window frame that goes into this opening is almost ready and we can fill this wall out.
.. and today we took delivery of almost 7 cubic meters of wood for beams, a 2nd story floor, stairs and roof framing. Just moving and organizing this was an equivalent of a work-day for us:
We stripped the small “porch” of its flimsy wooden covering and window. Given our slow and sometimes unpredictable work progress, we decided to keep the roof on as long as possible (so as not to leave the structure exposed to the elements). We decided to build the new external wall around the existing wood frame. Here is Iulia creating a base of cob on top of which the new earthen wall will be built.
With the frame out of the way we could decide upon the new window location (not what we thought it would be). This required putting in two new posts and removing an existing one:
Meanwhile I was experimenting with the new workshop tools (thickness-planer and table saw – maybe deserves a separate post) to see if I could build a reliably straight and correctly sized window frame (for used windows we got last year) … and I was to get a decent result. After three layers of earthbags … the frame found its place and we continued to build up around it.
We are reprocessing cob by crushing it and remoistening it. We started using the soil from last year’s deconstruction using the cob-pools we also prepared last year. When we finished that soil we started taking down the internal wall … again resuing the materials … so “moving a cob wall”:
and discovered some rotten beams … this one in particular … it had the an electric pole sticking out above it that, I’m guessing, acted as a reliable water collecter that drained above the post.
It is a clear testimony to how tolerant cob is to water (absrobs it, gets stronger with some of it while releasing the rest into the atmosphere) and how intolerant wood is (especially the basic pine we have available to us here).
We reached a point where work on the sacks was becoming uncomfortable … we were crouching and banging our heads on the beams and ceiling. So we decided to take off the roof despite god laughing at us with a 10-day forecast with plenty of rain in it. Iulia’s sister and her partner came out to visit and helped us get the tiles off:
We responded to god’s challenge with plastic tarps which are doing a reasonable job (while also efficiently pooling water). We continued to take the framing apart .. from small to large members:
Then we took off the gutters and peripheral wood sufaces. We still have a ceiling to take down over the internal room (a layer of wood boards covered with a few centimeters of cob) … and then the large beams that go across the entire structure … but that will wait for the weather to clear a bit. Meanwhile we are back to “moving the wall” and loading the cob-pools in preparation for resuming construction:
A few days after completing the post the guys from the electric company came out to do their part. They were quick … done in less than two hours. They put in the new electric box and moved the meter into it:
… and moved the main supply wires from the summer kitchen to the new post:
While they were doing that and power was out I was making some arrangement in the house-electric-box for hooking up the new line.
They connected the new main line to the box and finished up some work connections I didn’t have time to do … and pretty soon power was back on and running:
All the old parts became bare and desolate (and ready for tear-down):
A few weeks later I got around to completing the job. First by putting in a new box in the summer kitchen. This was a first taste of carving into cob with an SDS hammer (easy!) to make a channel for the cable and a hole for the box.
Then I created two deadmen with scrap pieces of wood and nails, screwed the box into the deadmen and set the whole thing into fresh cob I placed in the hole:
This box now has a main fuse and a second fuse that is attached to a socket that we can use when working in the summer kitchen.
When that was done we finished arranging the main-box by connecting the summer kitchen, re-arranging some of the main fuses and finally re-connecting the cellar directly to the same fuse box (no pictures).
This, I hope, concludes this years adventures in electricity. Everthing is properly hooked up, no more of those pesky ceramic fuses that had to be replaced … and the summer kitchen is ready for more demolition WITH a new power line installed and working.
Our connection to the electric company currently runs through the summer kitchen and from there to the house. It is embedded in the structure.
The main above-ground cable runs from the road to a post sticking out of the summer kitchen roof. (top foreground)
A main cut-off switch is installed on the outside wall (bottom front – small black box on pink wall)
The line to the house also protrudes from another spot in the roof (top background)
The meter and antiquated main fuses are in the small hallway of the summer kitchen (right under the post in the background of the top image):
This interferes with our ability to renovate. The wall on which the meter is mounted is going to be torn down and so is the roof. So we’ve had to create an alternative path.
Our original wish was to install a completely new three-phase system with all cables buried in the ground. However, after consulting with an electrician we decided to stay with an upgraded single-phase installation that will be moved out of the summer kitchen.
As you can see in the previous post, we’d already buried a new cable that runs to the house from this hole in the ground (next to the summer kitchen):
We leveled the floor of this whole and stacked in it cement blocks to create an initial form:
The PVC pipe carrying the cable through the concrete was placed inside this form:
We had a large (and heavy) metal pipe (7.5cm diameter, ~7 meters long) lying around (it’s been here since we moved to Bhudeva) and it is going to become the post. It was quite a project for the two of us and these pictures don’t do the effort justice … but we managed to get the metal post into the concrete form and to orient it vertically straight in place:
The next step was backfilling (and tamping) and putting in rebar:
This is after the initial concrete pour (the rebars laid on top were moved aside for the pour and placed returned later):
Then we added a frame for the top part which would encase the form created by the blocks. Originally the form was placed as you see in the picture below – oriented with the blocks. On second thought I re-oriented it a bit (no picture) to be better aligned with its surroundings (I realized just before the next pour that we had not given any attention to its orientation … we’d simply followed through with the orientation the excavator was able to create while digging the hole):
And the 2nd concrete pour took place the next day:
While that was setting we completed a penetration under the wall of the summer kitchen for a new main power line from the house to the summer kitchen – inside:
and to the house:
… and runs all the way to the electric fuse box (another project that felt like way more than 9 words worth – those are two hefty cables … they don’t do stretching!) that is at the entrance to the house where they will be patched in after the electricians install the new main box on the pole (planned for this Wednesday):
And today we stripped the forms and our electric seems ready to go:
and it seems to be close to the same height of the existing pole:
When I started healing from my strained back we invited the excavator back to do the work we halted a couple of weeks earlier. I offered guidance, Iulia did the work!
We started working on a water line. There was already a second pipe (the first being the one that feeds into the house) coming out of our water infrastructure. We decided to extend it and attempt to bring it into the summer kitchen (I felt this was the best time to try this, before burying the electric power cable). We excavated parallel to the existing water line to avoid injuring the working pipe:
Iulia promptly continued with some manual digging around the existing pipe, to loosen the soil around it enough to bury it in full depth (~80cm deep):
While Iulia was doing that Florin created the channel from right up against the house until we had a full path:
We then patched the existing pipe to a new segment, placed it in the ground and very quickly the excavation was closed off (except for the part near the structure where we would need to manually dig to get the pipe inside):
We then moved on to burying a new main electric cable (more on that project as it unfolds). This is a fairly massive armored cable (4 lines of 16sqmm aluminum wires). We started by excavating a channel between the house and summer kitchen (which will be connected to the house). It is shaped as two diagonals because of limited space for the excavator to maneuver):
Then we began to dig the line out and away from the house:
… and around the summer kitchen. The cable is buried ~50cm deep, so it crosses over the water pipe:
We then moved our attention to the other end of this cable, to where a new electric post would be installed. We first transplanted a plant that was occupying the location of the new post:
We then continued the ditch to the post location:
Then we came to the hole for the post itself:
then the cable went in:
… and once again everything was quickly buried again:
This kind of infrastructure work doesn’t leave much of a trace … the materials and work simply get swallowed and converted into potential value!
… this was completed ~3 weeks ago … to be continued 🙂
For the past few months Iulia has been clearing out the summer kitchen in preparation for renovation. We haven’t started because I’ve been reluctant to get into this project. During this period of my reluctance we did get more clear about the general plans for the renovation. We also got a set of 4 used windows that helped us make some design choices.
Then on the weekend of the July 20th Alin came to visit with us again. I was still reluctant to start, so on the first day we cut some firewood together. His presence and ability to help with physical work did bring us to a point of “critical energy”. I walked around the cellar and found clarity about where to start. The next day we started.
The small space in the summer kitchen had a baking stove built into the rear wall. We started by taking it apart. This image was taken after the exterior (sticking out the back of the structure) part of the dome was disassembled. This the inner half of the oven dome with the metal door opened and looking into the space.
This is after Alin went inside and collapsed the chimney and other inner parts:
The base of the oven was filled with dirt, stones, broken bricks … and plenty of broken glass:
We discovered three kinds of bricks: regular fired clay bricks, unfired (we are guessing home-made) cob-bricks and large flat slabs of fire-bricks (shamota) that created the baking base. We tried to organize materials for later to re-use. We had to set aside the materials that were mixed with glass (we tried sieving but small glass parts got through). We kept the whole & semi-whole clay bricks close to the opening with the intention of reusing them to rebuild it:
Behind the pile of cob-bricks in the above picture there is a similar pile of whole clay-fired-bricks and not far away accumulated a pile of broken bricks:
That was completed on our first day of work and on the next day we moved on to breaking down some cob-wall and converting the small window into a doorway between the small space and the main space of the summer kitchen.
Alin climbed up on the roof and started taking the wall apart from the top
… and (to my surprise) the rest came down fairly quickly (even though we did not have the right tools for the task!):
By the end of this day we had an opening all the way to the ground:
During the demolition we were getting nice chunks of cob. On the first day I put a few of them in a bucket of water to see if the cob could be re-activated … and it worked beautifully. So we created a cob-bath and loaded it up with what we considered to be re-usable cob materials. I was a bit naive about the size of the bath … it filled up very quickly. We soaked it all in water and let it sit and it has become beautiful, ready to use cob:
There is already a second larger pile that we are gradually dampening to bring it closer to work-readiness:
The next day was planned to be a work day with the excavator … but life happened … so we are on hold for a while … we hope to start moving again next week.