Categories
Cob Construction Earthbags

Summer Kitchen Renovation Part5: Moving a Cob Wall

After last year’s preparations (a bit of deconstruction, preparing for water and electricity, installing an electric post and reconnecting electricity), this spring we started renovating. I’ve been less regular about pictures so this is an overview of what we’ve been doing.

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:

Categories
Electricity Energy

Summer Kitchen Renovation Part4: Electricity

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.

Categories
Construction

Summer Kitchen Renovation Part3: Electric Post

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:

outside:

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:

… electric pole … check!

Categories
Construction Electricity

Summer Kitchen Renovation Part2: Water & Electricity

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 🙂

Categories
Cob Construction

Summer Kitchen Renovation Part1: Destruction

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.