I’ve been spending the last few weeks immersed in reading about wood-framing. I’m really enjoying the experience of feeling that it really is possible to self-build a home. It’s logical, straightforward and building with hemp simplifies it even more.
I recently came across these sample PDF plans of an eco-house from Studs – a UK timber frame design company. I am happy to say that it isn’t all giberish to me anymore 🙂 I still can’t read it all – and some parts are a bit overwhelming – but I think it’s good practice to start looking at such plans. They provide house design ideas, they teach structural lessons and they prepare you to communicate with other professional which we expect to be doing.
It’s been over a week that I’ve had the website for Modece Architects open in my browser. I really enjoyed the website – it feels like an authentically green site – one that actually walks the walk. Particularly I’ve browsed back and forth endlessly in the sustainable-construction gallery which has been quite an eye opener. For example …
This image hints at the potential of using quality timber framing together with hemp construction – which I was just wondering about…
or this image that demonstrates that loose hemp!!! can be used in floor insulation:
… or this image of a do-it-yourself solar panel:
… honestly, every picture in their gallery is like a magical doorway into knowledge.
But what really tickled my fancy was that as I was revisiting that must read book on hemp-lime construction I recommended a while back – I made the connection that the hand-drawn illustrations starting on page 31 were contributed by Ralph Carpenter of Modece Architects … and I am thinking “yeah, that’s the website I’ve got open in my browser” … so it seems that the world of hemp-lime construction is still a nice and intimate community 🙂 Great fun!!!
The more we dig our hands into the endless details of creating a sustainable home the more I realize that it isn’t really sustainable. How is that possible?
No matter how you do the math the most sustainable and cost-effective way to generate electricity is together, not every house for itself. Given our very low electricity bills and the high costs of the cheapest of available green-electric solutions (hydro and solar) – I doubt we will offset the costs in our lifetime. The same holds true for running water and I am guessing for most of the other infrastructures we take for granted in day-to-day life. There’s a reason we live on shared infrastructures – it’s the best way to do it.
At the heart of my preference for an independent sustainable home is an uncomforting thought about togetherness. I simply don’t trust the huge “we” mechanism to continue facilitating food, warmth and shelter. I don’t trust “we” to facilitate the growth and supply of healthy, nutritious and non-poisonous food. I don’t trust “we” to supply me with consistent and affordable eletricity or gas.
I don’t trust the “social we” because it is dominated by corrupt motivations (that come in many flavors – some raw and in your face, others subtle and devious). I don’t trust the “intellectual we” because it is ignorant towards so much freely available knowledge on how to do things better.
I belong to a miniscule percentile of people on the planet who can indulge in not trusting “we” to do a good job, and to do so from a warm apartment with food on my table. But I have also seen, over recent years, how those things are slipping away. I saw that unless I do something about it I am heading towards a point in time in which I will be to cold and hungry too indulge in criticizing “we”.
So I decided to do something about it. I have come to Romania where there are plenty of natural resources with which I believe I can do much better then “we” seems to be doing. It would be wonderful if we could meet with a few other like-hearted people with whom we might be able to create a better “we”. But when I say sustainable I am being selfish … I am building my own little Noah’s ark because I don’t want to feel like I am drowning anymore.
IMPORTANT: this note was added after the post was published but seemed important enough to be inserted at the beginning of the post. I am just now realizing that my perception of heating requirements are based on experience of poorly insulated homes. This is why I expect stoves to be lit numerous times a day. But, in a properly insulated home the need for heating should eb drastically reduced. If this is true – then all our elaborate plans to use stove-heating may be irrelevant – since the stoves may not be lit long enough to generate hot water. Having a super-energy-efficient home may lead to us to simpler, existing ready-made solutions. We don’t know, and we don’t know yet someone who knows … so for the time being it’s all up in the air.
Some weeks ago we described an imaginary-heating system and since then we’ve come across numerous resources and refined our understanding a bit.
I think there are two core ideas that shape and guide our understanding and wishes of a heating system:
- Most of the time we can shower when hot water is available – though it’s comfortable we don’t really need hot water to be available on demand.
- Enough direct heat is generated by our wood-stoves to indirectly supply most if not all of our heating needs.
So what we can say about our envisioned heating system?
- It will be an integrated water-based system – the same systems is used to generated running hot water and water for a radiant heat system.
- The system relies as little as possible on electricity – we would like to have a warm house and hot water even during a complete power-out (though it may run better when powered with electricity).
- The system will include an indoor cold-water container that will bring the water to room temperature.
- The system will include a central hot-water tank (not a boiler!) that supplies both the radiant heat water and flowing hot water to facuets and showers.
- The primary source of heat will be classic Romanian-village-style terracotta wood stoves. We expect to have one or two primary stoves in the living-space and kitchen. We both work from home a lot and cook a lot so these stoves will already be working.
- We would like to design and build the wood stoves to include an efficient coiled water pipe that is connected to the radiant heat water circuit and feeds back into the central hot-water tank.
- We would like to install a on-demand gas water heater on the running water hot-water circuit as a backup in case the water in the hot-water tank is not yet hot enough.
Following are someuseful web-resources:
- Some basic explanations about boiler-stoves
- Design Constraints for Water Central Heating Systems
- Sample (Do-It-Yourself) Central Heating Design
- Collection of posts on radiant heating at RadiantDesignInstitute
- Romanian forum thread with images on a self-made heating circuit
A few weeks ago when I began exploring the world of framing it (and I) was dominated by a fairly straightforward technique of wood-framing – using standard 2×4 lumber with nails and metal connectors to construct a home frame. But then I came across a blog where someone spoke of another building method – one that relies on creating elegant joints between wood joints that are fastened together with wooden pins (kind of like huge nails) – an all wood structure.
I encountered all kind of terms I didn’t know like dovetails and tenon joints. So I did some more searching and came across this abundant resource that had way more information then I could possible want about techniques for joining together pieces of wood. I discovered an entire art of wood-joints … which actually blew the wind out of my sails. I thought that was just too much to attempt to muster on a project with limited time and resources. So I set it aside.
I am now entering a second round of inquiry into wood framing – the straightforward “nail and connecing plates” kind this time going into more detail. Then, a few days ago I came across Northern Lights Timber Framing and a single image on their home page blew my mind. This is what timber-framing looks like:
Most of the structure (except for some of the supports) is made from massive timber beams that are crafted into a carefully planned puzzle. There is an entire carving process that takes place away from the building site during which all the pieces are meticulously crafted and tested. Then they are brought to the building site site and with the help of cranes, assembled into a monolithic structure. It is an artful process shimmering with quality and inspiration. It is very different then wood-framing. Here’s another images from Northern Lights – this time an indoors view of a timber-framed house:
The Northern Lights site listed a link to the Post n Beams blog, written by a student that trained with the folks of Northern Lights. It is a great and informational blog to read with excellent, detailed and informative images. This images from the blog further demonstrates the elaborate art of Timber Framing:
This is very different from wood-framing:
We Will Probably Build with Wood Framing
From where I stand now I am somewhat sad to say that we will be building our house with wood-framing and not with timber framing. There are a few reasons for this:
- The overall framing process, as I understand it, seems to be more complicated and longer then wood-framing.
- It seems like a more expensive building method (tools, materials).
- It requires refined skills and workmashinp – making it less relevant as a do-it-yourself project.
- Most of our wall-framing will remain hidden from sight as it will be emdedded inside the hemp-lime walls.
- Hemp-lime masonry needs studs to support it.
- Except for a living-kitchen space, energy concerns are leading us to smaller more heat-efficient spaces – so the benefit of an open-floor structure are marginal.
- Most of the roof will also be highly insulated with hemp and other materials.
I would love to incorporate into our building process some of the qualities of timber-framing. There is more to it then meets the eye. I wonder if, for example, similar joint techniques can be employed when framing with 2×4 lumber?
I am no expert but my instincts tell me that timber-framing delivers a superior structure (to that of wood-framing) and the fact that it is all-wood (no chemical interactions with metallic parts) give it a better shot at longevity (though in our case this may be mitigated by the hemp-lime encasing).
A part of me hopes that we come across a magical local timber-frame builder that will change my mind 🙂 I would love to live in a structure that was built with such masterful craftsmanship.