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Turkeys and Argonauts, catching up through end of August 2012

Boy howdy is it hard to stay on top of this blog right now.  The other year has just died, a new year has just sprung forth, I’ve been busy and having fun like nobody’s business fun, and dang, I need a vacation from the vacation.

Tell me you have gone to work only to find turkeys hanging out in your “office.”  Can’t do it?  Well, had you asked me to tell you that a year and a half ago, I would also have said “can’t do it.”  But do it I can.  The carpenters sometimes don’t like it when they find turkey poop on their table saw, or on and in their tool bags.  But the plain and simply fact of it can’t help but make us grin at the same time, and give us something kind of fun to talk and tell about.


Mr. Ken Bradley himself multi-tasking–talking on the phone and dealing with another job, and wiring in the Stareks’ farm to the grid transformer all at the same time.  Oh boy, what fun!  Obviously, these shots were taken back in the end of August, when shorts were permissable.  Shorts now though?  Lawd a’mussy, not in a million years.  It’s like 5 degrees outside right now at my house on the mountain, and prolly less than 20 down in Boulder, a 4000 foot difference in elevation.

ken bradley

These here are electrical panels, both AC and DC, on the Main House.  I love the adobe details Alice is doing around them.  Sweet.  The cracking you see in the adobe mud, kind of looking like the top of light brown brownies, is intentional.  This is the second coat, and the cracks allow a place for the following coats to reach in and grab, making for a tighter and stronger bond between layers.

main electrical panels

In Boulder County, down lighting on the exterior is a mandate and requirement of the code.  The Code.  Boulder County is not into what they call “light pollution.”  I say “what they call” because, even though I understand the need for rules “across the board,” such as blanket rules, sometimes they are a simple pain in the argonaut. 

Down lighting means an exterior light fixture that you cannot see the direct light of from a side perspective.  In other words, the light is completely closed or covered all the way around the vertical sides of the light.  The only light allowed to escape the fixture is pointed down, directly at the ground.  Basically, the County does not want your neighbor to have to see your light directly when it is on.

“That’s not such a bad requirement,” one might say.  But when one considers mountain living, or in the woods living, in a backyard where no other neighbors are available and you might like more light, coupled with the very limited, and/or very expensive choices a consumer has to buy specifically down lit lights, it can be a nuisance at times.  Way more than once I have seen my clients buy the cheapest, ugliest, and most basic down light here in Boulder at McGuckin’s, only to get through the County process, go back to the store and buy whatever light they dern well please, have us remove the required downlight and put up the new light of their choice.  This process not only makes for an irritating one, but one that is less than GREEN.  Consumers are buying twice, creating more waste, spending more money, paying an electrician twice, etc.

But Alice, being the creative soul that she is, is making her own “down lighting” right out of the adobe mud itself.  Sculpting her own down lighting, I should say.  Perty neat, huh?  Where you see that there wire sticking out, we can wire in any ol’ high-efficiency compact fluorescent or LED light, and since you can’t see it from the sides, it meets code.  The Code.

main adobe details

There’s the brave woman herself, up on the scaffold, where I’m sure she’d rather not be, doing her mud.

alice on scaffold

Here’s some more of the mud goings-on…  The dark brown mud details are very fresh.  Probly applied either that very day or the day before.  The darkness is showing that it is still wet.


There’s a saying a guy uses for his straw bale company:  “Wood, Straw, Mud.”  He has it on his company t-shirts.  For these houses, the saying would have to be “Wood, Straw, Scaffolding, Mud.”  We use scaffolding here like our Life depends on it, because it does.


I don’t really know what I was trying to show here, but it is the AG House, just sittin’ there all beautiful and still.  It truly is sweet when you love your work, what you are doing, and what you are creating and making.  Mmm doggy.

AG House

Same house, different view…


This here is Sheep’s Wool blown-in insulation.  We are using this for the roof insulation in 2 out of the 3 houses.  Indeed, it has a higher insulation value, plus it has all of the perfect characteristics for dealing with unwanted moisture and having a super long life expectancy.

box of sheeps wool

Here is our wonderful and very prominent pillar of the farm, the ever-present Silo.  Oh what to do, what to do with this magnificent and symbolic “lighthouse of our ocean prairie.”  We cannot take it down cost effectively and keep it intact; we do not want to waste what it is; we do not necessarily want to look at it as-is forever.  Well oh well oh well…


Here is one thought.  I don’t know, though.  Ours would have to have one HUGE attic space, I would say.  We could make our more like a multi-level bird house, but for people.  You know, ladders or stairs to upper levels.  I don’t know.  Guess we should keep thinking about it…

silo home

Do you even know what an argonaut is?  I didn’t.  The chosen definition I chose to like and connect with is:  “A person who is engaged in a dangerous but rewarding quest; an adventurer.”

I would truly like to believe that the danger of an adventure is worth a thousand days of ease and comfort, and I do think it is.  In fact, I once heard it said that:

“We are all functioning at a small fraction of our capacity to live fully in its total meaning of loving, caring, creating, and adventuring.  Consequently, the actualizations of our potential can be the most exciting adventure of our lifetime.” 

Join me in becoming and being an argonaut.  Follow your own Code.  Be the lighthouse out on the prairie ocean.  And leave the light on so’s I can know you’re there, know you’re awake, living Life to the fullest, and keeping a hot pot of coffee on the woodstove.

Because I’ll be by.

Bluebird out.

And until then, I can be reached at:

303-229-7202, or


Digging In (to straw bale building)! Continuing through August 2012

Well!  Happy weekend to you, I hope its been swell!

You’d never know it, but straw bale houses have THE highest fire-resistance rating of ALL combustible building materials.  I know, amazing huh?  They certainly and definitely have the absolute highest insulation values of all building materials period.  Straw bale homes are very conducive to homeowner-builders and do-it-yourselfers too.  Straw bale structures are incredibly warm in the winter with the most minimal amount of heat.  And oppositely, straw bale structures are incredibly cool in the summer, without air-conditioning, and relative to the outside temperature of where it’s located.  In fact, they are almost perfectly suited for any and all climates, except perhaps a tropical ones.  But I’d be willing to try. 

Straw bale homes and structures do not necessarily cost more that traditionally built.  Of course it IS possible for them to cost more, but it is also possible for one stickframe house to cost more than another stickframe house built from the same design.  It depends a lot on the person orchestrating the job and the people doing the work.  As you may be aware of, there is a HUGE range of intelligence and in integrity in the world.  It pays to be picky about who you choose to build your home.

But straw bale building is not rocket science.  Has nothing to do with rockets, or science.  Straw bale building is an earth-centered process.  You can learn everything you need to know about building with straw bales by simply watching nature:  you can watch how a river cuts a bank; how beavers stack trees; how birds build nests; how mud daubers pack mud, and how a canopy prevents water from soaking the ground underneath it.  In other words, sure, building codes and requirements are necessary, but at the core gut level, we need nothing from the man-made world to understand which materials will work in a building, or how to make the materials work together. 

Because of this, straw bale buildings are super-conducive to third world country environments, whether it be African, or American Indian reservation.  Where there is wood, a straw-like material (that can be baled), water, mud, and people willing to work, a quite nice and comfortable structure can be built for next to nothing.  I have even seen plastic trash and garbage baled up into huge bales, stacked one on top of the other, and mudded over with adobe.  One only needs to be creative and figure out how to utilize the materials you have on hand within the constraints of the building practices you have learned and taught yourself about.  We can learn all the basic principles through the acts of Nature, and then expand upon them and open our doors of possibilities with creative and critical minds.

Jerry here looks like he’s in the middle of some critical thought.  On this day they were starting to mount all the solar hot water collectors on the Main House.  These things have water pumping through them during a sunny day, which gets heated up very hot by the sun.  And the pump, btw, is also running off of the sun, by solar electricity.  Anyhoos, as more and more water keeps getting heated up, it gets stored in and circulated through a hot water storage tank, that feeds the sinks and tubs and whatevers.  And when the temperature is below freezing outside, the pump turns itself off and the water collected in the panels just gravity falls back into the warm interior space of the house so as not to freeze inside the solar water collectors.  Which is why you’ll notice that the panels themselves will all be installed at an angle, out of level, appropriate to the position of the drain line. 

solar water

This is the view Jerry would have in the picture above if he turned around and looked down.  That’s the exterior deck to the AG House below, and Randy and his red truck beyond that.  It’s a pert-near steep roof, 12/12 I think.

don't fall!

This shot was taken from the same position as the photo above, but is showing our greenhouse excavation pit.  Looks more like an olympic-sized swimming pool.  This farm has at least one river running underground directly through it.  The water table is extremely high, and the ground super wet.  It gets worse, like when this picture was taken, when they open the irrigation ditches to water the fields or relieve pressure from somewhere up the line, like somewhere not even on this farm.  I’m not sure exactly how or when it comes on, but boy does it get sloppy around here when it is on.

greenhouse swimming pool

I’m not sure, I might’ve already shown these pictures of the Studio solar equipment, but here they are anyway.  Now of course, this is bleeding a little into the man-made side of things in the modern building world.  But one does not NEED any of this stuff in order to survive and live well.  But it is really really cool to be able to have power as a direct result of the sun shining.  All this equipment is all-thread bolted all the way through the bale wall, with a big washer on either side, both inside and out.  Then the straw that you see will eventually get adobed and covered over.  The adobe mud will be applied right around all the boxes and different stuff, basically creating a shelf 2″-3″ thick all the way around each piece of equipment, really making its mounting to the wall very strong.

studio solar equipment

I’m pretty sure I have shown this one…  Many many batteries for storing the sun’s electricity.

solar batteries

Here is the Main House, looking kind of fortressy.  Reminds me of the Lewis and Clark days of old, not that I was there, but I wish I was.  Notice in the fence that some of the slats are blackened from the Four Mile Fire.  All timbers used in all three houses were salvaged from the Fire.  I think that is WAY cool!

main fortress

Now hear!, here is something real neato!  We have started making our own interior doors for the AG House.  And not only are these doors hand-made right on site, but they are made from salvaged lumber we acquired when deconstructing the original AG House that used to be on the property.

In the framing of the old house, we found true 2×4 lumber, meaning they actually measured 2 full inches by 4 full inches, not 1.5″ by 3.5″ like we have now.  So Mister and I got a wild hair up our noses one day and decided to see how long it would take to make one door, and find out how cool or not they would look.  Mister made this door, the first, in 8 hours.  Not bad for the first one with a learning curve and all.

The frame of the door is the reclaimed lumber mentioned above.  The interior panel of the door is our salvaged lumber from the Four Mile Fire that we milled right here on-site into planks, and then incorporated into this door.  The copper ornamentation is just a decorative touch that either covers up a gap in the planks, or a split in the wood, or simply for fun.

mister's door 1

With the next 3 doors we made, we opted out of the interior panel look.  Too traditional, and too time-consuming.  With our current system and style you see here, we can pump out about 2 doors per 8 hour day.  That does not include finishing them in any way, however, like oiling or staining them, or mortising and installing hinges and such.

mister's door 2

We even made our own door stop material out of our mill cut-off scraps, leaving the natural irregular edge exposed all the way around the door opening.  They really look nice, rustically nice.

mister's door 3

Every once in a while a guy gets bored doing nothing but working with wood.  During these times a new toy is sometimes a nice change of pace.  In this scene, I got Vidal here a concrete floor grinder.  I mean, I didn’t even know a concrete floor grinder was in existence!  Men, we make the weirdest things, ie “man-made.”  Anyway, the purpose here was to grind down a very irregularly-shaped floor in the area where our new garage door was supposed to close down against the concrete floor and create a semi-sealed closure.  Before grinding, when we shut the garage door, it touched down on one end, gapped to nearly 2″ above at center, and then was another inch above at the other end of the door.  So we ground the floor down and semi-levelled it out.  Now it almost touches the concrete floor all the way along its length.  Better.

grinding concrete

I know, one picture was prolly enough…

concrete grinding 2

This here is a quick picture of my own house.  I show it for a couple of reasons.  One, to go back to the beginning of the blog, building a straw bale house is not rocket science, nor is it NOT for the poor.  When I built this house, relatively speaking, to Boulder County standards, I was poor.  It is a straw bale house, built over a nine month period, and I was the only one working on it who had any real experience building anything.  My workforce was a brother, a 2o yr old son, aunts and uncles, a sister and brother-in-law, friends and neighbors, and just anyone else who happened along and let me talk them into helping me.  Cause I needed it, the help, I mean.  I could not afford a paid crew, paid help, a paid General Contractor, etc.  I was building with limited means and limited experience, but with truly unlimited determination and unlimited positive attitude.

my house

You see, my poverty was not complete, it lacked me.  And still does.

I once heard Norman Vincent Peale say, and I agree, that “Empty pockets never held anyone back.  Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.”

Actually, I don’t even know who Norman Vincent Peale is, or was, but I like his thinking.  You should too.  Get on out there and walk through Life as if your pockets are over-flowing, because they are.  They are over-flowing with the potentials and possibilities of Life itself. 

Dig in!

Bluebird out!

I can be reached at 303-229-7202 and

Leaf Running-rabbit

Oh My, Me Oh My, Let’s Get Enthused!…Through 05/04/12

Well, how dooo!

It’s been awhile, I know.

I been loungin’ round for some while now, kind’a like Wolfgang down here in this photo.  He is one of Karel and Alice’s dogs, BIG dogs.  I literally could fit my body inside Wolfy here.  But he’s hangin’ with his mama while she does this awesome glazed brick work…

…I showed a picture of these bricks a few blogs back, while they were stacked up at the ready.  Well now they are ready.  Ready to make a beautiful circular area in the center of the Studio.  It’s on these bricks that the dining table and chairs will sit.  The bricks, like the surrounding cobblestones, are bedded down in sand, which is on top of compacted earth.  The stones and bricks get laid down as you see here, then sort of grouted with a semi-fluid adobe mix.

You can also see the adobe “bench” taking shape there on the left.  There are straw bales under there giving it its shape, then the adobe scratch coat.  In the end it will prolly be a lot smoother and could even have some sitting cushions on it.

Next is proof of the major milestone we had start early last week.  This here is Matt of Indian Peaks Electric, get’n’er done.  It’s not a typical install, or what Matt is used to,  but they do a great job being open-minded and thinking outside the box.  Sometimes this is what’s required, to build green, and invent your way along using your professional skill and expertise.

I wonder how many electricians have seen this set-up.  Few, I imagine.  We are using the steel boxes intentionally in place of the plastic boxes, because steel is the most easily recycled product on Earth.  13,000 years from now, if these houses are not still standing, someone will be able to pick these boxes up and recycle them in one way or another.  Where as, if we had used the plastic blue boxes from The Home Depot, they woulod be pure landfill.  I guess they could be reused for the exact same application, but that’s about it.  Recyclable steel has an unlimited number of re-uses.

Here is some of Alice’s handy work with the sculptural adobe.  She is having a great time playing with this mud.  This is the Studio bay window, which she has now managed to connect to the earth underneath.  The house and the Earth are ONE.  The Studio, like an Avatar, has plugged in its receptor to that of the Earth itself.  Too cool.

Below is the profile of the same window, showing the earth receptor.  The shaped adobe you see here is only a “scratch” coat.  A scratch coat is a very rough and coarse pre-coat, that makes it easier for the smoother final coats to stick and adhere to.  And with the final coats, these curves and shapes will take on a lot more definition, shape, and life.  And if you notice those finger holes poked into the adobe itself, that is done to allow more air get to the inside of the adobe and help it to dry.  It also creates more integration between the scratch coat and the final coats.

This down here is Mister soaking up some boards that we milled on-site.  We just doubled over a huge tarp we had lying around, put the 10′ boards in there, sort of fold the tarp around it like a diaper, and fill’er up.  They sat there like that all night until the next day when he installed them inside the Main house around some curved wooden forms we installed between the second and third stories.  I’ll show the finished product in the next blog.  But the soaking of the boards turned out to be the critical element of making the whole thing work.  There were some perty sharp bends.  Made the boards creak and squeal a little bit.  Oh, and we threw some old burlap coffee bags in there too to hold the moisture better.

This here is a form for building stone arches.  Basically, you can build a form like this in any shape and size.  You want it to be wide enough and strong enough to hold your stones and mortar though.  Then you can put 2x legs under it to hold it up at your desired height, do your rock-work right over and on top of the form, let the mortar dry, then remove the form and your stone arch will remain standing.  You just need something to support the stones as you are setting them in place with mortar one stone at a time.

Then you can use the form to make another arch at another location.  To change the height, just change the 2x legs.  I think this will be used for making stone arches over different doors.  Ours is made out of two identically cut pieces of  Advantech plywood, spaced apart with 2×4’s in between, and covered over with scrap pieces of roofing metal.  The mortar around the stones will not stick to the metal as easily as it will stick to wood, fyi.

Another major accomplishment:  in this picture the guys are almost done flooring the second level floor deck to the AG House.  Currently, they are done with this now.  This decking is tongue and groove fir 1×6 milled just for us.  You can see how they leave the flooring planks hang out long over the circular opening.  After they lay all the flooring, they will come back and draw out a perfect circle in the right place, and use a jigsaw to cut it out all nice and perfect.  In this picture you are seeing the back of Ramon, and Daniel, el oso grande,  Master Floorman.

Down here, left-to-right, you see Adam Extraordinaire, Wade aka Pancho, Big Randy with the Mexican Hat, and Alex, aka Axel Nailhead.  What a great team they are too!  Nice job fellas!!

Well I certainly got more catch-up to do here, but it takes time.  And energy.

In fact, Henry Ford once said that

“Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes shine to the stars.  Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait.  The grip of your hand, the irresistable will of surge and energy to execute your ideas.”

I have lots of ideas to execute, lots of things I want to grip my hand around.  But I need to refill my enthusiasm tank with a good night’s sleep.  To continue dreaming about all that is possible.   And wake-up entused!

Passion is energy.  Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.  Oprah did.  I want to.  I want you to.

Then I’ll write about it, again.

Be well…

Bluebird out.

My number is:  303-229-7202.

Too Many Hats to Count, through 4/27/12

I’ll tell you right now that this was a monumental week for shore.

We had every type of hat in the closet on the jobsite this week:  adobe hats, septic hats, framing hats, straw baling hats, decking hats, roofing hats, artistic hats, horseshoe hats, etc.

The lift station pump kit that we were waiting for finally arrived in at Colorado Precast Concrete.  They called and said they would bring it out on Tuesday.  This was like the final  major part of the whole raised leach field system including the three septic tanks for the three houses.  Having this final part allows us to install it in the lift tank, get it wired up, connect the last leg of piping from the pump UP into the raised beds, have it inspected, and be able to cover it up with soil so that it can be seeded and regrown.

The raised leach field is itself actually three separate fields place end to end to end, which gives it the appearance of one long field.  But that’s why you see three black pipes coming out of the round green riser, one line going to each field.  What came in on the truck was the whole pump kit which you can see in the very bottom of the green riser.  The white pipes sticking up I attached to the whole thing as a long handle, so the thing can be easily pulled up to within reach.

What was crazy was that I actually needed to stand down IN that green riser WITH the pump equipment so I could measure, have Vidal cut them for me outside, then glue them all together down in there under grade.  The green pipe is 2 feet in diameter, and 6 feet deep.  Perty tight quarters to say the least.  But I knew I could fit in there for what I needed to do.  So I stood over the hole you’re looking at, had Vidal drive up in the Bobcat and raise the forks over my head, then I just hung myself from the forks of the Bobcat holding on with my hands, and he just lowered me down inside there.

I got the work done, he jumped back in the Bobcat and raised me back out, and done.  Now we’re gonna get the thing wired up.

This is how the trench looks leading up to two of the three beds.  The third run goes the opposite way.  And again, this piping is typically PVC, but does not have to be.  ABS is inexpensive, readily available and easy to work with, and recyclable.

Thee best thing that happened surrounding the delivery of this pump kit thing, was the fact that CPC told me they were going to deliver the kit in a regular old pick-up truck.  But what ended up happening was that they got a call to a different site that required a boom truck, but not that much time.  So they sent our little ol’ kit on a big ol’ boom truck.  And they actually called me first thing that morning to tell me this.

So that got me to thinking.

I was thinking how sweet it would be to take advantage of having the boom here and killing three birds with one stone.  First was getting the pump kit.  Second could be to boom our huge glulam beam up and into place on the AG House, which has been sitting there at the wait for a few weeks now.  And we’re actually ready to start working on the AG House now that the Main House is done baled.  And third, I could try and talk the driver into flipping our chicken coop right side up.

Still I have not been able to get one single boom truck company out here to flip this thing over for us.  I was starting to figure that it was the simple description of it over the phone that made people leery of doing it.  It simply didn’t sound like a job anybody wanted to have.  Too much risk or liability with the whole thing imploding, I guess.  But I figured if I had a good plan, was dead set ready, and caught a guy by surprise who was the actual driver and operator of the boom and not some bigger wig who “makes the decisions” about everything from a business and liability standpoint, he just might do it.

So getting off the phone and thinking about it I jumped all over it.  We ended up finding this huge old telephone pole laying out in the field, about 50 or 60 feet of chain, a 12″ by 27 foot microlam, and a little clean-up and re-bracing, I had a plan at the wait.  If I could talk him into doing it, all he’d have to do is lower his chain and hook, let us hook it onto our set-up on the coop, and lift’er up.

We were done prepping everything by 11 or 11:30.  And by 12:15 he was pulling in.  Right in the middle of our lunch.

So I met with the guy while the guys finished up eating, and we unloaded the pump kit just by hand.  But while we did that I was askin’em about the beam and the coop and how much time he had.  Did he have another job to go to, for example.  He said he could definitely do the beam.  No problem.

The coop, on the other hand, he wanted to take a closer look at.  So I went with him and I showed him the plan and how we had it all connected.  But he said “What if the thing falls apart?”  I said “Well, we won’t have anyone anywhere near it, and the owners or myself won’t hold you accountable for it.  We all understand the risk.  You have my word.”

He said ok, let’s give it a shot.

So he dropped his hook on down and we connected it to our chains, which were connected to the telephone pole.  You can also see how the big microlam is running through the windows on the sides of the coop.  We also chained the telephone pole to this microlam, sort of sandwiching some solid framing in between the pole and the micro.

Once he got it all stood up, though, he realized that the balance of the thing was off and it would not fall on over on its own.  It kept wanting to pick up off the ground.  He actually had it dangling about 6 or 8 inches off the ground for like five minutes.  So, quickly I had Adam and Vidal jump in the Bobcat and Kubota tractor and persuade the thing to fall on over, to tip the balance.  And it worked.

We now have a right side up chicken coop again.  A little worse from the wear, but standing once again none-the-less.

These here are interesting things.  These are flooring cut-offs from other job sites made of exotic hardwoods.  I don’t even know what kind they are, but as you can see, the one is yellow.  I took these and ripped them into 1/4″ strips for my mountain man friend Derik to make knife handles out of.  He is a blacksmith and uses all kinds of salvaged and recycled steel, like railroad nails, horseshoes, and leaf springs, to make knives, hatchets, spears, and other ironwork.  So I help him out when I have the opportunity, like getting a hold of these flooring scraps.  These will make gorgeous knife handles, especially that yellow and walnut-ish looking one.

This here is some of Alice’s handy work with the adobe.  Adam has mixed her a lot of adobe this past week, and she has definitely made an impact on the site.  In a good way, of course.  🙂

This is in front of the bay window in the Studio.  She is building the actual wall underneath the windows themselves, and also a bench of sorts that will probly hold sitting pillows of some kind.  The dining table I think will also sit right in front of this window and bench, so I bet the bench will get used for that as well.

Here is one half of the Studio bedroom, and the beginning of its wall.  The bed itself is made of one layer of straw bales, which you can see how she has adobed right here.  And the higher, or second row of bales on the far wall, is also in process and will be like a bench or a shelf around the bed.  And it looks as if she is building the actual wall of the room out of pure adobe too.  This was going to be stone block I thought, but maybe it is going to be both stone and adobe.  Or all adobe.  We shall have to wait and see!

Artistic touches on the exterior side of the same bay window as she builds the wall up and up, filling in the voids within the wall plane.  You can be as artistic and creative, or as plane Jane as you want.  The adobe makes a straight and flat surface just as readily as a curvy or sculptural one.  The adobe doesn’t care.

I think she’s poking holes in the mud to allow more air to get inside and help with the dry and cure time.  The whole thing will still get a whole layer of stucco over the top.  These are just base coats right now, the foundations.

On this post she has now gone and reconnected it to the structure, made it more a part of the home as a cohesive unit.  Before it was kind of standing out there on its own, lonely, without a friend close by.  The adobe mud has now reached out from the house and grabbed the post around the feet, as if to say, stay close, you are a part of me!

We also now have the Main House exterior deck in production.  Randy laid all the anti-sloped sleepers, bringing the downward sloped sub-deck back to level again, so that the new deck could be laid.  We ordered a smooth surfaced cedar for it.  It’s mighty perty stuff.

This is how it looks as it meets up with the soffit and fascia, as well as the bale wall and where the stucco will eventually come down to meet it.  The silver j-channel you see there along the bottom of the bale wall will hold and support the bottom edge of the stucco as it comes down the bale wall.  It will have a clean termination and about a half-inch between bottom of stucco and top of decking.

From the NE elevation, this is the Main House ALL baled up.  It is done.  Perhaps Boulder County’s first and only 3-story straw bale wall.  And we have two of them.  The SE elevation also has one.  The Main House is now ready for exterior stucco, electric, and plumbing.  Which gets started this coming Tuesday.  Until then, the decking is being finished up, and the crew is ganging up on framing the AG House floor box right now.

And that’s what this is.  They did all this in just a couple of days.  After having done it once already on the Main House, it is so much faster the second time.  You just know what you’re doing and exactly where you’re going.  It’s sweet.  The guys are really enjoying it.

Well, these here are an interesting thing.  What these are, or were, is old crappy claw foot type tubs.  Old, rusty, chipped and cracked, etc.  But Alice must’ve had a vision.  In her vision, she pictured a new layer of something beautiful covering up all the grime and chips and scratches.  Very similar in approach to the old bricks I showed a few blogs back.  All they needed was a new facelift.  One quick layer of beautiful glazing over one face of every brick, and a new floor was born.

And the same goes for these tubs.

I’m not sure what material has actually been applied to the tubs, but from the inside, they shore ’nuff look new again.  It looks like lead or pewter or something.  I’m sure there’s a story behind the glazing too, but I just haven’t heard it yet.

I think those flower petal things are a neat touch.  It’s almost like instead of cleaning those things off the bottom of the tubs they just reglazed right on over them, thus creating an out dent of their shape.  I can just picture those colorful rubber flowers stuck all over the bottom of people’s tubs as a kid.  A nostalgic memory.

Well, another Friday brought on another Friday Council.  We are fully enjoying the nice weather.  This here is Adam getting warmed up for the horseshoe match.  On the other end you see Wade and Alex.  I think they were playing gringos against muchachos.  In loving fun, of course.

Next you have Daniel pitching, and when you have Daniel pitching, you usually jump back a few feet, because he can be a wild man when it comes to throwing those shoes.  You can even see wade sort of jumping already.  He’s getting better, though.  🙂

It was a fulfilling week fer sure.  Eco-full, I would say, and not ego-full.

We want to fill our days and selves full with things we can be proud of.  Things that are real and true and authentic.  Things that are good for us, good for people, and good for the world.

Pat Riley, a famous basketball coach, once said “Each warrior wants to leave the mark of his will, his signature, on important acts he touches.  This is not the voice of ego but of the Human Spirit, rising up and declaring that it has something to contribute to the solution of the hardest problems, no matter how vexing!”

That’s what we are, we are Building Warriors.  We have stuck our lances down into the ground to make our stand.  When a warrior does this, his act is stating that he has made a claim:  he has placed himself here, and he will not leave this spot, either until victory, or until death.

One or the other.

Our claim is to Green Building as WE define it, not the rest of’em.  We will build this kind of green to the best of our abilities, or we will  not do it at all.  We will not be lazy about it.  We will put toward it,

our all.

And we will do it as humbly as possible.

Bluebird out.

My number is:  303-229-7202.

The Nuts and Bolts of Baling, through April 13, 2012

Oooh, this past Friday was not just any old Friday.  It was Friday the THIRTEENTH!  Ooooh.

But we just baled right on through it, without even a glance behind.  We are not scared.

We are definitely wearing our Baling Hats, full-on baling.  This here is Adam first thing in the morning getting the mixer ready to start a’mixing.  He takes one 5 gallon bucket full of pure clay, and one 5 gallon bucket full of water, and throws them in the mixer.  While the thing churns, he starts adding loose straw by the double handfull…

…until it starts sticking to itself, holding its own shape, very sticky and glue-like.  When it’s right, you can pick up a huge ol’ glob of it, like basketball size, hold it upside down, and it will not come apart or fall off of itself.  It is basically an earth-glue.

Or adobe glue, if you prefer.  Either way, it’s messy and sticky stuff, and sure enough, as soon as I would dunk my hands in there to get some and stack a bale, my phone would ring and then what?

So this day at least, it was left to Randy and Wade.  What you see them doing here is spreading out a line of the glue along both the interior AND exterior sides of the bales, intentionally leaving the open gap running down the center.  The reason for this is to not have a thermal break going all the way through the wall.  The straw has a higher insulation value than the adobe, so having the extra space for more straw, without the rock- hard dried clay creating a thermal break, is better for the insulation value of the wall as a whole.  They spread out the two lines along the entire length of the wall, set the next course of bales right on top, and then do it again until they reach the top of the wall.

This is more or less the same as doing some gardening or flower planting.  It is putting your hands in the dirt, in the EARTH, getting grit under your nails, breathing in the pungent odor through the nostril, scratching your cheek and getting it on your face, Earth paint, like a Child of Nature.

And after you glue the bales together horizontally, you come back with more of the adobe glue and spread it into the seams, both vertical and horizontal, on both sides of the wall, like you see below.  Once this all dries, it becomes a monolithic wall.  It is no longer a bunch of individual bales and loose straw.  It is a single, and strong, being.  And I say “being” with seriousness.  These are not just walls and posts and beams.  Together, they are a creation of the Earth and Sky, like a pine nut and a bolt of lightning.

Can’t really tell if the shot above is a barn or a house at this point.  But you will soon.

Another of the nuts and bolts of baling is the re-sizing, and the actual sewing, of the bales.  Below you see Mister and Daniel working together re-sizing a bale.  First, they get a measurement of what length they need the bale to be.  Then they take a huge make-shift “sewing” needle with twine attached to it, and shove it through the bale at the particular measurement.  They do this BEFORE they cut the strings on the bale as they come off the baling machine.  These are what’s called “2-string” bales, meaning they each have 2 strings around them holding them together.  They sew the two new strings through the bale and tie them off, THEN cut the original strings.  This allows the bale to retain its same tightness even though we’ve made it smaller.

I like seeing the guys working together as a team.  This is a VERY good team, btw.  I am proud of them.

Next, they may or may not want to make a bale thinner.  We us an electric chainsaw to do this, as Daniel is demonstrating here.  The electric chainsaw is lighter in weight than a gas-powered one, more flexible, easier and faster, and doesn’t contaminate the air we are breathing inside the structure.  You do have to keep a watchful eye on straw gettin stuck to and building up on the oil feeder though.  A little maintenance, but well worth it for the time it saves us in shaping bales.

This is the second level dormer from the interior side.  Takin’ shape, closin’ in.

This is the northeast gable, first and third level baled and drying.  The second level bales will sit partially on top of the first level bales, so we wanted the first level walls to dry over the weekend and get hard before we build on top of them with more weight.  Allow them to settle a little too.

Also, I forgot to mention, another reason we use the adobe glue system is to avoid the need for using rebar or wooden stakes INSIDE the bales in order to give them strength and keep them standing until stucco is applied.  It is very typical in the straw bale world to “pin” your bales together as you build a wall higher and higher.  Rebar I think is the most commonly used material for this purpose.  But it is not necessary.  Steel may transfer heat and cold and moisture throughout a bale wall if it comes into contact with them.  The ONLY reason for pinning bales together is to safeguard the wall from falling over during construction until the final stucco is applied both inside and out.

But I feel that if one can keep the walls standing, either by bracing or by adobe glues, or both, then why add the steel conductor and the expense of buying and installing it.  To be honest, you don’t really even need to glue them if they are stacked and packed tight enough.  I didn’t do either in the building of my own house.  Here, though, Karel and Alice prefer to have them glued, so that’s what we do.

You can also see the new roofing on the left.  Looks sharp!

This is that same wall I showed you earlier of Randy and Wade spreading the glue out on the bales.  This was at end of day, wall all stacked and glued, and then the chinking in-process at the seams along the surface of the wall.

This here is Big Randy with his baseball player-style cheeks full of sunflower seeds.  Most all day long…

He is putting some additional framing along all the ridges of both the Main House and the Studio.  Our cap pieces, we realized, were so wide (over 2 feet some of them) that if we did not put some support under them, they would most likely bend and flop and move in the wind.  So this quick addition gives the metal top piece some support to rest on, and something better for us to attach it to.

Sometime last week I got an email from CU’s building department.  They actually have classes on building and design, salvaging and reclamation, and basically re-inventing the wheel in Green Building.  It’s pretty cool.  But anyway, the person emailing me had somehow found out about our project and that we were building with straw bales, and was inquiring as to where I was getting the bales.  She said she was needing some for a straw bale building presentation she was a part of at Boulder’s Dairy Center for the Arts.

What is actually going down is that CU’s Alternative and Green Building Program is working in conjunction with the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on 4 model homes.   All of them are green and alternative, and one of them is straw bale.  They will be built on the reservation by community members and students from both CU and students from the Oglala Sioux College.  They will be tested and monitored for both cost, ease, and efficiency over a year’s time.  And the best model will be used to add, hopefully, up to 4000 new homes on the reservation for tribal members.

Secretly, I hope the straw bale one wins out.  They are even growing their own straw for the house.

Anyhoos, what I was really trying to get to was this neat wall partition down below.  I ended up going to the presentation on the Pine Ridge Project at the Dairy Center and seeing more about CU’s program in general.  They actually had a whole room filled with students’ projects from this semester.  Their assignment was to literally search the town for anything that has been discarded or thrown away, and use it to make something new and useful.  There was everything from tables made out of old wood, to a desk made out of a steel airplane wing, to bottles and rebar and steel mesh etc making up all kinds of things.  There was even a chair made out of an old stop sign.

But this wall panel here got me excited.

I think I can make interior walls, rather quickly, using discs of wood like this from logs out of the Four Mile Fire.  I would make one side of the wall just as you see it here, but on the back side I would put up some sort of black visual barrier, and then do the disc thing again on the other side.  Make it double thick.  I mean once you have the first side up and in place, the second side is a piece of cake with the discs pre-cut, and an air nailer in your hand.  They would be very neat and rustic walls, much lighter than  stone, and super unique.  Then you could oil them, or not.  Hang things on them, or not.  I guess they wouldn’t be the best for soundproofing, but as walls I think they serve the basic purpose pretty keenly.

I would use bigger discs to cover more area quicker, and have smaller holes through.  These discs here happen to be Aspen.  But any log would do.  A mixture of textures and colors would add even more to the whole.  You can imagine the scent and reddish color of Cedar, with yellow pine, and white birch, for example.  Just an idea.

Remember, Green Building is an open chalkboard, ready for invention, just pulsating with the expectancy of possibility.

Well, these have been some of the “nuts and bolts” of building with bales.

And when I say “nuts and bolts,” I am referring to nuts like walnuts, pecans, and pine nuts.  Nuts come from trees, which come from the Earth.  We are building with wood, straw, and mud, all from the Earth.

And the “bolts,” well these are referring to the lightning bolts that occurred during the rain storm that provided to us a full well.  This water nourishes our trees, our straw, during growth, mixes our mud, makes our coffee and tea and nourishes our bodies.  This is how we utilize the Sky when we build a house.

In fact, not only did Frank Lloyd Wright say that “Houses, too, are Children of Earth and Sun,” but he also said that “Every great architect (and builder) is–necessarily–a great poet.  He (or she) must be a great original interpreter of his (or her) time, his day, his age.”

And I agree. In this day and age, we simply cannot afford to continue going with the status quo, be it building, eating, consuming, using, or living.  We must demand more.  We must demand that humans and health and life in general be treated better.  Be held in higher esteem.

Let’s take a deep breath,

and e-x-p-a-n-d ourselves.  There’s plenty of room out there.

Bluebird out.

My number is:  303-229-7202.