Strawbale House

This blog is intended to chart our progress through the self-build process, from half-hearted plot-hunting through to completion of the build. The twist is that we're building the house from timber and straw (hence the blog title).

Click on the image at the end of each post to see that day's photos.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

September 30th - mostly slating

Had a rare lie-in, and left in a panic to get the verandah timber to the plot and the Edgars' Land Rover and trailer back before they got shirty. Had to off-load the timber manually - the big 4m posts proving a bit hefty!
Collected Hamish and a couple of his pals, then spent an hour or so cutting plasterboard to size, but not fitting it because I'm almost out of collated screws and I'd left all Mal's tools at home.
The weather was getting better and better, and I spent the remainder of the day on the roof in a T-shirt, slating in soft and surprisingly warm Autumn sunshine. Made pretty good progress, bearing in mind the number of slates that have to be customised now that I'm at the end of the roof. Another good day up there should see the back pitch completed, which really will be a landmark.
Not sure if Stevie the taper is coming tomorrow, but if he does I might need to spend the day indoors in an effort to stay a step ahead of him. Hopefully I'll have Melvin back tomorrow.
Hamish joined me on the roof for the last hour, which he enjoyed immensely. Clearly inherited his head for heights from his dad, rather than his mum!

Saturday, 29 September 2007

September 29th - Haulage

Borrowed a trailer and Land Rover from Tom Edgar, a local farmer and our ex-landlord. Anna and Ellie were in Perthshire for the day, so I bundled all three boys in the back and drove to the sawmill in Lilliesleaf to collect the spruce cladding they've cut for me. There was too much for one load, so we split it in half and I delivered the first load to Abbey Timber, just over an hour's drive away in Abbey St. Bathans. Here it will be dried and planed by our friend Willie Dobie. I was feeling bad about having the boys in the cargo-hold all day, so I rang Anna's mum and she happily agreed to lok after the scallywags for a few hours while I did the second run. Very long day's driving on twisty roads with a heavy trailer. After dropping the last of the cladding with Willie, we loaded up all the structural timbers for the verandah - a mixture of douglas fir and larch and I brought it home. It was too late to take it to the plot and the boys were starting to freeze in the back, so it'll stay here overnight.
Forgot my camera, so just two pictures taken on my phone. The first shows the whole cladding consignment of 550 planks of 3600 x 150 x 25mm spruce, and the second, which is intended as a "before" shot, shows the unplaned timber. The "after" shot in a few weeks should show a shiplap profile.

September 28th - sheeting

Spent the day until mid-afternoon framing and sheeting around the three velux windows in the bathrooms. Fiddly, time-consuming task, but happy with the end-result. I'd planned to get on the roof in the afternoon, but by lunchtime the weather had turned nasty.
Left early to do some work at home.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

September 27th - Roof & Sheeting

Nasty rainy morning, and we discovered a few worrying puddles in the house. Once again, I aborted the upstairs sheeting for a few hours and replaced all the omitted slates where the roof-brackets had been. We had to remove a sheet of plasterboard in the twins' bedroom to let the structural timber behind to dry.

Finally fininshed on the roof around 3pm, and spent the last couple of hours framing and sheeting around the velux units in the twins' room and the shower-room. Fiddly and slow job, but we're getting there.


September 26th - Sheeting

Spent all day sheeting around the windows in bedroom 2 and the upstairs lounge. Seemed like prety slow going, even with Anna on site for a while, putting screws into boards that I'd fixed in place.
By the end of the day the bedroom was finished and the lounge just has the reveals around the waterfall window to do, once the window has been installed. This can't be done until we have the support timbers, which have been on order for a month.
Had a long chat in the evening with a chap called Magnus Wolf Murray, one of my potential volunteers. Turns out he works with carbon-efficient energy systems, and has offered to work out the heating requirements of the house, and suggest a couple of different ways to meet them.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

September 25th - Roof repairs

Had Anna on site for the morning, tidying some of the accumulated clutter. I started sheeting around the picture window in the lounge, but almost immediately diverted to the roof to carry out some emergency repairs before the next rain. There were three areas of concern: The velux in bedroom 1 is only half-flashed, as my scaffold didn't quite take me to the end of the roof when I was slating that side a couple of weeks ago, and the temporary flashing I put up was leaking quite badly. One of the velux units in the bathroom was also leaking, as was an area beside the aperture for the waterfall window. I spent most of the day on the back roof, slating along to the end, and by late afternoon had passed the top of the big velux, flashing it as I went. All the flashing is now in place, and hopefully that problem should be sorted. The bathroom velux transpired to have a soaker missing, and the leak by the waterfall window was caused by rain blowing up under an unsecured edge of membrane, which I secured with gaffer tape, along with several other similarly flappy edges. All of this was carried out in dry weather, while the boys larked around in the straw-shed. Just as we left in the evening it started to rain, so I should know on arrival tomorrow whether the place is now tight.
Spoke to the taper, who should be with us on Monday... or Wednesday! Also set the wheels in motion for a cable to be run to the house by Scottish Power. Need to send over a scale diagram of the site.

Monday, 24 September 2007


Mal and Melvin's last day for a week, and I wanted to get the bigger windows fitted if possible. Melvin had to travel down from Edinburgh, so we were slow getting off the mark. Mal had dreamed up a very nifty method of installation, involving fitting batten to the outside of the frames to allow the windows to self-locate in their apertures. In the event we fairly sprinted through the installation, and had fitted all the windows we had by about 3pm. The only ones remaining are the two small units for the front bedrooms and the patio doors for the living room. I had set aside tomorrow to get to where we left off today, and it looks like I might have to use the day in hand to get on the roof and do some emergency slating. It rained buckets last night and there was a fair amount of water in the house. I looked in the loft and was heartened to see that there were no leaks where I have slated, but there are still plenty on the unslated sections.


Sunday, 23 September 2007

September 23rd - Day of rest

No work on the build today, for the first time since July 4th. Before breakfast I knocked up a 3D CAD drawing for the local blacksmith to produce the post sockets for the verandah and the front porch, but thereafter it was strictly family time. Back to the grind tomorrow. Feels really odd not having been to site today. Hope the house is still there tomorrow...

Saturday, 22 September 2007

September 22nd - sheeting &straw

No Melvin today. Mal sheeted the reveals around the windows we fitted yesterday. They look superb. The whole character of the room has changed. He was running short of plastic vapour barrier, so to free some up I took down the temporary weather protection from the front of the house and spend a large chunk of the day finishing the straw insulation. Anna turned up in the afternoon and helped me fit the breathable membrane.
Before leaving I did something I should have done months ago - I walked the perimeter of the property. I've alway thought it looks a bit smaller than the three acres stated in the deeds, but from the top of the banking at the north end of the field it looks HUGE. Some of the land I'd discounted as steep wasteground is actually anything-but.

With Mal and Melvin away next week and a plasterer due to start on a week tomorrow I'm going to struggle to have the place ready for him. If anyone fancies helping out for a day or two this week, I'd be delighted. No expertise needed. Give me a ring on 0173 440761 o drop me an email at

September 21st - Windows!

Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to me.
Infact it was - a real cracker. My 40th, and the best birhday I can remember (although since I can't remember further back than about March, this isn't saying an awful lot!)
Fortified by a bacon-and-eggs breakfast (an annual treat, and one not spoiled this year by Oscar sitting in it), I went with Anna to Melrose to sit in wonder while Ellie performed a solo (singing) at her school assembly, then headed to the plot. Mal has finally finished at Foulden, so the dream-team is once again a unit. Polished off a few bits and bobs of sheeting and wiring and Melvin built me some scaffold before lunch, then we got cracking with window installation. I was keen to get the big windows and patio doors in the east all while we had sufficient muscle-power on site - Mal and Melvin are off next week.
We started with the outward opening pation doors that lead from the dining area to the verandah (or at least they will when we've built the verandah). Pretty straight-forward, thanks to Mal's expert building of the main frame of the house. The aperture was square, plumb and generously sized, so there was no messing about to get the frame in position. We fitted it with the heavy double-glazed doors removed then hung them in the frame and Melvin (the mechanical engineer on the job) assembled the fiddly and slightly weird Swedish locking mechanism.
Next were the two huge 1200 x 2100mm (4ft x 7ft) triple-glazed fixed windows that sit side-by-side and look out from the living room over the verndah and stream to the hills. Heavy big buggers these, but again the installation was trouble-free.
The effect inside is marvellous - a lovely big picture window with a stunning view to Hownam Law. Even Mal, from whom praise is like blood from a stone, commented that they are "pretty damn spiffy - a good choice". I basked happliy in this priase until Anna claimed that they were actually her choice. This could well be true, but I have no way of knowing (see earlier comment regarding my memory).
Farmer Neil had a contractor in for the day, putting up a wire fence around our field at the back of the house, which is Anna's domain. She was very excited. She probably reckons this means she can now buy a placid replacement for the homicidal horse she's just off-loaded.
There is a looming battle with Scottish Power, and another with Scottish Water regarding connection to the house. Neil paid for provision of both services to plot-side six months ago, and has given up chasing them as he has no hair left to tear out. There's a very real possibility that the house will be finished before we have either power or water - or a warrant, for that matter! Bloody bureaucrats.


September 20th -- Backfilling and pantry

Went to Berwick with Anna to collect the shower tray and enclosure from my mate Dennis. From there to Homebase to look in awe at the disintegrating displays of crap plastic baths and basins, guided by a disinterested and ill-informed woman. From there to Grahams, where we were helped and given coffee in china cups by an obliging and knowledgeable woman to buy a gorgeous bath, basin and toilet for the bathroom and a slim-line basin for the downstairs dunny. The difference in quality and service left me slack-jawed.
By the time I arrived on site, the underground pipes and fittings had arrived (well done again Toolstation) and Melvin had started assembling them in the trenches. He carried on with this for the next few hours while I finished framing up and sheeting the pantry walls.
Before he started back-filling the trenches we thought we ought to test what he'd done, and he poured about a pint of water down the top end of one branch. It seemed to take an eternity, and we were starting to grow despondent by the time there was a gentle gurgle and the water spilled prettily from the bottom end, confirming that Melvin had got his levels spot-on. The second branch, which is longer and more anfractuous worked perfectly too, which was a relief. Hats off to you, Melvin.
By day's end the backfill was almost complete, as was the pantry.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

September 19th - Digging & trays

Picked up the mini-digger with Melvin (thanks to Davey Beveridge for the use of his jeep to tow it) and after a bit of a battle involving a grinder and a big hammer we fitted the correct bucket and Melvin set to work shifting some of the mound of earth from the east end of the house to make way for the verandah. Once he'd shifted enough earth (a surprisingly fast job considering the size of the digger) he dug four deep holes that we'll fill with stones and concrete to support the verandah posts. It was still not yet lunchtime, so to make maximum use of the digger we quickly worked out a scheme for the drainage of the rain-water from the roof and Melvin spent the remainder of the day digging trenches around almost the entire perimeter of the building. Theese will accommodate the pipes through which storm-water will flow, eventually discharging either directly into the stream or, if building control get picky, into a soak-away immediately beside the stream (which would, of course, be a complete nonsense). Absolutely gorgeous day, and I envied him his outdoor job.
I used up all the available lead making trays in which the windows will sit, and then started framing up the pantry walls. The pantry is on the north side of the house, and has an insulated 6" wall to try to keep it cool. I'm considering removing a couple of bales from the external wall of the pantry for the same reason. The emphasis has now shifted to internals, in a bid to maximise Mal's input before he leaves for Australia in the middle of October. A taper came to price up the job of taping and filling all the joints in the plasterboard (an alternative to skimming the whole area with plaster), with a view to starting a week on Monday. With Mal and Melvin away all of next week, this is a bit of a tall order, and I'll have a fair amount of work to knock off on my lonesome to get the place ready for him. Still, I'd always envisiaged doing the internals myself, and it has fallen to Mal and Melvin purely in the interests of speed as I've been busy on the roof for so long. In a way it will be nice to reclaim that part of the project to some extent, although how my work will compare with SuperMal's is anyone's guess! We therefore need to fit as many windows as we can in the next few days while there is sufficient muscle-power on site to lift them into position. Some of them are a good three-man lift.
I ordered all the pipes and fittings for the storm-water drainage, in the hope that we can get it all in place and the trenches back-filled tomorrow while the mini-digger is still with us.


Tuesday, 18 September 2007

September 18th - straw & membrane

A gorgeous crisp sunny morning, and the first frost of the autumn at the plot (although it wasn't frosty anywhere else - an ominous sign!)
Had a delivery of plasterboard, timber and roofing clouts first thing from Doves, then Anna arrived and we got cracking with the straw, stuffing the east gable wall. She perched in the wall and arranged the bales that I ferried up the ladder. She has no head for heights, and had a bit of a crisis right at the start, when we were about 12 feet off the ground. After that she was fine, and as we worked towards the apex she even seemed to relax into the job, although it would be stretching a point to say she enjoyed it!
I had a brain-wave and discovered that fitting the top couple of courses of membrane from inside the wall before it was too full was a hell of a lot easier and safer than doing it teetering on a ladder at full extension, and it also eliminated the need to spend half a day erecting a scaffold tower.
By the time Anna had to set off to Melrose on a school-run we'd almost finished the straw. I collected the boys and brought them back to the plot so I could knock off the remaining few bales and fit the membrane.
Pretty chuffed at day's end to have completed a tricky stage of the project with no difficulties or complications. Both gables now filled, and the small remaining section in the front wall will only take and hour or two.
Met Stevie Sudlow in the evening for a quick run through the workings of the mini-digger I'm hiring from him tomorrow.

Monday, 17 September 2007

September 17th - not much

Spent the morning installing the wiring for a security system in a pub in Jedburgh. By the time I got to the plot around lunchtime a bitter wind was blowing. I decommissioned the roof-platforms in preparation for moving the scaffold, then, as the wind has swung around to the north (hence the cold) I cut and fitted the last strip of membrane to the back wall of the house to ensure that no wind-driven rain gets in. The east is still pretty scantily protected, and I've talked Anna into spending the day there tomorrow helping me. We need to finish stuffing the wall with straw before we can make it weather-tight.
Worked out the timber quantities for the verandah today, and need to find someone who can supply it sharpish.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

September 16th - Roof repairs and membrane

Couldn't face blogging yesterday, because I'd made such an arse of the day's slating that I wanted to keep it to myself! I was tied up with other things in the morning, and spent the afternoon running a few strips of membrane around the south and east walls and slating almost to the ridge-line. When I was just a few rows from the top I took a measurement down from the ridge and discovered to my dismay that I was about 5" off the horizontal in a run of about 15 feet. I nipped up the banking to look at it from a distance, and it looked awful. One row had somehow kicked off line, and the three rows above had compounded rather than corrected the error.

Headed back today having decided to strip back the dodgy section and re-do it. The arduous part of the job is ferrying all the slates up to the roof in the first place, so I didn't think stripping and re-doing would take long. It turned out to be pretty straight-forward, although the strong gusty wind and frequent showers made it pretty unpleasant. I spent an hour or so fitting some more membrane to the west end, as the wind had started shredding the polythene. This meant removing the roof-hooks from the ladder so I could use it as a two-section job again.
Mal was sheeting downstairs in the dry, the lucky sod, and during the heaviest and most persistent shower I joined him for half-an-hour. Looking great inside now. He and Melvin have done a cracking job.

Reached the ridge-line by close of play, so can now take the scaffold down and use it to finish the straw and membrane, before tackling the remainder of the slating.

Yesterday's photos:


...and today's:


Friday, 14 September 2007

September 14th - yet more slating & sheeting

A replay of yesterday, with me trotting up and down the ladder all day with arm-loads of slates, gradually working my way past the rooflights and ever-ridgeward, and the lads sheeting the open-plan area downstairs. They stoically tackled the nasty plumbing that I'd been so petulant about a couple of days ago before they closed the ceiling up. They work really well as a unit and seemed to get heaps done. I think Mal has the bit between his teeth even more than he did beofore, now that he has a date for returning to Oz. Starting at 07:30 helps, and Melvin is coping surprisingly well with the early mornings!
I finally had to assemble the roof-hooks I bought for my ladder, as all my roof-brackets were still on the south pitch and I had no way to retrieve them without a roof-ladder. Made a heck of a difference. Dunno why I've kept putting it off so long!
The morning was slow going, with lots of customising of the slates to fit around the rooflights, but once I'd cleared the top of them it was plain sailing. It had rained in the night, and the half-flashed state I'd left the windows in meant that a fair bit of water came in, but it just pooled on the floor and didn't cause any damage. At least now they're all weather-tight, although the big one at the west end of the north pitch is still temporarily flashed with strips of membrane.
Last night's wind had dislodged some of the polythene sheeting protecting the straw. It's really pretty flimsy, and I need to get more Roofshield and finish the job. It'll not be possible to stuff the east gable with straw by myself, so I'm on the lookout for a volunteer for a day...?
Neil gave me a number for the chappie at Scottish Power responsible for supplying power to the site, but both his mobile and his landline went unanswered.
Towards the end of the day, when Mal and Melvin had left, the sky darkened and for a while it looked as if I was in for a real soaking. It was blue to the north and south, and I watched as the brooding clouds passed overhead and dumped their soggy load on the hills just a mile away.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

September 13th - More slating and sheeting

More of the same, with my day being spent on the north pitch, slating and flashing around the velux units there. Time-consuming but strangely satisfying. Mal and Melvin have all-but completed the sheeting upstairs, and should move down to tackle the kitchen / dining room ceiling tomorrow.
I've arranged to hire a mini-digger next Wednesday (Mal and Melvin are working away Monday and Tuesday) to prepare the ground for the verandah, a front porch and the steps at the back door. Also spoke to Neil about power and water. He paid several thousand pounds to Scottish Power six months ago for a connection to the site, and they committed to installing it by the middle of July. Much the same story with water, so I'm not sure when we'll have any services on the plot.
The big news of the day is that Mal has booked his ticket back to Australia, for October 17th. Taking into account his week's holiday in Spain, this means I have him for about another three weeks. Bloody Nora! Need to compile a list of priorities for him, with verandah at the top, and stairs and kitchen on there too if possible.
Weather forecast to break at the end of the weekend, so need to get this slating knocked off ASAP.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

September 12th - Slating & sheeting

Took Ben to catch a train home from Berwick, and dropped in at a builder's house in Norham to look at a shower he has going spare. Not quite what we're after, but at £200 for a £1000 cubicle, it'll certainly do a turn! Need to start maing some economies, as the continuing cost over-runs are going to start biting soon.
Made it to the plot around noon, had a quick ice-cream with Mal and Melvin, then set about moving the scaffold round to the back of the house to resume slating there. It always surprises me how time-consuming disassembling and rebuilding the scaffold is, and today's session was slowed a bit by the fact that there's a dirty great hole at the north-west corner of the house where the water and power will come in. This meant bridging across with some sturdy timbers for the scaffold to sit on.
Finally got it up and reasonable stable, then went through the laborious cutting and re-holing of the first course of slates. Fitted them and another two rows on top by the end of the day. Mal and Melvin pressed on inside with the plaster-boarding upstairs, and should finish up there by the end of the week.
Weather forecast is lovely for the next few days, until the end of the weekend at least, so I'll keep bashing away with the slating. Feel like I could use a few days' break from the build to do some work, run some hills, see the family and generally recharge the batteries and rekindle the enthusiasm a bit. Mild dose of mid-project blues I think.
Spruce planks are cut and ready for drying in Lilliesleaf, and I need to work out a way to get them to Wille Dobie in Abbey St. Bathans for profiling. Also need to get some earth shifted so Mal can get going on the verandah and porches.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

September 11th - Rage

Shocker of a day - for no real reason. Arrived at the plot keen to get on the roof and make the most of the continuing gorgeous weather, which surely can't last much longer now that we're in the second week of September. Mal and Melvin were already there, and battering away at the upstairs sheeting. Mal obviously has a schedule in mind, with an impending holiday in Spain and a provisional date for his return to Oz next month. His plan is to crack on with the internals and try to get everything indoors ship-shape before he leaves. My instinct (an he's the builder, of course!) is to get the weather-sensitive parts (roof and straw) done and dusted while the weather holds, even if it means delaying the internals by a week or so. He put me to work on the plumbing, running waste and water pipes in the ground-floor ceiling, which need to be in place before the ceiling can be closed up.
I had no appetite for it, and fell immediately into a petulant strop. Worked away at it for an hour or two getting more and more hacked off with it before finally spitting the dummy once the water feed pipes and sink drains were installed. Couldn't face the awkward toilet waste pipes.
Nipped upstairs to discover that the lads had closed up the walls of one bedroom completely and were working on another. Quickly ran a few wires before it was too late, then, finally, got onto the roof for some slating.
Throughout all this, Ben was patiently stapling vapour barrier around the perimeter walls upstairs, keeping his head down and ignoring my ranting and tool-throwing.
Plagued again by a seam of fragile slates, which was the straw that broke the camel's back. Actually "pierced" would be more accurate than "broke", as in my ill-tempered flailing I managed to stick the sharp slate-holing end of my hammer into my shoulder... twice!
Calmed down a bit and by the end of the day I reached the ridge-line, which did wonders for my mood. Shame Ben was exposed to so much swearing and bile, but luckily there were no children on site today, and being a squaddie he's probably heard the odd oath in his time!
Weather set fair for the next few days, so if I can persuade Melvin to tackle the remaining plumbing I'll move the scaffold to the back of the house and bash on with the slating there.

Monday, 10 September 2007

September 10th - Services & sheeting

Had a bit of work to see to in the morning, and made it over to the plot around 10:30. Spent most of the day trying to polish off the remaining plumbing and downstairs electrics, while Mal, who had tired of plumbing by the time I arrived, started closing up walls in the bathrooms and bedrooms.
Anna had been dispatched to Berwick to look at bathroom components and to collect Ben from the station. She arrived just after lunch and was dispatched again, this time for petrol for the gennie, which had run out shortly after I arrived.
Ben set to work nailing joist-hangers, and showed a much handier hammer-arm that his left-handed brother!
The wind that blew up last night while I was putting up polythene sheeting had carried on through the night and a section of the membrane was flapping. Ben and I fixed it back with battens, and I did the same to some roof-membrane on the north side. I'm quite touchy about the roof now that the straw is in but the slating isn't finished. The slates have arrived from Doves, so as soon as I have enough scaffold I'll get cracking again.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

September 9th - Wall and face-stuffing

After yesterday's heroic effort, the team had a lot to live up to today. I woke before 7 with a rotten head. It may have been the two glasses of Emma's elderflower wine, but I'm happy to put it down to a poor night's sleep and the onset of my first cold of the year. The troops were slow to appear, with Jason taking the wooden spoon when he stumbled from his tent at 8:30.
Energy levels were low - at least mine were, and JD, who was working with me at the front of the house certainly hadn't quite got into his stride. A quick trip round the back of the house revealed that the Cumbrian trio were doing much better and yesterday's work-party atmosphere was once again in evidence. This seemed to do the trick and JD and I quickly upped our game.
I was keen to finish the walls I'd started last week so I could get them properly weather-tight with membrane. It was a full-team effort on the west-gable. A hell of a lot of straw went in, and at the apex we seemed an awfully long way from the ground. Nice secure feeling, though, working inside the wall with the OSB at one side and a good sturdy timber frame at the other.
JD, Jason and Emma got cracking on the east end while Mark and I tackled the tricky and slow end-game at the west. mark showed himself to have a superb head for heights and very robust stamina and good humour, shuttling bales of various sizes up the ladder at almost its full extent over and over again until I had the wall all-but finished. The last few holes we filled from the front, off the ladder when there was no longer any space for me in the wall.
Meanwhile Jason was directing operations at the other end with typical efficiency - possibly a legacy of his three years in the army.
Anne arrived with another feast. Enormous amounts of bread, hot chicken ham, cheese, sausage rolls and Lord knows what else. I thought there was many times too much for us to possibly eat, but it all went, even the two fruit pies that she sprung on us as an after-thought.
The volunteers all packed up and left around 4pm. What a great bunch! Two days of hard graft, just for the love of it. I'm not sure Mal or Anna get the whole volunteer thing, but I knew it would work, having dabbled in the permaculture scene many years ago.
Mal worked alone for the second day running, finishing the reveals and getting the flooring to within half a row of completion. A little bit of plumbing to tackle before he can close it all up. Anna's rearranged the bathroom, and we've (i.e. - she has) decided to have a central ventilation and heat-recovery system. This, I think, will be retro-fitted, as I can't see Mal being happy with the delay we'd encounter doing it now.
I started stapling membrane to all the walls, and once I'd run out, continued with polythene as a temporary protection against the weather, which was changing palpably as I worked. I was still going when the light failed completely at 8:30pm. The wind had picked up markedly, and working solo with the ladder fully extended to allow me access to the apex at 7.2m was no fun at all, especially as the sheeting I was attaching was acting like a spinnaker. I was very relieved to finish in one piece.
Nephew Ben is coming tomorrow to help out for a couple of days.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

September 8th - Baling with volunteers

My appeal for volunteers a couple of weeks ago bore fruit, and I had four hearty and willing helpers for today's wall-stuffing. JD arrived from Cambuslang last night, and Emma, Mark and Jason all arrived mid-morning from Cumbria. After a quick chat about the house and a demonstration of bale splitting, we tore into the north wall. The first few rows went in very quickly, until we were above easy access height. After that progress was slowed by lifting bales up and into the cavity for placing. Anne arrived with a lunch fit for a king, or rather a swarm of kings (what's the collective noun for kings?), which went down an absolute treat. Mal had brought Boston, and Anna and our boys were on site for most of the day. Michelle also turned up briefly in the afternoon with the rest of her brood, so all in all, it was a very busy site. Mal spent the day closing up reveals around the windows to make sure the walls were ready for stuffing.
Towards the end of the day when we were approaching eaves-level, access in the cavity became cramped and uncomfortable and progress slowed again. Here the team came into their own, working brilliantly to fill all the gaps in a very methodical and good-humoured fashion. Emma was in the wall for a good two hours without a break, with the lads keepping her supplied with straw. I busied myself measuring, cutting and stapling the breathable membrane around the building to make sure all the straw we'd put in stays dry. I also fixed some membrane on the roof, which was flapping loose. Water ingress through the roof to the straw at this stage (or at any point in the future) would be a bit of a catastrophy.
We packed up just before 6pm, knackered and chaffed, but the guys all seemed happy, and there was a lovely relaxed atmosphere around the dinner table for spinach and cauliflower soup and a quickly-rusled up pasta dish, washed down with Emma's delicious home-made wine.
Some tired bunnies around. Anna lasted till 9:15, Mark and Emma till almost 10, and as I write, JD is reading and I'm doing this (obviously). More of the same tomorrow...

Friday, 7 September 2007

September 7th - Plumbing & vents

Another lovely warm sunny day, with Mal, Melvin and Anna (briefly) on site. I'd anticipated another day stuffing the walls, but in the event I didn't lift a single bale. Instead I spent the morning making and installing boxes to enclose the ventilation ducts through the straw to the outside. I made them from flooring sheets and stuffed them with fibreglass insulation, reckoning that straw might damage the flimsy flexible ducting.
I then had a battle to keep a step ahead of Mal, and get the drainage from the kitchen and utility room sinks plumbed in before he closed the floor up. Unpleasant and uncomfortable job, lying on the lumpy concrete solum working in the 15" void under the floor joists.
Finished the day by breaking through the blockwork immediately below the back door to make an entry for mains water and power. These have to be 750mm below ground-level. To do this would mean some horrensous excavation of the solum, with very poor access because of the floor-joists, so we've sited them immediately under the back door, and will build steps up to the door to bury them.
I commented to Melvin today on how smoothly everything has gone since we started three months ago. No hold-ups that couldn't be counted in minutes, no major cock-ups and no really nasty surprises. Now that I've said it, I confidently expect the weather to break and the straw to get drenched, the windows to be too big for their holes and all the plumbing to leak...

Thursday, 6 September 2007

September 6th - More straw

Another cracker of a day, and I thought that I might as well stuff hay while the sun shone (well - straw). Worked along the front wall, with Mal running ahead fitting the reveals at the sides of the windows. Reached about 3m high all the way along to the patio doors at the south-east corner, then covered it all with Roofshield breathable membrane.
Mal and Melvin continued inside with flooring, Melvin grumbling half-heartedly about being stuck indoors when it was so sunny outside.
The following pictures include yesterday's. Today's start with the green membrane in place.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

September 5th - No going back!

A big and significant day on the build. After 3 months the house finally moved from being a standard timber frame building to a strawbale structure. Jack and I joined Mal and Melvin (the fab four reunited at last) in glorious sunny weather and put in a hard day. The three lads beavered away indoors on the sub-floor, insulation and flooring while I took the bull by the horns and started putting straw in the walls. The bales are about 2" wider than I anticipated, and don't fit in the cavity lying on their bases. Turned up on edge, however, the go in very nicely with a gap of about 4" behind. Mal suggested stuffing this gap with loose straw, which as soon as he'd said it was obviously the logical way forward. I discovered that by packing the loose straw in behind the bales with a foot, stading on it to compress it, the solid mass of straw is absolutely rock-steady, retained by the OSB on one side and the external frame on the other. I built up to about 6 courses on the west end of the house, with frequent breaks to take a bit of shade in the house. During one of these breaks I made up lead trays for a couple of the windows to sit on in their frames.
By day's end the house was looking significantly different, with half of the ground-floor now floored and one end half-stuffed with straw.
I've got three of four volunteers lined up for the weekend, and if this weather holds we should get most of the baling done.
Took some lovely pictures today, but left the camera at the plot, so you'll have to wait till tomorrow...

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

September 4th - nowt much

Headed to the plot around 9, but just couldn't get into the swing. Mal and Melvin were in Foulden again, and had taken every tool I needed except my hammer. No stapler for the polythene, no power saw for the OSB, no nail-gun for the dwangs. It might well be true that all these tools belong to Mal, but that's beside the point! Scratched around looking for something to do, then finished nailing the external OSB. Just as I was done, Jack arrived.
We headed off to Foulden together to have a look at the cladding Mal and Melvin have been fitting. Very nice larch, although someone had screwed up on the quantities and they ran out with both gables still bare. On the bright side, it means we'll have them back on site tomorrow.
Made it back to the plot with Jack around 4 and put in a token hour-and-a-half on the sub-floor and cutting dwangs for the floor-joists.
A big consignment of windows and flooring arrived from Rembrand today and I had to ask Mick Gamble to unload them with his pick-up for us. Doves had also been and dropped off a load of OSB and 60 sheets of plasterboard, which had been left in just about the most inconvenient place on the plot. Asked the rembrand driver to shift them with his high-ab, which he did without a murmur. Pretty decent, considering the materials had come from a competitor!
Must experiment with the straw tomorrow to make sure I'm prepared if anyone shows up to help at the weekend. So far I have three offers of help, only one of which is concrete.

Monday, 3 September 2007

September 3rd - posts and services

"Green Building" magazine arrived in this morning's post, with an article written by Chris Peers, the Twisted Designs architect who prepared my drawings. The entire two-page article is based around this project. In it Chris describes in detail the wall section (designed by me), the floor-layout (designed by Anna, Mal and me), the material selection (mine again - and a bloody laborious process it's been!) and quite a bit of theory, lifted verbatim from the blog an pasted into his article. Not once in the two pages did he hint that he might perhaps have had a teensy bit of help from the client, and credits himself with the whole bally lot. If you're there, Chris, you're a cheeky bugger! Still, at least I now know how Mal feels having had his involvement airbrushed from the Build It feature (see yesterday's blog).
Today the team was reassembled, with Melvin once again rolling out of bed and crawling over. He worked most of the day on the sub-floor, cutting and fitting battens and OSB sheeting to support the insulation and keep the beasties out.
I spent the day finishing the central-heating first-fix (i.e. running the pipes) and completing the downstairs lighting wiring. Just the hot and cold water pipes to run, and then we can finish the flooring downstairs and erect the remaining partition walls for the pantry and utility room.
Mal, with Melvin's muscular help, cut and fitted the last three douglas fir supporting posts, to join the one we installed months ago in holding up the main structural beam. They're arraned in two pairs, and pretty damn groovy they look, too. Lovely timber, which will look even better when oiled up to accentuate the grain.
Prices came in for the cladding (spruce at about £1100 + VAT, which will go to Willie Dobie at Abbey Timber for drying and profiling) and the Jeldwen staircases (£433.18 + VAT from Magnet). Bit of a lead-time on both, but it'll be a month before we need them.
Jack's returning to the breach tomorrow, and a big delivery of triple-glazed windows and patio doors coming from Rembrand.
A couple of volunteers for the straw-baling have popped up in response the the blog appeal. More welcome!

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Sunday, 2 September 2007

2nd September - cavity floor & reveals

Had Mal on site again, meaning chat and LOUD music, which made a change after the last week's solitude. I spent the day flooring the cavity where the straw will go with 11mm OSB and sarking to make it rodent-proof. Mal worked all day on the reveals around the ground-floor windows and doors. By the time we knocked off at 4:30 to head to the twins' birthday party I thought the house looked significantly different, but I don't think Mal and Anna agreed. Perhaps it's a psychological thing, as the space for the bales is now much more clearly defined, and I can now see the walls being stuffed within the next week or two.
Finished sanding the douglas fir posts in the garden by artificial light in the evening so Mal and I can fit them tomorrow. Not sure if Melvin's coming.
Build It magazine has published an article about the project and this blog. Almost every mention I made of Mal and Melvin has been carefully edited out, making it look as if I've built the whole thing on my own. Mal didn't seem bothered, but Michele was most put out!

Straw cavity now floored

Utility room window

Saturday, 1 September 2007

1st September - Slating

A short day at the plot, sandwiched between a family morning in Kelso and an early knock-off to cook dinner. Used up the remaining slates, and got to within a few rows of the top. Deliberately didn't order more slates, as I need to spend the next few days getting the walls ready for the straw. A couple of showers passed over, and while I sheltered I stapled polythene sheeting to the underside of the rafters inside the wall cavity. This is to ensure that any water that manages to find its way through any leaks in the roof doesn't find its way onto the bales. The polythene will divert it out to beyond the membrane, where it wil drin harmlessly out below the cladding. But, of course, there won't ever be any leaks in the roof..!
Took the belt-sander and plane home and did a bit of work on one of the big douglas fir posts that will be a feature in the living room, holding up the big structural beam.