A Home Made Solely of Local or Reclaimed Materials [video]

Home at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage - A home made solely of local or reclaimed materials

Narrator: 

Here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, community members strive to live sustainably, and this plays into all aspects of daily living, including diet, energy consumption and housing. Members build their own homes from sustainable and natural resources, including straw bales, cob and reclaimed, recycled lumber.

Now we’re here to show you one of these natural building designs, Larkspur, home to Tony and Alyssa.

Tony: 

Hi, I’m Tony.

Alyssa: 

And I’m Alyssa.

Tony: 

And welcome to our home, Larkspur. Alyssa and I broke ground for the concrete piers that make up the foundation on July the 31st of last year, so it’s been a little over a year, and while the interior is almost fully complete, the exterior still has a little bit of work to do, but we’re glad to show you around.

OK, so here we are up close and personal with one of the nine concrete piers that make up the foundation of our home, Larkspur. And the reason that Alyssa and I opted for a concrete pier foundation was that quite frankly, we didn’t have any idea how to do anything else, and this is a quick method, and it made sense to us.

Other potential benefits are that it’s very light on the land, not very invasive; we only dug nine holes for the foundation of our house. And it happened very quickly, within two weeks of getting the post hole digger out, we had a platform on which we could start framing our walls.

So Alyssa and I chose the colour blue for our metal roofing because it was the nicest colour we could find. And we chose metal because our future plans are to incorporate a rainwater catchment system onto the house, and the way that that’ll work is we’ll just simply attach some gutters and some downspouts so that we’ll collect here into rain barrels—that we can then use gravity-fed pressure to water our garden with.

Alyssa: 

Hi, and welcome to the inside of our house. Our house is about 400 square feet total with a downstairs and an upstairs. The downstairs is our primary living space where we hang out and read, and do whatever we want; we’re planning on having a baby in this space. And upstairs is our bedroom, and we chose to have two separate floors so that people wouldn’t walk in and instantly see our bed; our bedroom would be separate from the main living space.

We heat our house with the wood-burning stove that we have in the north corner of our house. Let’s show you the rest of it!

OK, up here we have what’s called a truth window, where you can see the inside of our house, what it looks like, what the construction process entailed. And up there you see the stick-frame members, the two by sixes, or these are actually two by fours, as well as a diagonal brace to keep the wall square and straight; and the insulation, which is made out of light clay straw, which is a technique that mixes straw with a very light clay slip, and the straw acts as the insulation and the clay helps with fire resistance and insect repellant [Tony laughs]. And we… I don’t know what else about it.

Tony: 

Well, the way that light clay straw works is that by attaching a form on the inside and the outside of the framing members, we’re able to then shove in the loose straw to fill that cavity, and then as it dries, you pull off the forms, move ’em up the wall and do the next course. And so yeah, here you get a good view of what that looks like before we put the plaster, and the reason we left it open and covered with Plexiglas is that it’s a tradition in natural building to have a… to include a truth window where you can show exactly what the insulation is of your house. This thing, this really is made out of straw [laughs].

Alyssa: 

So on top of the insulation, the light clay straw insulation, we then coat the walls with plaster, and we use two different coats of plaster. And here on this wall you can see both types of plaster. Up at the top we still have just our first coat of plaster, which is a rough coat, which is made of clay, straw and sand. A lot of the materials, or all of the materials we got locally. The clay, some of it was what we dug out of the ground when we put… when we dug for our foundation, some of it was given to us from Luke Zimmerman down the road when he scraped the clay out of his pond; the straw was straw that we bought from a local guy down in Memphis and somewhere else. And that’s the first coat.

The second coat is made of more fine, much more finer materials. We sift the sand to get it really fine, we sift the clay; and then we also add cattail fluff, which we take from the cattails that grow at the pond right next door; and wheat paste, which is basically just heated flour and water; and put it on with a trowel, and it makes this really nice, smooth coating.

Tony: 

And also, as we’re doing the earth and plaster, applying it wet, it allows you to manipulate that surface, like we said with the trowels, and with burnishers to make it smooth, but you can also incorporate other materials. So, when we step over here, you can see where we incorporated some seashells and some polished glass into a mosaic. And this is just to add a little bit of visual interest and to take advantage of that workability with the product, the material, the earth and plaster, but also an important aspect of this design was that the mosaic sort of rises up into this opening which connects the two spaces, we felt. And I think it does a pretty good job of that, too.

So one of the covenants here at Dancing Rabbit is that all of our buildings, how the wood that’s used in our building has to be either sustainably and locally harvested or reclaimed, and so naturally all of the wood here in Larkspur has been sustainably, locally harvested, or the majority has been reclaimed.

So looking around, let’s see, the floor came from the Smith house, which was a demolition project that I took part in just a couple miles down the road. The finished ceiling here came from the Kirkpatrick farmhouse, which I took apart last summer; also, the majority of the two by sixes and even these two by eights that make up the floor joints for the second storey are also from the Kirkpatrick farmhouse.

You see here that the window trim and these nailer strips along the top of the wall, these are made out of honey locust, which is actually something of a pest tree in this area, but is milled up beautifully, and we were fortunate enough to work with a local mill where this, these trees are actually harvested from land maybe five miles from here, and we used it as sort of a [sic] accent to really set the house apart.

So we did wire Larkspur for electricity, as you see here [flicks switch], however, we don’t have our own power system. We’re members of Ironweed Subcommunity here at Dancing Rabbit, and we are also part of, as Ironweed, a power cooperative, if you will. And there are eight solar panels and a 1000-watt wind turbine that make up the system. And that is currently housed in a couple of different locations, and we ran a wire from Ted and Sarah’s house to a junction box here at Larkspur, and it provides us with electricity enough to play the stereo, or lights, occasionally watch a DVD.

Alyssa: 

Welcome to the second storey of our house. This is our cozy bedroom, pretty much where we sleep, and the design is fairly similar to downstairs but a little bit different.

Tony: 

The, well, the downstairs footprint is about 16 feet by 16 feet square; we only have half of that space for the second storey, so about 8 by 13 when you allow for the space that the stairs take up. And also you notice that one of the things that makes this space so cozy is the short ceiling height.

The reason that we ended up with such a design is… sort of relates to the reclaimed material; we didn’t have enough two by sixes to have eight-foot walls on the second storey, but we did have enough 12-foot two by sixes that we could cut in half, so we ended up with side walls that are a little over five and a half feet high, and then to allow for head room, we built scissor trusses that offer this cathedral ceiling. And that way, we have… we both have room to stand up and you know, put a shirt on without hitting our head on the wall or the floor or the ceiling.

Why would you hit your head on the floor when you put a shirt on? I don’t know [both laugh]. But it could happen! [more laughing]

One of the great benefits about natural building is that the space just really feels good. You know, the materials are all natural and you’re not worrying about chemicals and offgassing and artificiality even… so in addition to just the beautiful warmth and feel of the materials, knowing that you’ve created a space using your own two hands, or in the case of community, the hands of as many people as you can possibly get to come over… it’s incredibly rewarding, and often you will find Alyssa and I in this very spot, sitting [and] looking at our beautiful house.

Alyssa: 

[both laugh] Staring at our walls.

Tony: 

Yeah, it’s like, wow, that’s nice plaster. And what about that woodwork? [both laugh]

Thanks so much for stopping by, really.

To check out a green home built on a larger scale, watch Ottawa, Ontario’s Own Passive House»


video; image: Ryo Chijiiwa

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