Building An Earthship In Darfield, B.C.

We are a family of five living in Darfield, BC.
Our house is six hundred square feet in total and we are feeling cramped.

We have decided to build an earthship!

So starts the adventure ...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Too much stuff!

Life has been busy since we got our building permit!

I spent so much time over the winter getting the permit that I did not give a lot of thought to what needed to happen afterwards to actually get started building the house.

We have had our site picked out for quite some time. We will build our earthship just behind our existing home (the shaded wall in this picture is the back of the house). We like this location the best and local by-laws require that the existing house be moved off-site or demolished when the new house is finished so one way or another the existing house will have to disappear.

Initially, we had planned to place the home in the same location as the existing house. This would have required us to move the house temporarily or move into a different house for the duration of the construction period. The location behind the existing house is better for a couple of reasons and it allows us to stay put. This is a huge worry lifted at the start of the project as moving was a daunting option.

Our first order of business was roughly locating the footprint of the building and figuring out south. We pounded a stake into the ground along the proposed south edge of the earthship and measured the stake's shadow in the morning and afternoon. When we got a morning and afternoon measurement of approximately equal lengths we joined a line between the shadow tips that (we hoped) was running east and west. It turns out that the existing building is facing pretty much due south.

The next step is clearing the building site so that we can start digging and levelling. We have a wooden deck back there, the compost piles and a string of partially rotten birch trees that all have to be moved.

In order to move the deck we first needed to clear a new spot for it. I went out in the morning expecting to get started fairly quickly and fired up our trusty backhoe.

I am actually quite attached to this machine as it embodies our new found frugality. It is a 1985 Case, and we are the third or fourth generation owners of this machine. We bought it from family friends for $5000.00 four years ago and spent another $5000.00 right away replacing worn out bushings and linkages. This machine has seen a lot of work! The backhoe has done too many jobs to count both for the business and personally, and we expect to use it alot over the next year!

Unfortunately, the machine was not used over the winter and it is never as simple as just firing it up. By lunch I had it running with all of its fluids checked and Sandra and I were able to clear a spot and move the deck that afternoon. Things did not go as quickly as I hoped, but we did manage to get it done and I was able to calmly enjoy a sunny spring day while I worked.

The next job was clearing the birch trees from the building site. The following day I immediately grabbed the Husquavarna gas chainsaw and headed for the trees, thinking this would be quick,easy and possibly fun. Within twenty seconds of firing the saw up the chain came off the bar. I calmly retreated to the shop and replaced the old, badly worn and stretched chain with a brand new one that Sandra found in our storage/maintenance shed. Fifteen seconds after starting the saw the second time the chain actually siezed and I had to remove the chain, file the drive teeth and try again.

After two hours of fiddling with the chainsaw I was ready to heave it through the shop window, retreat to the house and read for the rest of the day. I was no longer calm so I spent a few minutes admiring the beautiful spring day! I did identify that the drive sprocket was worn and Sandra ordered a new one later on her way into town.

Not to be thwarted by my gas chainsaw I blew the dust off the small electric chainsaw and went outside and got to work. We got the electric chainsaw for working on log buildings when finesse was required. It does a good job and all of the trees I was cutting down were within fifty feet of an electrical outlet. The saw worked for a couple of hours and then stopped. I flipped the breaker repeatedly and was still unable to get the saw to work (this is about as effective as speaking louder to a person who does not speak the same language).

I was now communicating with Sandra in clipped monosyllables, and inexplicably she decided she had better things to do in the house. Retreating to the shop yet again I proceeded to tear apart the electric chainsaw. The power cord had finally frayed inside from the cord being flexed so much, and consequently no electricity was making it to the motor. This was an easy fix and I was quickly back outside butchering rotten birch trees.

Spring is always the time of year that I spend way more time than I want to repairing stuff. This year most of that stuff has to do with our building project, but inevitably things tend to break down after a long winter of inactivity, moisture, and cold temperatures.

Over the last two years I have gotten rid of a lot of stuff; we sold our house property, shutdown our business, moved into a much smaller house and we used only one vehicle all winter. I have also tried to detach myself from the stuff in my life. After all, no matter how many times I curse or threaten my chainsaw it is just a chainsaw. To its credit it has never cursed me back and generally given good service except when I have skimped on its maintenance.

Most of the stuff that I own is very useful. I am going to use a lot of it to build my new home. However, maintaining all of this stuff is time consuming and at times emotionally draining... Ironically, I doubt the chainsaw feels cheated when I dont sharpen its chain in a timely manner!

I am going to treat the last two days as valuable life experience. Regardless of what I want to be doing at any given moment the present activity is the reality and I might as well enjoy it.


Anonymous said...

Hey, Chris!

>>>Our first order of business was roughly locating the footprint of the building and figuring out south.<<<

Yes, "figuring out south" is vital! You don't want to turn your Earthship into a meat locker like the north-facing one you told us about. LOL

You own a backhoe! And here I thought you'd be doing all the digging by hand! LOL (Like the tire-pounding.)

That tree-felling video is a bit terrifying. No wonder Sandra hid in the house!

Love the updates!

Cheers, Jan

Sandra said...

Jan, I actually insist on being present when Chris falls trees. There's something to having somebody around to lift them off him if needed...

I retreat to the house when Chris starts cursing the equipment. I know then that my presence is no longer needed, required, or helpful! When a usually even tempered individual begins berating a power saw, I suddenly recall several, more enjoyable tasks that require my attention.

BrookdaleBoys said...

We liked the Man vs. Tree video. And we were cheering for the Man!