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 ...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Progress on the house

I have been busy this week investigating some possible work opportunities so Chris has been working a little on his own.  But this weekend saw us get a fair bit done on the house.  Most exciting, today (Sunday) we started plastering in our first pop cans (during the Canada/USA gold medal hockey game).  I drove the kids to Dad's to watch it on TV and they gave us cell phone updates as the game progressed.  Yay Canada!

But I digress.  Here we go!

The bond beam form has been is Chris bending re-bar for around the corners...

Here is what the inside of the forms looks like.  It is pretty standard...much like any foundation footing; however, this will support our roof.  We are using 2 runs of 10mm rebar.  We made our own hangers from used lumber strapping. 

As the forms were leveled gaps appeared between the wood and the tires (caused by the slight out of level of the top row of tires).  We checked the top row last weekend with the transit and there was no more than 2 inches difference from the highest to lowest tire!  Pretty good.  However, we need to fill in the gaps we have so that when we pour concrete, it doesn't simply escape out of the bottom.  When pouring a traditional footing this is pretty easy; just mash dirt up into the gap.  However, when you are 8 feet in the air and the bottom of the "form" is a round tire, this becomes more problematic. 

We debated about whether we would scab on old wood while we poured, but in the end we'd have to take it off and plaster in between the tires anyway.  So we made the decision to plaster in the gaps on the top row right now, simply to be able to pour concrete (and hopefully not have to redo the work later).

The plaster mix is essentially a cob mixture made up of clay-soil (dirt), concrete-sand and fibre (usually chopped straw).  We found and borrowed, from the library, three plaster books we'd previously read.  The Earthship volumes are not heavy on detail about the plaster so we consulted mainly with The Natural Plaster Book: earth, lime and gypsum plasters for the natural home.  It is excellent.

One of the most important things to do before using native materials in a plaster is to determine the levels of clay in it.  Clay is essential in natural plasters as it works as a binding agent.

So we followed directions on how to determine the clay content.  We filled a quart jar 1/3 full of the dirt we hoped to use as the clay-dirt.  We then filled the jar to 2/3 full by adding water.  Then we shook it.  After 3 seconds the "gravel" settled out.

Chris marked this line and set the timer for 10 minutes.  In the next 10 minutes the finer sand and silt settles.  If the water is still quite cloudy, then you have clay in your soil.  Wait even longer and you can determine how much clay.

This was taken after about 20 minutes.  After the clay settled, we figured we had just under 25 percent.  This is quite high so when we mix our plaster we will keep this in mind (especially for the finish coats where we will be avoiding cracks).

Most plasters call for chopped straw for the fibre content.  The book we read mentioned sheep's wool as a good alternative!  We still had two bags of wool left over from last year's 4-H shearing day. I read up on how to wash wool to get out all the lanolin. 

Here are a few pictures of the wool during washing last night.

The house smelled a bit like the barn for a while!

Here we are pulling apart wool into strands so that it will evenly distribute through the plaster. Some of us are happier than others...

Today while the kids were watching the hockey game, Chris and I pulled a wheelbarrow each of clay-dirt and sand to the house next to the cement mixer.  We added equal shovelfuls of both.

After we added enough water to make the mixture "soupy", we added about half a grocery bag of wool.  This was a bit of an experiment as the directions gave amounts for straw, but not for wool. 

After the wool is mixed in, the mixture was quite thick. Here's the first handful thrown into the space between tires and underneath the bond beam form.

And after the first can is mashed in...hey!  it looks just like it does in the Garbage Warrior!!!!

Here's a few in a row...

This is only the first step.  We need to let this layer dry, then wet the outside and do another layer with two more mashed pop cans.  We will do these two steps for the top round of tires so we can pour cement, but eventually all of the tires have to be done.  There are 762 tires in the building so far so that's a lot of plastering.  Thankfully, it does go very quickly....

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Being a radical environmentalist may be the most boring job in the world!

Chris, who is much more well-read than I, mentioned this morning during an interview with North of 50 Magazine, that being an environmentalist, may well be the most boring job in the world.  Apparently, the new movement, is to do nothing at all.  By this I mean that some people have opted not to participate in a money society. 

It reminded me of a story I JUST read in Permaculture Magazine out of the U.K. about Mark Boyle, who did just that.  Here's a link to his story...

Chris and I have been quiet on the blog front recently. Last weekend we attended the Olympics and the kids hope to blog about our trip.  In the meantime Chris and I have been talking a lot about the house schedule, future income generation and how we want to "spend" our "free" time.  Lots to chew over, but not ready to share yet!   :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Eating out of the freezer/pantry...continued.

After a month of eating out of the pantry/freezer we have finally started to see a noticeable difference in our stores…
Our chest freezer was full a month ago and is now about half empty. I went through it fairly methodically a few days ago to see what I had left:

1) 7 of our home grown chickens, various sizes (we started with 22 last May.

2) 15 packages of whole wheat English muffins (I buy these for $1 a pack at the Superstore, which puts them on sale every month or so). They are delicious in the morning with a poached fresh egg from our chickens. Very filling and packed with protein.

3) 3-4 pounds of carmelized tomatoes. I bought $40 in local Roma tomatoes last fall after a friend (D’Arcy Feller) showed me and a few other 4-H moms this really great recipe one evening when a 4-H meeting was held at his house. I don’t think I ever posted about it…I will have to do that. These tomatoes are scrumptious on fresh bread, sandwiches, etc. However, I still have a lot left!

4) 2 lbs of sundried tomatoes from our garden.

5) 6-10 package of beef stew meat.

6) 4 pork shoulder roasts

7) 2-3 packages of beef ribs

8) 2-3 pounds of frozen beans

9) 10 pounds of frozen pumpkin (Chris has faithfully frozen all pumpkins we’ve been given, but we never seem to use it; I need to find a pumpkin soup recipe)

10) 2 cans of orange juice

11) 3 chuck roasts

12) A family size serving of prepared stew.

13) 8-10 single servings of various leftovers, including macaroni beef, 18 bean soup (overflow from the inside freezer).

14) 7-8 pounds of frozen corn, bought locally from our friends, the Kempters, last fall.  Yum.  We will definitely use this up before next harvest!

I have been going through and using up pantry items as well, including flours, pastas and beans and various spices.  In or canning shelves we are still making good use of homemade jam, applesauce, sweet pickles, salsa and apple juice.

I’m estimating that in the last month we’ve spent about $200 in groceries, mostly on fresh vegetables
and fruit.

I’m now looking for inspiration to effectively use up those items that remain in the freezer or pantry. We are not a roast family so I’ve been looking for ingenious ways to use up the meat. I’ve been cutting up the roast pork and making several meals worth of souvlaki (then making pork stock from bones; wonton soup is in my future!) We’ve been using the chuck roasts for stir fries but it’s a bit tough and Chris suggested we turn it into hamburger, which is a good idea. We eat approximately two chickens per month and each chicken gives us at least two main meals, plus several days of chicken soup.

I’m looking for a way to use the stew meat (not traditional stew, I’m getting sick of it). I’d also love a great way to use up the pumpkin, either in soup or in bread or muffins.

Why are we doing this? Well, firstly it’s incredibly satisfying to apply our frugal and environmentally aware principals to our dining table. I read a study once that showed that 20 percent of most household grocery purchases were wasted (veggies going rotten in the fridge, out of date food, etc.). I suspect it's a rare person indeed who never throws food out, regardless of whether they have a stocked pantry or freezer...
Our second reason is financial…we are trying to live frugally and mindfully and it feels very responsible to spend time making the most of what we have.

Doing this takes time and effort, something that most people feel they don’t have. I know when we were running the business full tilt there was NO way I would have been able to think about our food and how we make the most of it…

Even if you are busy, I would encourage you to look through your food storage areas and pick two items that have been there a while. Maybe a cut of meat or a type of pasta, or even frozen vegetables or fruit, that with a small amount of effort, could save you money and help make the best use of your food resources. You’d be surprised at how satisfying it is.

In the meantime, please pass along any suggestions for meals!

Friday, February 12, 2010

DIY (or with a friend) hair colour

On Wednesday I headed over to Jody Schilling' house, a fellow frugalista who didn’t look too frightened when I asked her to paint my hair!

I arrived at 12:30 and our goal was to finish in two hours.

Here’s all the stuff I bought to bring back my aged locks to their former beauty.

1) Three plastic bowls and brushes (for the three colours I chose)
2) Developer #20
3) Three tubes of colour; Ion crème #7N,. 9N and 12N
4) A measuring cup
5) A bit of oil to prep the hair and colour
6) Foil squares (which we cut in half; they were pretty big)
7) My hair clips and hair cutting comb.
8) Rubber gloves

The directions on the colour indicated a time for each to be left on, with the lightest colour taking the longest. A logistical nightmare, actually. Anything I had heard or read about indicated that the developer that is added to the colour eventually “times” out, without having to worry about over colouring (or bleaching, since one of the colours I chose was a very light blond, for streaks). I decided not to worry too much about it. It would all come out in the wash…literally.

Jody and I have been going to the same hair salon for years now (Jody also colours her hair) so the method we were used to, was familiar to both of us.

Or so we thought. We divided my hair into three sections (two sides and the back) and Jody started by picking up about ¼” strip of my hair and weaving the comb through it, essentially leaving half behind. Once she had half in her hand we were a little perplexed as we realized we never paid attention to what Crysti did with the leftover. We knew some never made it into the foils.

Jody painted the hank of hair she had with the first colour (dark blonde) after setting the folded foil square snugly under the hank of hair and as close to the roots as possible. Jody isn’t the cursing kind, but very quickly she started to get frustrated as the foil kept slipping down as she painted. As this was an experiment and I didn’t want my new hair colorist to get frustrated, I assured her that she should just do the best she could.

After getting the foil back in place and flipping it upward out of the way, we decided that the hair that had been left behind when she weaved, should be flipped up out of the way, too. Then a clip attached so she could move on.

After an hour about a third of my head was done. Obviously practice is the key to speed! I wasn’t worried at all, still delighted that I had talked somebody into doing this for me!

Believe it or not trying to find a woman who would willingly risk another’s tresses is very difficult! There’s something sacrosanct about women’s hair…and yet, our hair stylists are just us with a lot of practice and education. The education part I wasn’t worried about…I figured I’d done my research. But the only way to get practice is to do it for the first time, once. After that, it’s all practice!

And, my hair has become awfully long and I figured if my research failed me then I’d go back to short hair again, separating myself emotionally from three years of growing it out…

Jody and I talked about the kids' school, her school (she’s finishing up an add-on year of her teaching degree to improve her salary over the long term). We yakked about family, neighbours (yakked, not gossiped!), the weird, warm winter we’re having. In the middle of my hair session Karen, Jody’s mother-in-law dropped by, as did Florence Beharrel, one of our neighbours who was out campaigning for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Florence is in her early 80s and until last March was our little community’s post mistress. Her husband, Howard, died a few months ago at the grand old age of 91.

So after three hours, we were done! I decided to let the last application have its 25 minutes to develop and sat and entertained Jody’s oldest two sons who did double takes when they arrived inside from getting off the bus. I guess the boys don’t often go with Jody to the hair salon…

When we started pulling off foils to shampoo out the gunk, the stench was unbelievable! It started to make my eyes water. It was weird because the whole time Jody was applying the colour, there was no smell at all!  I had been hoping the chemical impact of this experiment was going to be minimal...

I combed out my hair and it looked great, even wet. I think Jody is a bit of a perfectionist, because she immediately noticed a small (and I mean, small) patch of grey right at my part line that she’d missed. She said I should probably fix it at some point, but I think I’m going to keep it. Sort of like when a historical building is renovated, the city sometimes puts a fancy chain around some of the old crumbling bits so that people can be reminded of what it used to look like…

I dried my hair at home to let Jody get on with her dinner and when I dried it… looked FABULOUS! It was amazing. I can’t express how pleased I am with it. Jody is the bomb.

The light on this picture is a bit actually doesn't look patchy...

Chris and I met her later that same night for a meeting and we admired the job she did. I confess I was so pleased I tried to convince her to try cutting my hair, too.

But she wasn’t having any of THAT. Yet.

So after months of pondering the question of whether a person can produce salon results in their own home I am pleased to say without reservation that it can be done!

Total cost of materials and colour: $60. The tubes of colour were about $7 and I still have two tubes that are half filled (the highlight colours). Each colouring job should cost me about $14 now that I have the equipment. It used to cost about $85 each time.
Now I need suggestions for my next DIY challenge…

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bond Beam Continued

We are making excellent progress on the bond beam.  Despite the constant rain today Chris and I placed all the log for a entire U. We are now into the fourth of five total.  With the cancellaton of ski lessons tomorrow (wow, the rain sure does a number on the trails!) we hope to have another U completed.  The weather has stayed above zero degrees Celsius for the last 4 or 5 days and will continue to do so until Tuesday when the overnight temperatures drop below. For us, it means we have until then to finish excavating the tires without potential freeze ups again.  We thought about digging all of them at once, but until the forms are placed, it's kind of like shooting in the dark.

Things we've learned:  The handy protractor tool that we own is actually idiot-proof.  As long as the idiots learn to use it.  It's set up so you don't have to think; unfortunately Chris and I think too much.  We were using the tool and dredging up our grade 11 math while looking at the degrees we'd already cut and subtracting from 90 and 45 and trying to remember what the angles of geometric shapes add up to. I was well in Pythagorean theorem before we realized that the tool does the thinking (and no, we are not tools!).   Chris finally wrested the protractor from me and decided how we should really be using it and since then our angles have been error-free.

Here is what the bond beam form looks like to date...just a few more pieces and we will be ready to tinker with rebar and spacers...if the weather stays warm, we should pour the cement before March!