You bet we are! We’ve made some fabulous progress on the earthship. If you have liked our FB page, The Darfield Earthship, you will have seen our latest pictures and updates. Base plaster coat is now on the tires and a five-day work party helped to accomplish this. We submitted and had our plumbing plan approved (not without some of the usual permit difficulties). We started the plumbing (septic) and then stopped to plaster, then stopped to level floors, and now we are back to plumbing! During the plastering my father even did some electrical work.
Chris last posted to share his thoughts on solar hot water. He laboured over Part 7 of the building code and designed the septic and remainder of the plumbing, based on a “greywater-ready” system. In BC greywater systems are not permittable, however there is some movement going on in the building code now to move closer to allowing them. He also designed a “solar hot water-ready” system, but of course, as this is in the future we didn’t need to submit it. We just wanted to make sure that our basic plumbing plan allowed for its integration later.
The building department didn’t react well to version #1 of our plan. These days, I don’t think inspectors actually see plumbing plans. Most homeowners hire plumbers and once a plumber is involved, no plan is required. After a philosophical exchange about onerous regulations imposed on homeowners, and several days of re-drawing the with a more conventional “isometric”, we were finally issued the plumbing permit.
We began the septic rough in (and actually glued some sections) and began the rough in for the main bathroom. At the same time, I was talking back and forth with Cindy Walker of Natural Plasters. We had finally set a date of July 31st for her to come and teach us how to apply the base plaster on our tire walls.
We opened the five day work party to volunteers and family and we had lots of help including my sister-in-law, Melanie, my Dad and Gail, my brother Tom, Andrew Greer and his friend, Dustin and Nikki Chayka. My friend Maureen came from Canmore and cooked for us. It was wonderful. Usually during volunteer weeks I am so busy working that meals tend to be burgers and hot dogs. Maureen served roast chicken (our home-grown chicken), venison fajitas, eggplant parmigiana, spaghetti and an array of deserts. I think it’s the first time I gained weight during an intense work weeks!
We were quite prepared for Cindy. We’d already screened six yards of dirt and eight yards of clay. We had five bales of hay on hand. Our leaf mulcher arrived that morning. (I should take a picture of it…never thought to.)
It took about an hour to get sawhorses set up and for Cindy to teach us how to find the right “recipe” for our cob plaster. It is a combination of dirt, clay and straw chopped to about one inch. It would be impossible to give a recipe as it is dependant on your clay content. Our clay, Cindy, said, was a bit silty, but it seemed to work just fine.
Over the first few days Cindy trowelled and Gail and I smeared plaster on the wall ahead of her. Chris organized material and the mixing. We had one cement mixer and we rented another from Home Depot for $123 for the week.
By the end of the second day I was starting to trowel and by mid day on the third day, I was getting the hang of it. It really makes a difference to have the right consistency. Too dry makes it difficult to get a smooth finish. Too wet and it wouldn’t stay on the wall. It really is one of those activities that you have to play around with. Books and videos just can’t replace trial and error.
It was hard, physical work. And, as we put the plaster up, evaporation started. It was hot and humid! By the fifth day the first U had already started drying. Nine days after finishing most of the plaster has now dried. We’ve had, for the most part, very hot days so drying happened very quickly.
By noon on the fifth day, we had completed the last U and Cindy had time to teach us a little about finish plasters and earthen floors.
We paid Cindy $300 per day plus fuel costs from New Denver, BC. Our days lasted 8-9 hours with about an hour for lunch. We plastered about 1500 square feet. We learned enough that we can now plaster the interior pop can walls, which account for another 1500 square feet. This should go faster as the pop can walls are flatter than the tire walls.
Plastering pointed out to us rather graphically, that if we hoped to have earthen floors (a similar mixture to the plaster) we would have to get the base layer on soon enough to take advantage of whatever summer heat we have left this year. After much discussion we have decided to push ahead with the floor.
We’ve spent the last few days levelling the floor inside the earthship. Years of bringing in dirt and digging out planters left humps and dips and a few spectacular concrete puddles from pouring half tires and making pop can walls. Our surveyor’s transit has come in very handy. While we were leveling in the utility room, we buried the water supply and return lines to the main bathroom. We also tidied up our inbound services like the telephone and CAT5 cables and the electrical lines for future solar and DC pump for the cisterns. The next thing we need to do is put down a vapour barrier and insulation. We have done a bit of research and have decided to pour a 3″ concrete/perlite insulating layer (much like the foundation of the rocket mass heater). After this we will pin our hydronic pipes and then lay a 3″ base earthen floor. Since the earthen layer will take weeks to dry, we need to get moving! The last inch is a finish earthen layer and this wouldn’t take as long to dry so it can be done a bit later in the year.
While we accumulate materials and tools for the concrete/perlite floor, we will continue with the plumbing. The inspector wants to see the rough-in septic and vents, and the vapour barrier for the floor. We are also still figuring out one branch of the “greywater ready” system.
During all of this work we also welcomed to our family, Spencer Lee Burkholder. My brother Tom and his wife, Stephanie, adopted him from Taiwan and he is about the cutest toddler ever! Our kids have also been going to summer camp, but for the most part we
make ask them to work with us. Chris and I have continued our consulting work and the slower summer months have worked to our advantage, as we have been putting in as many hours as we can on construction.
I can’t promise more frequent blog posts. We are just too tired. The brevity of Facebook works best for us right now. Pictures below!