Sunday, October 27, 2013

Project Update

This week there was a minor setback (see the last post) but once building resumed 8 inches of wall were added around two thirds of the cottage. The window frames have not been installed yet. You can see the places reserved for the frames in the left side of this photo.

The west, north, and east sides was where the work was focused. This is the north wall.

Some supports were added for a desk / shelf area.

A gas pipe was installed to provide gas for a kitchen burner.

This is looking toward the west. Being in this place is a joy regardless of the weather.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ants and Cob

This post is for those considering building with cob in areas where ants are plentiful. The building site has had a population explosion of ants this summer. An ecologically friendly building may encourage some ant habitation but it isn't desirable to have ants compromising walls by tunneling or being able to enter the interior of the finished structure.

This project has had a couple of setbacks due to my unwittingly creating an environment favorable for the presence of ants. Below are some strategies that will be followed from this point forward to minimize the creation of desirable ant habitat. If you know of any other strategies please let me know and I will post them here.

1. Cover walls as little as possible. A cover over a wall or floor will encourage habitation.

2. Use mortar in foundations. Unmortared foundations allow passage and voids for habitation.

3. Gravel with cob on top is ant habitat. Ants love the voids in gravel and the protective layer provided by cob.

Here is a very helpful post from Kindra at regarding mortaring.

And here is other helpful information from this same list regarding ants and cob.

We had a period of rain over several days for which we are very thankful for in this area of drought. I had the walls covered very well for several days to prevent any erosion by rain. Upon uncovering the walls an ant nest was discovered in the top of a wall three feet off the ground. Needless to say they could not stay there and the nest had to be removed.

Going forward I am not going to cover the walls at all with one exception. I will cover on the top of the section of wall currently being constructed with burlap during daylight hours to prevent the sun from drying out the top layer of cob.

Suspecting that more ants may have moved in I stopped all building and began evaluating the structure. There was evidence that ants were nesting in the newly constructed bench. After a lot of pondering the decision was made to remove the bench altogether. Here is the bench prior to removal.

The top eight inches of cob in the bench was removed which was no small task. No ants were found. However, upon arrival at the gravel layer of the bench the suspicions were confirmed. Several ant nests were present inside the bench. A day later the bench was out.

This is the bench now. Waiting to be recycled into a wall.

Having learned that gravel with cob on top makes a great ant habitat an evaluation of the walls was started. There was evidence that ants were present in the foundation immediately below where the nest was removed from the top of the wall. Ants sense vibration and they go into a defensive mode when vibrations occur. Banging on the top of the wall with a shovel confirmed the suspicion as ants began streaming out from one section of foundation. At this time I don't know how much wall, if any, has been compromised. If the bench is an indication their preference should be for the gravel in the foundation. The voids created by gravel seem preferable to having to mine tunnels in the clay and sand. I'm not certain what will be done to this wall section yet.

Somewhat satisfied I sat on the subfloor where the bench used to be, enjoying the shelter the cottage was providing from the wind. A minute later I looked down to see my leg covered with ants! Ants are also under the subfloor, likely sheltered by the urbanite chunks and gravel that were installed earlier in the year. Again, I'm not certain what will be done here, if anything. Removing the subfloor might encourage them to relocate. But installation of the stone floor and grout should create an impermeable barrier.

Although I'm somewhat concerned over my cascading mistakes I remain undaunted. I'm going to resume building now until it appears that this approach is no longer viable. Then I'll start over, but more knowledgeable.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Two Foot Milestone

The cob portion of the walls are now two feet high all the way around the cottage.

Here are the stats for those keeping track. 25 work days total, 18 of which have been half days. 148 batches of cob for an average of 6 batches per day.

At this rate 50 more working days to the six foot milestone.

The bench alcove area will be left alone for now with focus being on the walls.

Looking northeast.

There is still some trimming to do.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Up We Go

Wall height is being added at the rate of one foot every eight to nine work days.

I try to limit a work day to a maximum of five hours per day. I call these half days. A typical day involves mixing six batches of cob, applying it to the walls, wall trimming, and perhaps two or three other miscellaneous tasks.

The walls above the foundation are approaching two feet of height.

On the outside of the building in some places the walls are almost waist high.

This cottage is growing! The next three days will be focused on the south facing side. Within a week there may be some window frames in place.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Tiny Update

I'm calling it a tiny update since sometimes progress appears to be tiny despite a large expenditure of effort. I have been working on the bench area for the last three working days. The bench area took a significant amount of cob. OK, a huge amount. Even though it was built up with stone it took 21 batches of cob for the bench to approach its final height. That's the equivalent of twice around the cottage.

But now the bench is now close to its final height. The floor has to come up four inches yet and then the bench will receive one final thin levelling layer of cob. Then plaster. This bench will serve as the main sitting and relaxation area for the cottage. It should also be possible to sleep on it if not sleeping in the loft. And the table should be able to be moved into the bench area for serving meals when there are guests.

I anticipate curling up and spending a lot of time on this bench for many, many days and nights to come. How many great books will be read here?

And the nicest thing? I get to do this all over again tomorrow. But focus this time will be on the wall around the bench. And for the rest of the week the (seemingly neglected) other walls will receive the same treatment and gain some height, aiming for the two foot milestone.

So, on this project quite often it seems to me like little progress is being made even though there has been a tremendous amount of effort. That is why I'm glad to have this blog to be able to look back and know that yes, good progress is actually being made. Here is the same bench area last week.

And here is the cottage a short 37 days ago. Progress ... oh yeah!

The layout of this cottage with its snug bench area and low loft above was inspired by the design of Ridge House at the North American School of Natural Building, also known as the Cob Cottage Company. This blog post at Ecstatic Earth here has a lot of photos of the amazing work done at Cob Cottage Company. And if you look close enough you will see Ridge House in there. Thank you Adam from Ecstatic Earth for sharing and providing a good portion of the inspiration for this project.