Thursday, December 16, 2010

Closing It Up

Well, we are finally seeing the light at the end of the hallway in this Do-It-Yourself project. It has been informative and inspiring to be able to compare the Terra House with Jack's House, going up in Mountain View. Though both projects use David's concept of combining three 20' x 24' rammed earth rooms offset under SIP roof panels, the contrasting locations, design scheme and labor forces have resulted in two very different homes. Jack's house is a sleek, modern house with high-end finishes and furnishings, while Terra's House is a unique, country home with hand-made materials. (Check out to see the finished Mountain View residence.)

Thanks to the continued help of many family, friends and neighbors, our final projects are in the works. Abe's brother and our neighbor, both local contractors, helped us pour a stamped concrete slab around the house. On the north and east side, the slab is just a four foot perimeter to help with drainage and to keep us from tracking the red Calaveras clay into the house. On the west and south sides, outside the living room and master bedroom, the twelve foot slab creates a large veranda with plenty of room for enjoying the pastoral view.

One of Abe's co-workers helped him installed our salvaged redwood in the living room. The tongue and groove boards with their varying grains and reddish hue, carry the horizontal pattern of the rammed earth strata lines through the living room. With the help of more family members, we assembled and installed our IKEA kitchen. The white shaker cabinets and butcher block counter tops complement the hand-milled beams and trim that line the house.

Next up, we are finishing the bathrooms and firing up the radiant floor system. I'll try to keep you "posted", for now I've got to get back to DIYing!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Repurposing Old Redwood

As you know, our goal with the Terra House, is to keep the project affordable and to conserve resources where ever possible. Many of our materials have come straight from our land in the foothills. The beams were milled from two fir trees, harvested from the north slope of the property. We also milled the trim from two cedars that were standing dead by the river. And of course, the rich red clay used in the walls came right from the building site.
Now, we are excitedly preparing to finish some of the interior walls using redwood salvaged from our old water tank. The tank was built in San Francisco nearly a century ago using clear, old growth redwood, and served as water storage for a neighboring town in the gold country. My Dad, David, rescued the redwood water tank and and transported it to our property more than twenty years ago. We used the tank throughout my childhood, and I look forward to showing off the beautiful old clear redwood on our living room walls.
In the spirit of the family project, my uncle and cousin offered to help Abe and I resaw the salvaged redwood to make tongue and groove boards for our interior walls and trim. The original pieces were approximately 5 1/2 inches by 4 inches and ten feet long, with peeling red paint on one side, and years of water stain on the other.

We started by trimming off the ends, which were notched to hold the floor of the tank. Then, we ran the boards through a planer to create a smoother surface to work with. Next, we cut the ten foot lengths into 3, 4, 5 and six foot lengths that would be easier to mill down. We ran these pieces through a band saw cutting an inch wide board off of one side. The pieces when back through the planner, and the remaining length returned to the band saw to become two more inch wide boards. Using this method, we managed to get three 3/4 inch boards out of each piece. Each board went through a planer three more times to create an even, smooth surface. Finally, we used a router with tongue and groove bits to create around 22 square feet of incredibly clear finish redwood.
As we milled, we all marveled at the quality of the wood, which it seems we wouldn't be able to find or afford if we were not fortunate enough to have the chance to salvage and repurpose another resource from our land.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Continuing the Family Project

Hello- Terra here. Sorry it has been so long since my last blog post. Building through the winter months in the foothills is cold and challenging, but with the warmth of spring we are moving forward again. The spirit of our family project continues, with more help from brothers, cousins, uncles and friends.
In the last few months, Abe and I have been working to close in the house. He framed in the living room, the only walls in the house that are not constructed of rammed earth, and put in our doors and windows. Of course, we wanted to support local businesses as much as possible. We purchased 45 clerestory windows through Senders, a local hardware store. These, and the kitchen and bedroom window, are Milgard vinyl, with all the extras that should maximize the natural heating and cooling properties of our house. We also purchased locally, four sets of french doors, two for the living room and two for the master bedroom. The windows on the east and north walls open, to allow the breezes from the south to blow through the living room, venting the entire house.
Abe fell a dead cedar tree that was standing on our back forty acres and has been milling trim with the chainsaw setup he used for our beams. For the exterior living room walls, we decided to use Certainteed, a fiber cement siding. This siding is considered a green building material because it is made using 30% flyash and will last a long time with very little treatment. For the interior living room walls we will use redwood salvaged from our old water tank.
We are in the homestretch. Next, we will finish the interior walls and then begin installing our lights and fixtures. Wish us luck and check back to see our progress!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Earth Block Bathroom & Roof Membrane

Hi, Terra here- Work on our house in the foothills has slowed down with the onset of fall, but the projects continue. Most recently, we have completed the bathroom section of the house, which is made from Integrity Blocks. These blocks are a green replacement for a CMU, using an earth mix and decreasing the cement content. Taj formulated the mix designs for Integrity Block, so we are excited to have the opportunity to include them as an element of our family project. The block wall contains concrete fill and steel support; we will plaster the interior, but the exterior will showcase the varied soil colors of this new product.

We have also finished our roof, just in time for the changing seasons. The sides of the structurally insulated panels are finished with custom galvanized gutters and drip edge flashing from Spectrum Sheet Metal, and the roof is covered with a rubber membrane from Flat Roof Solutions. The membrane is 45 millimeter factory-seamed EPDM UV resistant rubber which we received in three large sheets. Khyber and Abe fitted the membrane sections to the SIPs using a roll-on adhesive, then Abe and I edged them to the gutters using 6" self-adhesive cover tape. The flat roof and rubber membrane are another new component of this innovative home design, significantly reducing time and material costs compared to a typical roof.

Next, we will be framing in our clerestory and sliding glass doors. I will keep you posted as our finishing work continues.

Monday, October 5, 2009

On the Horizon

We poured the final slabs at Terra's and took delivery of the roof membrane and galvanized gutters and flashing. As I told you in the last post, the pace of work will slow down for the winter. We're using recycled glass doors from Urban Ore in Berkeley for most of the living room wall, and framing them in with redwood from the old water tank. The challenge in the finishing stages is to incorporate as much recycled and salvaged materials as possible, yet keeping with the same high standards we've set so far.
The Terra's House blog will continue to provide updates on all the stages as they progress. I still owe you that post about how to build displacement boxes for niches, nooks, and closet, which I'll get to once the dishes are on the shelves. In the meantime, keep checking our website for new projects that we hope to follow as closely as we did Terra's.
The photos in this post will give you a taste of what's on the horizon for 2010. There's one more picture of Terra's, taken with a better lens and a better camera. The other photos are of the site at Jack's house, a city lot in old Mountain View and the site at Eric's house with a view of the entire Bay Area.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Final slab prep

It's the end of September and we are nearing completion of the structural elements. We have a few small slabs to pour, then it will be time to settle in for a winter of carpentry.
Last week, after we put on the SIPs and bolted down all of the beams, Khyber built a chimney using Integrity Blocks, Abe installed the plumbing waste and supply lines, pressure tested all of the buried copper and radiant tubing, Terra sealed the walls, and we orchestrated a major clean-up of the site. The forming system is disassembled, cleaned, and bundled together to move to the next project. The tools are reorganized in the job trailer, the table saw and chop saw moved into the kitchen/winter cabinet shop, and the miscellaneous screws, nuts, and bolts sorted into empty paint buckets. If this were a paying job, the client would be writing a big check.
In October, Khyber and Taj are going to Maui to start reconnaissance for a project there this winter. Abe and Terra are about to become finish carpenters, and I am going to Mexico to see some of the rammed earth projects underway as a result of our workshop there two years ago.
The posts in Terra's blog will be less frequent, but check in from time to time to see how things shape up. The photos in this post give you a sense of how the house will look finished. The square hole in the wall to the right of the fireplace will be a wood-fired boiler and bread oven, used to heat the water for the radiant floor.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Roofing Phase Two

Yesterday was the BIG day. We'd finished installing the rammed earth in the master bedroom last Thursday, then spent Friday pulling screws and form ties. But Monday was the day we had been waiting for all summer. We were about to see the house. Gilbeau showed up with his crane truck at 9:30 and we got started right away. Gabe and Edward were rigging and taking down the form panels one at a time and laying them along the east side of the building for disassembly and clean-up. As soon as one panel came off, Taj pulled out the beam pocket forms behind it and set the hangers. Abe and his brother Flynn were cutting and notching beams as fast as they could go, trying to stay ahead of the crane. Khyber and I were fabricating the clerestory frames and Rigo was removing door bucks. That part took about three hours.
After lunch, Gilbeau starting settng the six big beams with his crane and we set the smaller ones off of ladders. Once the timber was in place (about two hours) n we started picking and setting the SIPs. The big panels were 8' x 20', the smaller ones 8' x 10'. It didn't take more than ten minutes per panel. By five o'clock we were done. Take a look at the pictures.
They illustrate Taj working on a beam pocket, one of the form panels being lifted out of the bedroom, setting one of the beams, setting one of the SIPs, and a view of the house taken at 5:00 pm.