our story

The Mosier property was graciously offered for this joint teaching project of solar7.83 design studio and Portland Community College.

The idea began late last fall when  john, david, alison, and candace were completing their design ideas for a house on the newly acquire Mosier property (70 miles east of Portland, Oregon) when the idea of a workshop came about.  Because the main house will be built on the basis of an earthship, the Earthship book vol. 3 was handy and right in front of us was an idea of how to make a temporary earthsheltered strawbale structure that we could manage over a 5 day workshop.   Candace proposed the idea to Ed Kaiel, Pcc Community Ed. director and into the catalog it went.

The site was prepped by beginning to dig the 14' diam hole which would be excavated to a depth of 3'-6".

July 14, mandatory meeting at Portland Work Training Center in Portland, Oregon. 

Friday, July 16 was the beginning of the project. It was this day that the rock and sand were delivered as well as the strawbales while Candace managed to get the VW stuck teetering on the road down, that was so graciously dislodged by Rod McGuire, of Hay Express. (thanks Rod!)  The evening consisted of walking the property, getting prepped for the day tomorrow, issuing books and materials and dinner. We all camped on the 10 acres while a couple of students commuted.

Saturday, Day 1 am we were all bushy and ready to begin. Started by digging the rest of the hole. Now up til this point, the crew (candace, john, david and alison) had already dug this 14 diam hole down about 2 feet in which at this point they hit a sandstone/basalt/boulder area. At this point axes and shovels were the only recourse. So on Saturday it was grueling to even try to get down to 4 feet. We all agreed that we would stop at 3'-6" deep, that would be enough head room because we were adding a layer of rammed earth tires below the strawbales. So by the end of the day, we had excavated the hole and needed to pour the concrete pad for the viga and the door buck. The crew finished this task along with the help of Caelum and Tracy.

On Sunday, Day 2 of the adventure we were all sore and tired. One of the students did not return. The others were on the verge of quitting themselves but perservered. Today was the day we would level the earth shelf and ram the 22 tires we had placed on the earth wall as a foundation for the 3 levels of strawbales that would follow. We chose to ram the tires with a rammed earth mix which included 20% aggregate of 5/8" minus, 32% silt, 30% sand, 3% cement. The tires contained about 400 pounds of mass once they were completed. A piece of 4' rebar was placed in the center of the tire and rammed into the earth shelf for lateral stability. We also used5/8"  polypropylene strapping for compression and connection below the tires to the top of the topplates and these straps were placed under the tires before ramming (well all but 2 were, those were a little tricky to get under once rammed, but we did it).  In the aftenoon JT finished the wiring of the 4 solar panels we were using for power. We watched a strawbale construction video underneath the stars thanks to the solar power we had stored earlier in the day.

Monday, Day 3 we were already behind by half a day. In the morning we came to the fun part, we placed all three levels of the 2 string strawbales (3 string were unable to be found, that is what we would have wanted had we been able to get them) Nonetheless, the wheat straw bales we acquired were within 50 miles of Mosier and were a good choice. We pinned the bales with bamboo through all 3 levels . Today was really hot and we took a long break in the afternoon and went to the local swimming hold in Mosier Creek.  In the afternoon the topplates were on and the strapping was completed below each tire and over the top plates.  It was also noted that the placement of the door buck was set back and not even with the tires and straw walls, we would modify the design and in the end it actually came out better to our advantage structurally.

Tuesday, day 4 we all realized by mid day we would not complete the project by Wednesday afternoon. Moral was lower and we were hot and working hard. We started the am with the ritual crop duster buzzing over our heads at 6:30 am.  Students viewed the Strawbale codes and testing video in the am. Progress slowed with the tedious nature of the rafters and topplates.  Bob, our hired carpenter was managing that part while we started on the 1500 gal cistern we were building out of bottles and cans next to the Gonzo structure so that the roof would collect the 20" of rainwater annually and send it to the cistern by gutter.  Had to make another run for lumber, the shims took up more than what we thought. Nearest store 5 miles west.  By the end of the afternoon we had placed the plastic on the outside of the walls and completed the rafters and it was 9pm. We decided to do dinner in the Dalles.

Day 5, Wednesday the last day. 7 am scheduled, but reality called  it 9. Another run to the lumber yard. Put the rim boards on the rafters and work on the cistern in the morning. slow going and the students were ready to quit. Frustrated that we were not going to complete the project before we left at the end of the day. Talk about alternative building materials, greywater, catchwater and composting toilets.  Coconut fibre was used instead of chicken wire on the tops of the rafters. We decided we would not fill the rafters with loose straw, but liked the look of the rafters with the coconut fibre on it above. We placed 6 mil plastic above the fibre and then placed a layer of strawbales on top of the rafters. We had a leftover velux skylight and placed in on the box ready for permanence at the next visit.

The building was tarped with plastic and the next work weekend will happen mid August. At this point we will finish the strawroof and then stucco and backfill.

An overview - It was hard work, and actually should have taken 5 peope working really hard about 12 hours a day to finish the structure in 7 days.  The things we would've changed in the design include using a replacement for the 2 x 12's perhaps with TJI trusses or vigas had we had the trees available. Also we would have used a backhoe for the first 2 feet or so for the digging and pick axes for the boulders.  We added plywood to the roof since after placing the bales on the top of the rafters there were many points where the corners of the bales just didn't reach across the rafters for support thus giving weakness especially in water collection it needed to be stiff.

Keep posted for more info.

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