For the past 3 weeks Nick Morrison has shared his story of building his house of straw in Orphir, Orkney in this final installment……
What went wrong
Very shortly after breaking ground we became aware that the whole area was very wet and totally unsuitable for building anything. After some investigation we discovered that there were three land drains emptying into the area we were trying to build foundations on.
We had to stop digging and build a new land drain up slope of the site to intercept these 3 drains. This new drain is some 110m in length and up to 3m in depth. That done we now had to wait until the land settled down and dried out a bit.
Building this drain took up most of the time we were going to use to build the foundations. It was now mid autumn and so we were stopped till spring. It was the first of several delays.
Another was Orkney Aggregates running out of LECA (Light Expanded Clay Aggregate) which we were going to use for the solid floor. Lecacrete gives you a structural solid floor whilst adding to the insulation value. By the time the LECA was home at Orkney Agg, we had already built the straw bale wall to the first floor since the Baling crew had been booked some time ago.
This meant that we had to hire a crane to lift the Lecacrete over the wall. Fortunately Lecacrete is amazingly easy to lay. We laid 70 sq m in under one and a half hours. Further it was made with lime and not cement so it stayed workable all day.
Wind and Weather.
It will come as no surprise to Orcadians that these two took their toll on progress. Straw bales have to be kept dry at all times especially from the top. They have to be tarped up every night and when it comes on to rain.
Trying to keep our local horizontal rain off the straw walls was a big problem. A new tarp tied through the eyelets of the tarp would blow out in about 20 mins. We eventually used a mixture of old fish farm bird netting, and ropes stretched diagonally across the tarp. That sort of worked but required constant vigilance. In addition the gentle Orkney breezes rearranged the stacks of timber.
What we didn’t know then that we know now
These problems can be avoided if you use the building method used for the worlds biggest strawbale structure of some 1100 sq m. You build the roof first! The roof is built on jacks/acrow props. It is then jacked up to allow bales to be laid and then lowered overnight /weekends. This method has several advantages; the roof crew does not need scaffolding, you have some where dry to store the bales and associated site equipment.