Sunday, September 15, 2013

Our self build barn conversion/eco renovation

How it looked before we even started

 What an adventure a self build is, especially when it is part restoration, part eco renovation of a traditional slate barn where no human has previously lived and where no line is truly straight or parallel.
Not one right angle to be seen!

 Below is the design, more as a guide than an exact to scale design (due to the walls' undulation it was almost impossible to create a to scale design).
The design plan view: Shallow, gravel filled green roof with alpine plants and Mediterranean herbs
View from terrace above: The roof is built to be load bearing and can be accessed from the terrace, giving another place to sit and relax.

Green roof, eaves windows and green house on the front all help to keep the internal space comfortable year round
A cut through of the up stairs: Placement of rammed earth tyre stacks on which the roof rests and which are tied into the wall with threaded bar.  The roof beams are then bolted on top.  
Cut through of the downstairs. Cool air draft vent (closable) is located at the back of the inside room. The green house (with openable windows) creates a warm air source enabling temperature control though convection. Intelligent design and use of passive solar means very low energy needs and simple comfort.       

Side cut though.
Back cut though

Our progress so far...
The day we removed the old roof
Putting in the rammed tyre stacks. We cross braced  the walls with inch thick re-bar to secure them from moving where there was a bow in the wall. 
Completed stack, the threaded bars are cemented right through into the wall. These were filled with a mixture of clay, sand and cement poured onto lump hammer crushed slate in a layer cake formation, each tyre filled until fully rigid. We found later that using river gravel instead of the slate made things much faster.

Chestnut Main ridge beam and the rest of the wood is Nordic pine. All wood was spayed with Timbor borax and then painted with linseed oil for protection from fungus and insects.
Eaves beam being pinned in place, held on the theaded bar with large washers and nuts
The slow process of levelling the rafters, placed half a metre apart to make the roof load bearing 

 Roof is on! On top of the wood we put insulation sandwiched metal sheeting, with the ribs running across the roof horizontally, positioned slightly off level to take the water towards the terrace.

We had to raise the lintel of the door and rebuild the lintel of the window, both strenghened with an internal concrete beam and with a fascia of wood on the outsides 
Bales ready for the south wall infill
 Bottles ready in preparation for the cob bottle wall on the north side 

Finally we start to move away from the cement, and so can now get really mucky. Mixing the straw/clay slip to fill in between and glue the bales

All the bales needed tightening and we also treated them with borax to stop mould & insect invasion  

First level of bales in place on the sun ward side, with a layer of ferro-cement underneath which goes around the whole building on top of the stone walls acting as a ring beam and tying in to reinforce the walls and tyres. 

Last lot of cement on the chicken wire, topping off the walls, finishing our reinforced ring-beam.  

Second layer of bales going into place, notice the gaps, these were filled with part bails that were really hard to squeeze into place.

Cob mix tests to find the strongest consistency for constriction, going from 1/1 clay/sand to 1/2, 2/1 1/3 & 3/1. After giving them a week to dry, we found that the 3/1 gave the best strength and stability. This was because the soil that we were using was very clay rich.  

We took this opportunity to also make and dry out some seed balls, with the clay and some very rich compost that we had dug our of the downstairs of the barn. 
Cobbing in process, one side of the bales closed in.

Ferro-cement reinforcement for this leaning part of the wall

  So thats it so far
Hope you enjoyed
Keep tuning in here for further developments

Thursday, September 12, 2013

This Summer’s PDCs

We only did two courses this summer as there’s been lots to do here on the land and in building our house (more about that later), but boy were they great experiences full of beautiful encounters with some amazing people from around the world.

First we did a 16 day course with 15 attendees at Corga da Pereira, where the Green family live. Their well developed 5 year old project gave us plenty of living examples of permaculture in practice (including a solely ram pump fed irrigation and pond system, pedal powered green wood turning lathe, etc) and with the locally sourced food we were all daily treated to scrumptious meals. We  implemented a few new features (herb spiral, raised beds, the moving of the chickens, swales, a hugelkultur bed, worm compost, etc) on the site throughout the course in the many more practical sessions that this longer course allowed time for. We also had 5 other teacher for three of the days teaching their own specialist subjects (ram pumps, 12v systems, mushroom cultivation, eco building & natural beekeeping).  Thanks to all of you for raising the quality of the course with your knowledge and experience.

There were some great designs and budding designers emerging, we have no doubt that many will go on to do some awesome work in regenerating their home lands and local communities.

A lot of fun was had by all, especially around this very long table where we feasted on delicious food, thanks to Jullie, Emma and Alice
   We even had a film (click the link!) made over a few days of the course thanks to Rowan

 Below are a few of the designs from this course

Next we went to Quinta do Sabugueiro, home to Ivo and Carla, in Felgueiras near Porto for a 14 day course. The 1 hectare suburban farm is in the process of becoming a permaculture oasis of tranquillity, for workshops and retreats. There were only 5 people on this course, Ivo being one of them, so it was a new experience for us. Despite the small number of students the course went very well, (though we did have to adapt some of the activities) we all got a lot out of it and by the end we felt like one big family. 

The farm is situated between a wonderful 7 hectares of richly diverse (though mostly unproductive Zone 5) forest on one side and a monoculture (destructive though productive) kiwi plantation on the other. This gave a very interesting dynamic that illustrated that both extremes of industrial farming and conservation forestry are not enough and that through permaculture we aim to design a balance between ecology and production, (eg notill grain production, agroforestry/food forests, holistic management/planned grazing  and aquaculture systems). We create systems that are both good for the environment and habitats of local species, whilst also providing a surplus for our needs and giving us goods to trade. In the words of Bill Mollison, systems that are both ecologically sound and economically profitable.
Even with this smaller group we managed to get a  lot done

Excellent vegetarian food from Susana, our wonderful chef/hostess.  Thank you Susana.
Below are some of the final designs





A big thank you to everyone involved in these two courses, from hosts, students, fellow teachers, helpful supporting friends and a camara man there's a lot of effort that goes into these courses and a lot of joy and learning that comes out.
Thank you