The finish line for being done with the cob house is starting to feel in reach. We have been working away on the floor and ceiling insulation and progress is visible. It is not all easy work; you already know my opinion on laying stone and stuffing straw into ceiling panels is probably equally frustrating in a different way. Imagine itchy, dusty straw down your shirt, in your hair, up your nose and in your mouth.  Like many things in a house, only those actually involved in building it will probably ever appreciate the amount of work that goes into something as simple as stuffing a single ceiling panel with insulation.

The ceiling panel before being stuffed with straw: A piece of lathe fixed on one side with screws or nails. We would fix both sides before beginning to stuff it with straw. To make sure the lathe hangs evenly its best to use a taught string as a line on which to put all the screws.

Our homemade tamping tool for stuffing the straw. The key was making something sturdy but light. But beware, even with the best tool tamping something above your head sucks.

The ceiling panel completed after a day and a half of arduous stuffing and tamping of the straw. Switching off frequently was key to not totally burning out. The straw has to be nice and compact to create a firm enough surface on which to plaster later.

We are done (!) now with putting straw in the ceiling panels and the rest of the ceiling will have rigid foam (basically styrofoam) insulation which will be much easier to handle. You might ask what is styrofoam insulation doing in a natural cob home? Well, there are many perspectives on so called “green” building and many would argue that if you are taking anything out of the waste stream and getting it back into circulation even just a little bit longer then you are doing the world a huge service. All the styrofoam insulation we will be using in Ryan’s house was on it’s way to the dump so we both feel that we are doing a good thing by using it.

Styrofoam that was about to be shipped to an off island landfill (out of site out of mind), dumped instead in the cob house living room.

Half way through sorting through and cleaning up the styrofoam.

And finally, a tidy pile of usable styrofoam. We should have enough to do the rest of the ceiling in the kitchen and bedroom! Thats a lot of free styrofoam diverted from the landfill.

The living room all clean again, thanks to our wonderful Shop Vac.

Using salvaged materials is not always easy. For example, much of the styrofoam we have is in odd shapes and sizes that we have to patchwork together to create an insulated ceiling. But once the ceiling plaster is up it should look as good as any ceiling. This is what some would call taking Trash and turning into Treasure; a worthy cause. For more on this concept I suggest checking out Garbage Warrior, a film about the Earthship Architect, Michael Reynolds.

Some of the foam insulation being utilized in the ceiling. This will have lathe and plaster over it so it won't be visible.

Well thats it for now on the building front!

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