Tag Archive: alternative building


Looking Out From In

This Saturday was an Absolutely Glorious day. I got to experience in the most visceral and real way thus far what my house will feel like when it is done. I finally got it completely sheathed with plywood and got all the windows cut out. And said Good Bye Tarp!! And woah, what a difference it made. Suddenly I could feel the light streaming in (and boy was it a lot of light! I am so glad I chose big full sized windows despite it being a tiny house) and I could see the sky and the field, buzzing with bees harvesting from the wildflowers…. I could imagine being curled up in the loft on a cold winter day looking out my octagon window and watching the snow fall. And to stand inside something I had creating with my own two hands… To know that it was me, from the dream, to the design, to learning sktechup, to raising the money, to working through the fear and the, “who am I to BE…..,” to pounding the nails, to bringing the people together to raise the walls… There is nothing quite like it that I have experienced. I truly feel my heart and soul expanding and opening as I soak in all in… What a glorious journey it has been!! And it isn’t over yet! Thank you to every single one of you who have help to create this; who have witnessed and affirmed me and my dream, who have pitched in with hands, money, encouragement, excitement… All of it. Today I am basking in all and truly feel like I might just explode with love and gratitude….

And now, since I have neglected to post anything on the tiny house since winter here is a little photographic journey to bring you up to speed!

The first days of spring... John knew what his priorities were, and first was a picnic table!

The first days of spring… John knew what his priorities were, and first was a picnic table!

And I got to work, in style :)

And I got to work, in style 🙂

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My first walls starts coming together!

And before I know it I have all four walls framed!

And before I know it I have all four walls framed! (its still early spring- can you tell by the still not fully green grass?)

In the meantime John stayed busy building a glorious little solar shed that now has a solar powered freezer and blender (smoothies!!!) and is precious shade during our work days :)

In the meantime John stayed busy building a glorious little solar shed that now has a solar powered freezer and blender (smoothies!!!) and is precious shade during our work days 🙂

And we prepped the site for raising day, building a fire pit, hanging a hammock, and making a place for food, pot luck style...

And we prepped the site for raising day, building a fire pit, hanging a hammock, and making a place for food, pot luck style…

Raising day!! My first wall goes up :) It was the weekend before memorial weekend. May 16th. And my dad drove up all the way from Boston to be a part of it!

Raising day!! My first wall goes up 🙂 It was the weekend before memorial weekend. May 16th. And my dad drove up all the way from Boston to be a part of it!

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I was nervous as hell, but apparently for naught, as a great crew showed up and we had a blast!

Some of us ladies, two others in the middle of building their own tiny houses (one also on a trailer like mine, the other a tiny strawbale timber frame!), and another getting ready to make the leap!

Some of us ladies, two others in the middle of building their own tiny houses (one also on a trailer like mine, the other a tiny strawbale timber frame!), and another getting ready to make the leap!

Teamwork gets the job done :)

Teamwork gets the job done 🙂

And the AMAZIN crew after all four walls were up and the structured covered to protect it from rain!

And the AMAZING crew (a few missing who had to leave early…) after all four walls were up and the structure covered to protect it from rain!

Now it was tarp city until we got the roof framed and covered... This would be a bit of a project, but John worked carefully and diligently with me, getting the ridge pole in place so then I could set the rafters in.

Now it was tarp city until we got the roof framed and covered… This would be a bit of a project, but John worked carefully and diligently with me, getting the ridge pole in place so then I could set the rafters in mostly on my own.

Ah, sheathing starting to go on (which means soon no more tarp!) and blue sky through the rafters  :-)

Ah, sheathing starting to go on (which means soon no more tarp!) and blue sky through the rafters 🙂

And there she is!! This past saturday, fully sheathed in, joints all taped (well this photo is actually taken before the wall joints got taped) and windows cut out!!

And there she is!! This past saturday, fully sheathed in, joints all taped (well this photo is actually taken before the wall joints got taped) and windows cut out!!

And me as Happy as can BE!!

And me as Happy as can BE!!

And now it is all wrapped up again in house wrap (we finished around 8:30pm on Sunday). It is what I call another awkward teenager stage, so I decided to have some compassion and spare it the embarrassment of photos 😛 But I’ll let you imagine, and hopefully it won’t be over six months before I write my next tiny house post 🙂 But I have to say, it is kind of cool to see all the progress at once!

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“why such philosophical talk about something as worldly as homebuilding? Because what is worldly about homebuilding is that it happens on this earth, it uses natural and man made materials and it requires money. The rest of homebuilding has to do with beliefs, feelings, spirit and passion. Certainly shelters can be made without these, but they probably will not be the kind of structures that speak positively and warmly to future generations of occupants. For most people, homebuilding is full of the most sensitive emotions. It seperates them from their life’s earnings, either to a good or ill end. It can bring families together or it can tear them apart, for homebuilding can be a dark and dangerous sea full of shoals and turbulant currents. I believe a well designed and well constructed timber frame house is worth the voyage, and I offer this book to help chart the course”

This is the last paragraph of the introduction to The Timber-Frame Home: Design, Construction, Finishing written by Tedd Benson. And for me it captures much of why I build. Building, to me, perfectly matches my inclinations as an artist and person who strongly identifies with place and fulfills my desire to walk a “mystical path with practical feet” (a phrase taken from Bill Plotkins, Nature and The Human Soul). Building is a worldly endeavor with tangible, real outcomes. But is also so much more then that. It can build community, make a statement, create a sense of place, give pride, provide an anchor, a home. Who are we without a home?

It has been a little while since I have written about building but that is not because I have stopped exploring it. Quite the contrary, I think I have become even more committed to it. Almost six months ago I was given the honor of acceptance as a Heartwood School Apprentice. I will be one of four apprentices who will stay at the school through this summer taking courses and also being offered many fantastic opportunities outside of the courses to participate in raising’s, go to timber frame guild meetings, and visit historical timber frame structures in the northeast. And to add to this honor I also received the very first Berkshire Woodworkers Guild scholarship to help with the cost of this summer. This was an exciting and unexpected gift that reassured me that I must be doing something right.

Almost a month ago now I went to Heartwood for our first course, Fundamentals of Woodworking. It felt great to be there. I felt at home almost immediately. And although I am sure their will be many times during the apprenticeship where I will be challenged, get frustrated, and perhaps even doubt my abilities, this first week I felt strong and confident, which felt like a good way to start. In this first course I learned a lot about tools in the shop; their function, safety, and maintenance. And we also built a toolbox as well as a beautiful little shaker stool. I was quite pleased with how mine came out and will hopefully get a picture up here of it soon. I also met one of the other apprentices, Jack, who at 17 years old is the youngest apprentice Heartwood has ever had. We got along fantastically and I am excited to meet the other two apprentices, one of whom is coming from Argentina!

When I returned to Ithaca I was almost immediately presented with an opportunity to put my new knowledge to use. It was quite amazing actually. I had just pulled into the parking lot of Ecovillage at Ithaca (where I am renting a room until I fully move into heartwood on June 13th) when I saw Dave, a fellow ecovillage resident, struggling to carry a bunch of wood and tools from the shared shop back to his house. I offered him a hand and by the time we had reached his house he had enlisted my help in his projects. Dave is an amazing man. A professor of neurobiology at Cornell University, he built his own timber frame home in Song, designing everything, including his own ingenious windows and doors and enlisting a local blacksmith to help give his house a unique and beautiful look. He also tinkers with electric bikes in his spare time, using them to commute back  and forth to Cornell when the weather is nice (the hills in Ithaca make doing this commute on a regular bike only for the the most ambitious) and driving his small hybrid car that gets 70 miles to the gallon in poor weather. Now we are almost done building 4 storm windows that will match his interior window design and have a plan for a screen door that we are both pretty excited about and hope we can pull off.

In the little spare time I have between these projects and my work at the amazing local food coop, Greenstar, I have been reading some books on Timber framing. The first was Build a Classic Timber Frame House by Jack A. Sobon, a fantastic how to book that walks you through exactly how to build a classic hall and parlor house. And, having just finished that one I am starting in on The Timber Frame Home by Tedd Benson. Already I like his writing style which seems to intertwine the philosophy with the practicalities, because lets be real, yes, I like that building is practical, but if it doesn’t also fit into my belief systems and worldview then I would not be interested. The philosophies, beliefs, and ethics of building are of just as much interest to me as the practicalities of it, and I hope I never lose site of that as I delve deeper into learning all the practical skills to create a delivery system to manifest those more abstract parts of who I am. After I finish this book I hope to read The Company We Keep: Reinventing small business for people, community, and place by John Abrams, a book about a timber frame business on Martha’s Vineyard, and what it takes to run a responsible and ethical business. I like what one of the reviews on the back of the book says; “the company we keep is a soulful and refreshing reminder that businesses are no different from families, communities, or any other human organization– without mission or purpose they can be lifeless, even destructive, but infused with intention, they can sow the seeds for a hopeful future.” -Gary Hirshburg

I am not sure how much time has passed when I awaken, but the boat is rocking quite a bit and I am thankful I was able to sleep away at least some of the ride. Soon we are approaching shore and I do my best to shake off the sleep and get ready to meet Mark.

Mark spots me right away as he knows pretty much everyone else on the ferry and introduces himself to me with a warm hug. He helps another lady with some of her boxes and then we get into his little car, every inch of which is painted with bright colors and images that I assume represent snapshots of island life.

After a short uphill ride on bumpy dirt roads we arrive. He tells me to keep my pack on, as we will take my things right to my little cabin, that he has preheated for me.

My cabin, a small ten by ten room with two large windows, is indeed toasty. The walls are simple; unfinished wood scraps from the mill with cob in between them. He explains to me that between the inner and outer walls are hundreds of plastic bags, which have amazing insulation value. The sub floor is also bags of bags compressed before and earthen cob floor was applied on top. And the roof too is about 2 feet thick and apparently filled with bags under a top sod layer in which plants are growing. This little structure will easily stay warm overnight from one good fire lit in the firebox that is fed from the outside. He explains that by having the entrance to the firebox fed from the outside it keeps the fire from pulling warm air out of the structure and creating a cold draft.

As we go back into the main structure on Mark’s land he says somewhat apologetically that he forgets to tell people that he lives basically outside. I already feel at home.

This structure is hard to put to words. Composed of many, huge wooden arches, crisscrossing one another, it feels like I am in the bowels of a many-legged spider. Mark has created spans of close to one hundred feet that encase a beautiful, open, hard wood dance floor. The space is sheltered from the wind and rain but exposed bedrock on all sides and spaces between the boards and windows give it a feeling of being part of the natural world. It feels somewhat like a cave but sunlight shines in, with only parts of the roof covered in sod, and so the space is quite bright. My mind is trying to figure out the engineering of this place and doesn’t even know where to begin. Indeed, an ancient bridge called the rainbow bridge that still baffles modern day engineers was the inspiration for this structure.

Food here seems to either come in bulk from off island or directly from the land. After a hot meal of rice and chicken, with a health y dose of Turmeric on it (good for the joints and inflammation) and a Cesar salad of cabbage from the garden with lots and lots of garlic in the dressing, Mark makes sure I know how to find the bathroom (a simple wooden outhouse) and how to get myself water and excuses himself for the night.

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