A visit to the Graf-Levac Earthship

A lot is going on and I am getting behind in my blogging. This post, though, is Earthship related.

Autumn last year we went to visit the Graf-Levac Earthship build that is going on down in Spencerville, ON. They had just finished all of the tire pounding and had all the forms up for the footings, buttresses and bond beam. Now with spring in full swing (and summer not too far around the corner), they have been working on getting the framing in and the roof on.

They had another open-house for visitors to come and see what is going on and ask questions. I find it is always a good experience to go to these things, if possible, as you get to see how others have customized their own Earthship.

Yes, we even have pictures.

This is a picture of the build site as you see it coming in. They guy in the yellow jacket is Bob Levac, the co-owner of this build along with his wife, Marie Graf.

LevacGrafEarthship_May2016_005

When we walked in to see how the framing was going, we were greeted with something I have not seen yet in an Earthship: milled timber beams. I took a picture.

LevacGrafEarthship_May2016_000

Those things are huge. 6’x12′ apparently (15.25×30.5cm). The framing for the posts and beam to hold up the roof beams was super simple too, as you can see in the above picture, as well as the one below.

LevacGrafEarthship_May2016_001

No second concrete pour, no complicated box frames with large stacks of 2×6 lumber to make posts. Just big posts that go straight down to the footer and fastened in with a U post anchor. It’s a U of metal for the post to sit in and it has length of rebar welded to the bottom to sit in the concrete. Looks like this:

UAnchor

If you have seen the way the crew down in New Mexico does it, this seems way easier. This might have something to do with the fact that Bob has a guy named Dave Craig who is a professional framer doing this work. Dave has also been down to New Mexico and taken the Earthship Academy, so Bob and Marie are in really good hands.

You may be saying to yourself that wood beams that big must have cost a fortune. Well, as it turns out, Bob has a brother-in-law who bought a piece of property that had recently had a fire on it. The property had a large white pine forest and most of the trees had survived with only a few being scorched. However, the fire authorities said that they had to cut down all of those trees as the heat from the fire would have weakened the trees and made them susceptible to a particular bug that invades white pine after it has been exposed to heat from a fire. I don’t know the details, but anyway, Bob paid to have the trees cut down and milled and ended up getting them for a song and dance, relatively speaking.

Not all of us will be so lucky, but that was a huge cost savings for them and it gave them a tonne of lumber.

I took this next picture up top, standing on the berm looking at the top of the west wing wall, though you can’t really tell that from the picture cause I’m a little too close.

LevacGrafEarthship_May2016_002

Same spot, just looking east across the top of the roof. You can see the size of all of those roof beams.

LevacGrafEarthship_May2016_003

Here is a picture of Kat, standing on the top of the berm, just behind the cisterns. You can also see the cooling tubes poking out from the berm at the bottom.

LevacGrafEarthship_May2016_004

Another thing I should mention, though I don’t really have a picture of it (you can see it from a distance in the first picture), is that they have done away with the truss detail that most other standard Earthships use for connecting the roof beams to the framing for the front glass. What Bob and Dave have done is just make the beams a bit longer and then run the framing for the windows directly down from that at the appropriate angle (70 degrees, in case you were wondering). Not only does that make the framing way easier, you save a bunch of cash not needing to get custom made trusses (or the time it would take to make them yourself).

This also means they can create an overhang over the front windows to reduce the summer sun, giving you a better cooling effect. The trusses were used to create a flat surface with a 45 degree angle where they mount the solar panels, but you can still do the same thing by building a little framework off the end of the beams.

Fascinating. This is why we go to these things. To learn what other people are doing and how they are making improvements.

Awesome stuff. We look forward to the next open house Bob and Marie have.

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3 thoughts on “A visit to the Graf-Levac Earthship”

  1. Interesting – some of the details are little hard to visualize without pictures, but interesting to see how they have adapted to suit available materials and techniques.

  2. Just ran across your blog looking for Earthship diagrams! What a wonderful post! Very encouraging! It’s great to see someone put into words and print the thoughts and changes we are making on our build…this writing down of things is something I never seem to get around to so thanks for visiting and sharing. Come back soon! Marie G.

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