Tag Archives: stairs

September 2018

It’s now getting close to the end of September. The weather is rapidly cooling off here. We’ve had frost several times (and had the wood stove up and running) and the leaves have begun to change colour.

We’ve been doing our regular thing, working on getting some projects finished that we started earlier.

If you recall from previously, we were working on building the drawer for the bottom of the pantry. That has now been completed and you can see the finished results here.

We also finished redoing our front steps. They turned out pretty nicely.

Another project we were working on was finding something to cover up the column of wires that goes from the floor to the ceiling up in the bedroom area. You can see it over on the right side of this picture.

Not only is it a column of wires, but some of them are attached to a set of switches so we can turn on and off the lights in that section. Originally, those wires were embedded inside the wall that made up the closet where the toilet was located. After we removed all of that, we were left with the wires. We had thought of putting up a big wall with closets and storage across that section and putting the wires back inside a wall, but we decided we liked the openness of the trailer better.

So we came up with another plan.

After the big storm that blew down several trees on our property I got the idea of using a log to cover the wires. We had a small maple tree that got knocked down when a big poplar snapped and fell on it. So I cut a section out of it and started to work on it.

First, I had to cut it in half and this was the most difficult part of the entire process. The log wasn’t perfectly straight so I needed something that could follow the curve of the wood. A big format band saw would really have helped with this, but I didn’t have access to one. A friend of ours had one of those portable/hand-held band saws, but it didn’t have enough clearance to cut the log.

So I settled on doing it the hard way with my sawsall/reciprocating saw. And when I say the hard way I am not exaggerating. It took me 3.5 hours to cut that log that was 193cm (76″). Actually, I only made it to within about 20cm (8″) of the end and the saw seized up so I finished it using a hand saw. My hands and arms were pretty woobly after that, but I did end up with the log cut in half.

The next step was to cut out the core so the wires would fit. A router would have been handy for that, but I didn’t have one of those either. I used my skill saw instead. I cut a 2cm (3/4″) trench right down the center of each of the half-logs. Here’s the first one.

After the trench was cut, I reconfigured the blade on the skill saw to be at 45ยฐ and cut out the sides, making a triangular trench down the center of the logs. Here you can see the first one is finished.

Despite the curvature of the log, using the skill saw worked quite well. Fortunately, the depth of the cuts wasn’t a lot; if it had been more, it would have been much more difficult to turn the saw to follow the curve of the wood.

Now having the cores cut out of the half-logs, the next thing to do was strip the bark off it. I took one half and Kat took the other. We both had a machete and went to work. It didn’t take long and the machete made short work of the bark.

We were getting close, but I still needed to add a spot for the light switch. In disconnecting the switch from the wires, one of the metal contacts on the switch was pulled out, thus destroying the switch so we had to order a new one. Luckily, Amazon sells replacements.

I took some measurements and cut a spot for the new switch to sit in.

And here you can see the switch sitting nicely in it.

Once that was completed, it was simply a matter of putting it all together. I clamped both pieces together and predrilled the holes for the screws. Then we took it inside, I wired up the new switch, we clamped both pieces together and I screwed it tight.

And here you can see the results. This is the switch side.

This is from the opposite side.

It was green wood so we didn’t put any varnish or other finishers on it yet. We’ll let it dry out over the winter and then see what we want to do in the spring. With the fire running all winter, the humidity drops significantly, so much of the moisture of the wood should be pulled out.

Yay, more things accomplished!


Colorado Earthship Build: Day 27 (Atrium framing and last day)

We have come to the end of our time at the Colorado Earthship build, 2015. We did go in to the site today and finished up making the roof box over the entrance to the atrium. I can fill you in on some more of the details of how we went about doing that.

I mentioned yesterday that we had to drill out some holes to put rebar through to pin the posts together. Here is a picture of me up top doing just that.


We had to put two holes in the end of each post. We ended up only putting up four cross beam posts. The drawings had originally said to do eight, but we were short on posts and MikeR said he didn’t want to waste any by going super overkill on the cross beams. So we put two on the outside and two on the inside and filled in the rest with some 2×8 that we ripped down to a true 2×6.

Here is me up top again receiving the last post.


I took a picture from up top of the holes that I drilled into the cross beams and there is one piece of rebar partially pounded into place.


And the shot of having finished driving in the rebar.


It ended up looking like this when we were done.



Kat was the finder and getter of things today and here you can see her awesome ninja skills with some channel locks.


While I was standing up top, I had a rather unique view of things going on around me so while I was waiting for Zsolt to cut the next board, I took a few pictures.

First we have a view of upstairs on the west side.


In the main atrium area on the bottom floor they started to pour the footings for the stairwell that will be put in there.



Here is the east side of the upper floor.


There were a lot of people heading out today, so there were many goodbyes. Steve came by and I was still up top so we did this whole Sistine Chapel sort of hand shake that Kat caught on film.


As you know they put the logs on the roof of the upper floor yesterday so all of those had to be positioned and secured. The second floor roof is also slanted for rainwater catchment so they have to make sure all of the logs are at the correct angle. They adjusted the heights at the ends by putting a “biscuit” under the end of each of the logs. That’s just a fancy word for a piece of plywood.

After that, they put wood blocks on either side of each log so they don’t roll out of position.


Once each log has been positioned, they pull out the big drill again, and bore a really deep hole through each of the logs. Then a piece of rebar that is probably about 24″ (60cm) long is pounded through the log into the beam below. They leave a few inches of rebar sticking out the top, which gets bent over and hammered into the log.


Debra and Jared were busy putting some of the interior doors in their frames.


Kat took a picture from the back west corner of the main room upstairs. It still looks quite skeletal, but I think you can imagine that it will be quite large.


And that’s it. We worked a bit passed noon, but pretty much everyone left the build site when lunch was called. Some were just heading into town, but many of us have long journeys ahead of us. Kat and I went and talked to Hollie and said our goodbyes. It’s been a blast and we have certainly learned at lot, not to mention lost a few pounds too ๐Ÿ™‚

We headed into Salida to pick up a few things for the road. If you’re in the old downtown section and look to the north there is a big mountain with a large S on it. I think that is where the Salida radio station is located.


We headed back to our campsite and on the way by, stopped for a final shot of the build site from the highway.


It certainly has come a long way since we first arrived.

All in all, we had a lot of fun. The camp site where we have been staying is mainly an RV park and full of great people, some of them being regulars for many years. We have become quite the regulars ourselves as we sat each evening near the rec hall doing our computing stuff. Many people would come over and we’d chat. I’m sure by this point everyone in the place knows we are building an Earthship down the road.

Some have asked why we would volunteer our time to drive all of this way to build someone else’s house. Experience is a big factor and being in a group of like minded people is a great motivator for our own Earthship project.

In the end, I got one of these.


The paper isn’t worth much, but the experiences are priceless.

Colorado Earthship Build: Day 11 (Packout and concrete)

So, what were we up to today? For me, more of the same. I did packout for most of the day and I helped to pour a bond beam at around 15:30.

Kat, on the other hand, had a more exciting day as she got to work with Helena making stairs. I’m sure she will have a detailed description of that on her blog. I did managed to grab some action shots of the two of them working the bottles, so to speak.


See this wall? Yeah, that’s what I saw all day too. Stuff more mortar into the gaps to bring them out to the same depth as the tires.


Everyone else was working on cool things. Here you can see all of the interior wall work being done. You can almost imagine the rooms now.


I caught a rare aerial photo of Kat busy at work leveling her bottles. And I don’t mean she’s making sure all of the liquid inside each bottle is at the same level.


View from above of the interior. You can see they poured the second bond beam on the center tire wall. With no cement truck or pumping truck either. They did it all with the mixers and wheel barrowed it over there. Broken cement trucks don’t set us back.


This is the part of the bond beam that I helped to pour at the end of the day. Those are anchor bolts sticking out of the concrete. You use those to bolt down the nailing plate on top of the beam so you can attach framing to it.


Remember how we were working on the wing walls near the junction of the garage arches and the main wall last week? Well, the bond beam going across the center wall now spans across that. The wooden framing you see in the picture is actually the form for the arch over the eastern entrance to the garage.


Here is a long shot of that center bond beam. It’s really wide, the full width of the tires. Of course, this one has to be because it is holding up half of the garage, half of the upper floor and half of the front ceiling. In other words, it’s going to have to support a lot of weight.


Here is a picture of the front face tire work with its nailing plate made from Trex and the work on the vertical green house wall. Soon there will be a tonne more framing to go up that will connect those front tires with the vertical green house wall. There will also be all of that atrium detailing to frame out as well, but we haven’t poured the footing for it yet. Getting the garage done first is a higher priority.


If all goes according to plan, they tell us we’ll be working on putting the logs (or vigas as they like to call them – which is just a native [Navajo I think] word for log) up over the garage tomorrow. That will be exciting.

I have to add that working with all of that mortar and concrete, you do have to be careful. I managed to get a small cement burn on my right wrist above the glove line. That’s no fun at all.

Also, having now spent so much time doing packout, I have figured out a few things. First of all water is key. If the surface you are trying to put the mortar on is not wet enough, it just falls off. Similarly, however, if the mortar is too wet, it will sag and fall off that way as well. Finding the right balance is important, especially the further you pack it out, as the surface becomes much more vertical as you go along. That’s also why it is important to put some indentations, or use one of those rake/scraper doohickeys to roughen up the surface so you can attach more to it later. If you don’t, you’ll have a difficult time.


If you have been following along, you may recall I mentioned doing a tour up in the mountains at an Earthship community called REACH. Well, I’ve saved that tour for the last one. REACH stands for Rural Earthship Alternative Community Habitat and I saved it for the last tour, as it was one of my favourites. Mostly because of the location: up in the mountains with lots of trees. All of the other Earthships we toured were out in the desert. This was a nice change.

Let’s start with some outside pictures. This is what the area around the Earthships looks like: steep hillside with lots of pine trees.


Turning around and looking at the valley, this is what you’ll see.


Here is another one, way up on a cliff.


We toured two Earthships up a REACH, so I have lots of pictures for you. Things will jump around a lot, but I will do my best to fill in with explanations.

The first one we toured was a nightly rental, and also for sale. First thing we see in any Earthship: plants. Including a cactus.


And another look at the cactus, with the mountains in the background.


Opposite the plants was this small seating area. Just enough room for a comfy chair, in front of more plants that looks out at the view.


The other thing you’ll notice is stairs: there are a lot of them. You’ll think you’ve seen most of the house and then you’ll discover yet another set of stairs leading to yet another room. All of the Earthships up at REACH are built as a series of tiers, so you can imagine there are a lot of stairs everywhere.


Going up those stairs leads to another seating area / living room where you can once again enjoy the fantastic view. Here is a shot of one of my fellow academy students doing just that.


Here is what that view looked like.


Next we have a bedroom, similar in style to the ones over at Phil’s place. There is the loft above with the bed and a seating area underneath it. I’m not entirely sure, but it looks from the picture that the area underneath has another platform that would take a mattress for another bed. Right beside the fire place too.


Up top we can see the bed.


Coming back down a different set of stairs, we’re now into a bathroom area.


Here is a better view, looking out the windows in the bathroom.


This one just had a regular bathtub, but it was right up against the glass. That’s one heck of a view when you take a shower ๐Ÿ˜›


Moving further east, there was a doorway to outside from the center of the house. This is what it looks like standing in the doorway looking out/south.


If you walk out the door and look to the east, you’ll see this.


If you look down the hillside, you’ll see the top of the next house below. We’ll be visiting the interior of that one too, later on this tour.


Looking back towards the west, you’ll see the door we came out of on the right side of this next picture, as well as the rest of the front of the house.


Now we’re back inside at the kitchen. The refrigerator in this house merits special attention as it is completely passive. It doesn’t use electricity or funky gasses.


It’s a thermal mass fridge. It has an air vent that you would open at night to let in the cold mountain air which then cools the thermal mass built into the fridge. You close the vent in the morning and the fridge stays cool during the day. At least that is the theory.

The problem with this one is they used beer in cans as the thermal mass, but visitors keep drinking them ๐Ÿ˜› It’s also a manual process, so if you forget to open or close the vent, you may or may not have the cold stored in the thermal mass. This fridge is also twenty plus years old.

There wasn’t anyone staying there at the time, so there wasn’t much in the fridge, but you can see the beer can thermal mass in the walls.


Next we have the kitchen sinks, right up against the glass like in some of the older Earthships. Great way to use sunlight to dry your dishes.


Beyond the kitchen, we come to an indoor cistern. It’s neat to have, but it also acts as a big heat sink, so they don’t recommend them for colder climates.


Most of the beds in these Earthships are up on platforms. Here I am standing on a stairway, taking a picture of the opposite stairway that leads up to a bed. Under the bed is closet storage.


Here is a shot of the bedframe, though it didn’t have a mattress on it at the time.


Walking around to the other side of the platform and looking back, you can see the fireplace built in to the sleeping area.


This was in another section, but here we have another small sleeping platform built into the back of the house. Quite the precarious perch and not for those who are prone to falling out of bed at night. Definitely not to code either ๐Ÿ˜‰


Back outside, we’re at the far end of the house now, looking back along the front.


As I was wandering back through the house, I discovered another set of stairs I had missed. Low and behold, there was another bedroom up there.


All of the walls were a funky blue colour and this bedroom had its own en-suite bathroom too.


This is looking into the shower stall. Nice decorative edging there using the polished rocks.


Here is a better shot of the bed.


And the other side of the room, with the fireplace.


Time to leave that one and journey over to the second Earthship on this tour. No, this is not a picture of it from a distance, it’s just another mountain-side shot.


This is a shot of the exterior of the next Earthship on this tour. This one is owned by Kirsten and Ron. Kirsten was the woman who did all of the admin for the academy and Ron is a crew member as well as he taught some of our classes.


Yay, more plants… and more mountains.


This was the first bedroom we came too. Again, it’s up on a platform with storage underneath.


This is a picture of the custom tub in the bathroom. Unfortunately, you can’t see the set of stone steps up the left side of the tub.


Fortunately for you, I have another picture of it from an Earthship book I have.


Next we have a living room area, with some built-in seating and shelving areas.


Here it is again, so you can see it from the other direction.


If you turn around and look out the window from there, this is what you see: more plants and a great view.


It’s kitchen time, with Phillipa and Denina. Okay, maybe not. This kitchen looks very similar to the last one, in terms of layout, but it has the standard Sunfrost fridge and a fancy/schmancy gas stove.


No picture of the sink this time, but you can see the planters they have in the kitchen as well as the blinds on the windows. They also have that huge aloe plant in there.


Hmmm, more stairs. I wonder where these go?


Ah ha! Another bathroom. This one didn’t even have a separate area for the shower, it was just part of the room. No shower curtain or anything.


Two more bedrooms were up here as well. This is the first one.


It had some funky built-in shelves with drawers.


Bedroom number two.



At the far end of the house I came across this. It looks more like a nightmare than a WOM to me.


At the far east side of the house, there was a pleasant little patio with chairs and a barbeque.


Looking down from the edge of the patio, you can see that we are standing on yet another room.


I shot this panoramic of the valley standing on that patio.


This is the stairway that leads down from the patio to that room that is under it.


Nice fancy stained glass door.


The room under the patio wasn’t very exciting. It was mainly a junk room with odds and ends. It was like a sauna in there though, and that was just from the sun shining in the window. I did take this picture, however, of the back of the room.


That, my friends, is the mountain rock that all of these homes were carved out of… by hand. There weren’t any roads up there at the time, so they had to build one and it is dang steep.

They couldn’t get any big equipment up there either, so most of everything that was needed to build all of those Earthships was carried up by hand. A lot of labour went into building these places.

Originally when they wanted to build up there, the county said they were nuts as there wasn’t any water or power or anything. So they let them go ahead, thinking they would have to give up. Well, they were quite successful. There are about 30 Earthships up there.

Unfortunately, the county put a stop to building up at REACH. One of their main arguments was that no emergency vehicle could ever make it up there if anyone needed to call 911.

It snows up there a lot too. It is the mountains, of course, and Taos is known for its skiing. It is awesomely scenic though and a great spot to spend even just an afternoon.

That’s all of the pictures and that is the end of the Earthship tours I took while down in New Mexico. I’ve been home for over two months now but Earthships are still very strong with me. We’re working towards building our own so there will be more posts about that. I’ll also be putting up some technical articles, explaining certain areas. These would be good ones to ask any questions you may have about the whole process.