The Build is Thundering Along – Earth Floors and Straw Bales

 In Blog, Student Post

This week’s blog is written by Jodie Adamson. Jodie has been our superstar apprentice at Hartwyn for the last two builds. Our aim with the apprenticeship programme is to offer a middle step to natural builders who might aspire to running their own projects or want to develop their teaching. We give Jodie sub sections of the build to teach, manage and order materials. This is to allow her to learn, develop and make mistakes (something we wholeheartedly encourage!) while under our supervision. One day soon she’ll be running a Hartwyn build and we’ll begin training up our next apprentice.

Jeffrey Hart – Hartwyn Director

Week seven has been elemental as temperatures soared, and we got our hands (and stomping feet) on some raw natural materials.
Waking to fine weather on Monday morning after a fairly noisy night thanks to nearby Latitude festival, we commenced to ticking tasks off the Jobs List in the blazing sun. Teams worked on fitting skylights, cutting larch fascia boards, fixing roof bracing, stapling insect mesh, airtightness taping, and timber framing – where even our careful chisellers found themselves drenched in sweat. But don’t worry – it was going to get hotter…

Earth Floor build-up

foam glass technopor

On Tuesday we concentrated on the floors of the two workshops, fitting geotextile cloth, and filling the cavity walls and the subfloor with 16 tonne sacks of technopor (foamglas) chunks, all shovelled, barrowed, bucketted or dragged into the building. Another layer of geotextile was put on top to sandwich the foamglass in place, and then two teams set about the twisty, springy, labyrinthian puzzle of laying the underfloor heating pipes. Meanwhile students set about making wooden stakes, and boring holes for them in the bale-ladder in preparation for straw later in the week. To finish the day we batoned down some substantial tarpaulins because the weather forecast predicted drama – and it was going to get hotter…

Rammed Earth Floor Dance Party!

The thunder and lightning of Tuesday night resulted in some tumultuous sleep and probably a range of fairly wild dreams, but come Wednesday morning the weather clearly hadn’t flushed it out of its system – the day was hotter and more humid than ever.  It was also Earth Floor Day.  We spent a glorious day barrowing and dancing 9 tonnes of earth back into our building. This was the subsoil that had been dug out for the foundations and was of a sticky, silty enough composition that it would work well when compacted into place. And oh how we compacted it!  At break times brows would be mopped, t-shirts wrung out, and more tunes added to the playlist (though I think we are still waiting to hear the hotly anticipated Dutch gabber track, I wonder if another suitable occasion will arise?).

In all, it was a fair work-out. But rest assured; it was not done on the second hottest day since records began, that was the day after…

Straw Bale walls

straw bale walls

As Hartwyn apprentice, tradition decrees (since 2018) that the straw bale section of the build is my special responsibility. I’ve done a fair bit of straw baling in my time but each building season requires a bit of a memory warm-up, and this process is even more interesting when done in front of ten students stupified with heat and exhausted from spending the previous day stomping several tonnes of earth into the shape of a house on one of the hottest days recorded. But we were all very brave. And after being astonished by bale-lore and dazzled by great feats of bale-manipulation the students boldly spent the rest of the very hot and itchy afternoon preparing bales.

A few heads were also scratched at the conceptual difficulty of trying to make square a material which naturally tends toward the unkempt, but we finished the day with a good stock of dressed bales ready for the walls to start going up in the morning.  That evening the skies treated us to/terrified us with the the longest, brightest lightning storm I think many of us have ever experienced.

The next day we started our straw walls, everyone worked in pairs on sections of wall and I dotted about answering questions, a dynamic which I am surprised to find I really enjoy. The temperature fell back to the high 20s and the two windowless sections of wall were nearly done by the end of the day, and the more complicated sections were also rocketing along. Next week they won’t even need me to answer questions, I thought, so I had better think of something else to do, I’m sure Joe and Jeffrey have a few ideas…

Building Sustainability – Have you heard our podcast?

Want to be a student on our next build?

Hartwyn Natural Building Course

The 2019 build programme is now full, to sign up for updates on future courses, please sign up below.
Please don't email asking for details of our next course, as soon as we know we will email this list.
Many thanks, the Hartwyn team

Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt
happiness is straw bale buildingbingo pajama site cat