Tuesday, April 23, 2013

It Couldn’t Be Done

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
      But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
      Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
      On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
      That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
      At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
      And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
      Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
      That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
      There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
      The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
      Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
      That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Split Rail Fence

It's that time of year again. Time to clean up the dead fall of winter. Here's a forty foot elm that I was able to cut into three 12 foot lengths.
Once cut into lengths I split them into halves and some larger halves into quarters.
These are the kind of rails Abe Lincoln spent his youth splitting. 
This kind of fence was very common at one time. It's easy to assemble, easy to move and easy to re-purpose if you run low on firewood or rough lumber. Ours won't keep anything in or out, just give hunters a heads-up when crossing our property lines.
The rails are stacked one on top of another in a zig-zag pattern to help with stability. Typically the rails are between 10 and 12 feet long, the ends are overlapped to make the distance between 'points" roughly eight feet. The distance between the zigs or zags is an old measurement called a rod (roughly 16 feet). Old farms used to measure out acreage using rods and these fences helped people estimate the size of their fields.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


This month I am very pleased to be able to share Earthships. Chris Reynolds was kind enough to send me the following information and give me permission to pass it along here at the House of Fallen Timbers. The photographs are from Wikimedia Commons.

Earthship Zwolle
Regardless of whether you're thinking of building a new structure or retrofitting an existing one, the Earthship concept can be designed and adapted to accommodate all climates and situations. The goal of our company is to help you to make your home or building project more energy efficient. We believe in housing that works for people, rather than the other way around. It's our hope that life in an energy efficient home will encourage a more balanced lifestyle that involves less financial stress due to high utility bills. Although the classic Earthship is one that is built primarily out of recycled materials, such as automobile tires, aluminum cans, glass bottles, scrap metal from discarded appliances, etc., the function of an Earthship is not determined by the use of those specific items. Thermal mass, for example can be achieved through concrete, stone, rammed earth, etc. We just find that the simplicity and value of free scrap tires to be a great way to produce what is basically a rammed earth wall without the cost of forms.
G2 Global model Earthship Taos N.M. Brighton EarthshipExterior Jacobsen House Earthship 2009
You can still have an thermally efficient building as long as you incorporate thermal mass into the walls and floors of the building. Using what is easily available to you is a good idea, and depending on your local climate, you might adjust the amount of solar gain, building orientation, etc. We do implement a water catch systems in most Earthships, but again, if you have easy or existing access to fresh water, and you don't have to get creative with 10 inches of precipitation per year like we do here in the high mountain desert of New Mexico, you don't necessarily have to incorporate this feature into your Earthship. If you have abundant wind, you can augment photovoltaic (solar panels) generated electricity with windmills. The point is, the Earthship is made up of many systems and features that can be incorporated into your design based on your individual needs and tastes.
Some people are intimidated by the idea of pounding dirt into tires. Like everything, a little practice goes a long way. It's more technique than brute strength. The tire walls for an average 2 bedroom home will usually not take longer than 2 weeks to complete with a moderate crew of 6 people. We published Earthship, Volumes I, II and III with the intention of helping people build their own sustainable homes. Many people have done this, and we receive photographs and stories from do-it-yourselfers all over the world.
If you are ready to begin planning your project, the first step would be to contact us regarding the design. What size home, how many rooms, bedrooms, baths, etc. If you have land and funding and can get permission to build in your desired area, you are ready to go forward. With a $1,500 down payment on drawings, we can begin. We have many designs to choose from. The more affordable, Packaged Earthship has a plan book available through the web-site @ www.earthship.com/books as well as a Packaged Earthship Detail Book that takes you through the entire building process of this design.
Approximate square foot cost for a Global Model Earthship, which is our most current design that incorporates the newer double greenhouse feature, is $215/per SF. This price includes all labor, all materials, and all systems. This price is comparable to mid-range conventional housing, but the future utility bills are much less than conventional homes. Please note that this is a turnkey price, that is, a home that is ready to move into and fully functional. If you are looking for ways to build more economically, personally contributing to the labor that goes into building your home can lessen square foot costs. Also, our company does fairly expensive finishes, stone and tile floors, tile baths, all handmade doors and cabinetry, and many custom details. You can choose to do simple concrete slab floors, for example, or purchase manufactured doors and cabinetry, to bring costs down.
Convection banner 1
If you wish to hire outside help to build for you, we have a skilled crew that goes to any location in the world and builds Earthships. We also enlist the use of Earthship volunteers in these builds. Generally, the size of the crew, with volunteers is between 40 and 50 people. This large work force, and the pre-fabrication and shipping of components allow us to complete a home in 4-6 weeks depending on the size of the building. These buildings can be totally off-grid, having photovoltaic electric systems, catch water systems, and a thermal mass structure that requires no (or very little) back up heat or cooling.
M-22 grey detail w tub10-5
We have very economical standardized building plans available for several time tested models. These plans can be customized @ $200/hr. At present, the price for the plans for the 1, 2, and 3 bedroom Global models are $6000, $7000 and $8000 respectively. Building plans for the Package Earthship and other more economical models are available as well for comparable prices. In comparison, standard drawing fees for architectural drawings generally run from 8-15% of the total cost of the home.
Vaulted Earthship entrance
The Earthship has been developed over the last 45 years, and is a very sophisticated and finely tuned sustainable building. Our crew builds these homes year after year, and they have evolved according to feedback from clients, and our own observations. We have built them all over the world, in all types of climates and conditions.
Unfinished Earthship
We are currently in the planning stages for upcoming projects in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and New York City, among others.

For more information, you might be interested in any of the following:

EBook available from amazon.com "Earthship, I want one" - $4.99
Michael Reynolds books, videos, etc. - Available online @ www.earthship.com
Earthship Academy - Hands on and educational instruction in building your own Earthship
Intern program, Taos, NM - One month working with Earthship crew Volunteer program 1 week-6 weeks working on current builds in US and internationally
Spring, summer & fall seminars - 3 day course that includes classroom instruction and hands on experience

Please visit our website for information on any of these programs, or to purchase any of our books and videos. We also offer nightly rentals in newer Earthships in our Greater World Subdivision in Taos, New Mexico. To book a night in an Earthship, or to inquire about the seminars, intern program, etc., you can email us @ reception@earthship.com.

Mr. Reynolds is available for in person or phone/skype consultation @$250/hr or $125/per 1/2 hour session to answer any technical questions. When you are ready to go forward with designing your Earthship, or if you would like to get on the build calendar to have Earthship Biotecture build for you, I would recommend this as a first step in defining your project.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Indiana Humanities - Guest Blogger

I have been inviting people to guest blog here at the House of Fallen Timbers and as Karma would have it I was asked to guest blog for the Indiana Humanities Council blog "Think. Read. Talk." They are featuring articles concerned with rivalry as part of their "Spirit of Competition" program. I wrote about one of my favorite subjects, How Rivalry Shaped Indiana.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I've been pinned!

I recently noticed some visitors from a site called Pintrest and was curious to see where they were coming from. I googled "Pintrest" and and found the site. Then I searched the site for "House of Fallen Timbers" and found that 12 photos from the blog had been pinned and re-pinned by 22 users. Naturally I signed up for an account, re-pinned all the shares on a board titled House of Fallen Timbers, and became a follower of the 22 users who pinned me. If you're a Pintrest user please feel free to pin images from the blog and/or follow my new board. If you're a blogger or own any other real estate on the web I recommend you check out Pintrest and see if you've been pinned!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Living on Water

We all need water to live so we're all "living on water", but Margy Lutz in Powell River British Columbia takes it to a whole new level. Margy is an author and photographer whose blog I've been following for years. I asked her to be my guest blogger this month and she kindly responded with the following article and photographs describing her life on the water. Take it away Margy, and thanks a million!

My Powell Lake home not only has a water view, it has a water foundation. Float cabins are a big part of Coastal BC history. During the heyday of logging and fishing, they were used as support camps that could be moved from place to place. On Powell Lake, they began as inexpensive hunting and fishing getaways for paper mill workers. Today things are a little more regulated. Float cabins have registered BC water leases and we pay property taxes.
My husband and I were looking for a place to retire and knew this was it. We laughingly say, when we bought our cabin, it came with John, the former owner and builder.  He has become our good friend and mentor. You see, Wayne and I were city-folk from Los Angeles. Learning the skills we needed to live off the grid was a lot easier with John’s help and support.
As with any house, the most important thing is the foundation. In our case, that’s a 40X40 cedar log float lashed together with ¾ inch steel cables.  We are anchored in place to a sheer granite cliff and the lake bottom 90 feet below. In a breeze we move gently to and fro, but in a big storm we can really rock and roll.
Our 675 square foot cabin is built on top of a raised deck.  The downstairs has two bedrooms (one for storage) and a new bathroom addition for a compost toilet and tub.  A great room includes the kitchen and living area.  The large upstairs loft is our bedroom.  It’s plenty of space, especially since we have the whole outdoors at our doorstep.
We have additional floats for a variety of purposes: a dock, a floating woodshed, and my floating vegetable garden.  The garden is on a pulley.  I bring it in to tend and then send it out to our log boom breakwater to protect it from hungry critters.
We live 25 minutes up the lake from the marina.  Our power sources are solar, wind, and a wood stove thermoelectric generator. We use propane for cooking, refrigeration, and additional lights. In winter we use a small generator to give our batteries an occasional boost.  Our wood stove keeps the cabin warm so we can live here in all seasons.  And a hand pump in the kitchen draws water from the lake below. Simple but effective.
Now that we’ve retired, we spend about 75% of the year in our float cabin.  Our lives follow the seasons with wood gathering, gardening, swimming, fishing, and enjoying our surroundings.  There’s nothing better than getting up and having a cup of coffee on the deck watching the sunrise over Goat Island to herald in a new day.

You can find more information about float cabin and off the grid living at http://PowellRiverBooks.blogspot.com.  Visit Wayne’s website www.PowellRiverBooks.com and you’ll find a series of books about our cabin including Up the Lake, Farther Up the Lake, and Off the Grid. Stop on by. We welcome comments and questions.

Thank you David for inviting me to be a guest on your blog and share about float cabin living. – Margy

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cordwood Masonry Home

I recently read an article about a beautiful home, hand-built by a couple I had the pleasure of meeting in person. Jessica Diemer-Eaton is an author, historian, educator, artist, and owner of Woodland Indian Educational Programs. I met her husband Mark in the fall of 2011 at an event I featured here. Mark and Jessica built the wigwam on the grounds of Prophet's Town State Park. Mark also helped me find some seed stock for my three sisters garden that day. Jessica and Mark are the proud owners/creators of a Cordwood Masonry home. I asked Jessica if she would write a guest post for the blog and send me some pictures to share with you. I'll turn things over to Jessica now. Please give her a warm welcome!

Building & Living In Our Cordwood Masonry Home
No it’s not stone masonry, although from a distance that is what our walls are mistaken for.  Our 16-sided home is built with cordwood masonry.  Cordwood construction, the building of walls by stacking cordwood using a mortar to bind, is an often overlooked construction style.  Most folks have yet to hear of it, even though it is a building style of antiquity.  But why cordwood masonry?  Why not just a log cabin?  Well, cordwood masonry is a great alternative for log home lovers who especially 1. Don’t have an ability to maneuver large logs and 2. Want the look of wood log walls inside and out, but don’t want to sacrifice interior temperature efficiency. 
Ease in BuildingBeing a woman under 5ft in height, I was able to build our cordwood house walls alone while my husband was at work.  Most construction methods will not allow for that, and those that do, such as other masonry materials like stone and brick, require a certain amount of skill that is usually acquired with experience.  Being a novice builder, never doing masonry before, I felt the learning curve was something that could be overcome in just a couple days work.  However, keep in mind that this ease of building does come with one larger setback - time.  If you chose cordwood, do so with the understanding that this construction is a long process.  The cordwood must be seasoned, laying it up is time consuming, and you can only build so high before the lower layers are dry.
An Efficient Home
The walls being 16” thick feature a hollow inside filled with cedar chips for insulation.  The mortar beads on the inside and outside are only 4” wide, leaving a hollow interior – the secret to insulation of the walls.  We don’t even have conventional heat, only wood heat provided by a Russian-style fire place in the middle of the home.  In a cold winter, after a few days of firing, we usually top out at 80-84 degrees in the living room.  We can stop for 3 to 5 days, and lose only 10 degrees of heat.  There is nothing more efficient than our cordwood walls.
Points of Light
Cordwood is a great canvas; many like to create images in the walls using the cordwood ends like mosaics, or put unconventional items into the mortar.  Usually, most cordwood builders will put a few bottles in their walls to bring in some beautiful spots of light.  Because the walls are 16” thick, each “bottle window” requires two bottles or jars, top ends put together, and rolled in aluminum flashing.  When stacked into the wall, only the bottoms of the bottles or jars are visible both inside and outside. 
A Round Floor Plan
Besides the look of a round home, one reason to pick this shape has to do with floor space; round buildings get more square footage for less money. However, what many people don’t talk about is that extra space lost due to an unusual floor plan.  Round homes don’t have the wasteful space of hallways, but we do still have space issues created by our round fireplace that sits in the middle of the house and holds up our roof.  So, no, we don’t have a hallway, we have a donut.  And just like a hallway, this doughnut shape can easily become underutilized.  We have counteracted that by placing an office behind the fireplace, two sitting areas on each side, and bar in front of the fireplace overlooking the kitchen.  Also, any money you saved by having a round floor plan may have to be put towards building custom furnishings.  As it turns out, most cabinetry is not made for walls that have angles more than 90 degrees, or have a little natural wave in them.  Cordwood walls are never straight, and our countertop’s width has a 2” inch difference between the middle and ends of the counter (one reason we used broken tiles for mosaics, as square tiles would have shown this variation in countertop width and the wave in the wall).  We chose to build our cabinets to get the style we wanted, and to save money.
It Comes Down To Cost In all, our home cost about $43,000 to build, including the tools needed to build the home.  We only paid for two jobs done through outside professionals: pouring the concrete foundation and applying the rubber membrane roof (which is a specialized process and warrantied through professional installation).  Friends and family helped us build some walls, construct the massive fireplace, wire the home for electricity, and install a new and efficient type of plumbing that utilizes plastic tubes that bend and expand, not ridged pipes prone to burst if it freezes.  For that price, we have almost 1,500 sq ft of living space divided between two bedrooms, bathroom, storage room/bathroom, kitchen, living room/dinning room, and the common room in the middle (aka the donut hallway that contains my office behind the fireplace).  It’s not large, but a great size for 2 people.
  Learn more about our cordwood home and cordwood construction at http://www.squidoo.com/living-in-a-cordwood-masonry-house