Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but we sure did get a lot accomplished at the load bearing workshop in Crestone, Colorado. Consider that when we got to the site, there was a rubble trench foundation with an 8″ concrete cap and nothing else. When we left, there was a building with windows, roof trusses and plastered walls. That’s pretty cool! It’s amazing what a group of people can accomplish in a short time, especially when you consider that they were learning the whole time too. It’s not like this was a group of professional builders, after all.
We had our challenges, don’t get me wrong, but in the end the desire to help build a wonderful couple a home won out over every little speed bump and hiccup. This truly was an example of community coming together to build a home. Several of the workshop participants lived near by and were able to help out immensely by bringing in tools, materials, and even extra generators and compressors (the compressor actually saved the day). Thanks Jenna, Skip and Zach!!!
Then there were the locals from Crestone who were not even part of the workshop, but who helped out by sharing their materials, connections, and know how before I even showed up for the class (and during as well). Thanks Paul and Heather!
So what did we learn? We learned a ton about straw bale construction as is always the case with the workshops; however, we learned more than just that. 1) We learned that solid planning is worth its weight in gold or even lead! Building with an “on the fly” plan is very difficult and ends up slowing down progress immensely. Many of us knew this already, but to experience it first hand was actually very helpful as it showed all of us, so clearly, just how important a good set of construction drawings really is.
2) We learned that extremely dry climates with blowing sand and dust devils can’t dampen the spirits of amazing people!!! I have never eaten so much sand (while asleep even) as I did on this workshop. I had to stack straw bales around my tent just to try and stop the sand from blowing in (it didn’t work that well, but it helped a bit). I know I’m not alone. None of that mattered. The people in this class were (and are) amazing and we all pushed through and created something beautiful. Okay, so there was also the motivation of knowing that once our walls were up, the wind would not be so nasty and we would have a spec of shade other than a tipi to relax in.
3) Even well built load bearing walls, made with high quality bales, are not considered safe from a 40 mph wind burst/dust devil until the top box beam is on. I have never experienced a more sudden, unexpected and bigger “hiccup” than this on any job site. A huge down burst of wind blew our finished wall over (not the whole thing, but enough to be a headache) right before we were ready to start installing the box beam. There wasn’t much we could do about it, but some bracing gave us peace of mind moving forward.
4)Using a framed section for windows that “floats” during the box beam installation allows for solid window framing, but can be a hassle to line up just right. I think it’s totally worth it, personally, because I have never been a big fan of using window bucks that simply sit on the bales. I much prefer the precision of a pre-framed window frame that attaches to the toe ups and, eventually, the top box beam. This not only creates a solid frame, but it also helps attach the box beam to the foundation once all of the compression is done.
There’s so much to talk about and so much that was shared. I know I can’t fit it into a blog post, no matter how long I write. My friend David who has been to several of my workshops and is a huge help to have on board said it so well: “It was truly an incredible experience, once again!” I couldn’t agree more. I feel like I have the best job in the world and I always leave a workshop feeling exactly those same words: what an amazing experience.