Monday, 24 July 2017

Strawbale house: the final stages

Finishing the work

Autumn 2015 to Spring 2017

Water penetrating the kitchen was an ongoing problem, which I tried to solve using a fast-setting, waterproof Norwegian cement-based product (with a picture on the packet of a man pushing the stuff onto a leaking cellar wall). But after several attempts, water was still getting in, and finally I called in the Parkins. We looked for leaks by directing a hose pipe onto the outside of the walls. Water trickled through the space behind the chimney stack on the south side – when the hose was squirting water on the north side. Steve and Howard (Steve's dad) decided that probably water was getting in at the junction between the stones of the plinth and the concrete blockwork below ground level, and prescribed a more thorough pointing of the stonework overlapping onto the concrete. I dug a mini-trench around the three walls, filling this with gravel after the pointing was done. It solved the problem, and we decided it was safe to screed over the pipes in the kitchen.

The only sign of water after that was at the time of the serious floods at the turn of 2015/2016, when there was a slight damp patch on the floor. I decided not to worry about it, and proceeded to lay the floor tiles and plan the kitchen. So far, so good.

The living room:

The space to the right of the stairs down to the kitchen lent itself to a wardrobe  on the living room side and shelves for glasses on the kitchen side. Bookshelves constructed wherever there was a space in the living room were soon filled. The beautiful lampshades are from IKEA.

The shower room:

The floor of the shower is lined with pebbles from Aberdeen beach set in waterproof cement, in a base that I made from concrete and then polished with a series of coarse to fine grit pads. The stones are arranged roughly by colour; they feel pleasant underfoot.

The basin stand is made from odd pieces of pitch pine laminated together.


There was some exterior work to be done, apart from the wooden deck outside the patio doors: paving the walkway between the new building and the steading. I bought stone slabs in a range of modular sizes (based on a unit of 14 cm). I cut scale tiles out of cardboard to work out the optimal arrangement – avoiding 4 corners together, and no straight lines with more than 3 joints – recommended for best visual effect. Then I copied this design with the real slabs, setting them on a weak sand and cement mix over sub-base (coarse gravel which fills holes in the hardcore rubble beneath). Joints were filled with a granular material that you just brush into the gaps and leave to set. The walkway immediately became a valuable extension to the workshop; the circular saw bench has been there ever since.

The kitchen:
The last room to be fitted out was the kitchen. We appreciated the expert advice of the design team at John Lewis. One extravagance (not regretted) was the Le Mans pull-out shelves for one of the corner cupboards; they don’t just rotate around the pillar, but swing out so the whole shelf is accessible. Brilliant. The worktop is of laminated ash – light in colour and with a pleasing grain.

The wooden panel behind the stove and the back of the worktop are tiled with custom-made thematic tiles from brother-in-law Richard.

Our building warrant was due to expire on July 13 2016. After a busy few weeks making finishing touches, I was ready for the inspection on July 12. Alan Stott had no serious complaints, but suggested that a handrail on the stairs would be useful (true – there is now a rope to hold onto) and criticised the open spaces between the treads (now blocked with plywood).

Work continues, of course. The finishing touch to the living room was the curtains. The design is by Ruth Hyde, Howard Owen’s wife, in Cullen; it is based on sketches she made years ago living in different parts of Scotland. The main theme is trees. We chose the colour for its warmth; it goes really well with the wood. The curtains were made in a couple of days, by Maria with a lot of help and advice from Kate Hesketh – and encouragement from John and me.

The end!