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When choosing insulating materials for your home or building, the options are more numerous than they first appear.
A visit to the hardware store will yield only a few options: foam board, fiberglass rolls, and perhaps spray foam. These materials, although widely available, contain many synthetic chemicals that you may not want to have in your home or around your family.
If you’re attempting to construct your building with all-natural materials, these conventional options may seem disheartening. But don’t lose hope! There are several eco-friendly, chemical-free alternatives for insulating your home that will be effective and safe for both you and your family.
The first option we’ll explore is sheep’s wool. Sheep live in some of the harshest and coldest climates in the world. They thrive there because they have a thick coat of wool that has natural properties to retain heat, even when damp. You’ll often find native sheep living high in the mountains, where it is extremely wet and cold, and yet they’re perfectly content.
For the same reasons that sheep’s wool does a great job protecting sheep from weather conditions, a roll of wool insulation will do wonders to insulate your home. When wool fibers are compressed down into a roll of insulation, the crimped nature of the fibers creates millions of tiny air pockets, which provides great insulation, keeping warmth in the winter and out in the summer. In addition, wool has a tremendous amount of breathability, as it absorbs and releases moisture in the air. When wool absorbs moisture, it actually generates heat, preventing condensation in cavities by keeping the temperature above the dew point. This property creates a natural buffering effect, using relative humidity to stabilize the building temperature.
Old denim and cotton clothes also can be a great alternative to conventional insulation. Many cotton insulation rolls made today are constructed from recycled blue jeans and other textiles. Some companies even will let you donate your own old denim. Although cotton insulation made from recycled textiles is about twice as expensive as fiberglass insulation, it is incredibly safe to handle, has a longer useful life than fiberglass, and has superior soundproofing qualities. For some homeowners, the knowledge that they aren’t putting potentially harmful chemicals in the walls of their living space is worth the extra cost.
If you are constructing your home from scratch, using straw bales to construct the walls is a great insulation option. Straw bale homes typically have an R-Value (a measure of materials’ resistance to heat flow; the higher the number, the higher the insulation value) of more than 10. This is comparable to the insulation value of fiberglass. This, in addition to the huge cost savings compared to traditional insulation materials like fiberglass, makes straw bale walls an excellent option when building natural structures.
Straw bale walls can be finished with a wide variety of materials to make them look and feel exactly like a normal home wall. Most people who visit your home will have no idea that the straw bales are there! Straw bales also provide great sound insulation for walls and are very fire resistant when packed tightly and covered with an appropriate skin.
Don’t be fooled by the lack of variety when you visit the insulation aisle of your local hardware store. There are great alternatives – if you just know where to look.
Aryn Young lives in Homer, Alaska, running a small farm and sustainable land clearing operation.
For the pioneers, building a log cabin was not just a cool project that you took on for the fun of it. You had to know how to build your own home because there was no one else to build it for you.
Below, we will discuss the basics of building a log cabin. If you want a more detailed diagram, there are books on the subject. However, I would read this report first, as we will cover things, from experience, that others may not.
Back in the day of the settlers, the log cabin we are speaking of was their home. So, we are not talking about building a home by today’s standards, where homes average several thousand square feet.
Tools You’ll Need
Sure, you can get by without a few of these items. However, for the most part you’ll be darn glad you have them.
- A crosscut saw to fell the trees, cut your lengths and make any strait cuts.
- An axe for hundreds of jobs.
- A two-person log carrier, because carrying a 20-foot long log up a hill can be challenging.
- A draw knife or barking spud to debark the logs.
- A peavey to roll the logs into position.
- An adze to start most of your notches, smooth limb stubs and knots.
- A hand drill and a 20-inch drill bit so you can pin the logs together at the corners if you choose to build that way.
- A broad axe is likely the most useful tool you will have. Use it to smooth and fit notches, shape any part of any log, and more.
- A mallet or sledgehammer to drive corners together and set corner pins.
There are other basic tools that you and everyone should have, such as a tape measure, a hammer and a hand saw, just to name a few. We won’t cover them, as they are basic tools and not specialized for this task.
The Basic Steps
1. Get a plan. If you don’t have a log cabin plan, we suggest you get one. They can be found at many local libraries and also online.
On your land, face your door true south. There are three big reasons for this: A) The southern sun will warm and light your home if you have windows there. B) Just by looking at your cabin, you’ll know the compass directions. C) You won’t have to worry about snow drifts covering your front door nearly as often.
If you can, forage your timber in the winter and let it set for two years before you build. Winter harvesting will allow it to dry slower at first. This, along with two years of seasoning, will minimize checking and cracking.
Go for trees that are 8 to 10 inches in diameter and have the lowest degree of taper that you can find. You really can’t go with any more than 2 inches of taper on a 16 -foot log or you’ll run into problems that chinking won’t even solve.
3. Debark your logs when they are fresh. If you let them sit for 2-3 days, the bark begins to adhere to the tree, and you’ll have a lot more work with your barking spud or draw knife.
You can debark them where you fell them or haul them first to the building site before cleaning them up. That’s up to you. But, hauling them with your log hauler first leaves them looking better, as the bark protects the wood hauling.
4. Build your foundation and set your sill logs. Your foundation should be a rock wall 2 to 3 feet tall; most are closer to 2 feet.
Then, build stone walls in rows at 4- or 6-foot intervals all across the prepared and packed dirt within your outer walls. These will allow you to lay your girders on the full length of them and give you anchors for your flooring.
Others just tell you to use small support pillars. But, that means you have to hit those pillars spot on with your flooring. When you build walls on rows, every floorboard is fully supported and you don’t get floor sway as the girder longs sag over time.
Pro tip: Leave a 3-foot section of each girder support wall open and unbuilt. The reason: If you ever have to crawl to the center of your cabin under your floor, you’ll have a path. Stagger these openings so that one side of your cabin doesn’t have less support that another area.
You can joiner your girders in with a mortise and tenon approach, which will secure them well.
Cut your girders flat on top to get a wider spot for your subflooring to nail to. Most settlers used the adze for this.
In one spot where you’re going to build your fireplace, build up a platform for it and build your subflooring around it.
5. For your subflooring, you’re going to want to hue logs into boards. This can be done with your adze or with the crosscut saw. The adze is faster, and since it is subflooring no one will see it anyway.
Do NOT cover your sills with your subflooring; your subflooring goes inside your sills.
6. Erect your walls. Here’s a pro tip: If you live in areas with a lot of rainfall such as Washington and Oregon, you should strongly consider single-sided saddle notches with all the notches facing downwards. This is so that you don’t have any upward-facing notches to collect rainwater and develop rot.
A lot of cabin builders will number their logs on how they see them going up on the walls. We are here to tell you that the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go awry.
You’re better off looking at how the walls are shaping up, looking at your inventory, and seeing what fits. Once you do this a few times, you’ll see what we mean.
Don’t cut your log long groove in the bottom log for the next log to fit on top of. Instead, cut your grove in the bottom of the next log before you seat it. This will prevent any accumulation of water, dirt and debris, as all your grooves are facing downwards.
If you’re in dryer territories, you can double saddle notch your log ends, which is the simplest method. Just roll them together, scribe them and notch them. When they look good, refit them, scribe any areas that need better fitting and broad axe the notch into that perfect fit.
Here’s another pro tip: don’t drill them through your notches like most people do. Drill them about a foot inward of your notches. The reason: The wood at the notch is thin. When the cabin settles as they nearly all do, you won’t split your thin wood at the notch as the stress is put on the log from the settling.
8. Build your fireplace. Visit our article on how to build a mountain or river rock fireplace here.
When you meet your roof to your fireplace, you’re going to need to flash it. Most pioneers brought some hardware with them along with their windows. One thing they nearly always brought was flashing.
If you don’t want to do it that way, then there is a pine tar chimney sealing trick, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
9. Do the roof. Most cabins are going to be rectangles of some sort. It’s easiest to run your roof long ways on your cabin.
The roof we’ll discuss has purlin and rafter construction, as this is the most sound in a high wind or heavy snow situation. No, we are not going to talk about premade trusses; this is not how your pioneering forefathers did things.
Your end walls are built to the height of the peak of your roof. Scribe your wall and cut it at the proper angle of your roof to both sides.
You then set your two end rafters just a couple of inches from the end of your purlins as they hang over the outside of your walls. You notch them into place so they are flush with the purlins themselves.
Install the rest of your rafters at regular intervals.
Attach your roofing boards that you’ve split horizontally to the rafters.
Then, shake your roof. We strongly suggest reading our article on cedar shaking a roof here.
10. Window the frames and doors. The simplest way to frame your windows and doors of a cabin is going to be to cut a notch in the ends and lengths of the logs surrounding your windows and doors that you then put a pre-made board into. So, you’re recessing your frames into the ends and lengths of the logs, all the way around the windows, but on only three sites for the door, as you don’t cut the bottom one because it’s the floor.
Next, simply hang your door.
11. Finish your flooring. You may want to slit and sand the boards for your floor that goes atop the subfloor. Or some many want a stone floor. How you finish your floor for the look you want is up to you.
12. Clean and protect. The pioneers didn’t have any bleach or chemicals to wash down the outside of their cabins. However, it is advisable to water wash it with a long handled brush or similar to remove the dirt.
Let it dry for 2 weeks before you protect it.
Mix 1 part linseed oil to 5 parts turpentine, and apply to the outside of your cabin. This process should be repeated on an annual basis for the first 3 years, and then as needed for every five years thereafter.
That’s it — you’ve just build a log cabin just like the pioneers did.
Have you ever built a log cabin? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:
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Building your own systems. Why buy?
On this episode of the Tech, Build and Grow show, Brett is discusses new build ideas for our preps, homesteads and more. Moving beyond the greenhouse with our automation and build ideas where can we better our lives and make them more efficient?
Being now in the heart of the cold weather season, we should be focusing our attention on backup heat options for our homes, greenhouses and livestock facilities. The question that many may have is where do I start?
Creating heat options and systems can be fun and challenging at the same time, and now is time to get the creative engineering juices flowing. We can take a simple wood stove idea and put it on steroids to run all on its own, send us updates and heat more efficiently.
We will discuss how to transform our thinking from “What do I buy?” mentality, to “What do I build?” mentality. Getting to the point where you start designing and building your own systems is a huge step forward.
By building and creating all your new systems you start to learn the ins and outs of all the components, science and technology involved. Learning all the aspects of each build creates more knowledge for the next build and creates an awareness in the mind for troubleshooting and problem solving in the systems. Transforming in to a “Maker” is a one way street and once you get the building bug, it’s usually with you forever!
Makers On Acres Website: http://makersonacres.com/
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