Four Elements Design

Edible Landscaping Design | Strawbale Construction | Custom Workshops

Mobile Goat Barn – a “maaah”d Endeavor

Recycled

The goat skid barnOn April 3rd, our goat Agnes had her first kid, Alice, at Blue Rock Station. The week before, we had gotten our first goat on the farm, Gilead (“Gilly”), a beautiful white Saanen-Boar-Nubian wether, about eight weeks old. We housed Gilly in our mixed species animal shed with a large fenced in area while we made our mad rush to get ready for Agnes and Alice’s arrival.

After assessing the property and the 25+ acres of wooded area, we decided that there was plenty of goat browse, but that we needed a way to have a portable barn that could be moved to new areas. We flipped through many animal shelter books and found a skid barn design for horses in “How to Build Animal Housing” by Carol Ekarius. We modified the design for our needs, removing the windows so that the goats couldn’t jump up and break them, and adding a polycarbonate roof material (leftover from the greenhouse) to let in light.

Now it was time to get started. We went back to our stack of free glass shipping pallets from FabTek and started tearing them apart for lumber. In one day, we had taken apart all of the rest of the pallets and ended up with loads of 2×6′s and 2×8′s for our building. Then, we used old 4×4′s from a reclaimed fence as our skids for the bottom frame of the building. Unlike the chicken coop, we decided to keep this skid barn floorless for ease of cleaning and ease of moving. We used timber frame notching on our skid frame to support the building and avoid shifting during moves. We started ripping our 2×4′s for stud material from the reclaimed 2×8′s and found that our tools were inadequate for the job, so we had to settle for mostly new 2×4′s for the wall framing.

Chelsea’s dad, Brian, helped us with the wall framing, which really got our project moving quickly. In one day, we raised all four walls and were ready for the roof rafters. The next day, we used the reclaimed 2×6′s for our roof rafters and screwed down our roofing. We then built our walls with 3/4” plywood that were scraps from a builder who sold them for next to nothing. We cut out a dutch door for the goats, and made a door for the hay feeder that allows us to load it from outside of the fenced area. When it was all put together, we painted it with mis-tinted outdoor acrylic paint that we found for $5/gallon at the local hardware store.

Our project total was a little higher than anticipated on this building, mostly due to using some new 2×4′s to speed our progress. Our lumber total was around $80. We needed to buy screws and latches because we lost most of them in the garage fire, so that added another $30. The paints we used were $15, and we needed to buy one section of metal roofing for the shed, which was $25. We could have used spare shingles we had from other projects on the property, but our slope was not steep enough. This was one area we could have saved money, but in our haste to get the building built in a few days we did not think too hard about the roofing until we got to that point in the project. Our skid barn cost $150 in new materials and possibly about $70 more in used materials. This design has the potential to cost over $400 in new materials.

After we built the goat shed and moved it into place using the skid steer, our next task was to build a fence. We priced out fencing options, from welded wire to portable electric fencing with a solar charger. All of our options looked like they would cost over $500 to build or install, until we saw a video on YouTube about using pallets as fencing. We were able to get pallets from the grocery store and PR, our resident truck driver, was able to haul enough to us for about $150 to fence in a third of an acre. Our neighbor, Joe, helped us put it together in half a day, and the goats are safely and inexpensively fenced, happily munching away at the brush. We’ve since gotten more pallets and are going to expand the fencing as the goats eat down the brush. In all, our goat prep took about a week of labor to build shelter and fencing for three goats.

A Recycled Mobile Chicken Coop

Recycled

Following the OEFFA Conference, Chelsea and I got started on one of our “have to build soon” projects – a mobile chicken coop that would allow us to move the chickens around the blueberry fields with electric fencing.

Back in the fall, we had heard from one of our friends that a company in Akron that puts together windows from skyscapers was giving away the shipping crates in which they receive glass. PR, our honorable scrapper and heavy machinery driver, helped us by picking up these wooden crates and delivering them to the blueberry farm. There, we sorted through the various sizes of crates, ranging from those built with 2×4′s to 2×10′s, and started disassembling five crates built of 2×4′s and one crate built of 2×8′s.

 

Shipping crates for glass from FabTech

Shipping crates for glass from FabTech

Loads of nails at every corner of the frames we disassembled

Loads of nails at every corner of the frames we disassembled

We created a hybrid coop design based on the “Minimal Coop” design in Chapter 12 of Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. The original design had many issues we needed to address for our needs: it was made for 4 hens, had a solid floor, was not mobile, and did not have nesting boxes or a roost.

We needed sleeping quarters for 13 hens, 3 ducks and 1 rooster in one mobile coop, so we added a roost. Our chickens love sleeping on roosts, and this greatly increased the floor space for the 3 ducks. Since the interior space was at a premium, we decided to mount nesting boxes to the side of the coop. This saved interior space, and also allowed for us to install a hinged roof on the nesting boxes for easy egg collection.

Our earlier experience with the ducks had been that they need to have a clean floor at all times, especially during cold weather. Their feet are sensitive and can get frostbite easily if they sleep while stepping in feces. We had made a raised mesh floor in their last coop for this reason, which allowed for the droppings to fall through the plastic mesh down to sawdust bedding, which we would periodically refresh. We removed a piece of our mesh flooring from the old coop and modified the dimensions of our mobile coop to fit this flooring. The mesh floor allows for us to use the duck and chicken droppings as a direct fertilizer below the coop wherever we move it, and saves us the hassle of stooping into the short coop door to clean it out. We also built the coop on a skid frame in order to be able to move it with the tractor around our fields.

Chicken coop framing made from reclaimed materials

Chicken coop framing made from reclaimed materials

All of the lumber in the framing and shingles was from the shipping crates. The plywood pieces for the sides were laying around the farm, full of rusty nails. We removed the nails from the plywood and reused as many of the nails from the shipping crates as possible. When we were done building, we found a couple gallons of “oops” paint at the local hardware store and had it tinted various shades of pink for a final flourish. Total spent on the project: $35 combined for hinges, latches, and paint. If our barn hadn’t burned down in February, I suspect the total for the coop would have been $6 in pink “oops” paint.

Persa cutting roof rafters

Persa cutting roof rafters

Chelsea digging through used nails

Chelsea digging through used nails

Coop with roof, nesting boxes, and partial walls

Coop with roof, nesting boxes, and partial walls

Persa painting the coop

Persa painting the coop

Chelsea moving the coop

Chelsea moving the coop

The coop with electric net fencing and protected happy chickens

The coop with electric net fencing and protected, happy chickens

Living Earthberm Ramp to Living Roof

Earthbag, Earthberm, Fellowship, Living Roof, Strawbale, Updates
Tire Retaining Wall for Earthberm Ramp

Tire Retaining Wall for Earthberm Ramp

After drawing the earthberm ramp to the living roof with tires of rammed earth, I saw that it would take about 150 pounded tires to create a retaining wall for the earthberm ramp. Recalling the May 2011 strawbale build for the llama shed, it took us a day and a half with 11 people to pound the 47 tires in the foundation. At that rate, it would take us at least 4 or 5 days just to build the retaining wall! That’s a lot of tire pounding for such a small structure.

In an effort to solve the issue of “how do we avoid pounding tires for 5 days”, I searched the internet for other ideas. I found out that someone has built a retaining wall by stacking unopened cement bags in a running bond. When it rained, the moisture was sucked in through the paper bag and voila, a cement brick wall was formed! It’s a great idea, but at $5 per bag and with at least 200 bags necessary for the wall, it’s well out of budget for this project.

The next “easy way out” idea I had was to just set strawbales in place for the retaining wall, cinch them together, use the usual mud mixtures on them and fill in the ramp. I knew this idea sounded far-fetched because I suspected the outward pressure of the soil against the wall would be too great for the weight of a strawbale wall. I searched Andrew Morrison’s strawbale.com to see if others had ever tried an earthberm strawbale wall, and Andrew suggests that any buried wall be made of concrete block or something similar that then transitions to unburied strawbale walls. Concrete blocks are also out of budget for this project, at $3 per block and about 125 blocks, we’d be at $375 just for the retaining wall.

And, of course, there is the classic milled stone retaining wall. If we can’t afford bags of concrete or concrete blocks, I know milled stone is out of the budget.

Then, the idea of earthbags entered my mind. My neighbor has been toying with the idea of earthbag construction for a while and has a book that he’s let me look through. Filling bags with earth seems like an easier process than pounding tires, and I have access to free burlap sacks from a local coffee roasting company. Perhaps the smell of coffee will stimulate the crew to fill them faster! The earthbagbuilding.com website indicates that burlap bags will rot with moisture, but I think that since most of the earth material at Blue Rock Station is clay, it will form bricks that stay in place and rotting burlap should not affect the integrity of the structure. The sacks would then be covered with the traditional mud mixtures and the interior face of the retaining wall will have a vapor barrier of 6 mil plastic similar to the one used in the foundation of the building. If the deterioration of the sacks are a concern for Annie & Jay, we can use woven polypropylene feed sacks available from any large scale agricultural operation. I’ve located a few examples on Craigslist for about $0.19 a piece.

My model indicates that it would take about 225 earthbags to build the retaining wall. I haven’t timed how long it would take to fill an earthbag, but my guess is that it would take less time to fill 225 earthbags than to pound 150 tires.

Another addition to this rendition of the model is the tin roof from with rainwater is diverted to a rainbarrel within the bottle-wall cone. A drainage system for this handwashing station is yet to be devised, but I envision a sink built into the wall with PVC piping draining away from the building to a French drain.

Below are the latest images from the model:

Front Left View with Earthbag Retaining Wall

Front Left View with Earthbag Retaining Wall

Front Right View with Earthbag Retaining Wall

Front Right View with Earthbag Retaining Wall

 

Rear Right View with Earthbag Retaining Wall

Rear Right View with Earthbag Retaining Wall

Rear Left View with Earthbag Retaining Wall

Rear Left View with Earthbag Retaining Wall

Progress on the Roofing Systems

Fellowship, Living Roof, Strawbale, Updates

I’ve made a bit of progress on the roofing systems of my Glorified Privy building. I says “systems” because there are two roofs on this building – a living roof and a metal roof from which to collect rainwater. I’ve learned a lot about living roofs in this past week, studying cases online and in books. I figured out what sort of plants do well in 4″ of soil in our climate that also self-seed. I’ve also spoken with the family civil engineer and figured out my dead and live loads for the living roof, which gave me a good idea on the type of lumber I need to use, and how far apart the rafters need to be to support the loads.

There were a few areas where I differed from the usual living roof construction methods. Annie had suggested bitumen as our waterproofing membrane, but further research into the subject has led me to not choose this material. Since “asphaltic bitumen is an organic material, roots can naturally attempt to penetrate the surface while seeking nutrients” (greenroofs.com). A common practice in the industry is to pour a concrete slab over the asphaltic birumen to prevent this from happening. Since our budget cannot support the purchase of I-beams to support the weight of a concrete slab, this building will use a double layer of 6-mil plastic as the waterproofing membrane for the living roof. The 6-mil plastic is the same material we use for the vapor barrier between the tire foundation and the strawbales, so we will already have this material on hand.

Another area where this design will differ from conventional living roofs is the drainage layer. Most living roofs use gravel or lava rock as the drainage layer. Others use pre-fabricated plastic drainage layers. We’ll be using a low-tech option – biscuits of straw. They are lightweight, allow water to drain, easy to install, and readily available during our build. One disadvantage of this method is that the straw will decompose and will need to be replaced every few years, so the entire roof will need to be shoveled out and re-planted.

I still haven’t modeled my living earthberm ramp to the living roof, but that will come next in the design. For now, here are a few views of my model to satiate your curiosity.

Living Roof and Entry View

Back & Side view

Front Entry view

Designing a Building Isn’t Easy!

Fellowship, Strawbale, Updates

Here’s a sneak peak at how things are coming along:

 

Glorified Privy in 3D, roofless

Glorified Privy in 3D, roofless

I’m two revisions into my design for the strawbale composting toilet building and I’ve discovered a few things:

  1. I don’t know enough about living roofs
  2. It takes a long time to design a building

For point number one, I’m struggling with my roofing system because this roof is not only supposed to support the weight of a fully saturated living roof with plants, but also the weight of two or three people and perhaps some lounge furniture and some safety railing to serve as a scenic overlook.

For point number two, I’m over twenty hours into the actual design process and I haven’t even gotten to hashing out the particulars of the pathway that spirals around the building to the top of the overlook! However, some of this time is due to my unfamiliarity with Google SketchUp, the 3D software I’m using to design my models.

At this point in my design process, I’ve got a few things figured out. I know for sure that to accommodate the size of the toilet and to still follow the ADA requirements for an accessible stall, my building will have an interior footprint of 115″ x 61″. I’ve also reconsidered the rounded east walls due to complexities in the design process (and personally thinking it’d be too hard to accomplish in such a quick workshop).

Hopefully a few phone calls with the family civil engineer will help me determine the correct support structure for the living roof, and progress on the design can continue.

The Glorified Privy Brainstorming Session

Fellowship, Strawbale, Updates

First, a brief introduction:

This past year I participated in the week-long Strawbale Workshop at Blue Rock Station. I returned in September to assist with the weekend workshop, and approached Annie and Jay about helping in the future. Through the conversations that followed, we created the BRS Fellowship program, and I as the first guinea pig “Fellow”. As part of the program, I have the privilege of designing and managing the building for this year’s workshop.

This past Wednesday and Thursday I went to Blue Rock Station to brainstorm with Annie and Jay about the strawbale building I am designing for my Fellowship. The structure is going to house the Envirolet composting toilet (valued at $2,500), that Annie and Jay were given by a friend who didn’t like it. Personally, most of my experience with “composting” toilets has been with a 5-gallon bucket and a pile of sawdust (the “Humanure” method), so a $2,500 toilet is certainly in need of a interesting eco-friendly building, to boot!
During the day we contemplated strawbale, earthberm, bottle walls, and foundations. We pondered about the sogginess of the land, the direction from which the weather comes, landscaping, railings, and other details. Jay had a basic idea in mind for this building, as I’m sure all of my clients will, and that was our starting point. Annie and I explored the used and saved materials that they have collected over the years from disassembling barns, and started daydreaming about how they could work in this structure. We spent some time hashing out details that are a part of my “Contractor’s Questionnaire”, and came up with some unanswered questions that are in need of further research. Overall, my visit was very productive and I came home excited to get started on the design. Stay tuned for more updates as the process progresses!