Yesterday on site was an unexpected day full of hard work, but at the end, we were able to walk away feeling like we were one step closer to completing the house as we originally envisioned. We had planned to spend most of the last week here at the Scorup house and Cedar Hall finishing drawings and wrapping up documents to hand to the sweat equity project and our clients. However, because of the earthen floor debacle, eleven of us returned to site on Tuesday to finish up the floor and complete last minute punch list items. Myself and two others started out re-mixing the torn up mix from the day before, and we began to shovel the mix back onto the previous layers. But instead of troweling the mix, we tamped everything completely by hand with wooden trowels. After we finished leveling the final surface, Atsushi and Scott went around with metal sheets and tamped over the metal sheets which created a final smooth and even texture.
The working theory is that the failed earthen floor attempt was too wet, too thick, and too polished, leaving it vulnerable to extreme shrinking – whereas with previous successful layers, we mostly hand-tamped with a drier mix. So this time we decided to make a drier mix and refrain from using metal trowels too much. We also allowed the straw bits in the mix to show through – something we were avoiding because of aesthetics – but in end, it provided another way to ensure a stronger mix. We hope that this final layer dries much faster and without any cracks! Of course when working with earth, nothing is ever perfect, but I think we’ve gotten it to a point where we can all be proud.
I also love the feeling it contributes to the living room. When we were done on Tuesday, I was walking around filling holes without my shoes on and I didn’t want to leave! It gives you the feeling of being inside and outside at the same time. It was raining and hailing some of that day as well, and being inside on the ground but sheltered from the elements felt so safe and comforting. After going through this process and seeing the hardships of using earth, I still definitely want to try installing an earthen floor in my own home in the future.
Back at the Scorup house, we’ve begun a series of meetings where each project manager shares their experiences and construction details to the rest of the class. The goal is that all of us will come away from the project as if we were involved with every aspect of the build. In particular, I’ve learned a lot about the plumbing and electricity portions of the build – things I’ve always been curious about but was too involved with interior finishes when those parts were happening on site. It’s been great to hear people’s reflections on what they enjoyed most, what they would have done differently, the details of their budgets and timelines, and specifics about tricks they learned along the way.
In my own presentation (for interior finishes), I went through the specifics of the plaster mixes we used, 1 part lime/ 1 part site sand for the lime plaster, and 1 part clay/ 3 parts site sand/ half part straw for the clay plaster. I’ve really enjoyed learning more about natural plasters and their applications for interior finishes.
As the semester comes to a close, it’s amazing to return to site with all the tools taken away, all the rooms cleaned out, to look back and think that we’ve built this house! We’re all getting excited to see the photos that the staging group is going to prepare for on Thursday. We’ve each given our suggestions for the angles we like best, and the time of day that makes a certain space glow. Many thanks to City Home Collective (Salt Lake City) for coming to photograph our project!
Julia and Katja