On the path of a meaningful life

Texts, photographs and videos by Claire B.

Sustainable buildling and light habitats. to transform the act of building and rethink our relationship with living things.
Transition tales. towards an ethical, sustainable and united future.
Travel dispatches. discovering the world between solo journeys and life experiences.
Creative approach. photographic work and videos.

5 April 2021

A straw bale extension

Third stay with Jules to participate in the construction of a straw bale extension with vegetalized roof.
Rabou, Hautes-Alpes, France © Claire B. - Merci de ne pas utiliser sans autorisation

For my first internship within the Gabion eco-construction training, I am going back to Jules for the third time in order to continue to help him on his working site. Since my last stay in February 2021, the roof has been finalized. The edge and ridge tiles have been bricked up and the land behind the ruined house has been leveled. The next stage of the site is to build a small extension of about 30m2 in load-bearing straw bale. The roof will be flat to accommodate a vegetalized roof. The extension will serve as an extension to the living room and will accommodate a small kitchen. The interior will be plastered with earth or lime and the exterior will be cladding. A second extension in straw bale is planned on another side and will be coated with lime on the outside. These two extensions are used to illustrate the different eco-construction techniques and to promote straw bale construction.

I find again Jules and his team with pleasure. The weather is better than in February but it is still cool. The levelling works are finished, they are laying the foundations. Under the floor of the extension is a draining layer of stones. Everything was done by hand and with a pickaxe, the mini-excavator bought by Jules a month earlier having refused to work.

We put tar strips in place on the brand new foundations to prevent water from rising in the walls. The bottom rail is attached to the top with boxes filled with loose straw. It is on this low rail that the straw bales will be placed. We use the bottom rail as a template to prepare the top rail which will surround the top of the straw wall. Strips of textile strap and straps are inserted under the bottom rail. They will be used to compress the wall of bales of straw.

  1. The foundations being built.
  2. Installation of the capillary break (in black), a strip of tar, to prevent water from rising in the walls and installation of the bottom rail.
  3. A layer of lime is inserted into the bottom rail box to prevent rodent and moisture infiltration.
  4. The boxes are filled with loose straw and then closed.

Once the foundations finished, we begin to assemble the pre-frames, which are used to delimit the windows and bay windows. Then it is the assembly of the walls. The straw is delivered on Monday morning. The bales are very dense, denser than those used for roof insulation. Five Twiza volunteers came to lend a hand. The assembly of the straw wall is done very quickly, in one day.

Doing a load-bearing straw wall means that the straw is structural. It is it who carries the frame. There is no wooden frame. The only pieces of wood present are used for the pre-frames so that the straw does not come to push against the joinery. The wall is assembled by assembling the bales one above the other in staggered rows and inserting them on stakes (in this case cut wooden broom handles). Plugin all the holes and make it as compact as possible is required. It is often necessary to resize the bales and so a new bale of the desired size has to be “knitted” from a full bale.

Once the wall is mounted, the top rail is fixed on top. In order for the wall to be clean, the straw bales are “cleaned” using a large saw. Then the straps and textile strap are fixed over the top rail to compress the wall. The compression is done in several times in order to allow time for the straw to position itself correctly and to reach its maximum compression point. Compressing as much as possible is very important in order to prevent the bales from settling over time and the joinery rubbing against the top rail. Once maximum compression is obtained the straps will be removed while the textile straps will remain in the wall.

  1. Knitting a new boot.
  2. Foundations, straps, bottom rail and straw bales.
  3. Straw bales impaled on stakes.
  4. Fixing of the corner bales.
  5. Cutting of a troublesome part of the pre-frame of the bay window.
  6. View of the house and the extension under construction.
  7. Positioning of the top rail.
  8. Cleaning of straw walls.
  9. Compression of walls.

As for the bottom rail, the boxes of the top rail are filled with loose straw and then closed. Then comes on top the frame of the flat roof. It is the same system as for the floors of the house. On the ruin side, a load-bearing beam is fixed against the wall of the house. It is a little higher than the top rail in order to respect the angle of inclination recommended for vegetalized roofs to allow water to flow down. Metal brackets are attached to it to accommodate the joists. On the other side, the joists are simply fixed to the top rail. Spacers are fixed in the middle to prevent deformation of the joists. And gypsum boards close the roof of the extension from the inside.

Between the joists we add insulation. Jules had planned to do everything in chènevotte (loose hemp, very good insulation, resistant to insects and humidity) but supply and stock problems forced us to fall back on cellulose wadding to finish the roof . It is much less pleasant to work it because it makes a lot of dust. Since several months, the building sector has been facing increasingly large stock-outs. The price of wood has tripled and the waiting times are getting longer. The fallout from the covid crisis, the economic slowdown and the appropriation of resources by the Americans and the Chinese are starting to be felt. This does not smell good.

  1. Fixing the brackets.
  2. Fixing the joists on the top rail.
  3. Closure of the frame from the inside with gypsum boards.
  4. Insulation of the frame with cellulose wadding and chènevotte.

We take advantage of the last day of the week to finalize the roof. A rain screen is placed over the insulation to prevent water infiltration. Battens are put in place to allow a ventilated air space closed by OSB boards. And wooden planks acting as a parapet are fixed on the sides of the roof. The parapet (generally a small wall serving as edge of the roof) makes it possible to fix the waterproofing of the flat roof and the evacuation of rainwater.

To finish we fix with an adhesive an EPDM tarpaulin (Ethylene-Propylene-Diene Monomer, rubber) on the roof in order to protect the entire roof from water infiltration and then to accommodate the earth for plants.

I left the site, once again very happy to have learned so much in barely ten days. Jules will finish the extension then attack in the coming weeks, the second. For my part I return to Mane to resume my training. I hope to be able to come back to the site regularly during the year to follow its progress and continue working with Jules and his team.

  1. Installation of the rain screen.
  2. Liteaunage on the rain screen to accommodate the OSB boards.
  3. Attachment of the EPDM tarpaulin to seal the roof.

Note: In order to respect the right to privacy and anonymity on the internet, the names of people have been changed.

Chapter VII. Metamorphosis.

Rabou, Hautes-Alpes, France © Claire B. - Merci de ne pas utiliser sans autorisation

A straw bale extension

Third stay with Jules to participate in the construction of a straw bale extension with vegetalized roof.

Rabou, Hautes-Alpes, France © Claire B. - Merci de ne pas utiliser sans autorisation

Roofing and tiles

Continuation of the renovation worksite in the Hautes-Alpes with finishing of the roof and laying of tiles.

Les Sens de Théus, Hautes-Alpes, France © Claire B. - Merci de ne pas utiliser sans autorisation

Hands in senses

Being amazed at the contact of herbalists persons, discovering a project that makes sense and finding answers for the future.

Rabou, Hautes-Alpes, France © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

Observing paradise

Living on the heights of Gap in winter and immerse myself in the shapes and the perfect landscapes of the Gapençaise region.

Ried valley, Alsace, France © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

On the way to light habitats

What does living in a Tiny House mean? Making a choice and orienting myself professionally on the path of eco-construction.

Limousin, France © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

About raw wood furniture

Using wood in a raw and respectful way to put creativity and simplicity back at the heart of our living spaces.

Limousin, France © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

Harvesting chestnuts

Discovering what it means to harvest chestnuts in a traditional way in one of the main producing region, the Limousin.

Limousin, France © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

In contact with the Simples

Living on a family farm for two weeks in the heart of Limousin and realizing that things are not that simple.

Volunteering in eco-construction, Presqu'île de Crozon, Bretagne, France © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

Earth and lime plasters

Application, during a participatory worksite, of lime plaster on the exterior walls and earth plaster on the interior walls.

Volunteering on a straw house construction site, Crozon peninsula, Brittany, France © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

For a living architecture

Volunteering on the construction site of a house built in straw located on the Crozon peninsula at the end of Brittany.

Normandy, France © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

An oasis in Normandy

Two weeks of wwoofing in the heart of Normandy to discover within an eco-farm the beginnings of permaculture and another way of living.

Volunteering in eco-construction, Presqu'île de Crozon, Bretagne, France © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

Opening

One day at the end of August 2020 I left. My head full of questions about the future of our lifestyles and our societies, I set out to discover and learn other possibilities.

Copyright content.