Located in Central Colorado, Crested Butte is a ski haven and wild flower attraction in the heart of the Rockies. In this town, owning a home is nearly impossible for the working class. Thus, Community Rebuilds began breaking ground for their affordable housing program in 2016. The house was a 3 story strawbale duplex for two low-income families. It was a learning experience for everyone involved because 1. ) This was the first 3 story strawbale duplex ever built 2.) We were 10,000 ft above elevation and 3.) Winters are long so timing is everything. As an intern it was exciting to be apart of the entire process from foundation to (almost) finish.
Unfortunately, the project started later than expected. The foundation was delayed for almost two months because the ground was frozen and once it melted, the water table was too high for excavating. In the meantime, we built cabinets/vanities, visited the Community Rebuilds operation in Moab, and lime plastered a greenhouse for Straw and Timber Craftsman.
Once the foundation was poured, the framing began. The exterior walls were built using 2x4s which were then sheathed with plywood. The technique we used for insulation was called “strawcell”, which is a combination of strawbale and cellulose. Instead of notching each bale around the studs, the bales were placed up to the studs and the stud cavity was packed with cellulose. Besides the insulation, many of the techniques regarding the shell of the home were conventional. The framing, metal sheeting, tyvek, etc. are all standard building systems. Because the home was located in a small residential neighborhood, the exterior needed to have a similar look to fit in. The siding was called hardie board, which is a fiber cement board.
The interior walls were drywalled, excluding the bales. We started to transition to more natural materials in the interior, although time was not on our side. For this reason, some cement was added to the plaster mix to help it dry faster. The first coat was 1 part lime, .5 part straw, 1 part portland, and 5 parts sand. This coat was thicker to help even out any dips and grooves in the bales to make a smooth straight surface. The final coat mix was 1 gallon clay, 1 gallon 70 grit sand, 1 gallon 30 grit sand, 1/2 cup of clear gel (helps with chalking), and 101 ml of gray pigment. The bathroom bale walls were plastered with lime. The mix was 1 gallon of lime, 1 gallon of 70 grit sand, 1 gallon of 30 grit sand, and 76 ml of gray pigment.
I have always wanted to learn how to tadelakt and luckily we were able to squeeze in two showers before the end. Our mix for the tadelakt was 2 gallons of lime, 2 gallons of pool sand, 160 ml of black and 320 ml of gray. Frank from Living Craft came for the week to lead us through the process. Tadelakt is applied in lifts. Once the wall was damp, we used a sponge float to apply the first lift (1/8”). We applied a total of three with the last lift troweled smooth. When it was dry to touch, about 4 hours later, we polished the surface with a flat stone (hardness 7 or higher) until smooth. Making sure to polish evenly in circular movements. Aprox 12 hours later we polished again. Once the surface is dry to touch add the olive oil soap based mixture, such as Kiss my Face.
Despite, the arrival of winter and some minor set backs the project was an overall success. I couldn’t be prouder of my fellow interns and apprentices for continuing to push with smiles and laughter to boot!