Now that our work on the roof has concluded, we turn our attention to tasks inside the house. This is a welcome change, as the weather has gotten colder and wetter recently. It’s also nice to finally be spending more time inside the house, since we’ve predominantly worked on it from the outside over the past two and a half years. I’ve started to better understand the interior spaces – how it feels to walk from one room to another, how the light changes throughout the day, and what the wind sounds like from the inside.
Preparing the floor
After finishing the roof, we began to prepare the floors. We started by taking down the level of dirt in each room to where we wanted it, and then we leveled and tamped the dirt to provide a sturdy subfloor for the subsequent floor layers to be layered on. This work required shoveling, picking, McLeoding, wheelbarrowing, tamping, and sweating. After each room was worked on, the result was a more uniformed floor surface than we’d ever had before. The rooms looked bigger, better defined, and more refined.
After leveling out all the rooms to our satisfaction and exhaustion, the next major task was to add gravel – and lots of it! I think we used about 10 tons of gravel to add an approximately four inch layer of gravel throughout the house. We brought the gravel in one wheelbarrow load at a time, dumping several loads and then spreading it out and tamping it to create a nice level surface. We’d use the builder’s level to make sure we were creating a level surface and bringing the gravel layer up to where we wanted it.
The gravel layer was a lot of work, but again, the finished product resulted in increased refinement and definition of each room. When you walked through the house you were now four inches closer to the finished floor height. You could start to get a better sense of what each room would look and feel like.
All of the exterior, load-bearing walls of our house are made of adobe. Most of the interior walls are also adobe, however, we were planning on building frame walls for the closets and for the dividing wall between the guestroom and bathroom. We decided that rather than have the frame walls sit directly atop the earthen floors, we would pour concrete footings to support the frame walls. This would allow us to better anchor the bottom of these walls and provide good stability, although an earthen floor alone could be sufficient as well.
We put up concrete forms and poured the footers for each of the closets and the divider wall. We added anchor bolts to each footer to provide the eventual wall with a solid anchor to the concrete. Since none of these footers were very large, we decided to use sacks of dry concrete mix to get the job done.
After the concrete form boards were removed and the concrete had dried, we began to build the frame walls. Although I’ve built many adobe walls, I had never built a frame wall before. I took my friend and phenomenal contractor, Aaron, out to the Little Toad Creek Brewery to learn all that I could. I also consulted the Graphic Guide to Frame Construction (4th Ed.) by Rob Thallon frequently for guidance. Ultimately, I think our walls turned out really great. Sure we worked slowly and carefully as novices, but I think we churned out quality work.
After completing the framing work, the three exterior doors I had ordered arrived at our local hardware store. Although not as classic as wood doors, we decided to go with modern fiberglass doors made by Therma-Tru. We figured they’d survive better in the merciless New Mexican sun and require less maintenance. Putting the doors up was a fairly smooth process and I was quite happy with how they looked (even with just the white primer on them and no colorful paint).
I’m going to jump ahead a bit to last week when we poured our first layer of earthen floor in the utility room. The utility room was a good place to start, since it’s one of the smaller rooms in the house. Being a humble utility room, we could afford for it to be our guinea pig floor.
We decided to try a mix of 3 parts sand, 1 part clay, a few handfuls of straw, and enough water to get our desired consistency (cake batter). Once the mixer was nearly full, we’d add a few additional shovelfuls of clay for good measure and let everything mix for a little while. We brought in the mixture one wheelbarrow at a time until we had enough material to screed a couple feet of the room. Screeding involves the pulling of a long 2×4 across rails that are set for the desired floor height. Two people pull the board at each end and slowly level the layer of mud toward them. After screeding each section, I would take a magnesium hand float and do some quick floating of the surface. For this first layer of floor, we don’t need it to be super smooth.
The resulting floor turned out pretty well. The day after the pour, I was able to use a couple small squares of OSB to shimmy my way onto the floor to fix up some small spots. I saw a small crack in one area and was able to easily trowel it closed – hopefully it will not reappear as the floor dries further. Although it has now been a full week since we poured the floor, it is probably still a little too wet to walk on. The weather over the past week has been wet and cool, thus slowing the drying time. Tomorrow we will pour the next floor. I’ll cover the earthen floor process in better detail in my next post.