Frame walls, doors, and earthen floors

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.

Dirt so smooth even a baby could crawl around on it!

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.

Frame walls

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.

doors

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).

earthen floors

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.

The first few feet of the floor have been screeded and lightly floated
A photo of the floor at the end of the day of the pour
A photo of the floor on the day after the pour (straw later blew into the room and will be swept away once the floor is dry)

3 thoughts on “Frame walls, doors, and earthen floors

    1. Thanks Ted! The project timeline has been somewhat elusive to pin down, but I hope to be close to finished in another year’s time. I don’t know if that’s overly optimistic, but it seems achievable. Now that we’re working on the inside, things seem to be moving along at a good speed. It’s nice to not be too limited by inclement weather, although the snow and rain can still pose problems for us.

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  1. Anne here. Love the floor – what goes on top for sealer? Linseed oil? Sounds like a lot of tough work – the prep and pouring.

    Highly recommend taking photos of your plumbing wall before it’s enclosed and keeping those photos in a safe place – just in case. Maybe even measurements. You did just what we did for our interior frame walls as in pouring a narrow little footer to support them – but yours look tidier!

    Never framed before, wow! Glad you’re enclosed. We had snow a couple weeks ago – early. You probably got that storm as well. Doors are attractive and Leo will enjoy looking through them at his level.

    Hey to Megan and Leo.

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