Finishing the First Floor Layer
We worked long days during the first few weeks of December to finish the base layer of earthen floor, room by room. After pouring the first three rooms, we ran out of screened clay. From that point on, one person would screen clay while the other made the floor mix. We’d screed the floor together every 5-6 loads. Most days, we would finish up just after sunset in the waning twilight. These were long days of constant work. We completed the final room, the living room, on the Friday before Christmas, and we took a couple of (much needed) weeks off.
The floors have been drying quite slowly, given the low temperatures and the occasional snowfall. About midway through the floor-pouring process we installed the windows, which allowed us to keep the indoor temperature a little higher during the cold nights. Unfortunately, this also had the effect of reducing airflow in the house and extending the drying time, however, it’s more important to prevent the floors from freezing until they have dried sufficiently. After a month of drying, the floors are feeling fairly solid, but they’re still not totally dry yet.
Although the floors are drying slowly, this gradual drying process does have it’s advantages. For example, we’ve had almost no cracking thus far. If there are spots that need to be touched up with a trowel, it’s nice that the floor is workable for an extended period of time. I suppose those are the only advantages. Mostly, it has been a bit of a hindrance to not have complete access everywhere in the house, particularly as there are lots of other things to get done inside.
Plastering Our First Two Rooms
Following our two week respite at the end of December, we flipped the calendar to 2020 and began our first layer of earthen plaster. After having worked with a four inch thick base layer of floor for so many weeks, a half inch layer of plaster seemed much less daunting. However, every room has one floor, but four walls. This will still be a long process.
The walls in each room require some preparation before we are able to begin plastering. Our preparations include filling in the electrical wire channels, tightening the geo-grid, and covering the gringo blocks and wooden bond beam. These preparations take a significant amount of time, but they make the plastering process go much smoother (no pun intended).
Our earthen plaster mix is sandier than our floor mix and has no straw. Through trial and error, we’ve found that a fairly dry mix seems to be easier to use, which is somewhat counterintuitive. We start by getting the plaster on the wall with our hands and then use magnesium floats to smooth it out. We work our way up from the bottom of the wall in roughly four foot wide sections. Working the plaster around the windows and at the top of the wall takes time and more than a little patience.
We are able to complete one wall in a day. The walls dry out significantly quicker than the floors, since the plaster is a much thinner layer. We’ve now plastered one-and-a-half rooms. I’ve been pleased with the results, and we keep getting better. We’ll likely be plastering for the next few months!