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House Visions

I’ve wanted to build a “cool” house forever, or at least since I was a pre-teen. Ten years ago, I thought I would finally have the opportunity to do so, only to have my dreams dashed by a combination of onerous property taxes and impossibly difficult building regulations in Miami, Florida. I set out, once again, on my quest and hope that I have found the place where I can build my “cool” house: Floyd County. I have three copies of Woodstock Handmade Houses, by Haney & Ballentine, a copy of Handmade Houses by Boericke & Shapiro, a copy of Mud, Space & Spirit by Gray, MacRae, & McCall, a book on treehouses, and books on cob construction. I also have a number of books on organic architecture and marveled at the beauty of Antonio Gaudi’s architecture from an early age. Just to prepare you for unconventional ideas. Surely you didn’t expect anything else from me, did you?

When I made my first trip to Floyd County in 2007, I already knew that there was a company that made yurts, Blue Ridge Yurts, but didn’t have the opportunity to actually go inside one until later that year. Then, in 2008, one of the principals of the yurt company took me on a tour that included two yurt homes. I was enchanted with the space but not thrilled with the rather, ummmmm, impermanent materials used. Of course, yurts are designed to be portable – the idea of a permanent yurt is an oxymoron, but I still loved the space inside them. I investigated more permanent yurts, called frame panel yurts, but ultimately decided against them also. But I kept the idea of a circle, a conical roof, and a skylight at the top of the cone to flood the interior with light.

Enter a company in Floyd named AuzBloc, which manufactures a building material called Builderscrete. It is made of a proprietary mix of clay soil, portland cement, and sawdust. The material was invented in Australia and the company there is known as Timbercrete, but that name was already taken in the United States by a fence company, so the same material in this country is called Builderscrete. I sat down with the principle of the Floyd franchise, Bill McGuire, this last visit and had a nice long chat with him. He answered all of my questions and convinced me that this is the material of my dreams. I talked to him about a round house and he was willing to design a block with an arch to accommodate my dreams but I came to the (temporary!) conclusion that maybe it would be better to settle for a 12-sided structure, called a dodecagon. After doing some further calculations, it became clear to me that a round house, 36′ in diameter, would not be hard to build with rectangular blocks after all. So a two-story round house it will be! With a central “core” that includes the bathroom, kitchen, and a masonry heater to furnish hot water for the radiant floor. And a green metal roof, suitable for rain catchment, with a skylight at the top to let in light.

This house is from the Timbercrete website, to show you what the material looks like:

Timbercrete House.jpg

Hmmmm …. those black locust logs, milled on three sides so that the unmilled twisted grain side faces out would make wonderful lintels, wouldn’t they? And if the blocks were of different colors, that would be cool, too wouldn’t it?

There are presently four houses under construction using Builderscrete in Floyd County and a friend of mine told me where one was, so I went and looked at it from a distance. Very nice. It was small, cozy, and very visually appealing.

This is still very much a work in progress, and will likely change further, but I think I have the broad outlines in place. When will construction start? Hmmmmm …. depends on lots of variables, but I hope to have it at least dried in and able to be “camped” in by the fall of 2011. We’ll see ……

6 Comments on “House Visions”

  1. #1 june
    on Nov 25th, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    Can’t wait to see it take form!

  2. #2 colleen
    on Nov 27th, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    You’ve been busy, Jeff! I hadn’t heard of that material before. I really like the way that house looks.

  3. #3 Beth
    on Nov 30th, 2009 at 8:12 am

    How exciting, Jeff! I like the looks of the house pictured very much. Looking forward to watching the progress of yours on your blog!

  4. #4 Mark Thomas
    on Nov 30th, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Lots of our friends had round houses in Africa–usually built of stone with thatched roof. I tried searching for floorplans of ‘rondoval’s for you, but couldn’t turn up anything but simple huts or luxury hotels.

  5. #5 Debi Kelly Van Cleave
    on Dec 1st, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    I always dreamed about living in a tree house when I was a kid. I had the whole thing planned in my mind, the complete layout. If I was going to build something new, I’d like a log cabin with lots of windows. That house looks great. Hopefully you’ll get it built and I’ll come up there to Floyd to see it in real life!

  6. #6 Gwen
    on Dec 2nd, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Hi Jeff,
    I really have enjoyed perusing your blog updates and our conversations about your “journey” to Floyd. Your property looks wonderful and like it is just the challenge which will bring you amazing joy every step along the way!

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