Saturday, August 22, 2009


The summer is over, it seems. I've been home for weeks. The NBI course is over.

After finishing the Community Design/Build class, I was done with all my Yestermorrow responsibilities. I hung around for a few days so I could have some last minute fun with my intern and NBI friends, and then headed off on a multi-day Amtrak ride.

It was hard to leave. I had grown so attached to the place and people. I loved the balance of work and play. The whole place seemed healthy and I was always happy. I learned a lot about tools, design and construction over the summer, gained a lot of great contacts for future opportunities, and made great friends who I hope to see again.

Since I've been home, I've been talking about Yestermorrow nonstop. I miss waking up early in the morning to do a morning chore routine. I miss having communal breakfast, lunch and dinner. I miss morning meetings, identifying tasks that need to be done and having the means to do them. There was a sense of belonging and purpose that I haven't experienced to that extent anywhere else.

If there is one word to summarize how I feel about Yestermorrow now, I would have to say "grateful." I am so thankful to my school for funding me this summer, the Yestermorrow staff for allowing me to come be a "mystic," and the interns for accepting me as one of them and teaching me a plethora of skills. I cannot vocalize how much this summer has positively affected me, but I do recognize it and am grateful.

It's been an amazing summer. Thanks.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The End of Design/Build

We finished, with time and money to spare.

For the last couple days of construction, we generally split into three groups: those on the roof, those working on siding and those finishing the benches. I was on the siding crew.

We used four inch (rough cut, so not 4 inches exactly - lots of variation) pine with two inch spaces in between.

When it was time to round the corner, we had to find pieces that were similar widths so that we could line our corners up properly.

The benches were covered in six inch cedar with an 8th inch gap. It took a lot of time to get all the covering on, mostly because the bench frame pieces didn't line up perfectly and needed to be corrected.

The roof was four inch pine with a two inch spacing covered in corregated plastic. Our instructors had used these materials in a previous Community D/B class so we got to see an example beforehand. There's metal flashing around the edges.

The girls who built the table installed it. There was a little more wobble than we were comfortable with, so we added another leg to the front quickly.

The finished building:

Group shots, at the celebration.

We had a graduation ceremony at Dave Seller's Temple, where we had to walk to the receiving line (made up of our instructors, Dave, several of their old friends and some interns) through the flying sparks from a too-big fire to be handed our graduation certificates that Dave found necessary to burn the edges of. It was the perfect way to end my last day of work in Vermont.

Overall, I'm very proud of the work that was done in class. We designed and built a fairly large structure in two weeks. It looks great and we had good responses from the clients. It's very comfortable and well lit - it's cozy. It's easy to see out and is oriented well, so parents can watch their children in comfort. I made a lot of great friends who all seemed to leave in good spirits. I loved my instructors thoroughly. I am absolutely thrilled that I got to participate in this class.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

So Rewarding

Today was an exciting day for the Community D/B class. We moved our structure out to the site,

raised it,

and added some roofing and decking details.

There were a few hiccups - the main one being the bench pieces not fitting exactly into place when rearranging. It was such a rewarding day, to finally see the structure in it's spot. It fits well on the site, looks nice with the trees in the background, and corresponds to the individual porches very well.

I spent the majority of the day on the roof - there were five of us up there and the structure held well (although we did add a little bracing on the overhang so we didn't accidentally build a warp into the roof.) This gives me confidence for the structure's capability to withstand Vermont snow-loads.

Tomorrow, more roof and bench work, and hopefully the installation of the table.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Design/Build, Fast!

We finished building our model. It is possibly the best model I have ever made.

(Or, mostly finished.) The back three trusses gained some posts on the front end of the building to provide extra support and create a nook for the people at the table. We decided to square off the building for decking's sake.

When we make changes to the plans, a little masking tape holds the new onto the old. It creates a little flip book of sorts. I am amused by this.

Most of the students in my class are in or have completed grad school with an architecture degree. Therefore, when it's time to draw something, I'm not generally the most qualified. However, I have been helping with the revisions. I've never used a drafting table before - pretty helpful, really. (I am, however, one of the go-to folks on the work site, at times.)

After adding the new supports to the trusses, we raised them.

Before doing so, we had to level and build the deck. We built it on skids, but we don't plan on the skids being used for pulling. The ground is too soft at the site for a vehicle to drive on it, so we've had to design the building in pieces. The joists have been placed, but only with a few bolts (and no screws.)

We got all the trusses up.

This fellow and I worked together to design and build the benches. This was the first support completed. We used sandwiching techniques similar to those that we used on the trusses, as well as the only vertical supports in the structure. The benches are attached to the floor joists only, so we can take the trusses off for transportation.

After installing supports to each truss, we had to build similar supports for the truss-less floor joists. These intermediate joists each got the seat, back rest and upper shelf. The light support on the left is one of these structures. (We painted the structure with a very watered down black paint - it's enough to disguise wood discoloration/inconsistencies, but still show wood grain.)

I spent this afternoon and evening working with three other ladies from my class to build the table for the structure. We used 1 by 5 cedar, the same that is being used for decking.

In this picture, we were testing out the sizing of the table compared with the benches. The far side rests on a beam that I installed on the farthest truss, while the front of the table is supported by a leg. I didn't get an adequate photo of the bottom of the table to show all the supports that we installed to keep that leg firm. While we used dozens of screws on the bottom, we managed to keep the top hardware free. We were very proud.

We even signed our names.

While we were building our table, decking was set.

As we were putting finishing touches on, the structure was disassembled. Tomorrow morning, we get to move the pieces out to the site.

Some unmentioned thoughts and highlights from the last several days:
- Jim, Bill and I had to measure the bridge between here and our site. There is no clearance sign, for some odd reason. The bridge is very narrow, so the rush of running out to the lowest point, climbing high enough to get the tape measure to the top and reading numbers was quite extreme. Lots of fun and giggling afterwords. Had the bridge been a little lower, there would not be giggling.
- My arm looks like it has some sort of skin disease because of all the thin black paint that has made its way onto me instead of the structure.
- Every morning, Steve leads the class in a clap - starting slow and getting faster until there are enthusiastic whoops and lots of smiles. For some reason, this works for making us energetic.
- We have been working every evening after dinner. Thursday evening and Sunday were the only times we've had off before dark since the class started. I am amazingly tired, but in such a wonderful way. Building this structure is mentally and physically exhausting, but very rewarding. It changes so quickly. I am amazed at how much we have done in such a short amount of time.
- The instructors are great. They are full of encouragement and good ideas. At times, their non-stop ideas can be frustrating - significant changes were still being made in the late stages of design. Sometimes, when someone has just figured out all the details of their next move, prepared and possible even started, one or three of the instructors will swoop in with entirely different suggestions. The timing is not always the best, but they have great suggestions.

I am heading home a week from today.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Today, we built our first two trusses. There are a few issues that need to be sorted out, but I'll post more about them when I know more details.

How wonderful!

Getting Ready for Building : A quick update

We finished all our drawings and small models in time for our 10am meeting with the clients. We presented, they asked some questions, we answered them and they approved the design, giving us free reign for the rest of the project.

After approval, we had to finalize the designs. The best way to test sturdiness is to build a model to scale.

We ripped tiny lumber pieces (1/6" by 1/3" is a 2 by 4.)

We built trusses.

We put the trusses together.

We added benches and a table. We are currently adding decking and siding (which is 1/12" by 1/3". Awesome tiny woodworking.) (This photo was taken about a minute ago.)

For the record, Berea's Ecological Architecture course should use the woodshop. Models turn out much better with the appropriate tools.

We came up with a cutlist.

Yesterday, we scaled up our final design and built a jig.

Now it's waiting on us. And we're waiting on a lumber delivery that is about an hour and a half late.

I'm under the impression that we're running a little behind, but nobody seems to panicked yet. I'm excited to start building. We're assembling as much as we can at the school and then moving out to the site for assembly. We had to keep construction and transportation in mind as we were designing. We don't want to be on site too much because of the possibility of rain.

Yesterday was the first day that we didn't have class after dinner. A lot of folks went out to celebrate Steve's birthday. I slept, happily. Every other day has been completely full of drawings and models, from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed. It was a nice break.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Beginning of Community D/B

Sunday night, I started my Community Design Build class with Steve Badanes, Jim Adamson and Bill Bialosky. Coming into the class, nobody (including instructors) was sure about what the project was. The Community D/B class is well known and very popular, designing structures that addressed needs of the community. (The first four pictures of this post were built during previous Community D/B classes.)

We soon found out that we were given a small plot of land at a new affordable housing complex to build some sort of community spot. The area is problematic because there are many manhole covers, drains and a pumpstation to the septic tanks scattered around that we can't build over. There is also a strange subtle slope that could be an issue. There is a retention pond to the south that is an eyesore, but there is also a cute stream that can be spotted from the right angle.

These folks are generally standing in the area that we're going to build our structure:

The only program that the clients (landlords) provided for the place was a spot for parents to sit and watch their children playing.

The class (13 people) came back and broke into three groups. We brainstormed and sketched, then came back for a group meeting where we discussed ideas. Over the next two days, this process happened about 6 times. We had started by designing complex structures with multiple platforms and lots of program, but after a second visit to the site this morning, we realized how small the space we had to work with was. Each time we broke into groups, it almost seemed like a step backwards - we were breaking into different groups each time, so we had to start from scratch. However, around 3:00 this afternoon, we discovered that all of our groups were designing the same thing. From all our group discussions and mixing around, the ideas had been evenly distributed and somewhat settled. The best had come out, it seemed. These instructors seem to know what they're doing.

So that's where we are. Right now, some folks are finishing up a site model so that we can build our idea to scale.

(Actually, as I was typing this entry, the site model was finished.)

We present to the clients tomorrow at 10am. Every moment awake is expected to be spent on this project, it seems, so I am already fairly exhausted. However, the project is exciting and once we get a design approved tomorrow, we'll get to start building.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Drains and Frames

I have installed another draining system on the trails. This was a different situation (no initial puddle/mosquito pit - just soggy trail.)

I dug a trench in the soggiest part of the trail. The water immediately began collecting in it, so I dug a slope so the water could run off the hillside. I then filled the trench with gravel (which was not an easy job, seeing as how the trench was in the woods in an area inaccessable with a wheelbarrow.) I covered the gravel with larger, flat rocks to (hopefully) prevent/slow buildup of leaves in the gravel.

I also went back and covered all the PVC pipe at the older drain site.

We had a few rainy afternoons this week, so I spent a fair amount of time completing smaller jobs indoors. One that I am specifically very proud of is organizing the paint area.

I didn't take a before picture, but I assure you that it was bad. I didn't even know we had drawers in the paint area (so I painted on labels.)

Dave, Ashley, Anna and I have been working all week on framing some windows for the Home Design/Build class. Because the structure is being built with rough-cut lumber, the pre-made frames that came with the windows weren't the right size. We had to adjust them. So we milled all the wood and built the frames for five windows (several different sizes.)

Then, the Home Design/Build class installed them.

The Home Design/Build class is over now; there was a nice celebration last night for the group. I still find it incredibly odd to have class switch-overs.

Yesterday was my last day of intern duties. My next two weeks should be a completely insane rush of Community Design/Build. I'm pretty excited about it. After that, there's an intern reuinion that I intend on staying for and then I'm heading home. I'm amazed at how fast time is going by here. It doesn't seem so long ago that the core class was here, and they were my first introduction to the school. Strange.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Invisible Structures

July 9-12, I took a course called Invisible Structures. It wasn't quite what I expected. The idea behind the course what that we would focus on a what a community needed to be sustainable other than highly efficient buildings. These need can be broken into spiritual, social, environmental and economic categories. I was a little frustrated during this course because of how much we designed to expand the social capacity. We focused more on intentional living facilities, or even non-intentional apartment buildings, than on towns or regions. I suppose this makes sense for a three day course, but I have to say, for my interests, this class was pretty unsatisfying. While there was definitely some great conversation and there were some interesting ideas and techniques that would improve an immediate community, it was just too small for my liking. Small scale and not focused on cutting carbon emissions enough. I am a student of Richard Olson, obviously. I have to remember (and I gave this note to my class) that my instructor and several of my classmates were from Canada in provinces that run primarily on hydroelectric power. They don't have to worry quite as much about cutting emissions.

Here are my notes from the class. Remember, you can click to make them bigger.

One thing that I starred to blog about was "the mythology of place." It's the attitude, or the declared vision. It's what the place is known for. For example, Berea's mythology (which doesn't imply that it isn't true) is of equality and progressiveness. Because of the history of the school and how they market themselves, this is what they are known for. It is possible that Berea is recognized as a sustainable school based greatly on this mythology of progressiveness. While Berea certainly is making some big efforts towards a more sustainable campus, they are nowhere near as perfect as a lot of people seem to think they are. The mythology, however, influences opinions and views of the school. A place will eventually gain a mythology - a mood or reputation - so it's a good thing to think of as a place is being developed. However, once a mythology is developed, it's hard to change, which is why coal mining communities are often so reluctant to try using a renewable source of energy - they have a mythology of pride in their work.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Drain and Home D/B

Days have been very busy around here.

I have been adopted by the Home Design/Build class as the assistant while the class is doing construction. They spend their mornings in the studio working on designs and receiving lecture, then the afternoon in the quansit hut building a small house that will later be taken to a client. There are two instructors, but many students with different skill levels, so they ask that I supervise and make sure nobody chops off any fingers. So far, I have done an excellent job.

The Home D/B project at the beginning of today (yesterday, there was no frame at all.)

The project at the end of the day. They were building their first wall in place. Today made me thankful for the weeks spent putting together a traditional stick-frame modeled house in my Ecological Design class freshman year. I knew what a cripple was.

There are a lot of people around campus this week. NBI, Home Design/Build and a masonry fireplace course. It's always a little strange to have a massive class shift. I generally get to know the majority of the people involved in week-long classes. (I do not always get to know weekenders - it's too short of a time period to try to remember names.)

I have been checking things off my list, although the process is going slowly since my afternoon has been taken away. My big project for today involved a puddle of mosquito-breeding stagnant water.

The stagnant water is, in this picture, below the trail. In actuality, it's uphill from the trail, causing the walkway to be mushy at times.

I dug a trench through the trail leading downhill (where there is plenty of drainage area.) When the mosquito-pit was mostly drained, I stuck a PVC pipe into it.

To keep critters from dwelling in my PVC pipe, I drilled some holes in the top. Water flows easily, but frogs do not. (During this process, I did relocate a frog to a new marshy area on campus. I haven't chased a frog in years.)

There are still some aesthetic issues that need to be taken care of (like the exposed PVC pipe) that I didn't get a chance to finish today. My goal, which I achieved by working through most of lunch, was to install the tube and make the path walkable again. I will poke around more tomorrow. (When I went back up to the site after helping the Home D/B class, I noticed that the puddle was still draining- coming out of the pipe, just as planned.)

I'm pretty happy with my progress this summer. I have learned quite a bit of technical information and skills, but I have also been learning a lot about working and living with others. I'm able to identify a need and take the initiative to solve the problem. I am someone who students go to when they need an answer. I am far more comfortable here than when I first arrived.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Short, Concise Version of My Day.

Today, I made a small dent in my list of things to-do. I painted the holding portion of the composting toilet a dark brown (I couldn't find any black paint.) I climbed a tree to remove an old platform and line that was tied. I measured angles and sizes for a repair on a tent platform (but couldn't actually cut any wood because there was a class in the shop.) I cleared a new tent area, then moved my tent to it because there are plans to cut several trees around my campsite. I helped clean and set up studios for classes starting this weekend. It was a busy, wonderful, sun-shiny day.

This evening, I started my Invisible Structures course. So far, we have been talking about the definitions and markers of sustainable communities. More about that to come.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Refreshed After Vacation

I took a week-long vacation to visit Boston for a cousin's wedding, family and friend visiting and general relaxing and escaping from the day-to-day. The time off was appreciated and wonderful, but I was very excited to get back to Yestermorrow.

And now I'm back. I've been back for a couple of very busy days.

There are two new interns - Anna and Ashley (male.) Tim (1) and Kendall are no longer interns. Kendall is gone and Tim is playing the role of resident builder. The new interns are nice - haven't gotten to know either extremely well, but am comfortable. The chickens grew quite a bit while I was gone. I almost couldn't tell which one was Betty Davis.

There is a push to get a building site (on campus) ready for a fabric-cement cabin. I don't know much detail about the actual structure - it will be built by several classes, I believe - but I have been helping a bit with getting the site prepared. Yestermorrow now has a giant brush pile that will be the source of an epic bonfire. We're also moving a building that a class constructed to it's site, which involves some tree-cutting. Perhaps I will write more about that this weekend.

I have been working closely with Dave, overseer of interns and grounds committee. This morning, we walked around campus identifying tasks that needed to be done. I am now in charge of making sure they get done, directing work-traders when available. The list is long and random. Today, I worked on getting some of those smaller tasks done.

I look like an unhappy tree hugger in this picture. I am marking potential camp-sites. I have identified several tent-sites and one excellent platform site. I am hoping to head up the building of the platform.

The tree house needed massive cleaning. The pine needles were getting clogged in the cracks of the walkway, which can lead to rotting. While clearing them out with a pocketknife was a slow process, it was fairly easy and relaxing. I worked clearing the pine needles for a while, but then turned the assignment over to a work-trader so I could work on projects that required a little more skill or knowledge of the campus.

I thought I had gotten a before picture, but apparently, I did not. This ladder had a broken rung that needed replaced. Upon further inspection, I saw that the rung above the broken one had some rot issues happening. (These rungs are old - the tree is obviously growing around the rungs.) I spent the later part of my day repairing the two rungs using hardwood that had been cleared out of the concrete structure's site. The poplar rung (white) and the rung below it were my new additions. I'm actually extremely proud of myself for being able to do this without any guidance (other than what kind of wood to use.)

Anna, Ashley and I all went to visit the NBI project today. Last time I saw it, timbers had just been raised:

Today, it looks like this:

They started strawbaling today. It was a very exciting time.

In the picture above, Mike and Bryce re-tie bales. I apparently don't know the name of this mechanism, but it's very tight and precise. When I straw-baled for the studio that I worked on last summer, we used twine, tightening it by twisting it around a stick, then shoving the peg into the bale. Different approaches to the same problem.

The class notched out a corner of that bale and set it upright against a window frame. The notched corner fit the post.

Normally, bales are not placed vertically, but for lining the windows, it is appropriate.

The last two evenings for me have been lecture evenings. Yesterday was one of the Summer Lecture Series, which are free every Wednesday. Deva, the NBI instructor, spoke to us about natural building compared to green building. The room was packed.

Tonight, I sat in on the NBI's lecture on moisture content and heat flow in an earthen (primarily strawbale) structure. Took lots of notes (click to expand):

I am completely exhausted, but feel great. I've been running all day (I had breakfast duty this morning) but am very proud of what I'm doing. I've said it before, but I love being independent with projects - I love having the know-how to take on a project by myself. I feel confident with this list of things to do.

I start my Invisible Structures course tomorrow.