Dedicated Project Visits Continued

William Cleaver will be joining us at Factor e Farm on May 1 for a Dedicated Project Visit. He’s coming from across the big pond – from the United Kingdom – and we are planning for a 3 month stay.

William is not a novice to creative dexterity – he’s involved in repair and demolition of industrial chimney stacks and natural draught cooling towers – at heights. See for yourself:

He has experience with various tools, welding brickwork, ropework, woodwork, and general shop.  He’s traveled the world, studied Romance languages, taught English in Chile, and is certified to teach high ropes courses. He is now showing great interest in the deeper message of post-scarcity, resilient community creation.

We discussed the following tentative plan, with both of us working in the shop and as needed:

May – Work on finishing or building Sawmill/LifeTrac II/MicroTrac II/ anciliary implements for construction – all in preparation for building.

June – begin building autonomous, zero energy housing with solar space. Experiment with CEB floors, CEB masonry stove and chimney, stabilized bricks, stabilized reject lime bricks, stabilized brick walkway and driveway, stabilized retaining walls, and others. We plan on winter food garden and sprouting in the solar space. If progress on the steam engine goes well, we’ll aim to install combined heat and power on the masonry stove.

July – continue building until comfortable accommodations for the winter are ready for several people.

We’re looking at building zero energy homes that look tentatively like this:

(Credits: Aigars Bruvelis in Blender)

Here is a CEB floor example from Abe at Vela Creations:

See more of his photos here.

Other than this, William is learning Kdenlive on Linux for movie editing, as well as and QCad for CAD work. These are staple tools now at Factor e Farm. William will begin preparing some of the technical drawings for the sawmill, so we can collaborate on making that happen over distance until his arrival.

We do want to consider bringing in additional help from the CEB general contractor, Floyd (see last blog post). We will consider hosting a CEB workshop if progress is good. If the CEB fabrication is going well – there could be resources generated to really get things moving forward, and continue to build more structures. I think now is the beginning of really settling into the land – and getting the place to look half-way presentable. We’re open to all kinds of ideas, such as the proposed CEB vault construction and others – but we’d need other people to get involved to push those projects forward. Otherwise, we’re sticking to basics and all types of experiments in the process.


  1. Abe

    We made some CEB additions to our house this year, and the entire house has CEB floors. These CEBs are stabilized with about 3-5% portland, I think. In any case, they worked very well, the walls went up fast, and the floors even faster. I suggest installing a radiant heating system under your floor as well.

    We’ve got info about this on our blog, and one day, it will be fully documented on our site.

  2. simsimonion

    Just for consideration and not really serious: Could plants be used to stabilize a CEB wall like construction? So that they provide stability by filling gaps and growing heavily were strength is needed and pressure is felt by the plants?

  3. Marcin

    Abe, do tell us more on the specifics of the CEB floor technique. We’re ready to listen.

    Also, where are you getting your bricks?

  4. Abe


    For the floor construction, it goes likes this:

    Level and compact a base sand level (8-12 inches deep). Put down a good vapor barrier (we used 6 mil black poly). They lay down some 1-2″ insulation. On top of the insulation, we laid down remesh, then did a serpentine pattern of 1/2″ PEX piping for radiant floor heater. Once the PEX is in place, do a layer of 1-2″ of very fine sand. Level this very well, as it is the base for your bricks. Then, starting at one end of the room, lay bricks according to whatever pattern you want. Once you have the majority of bricks done in a room, you can go back and finish up the edges (we poured fine cement on the edges, but you can cut bricks).

    Once you have everything in there, dump a bunch of VERY fine sand on top of the bricks, and sweep into the cracks. Do this every 4-5 days for a few weeks to get everything filled up. Once it is like you want it, seal with linseed oil or a concrete floor sealing (we used Kure N Seal by BASF, very good, hard finish). Any oil based varnish will seal them up.

    That’s all there is to it. It is actually very simple, and extremely durable.

    Here are some more details and photos:


    All Brick floor posts:

    Our bricks are made about an hour away by a small company. They have a large machine that puts out about 16 bricks a minute. They stabilize all of their bricks. They cost about $0.20 per brick delivered, so it is hard for us to justify making them ourselves, although we have excellent soil for it.

    I would like to build a manual press for a later extension on the house. I think I could get better than they do on uniformity of the bricks, and a finer finish for floors.

    They are great in walls, too! 🙂 But they come out to be a lot easier and cheap than a poured slab floor with tile or carpet. Even the slab by itself costs more than the bricks.

  5. Marcin

    Abe, thanks for sharing your substantial experience. We’ll compare floors once we get ours put in this summer.

    What is remesh? Can you specify it more closely?

    How did you attach the PEX so it would not pop upwards?

    Do you know if latex-based stone sealer works well?

    Is your hydronic system operational? What pump are you using, and what are its energy requirements?

    Regarding your brick source, do you know the % of stabilization, I assume with Portland cement?

  6. Abe


    Remesh is floor reinforcement mesh, usually 6″ by 6″, non galvanized mesh. It’s what people put in slabs for reinforcement. We use it to hold down the PEX tubing.

    Ties the PEX to the remesh using zip ties, wire, whatever.

    I have no idea about latex-based stone sealer. I imagine it will work, but it will probably be more expensive.

    We haven’t gotten the radiant floor heating system completely functional, but I do have the pump. It is a pump used for computer cooling purposes. It pulls 10 watts at 12 VDC. Here is info on that pump:

    As for the stabilization %, I am not sure. I would say 5%, probably. I think it is portland, but they might be using lime. I’ll check next time I go up their way. I have used 5% lime in adobe with excellent results. Also, 5% portland works well, so I imagine it is around that sort of %.

  7. c.t.mummey

    im excited to see the new version of the microtrac. will you be selling these? its a several thousand for a good walking tractor.

  8. Solar Village 2010 | Open Source Ecology

    […] William and I have been hashing out the details of construction for the coming year. Our plan is at this wiki page and further details on techniques to be used are here. We are currently planning on a CEB-straw bale hybrid – a double CEB brick wall with straw bale inside. With R-value expected to be at least 40 in this route – making it a super-insulated house. Add the solar space in front, and we would not need a pile of firewood for winter, as shown in the following video. The video shows the location for this construction – close to the water well so we can have year-round water without doing too much trenching for water pipe. Noteworthy features are CEB floor, masonry stove, living roof, rainwater catchment, greenhouse in front, open source air-powered water pump, our own lumber, CEB water cistern, and keyhole growing space right in front. This means that in May, we will build LifeTrac II, PowerCube II, and the sawmill. In June and July, we’ll test the toolchain – cut lumber, test stabilized and lime bricks, do the well pump and prepare water lines, do site preparation, build trusses from our lumber, prepare brick rollers, test slurry mixes, and other details. If we’re on top of it, we’ll begin the wall-raising on August 1st, and hold a CEB hybrid construction workshop. […]

  9. Masonry | Open Source Ecology

    […] William took a course on brick laying last week back in the UK, in preparation for construction of Solar Village 2010 this year at Factor e Farm. Here is some documentation from his course: Our building concept for this year is evolving to double CEB brick walls, each 1 foot thick – with a 2.5 foot cavity. We have a hammer mill, and plan on chopping up large round hay bales to fill this cavity around the entire house. For the roof, we plan on a 1 foot deep cavity – the depth of the roof trusses – filled with the same chopped straw for insulation. If the bricks and hay are essentially free, we are talking of a low-cost, super-insulated structure. The insulated cavity and its thermal performance is documented in a white paper on Chinese greenhouses. We are also considering a thermal insulation blanket as shown here. […]

  10. […] finally arrived at Factor e Farm for my dedicated project visit. Meet me – and find out why I came here and what I will do in the next 3 […]

  11. Elliot Hallamrk

    Regarding the use of reject lime.

    to my knowledge:

    The burning and slaking of lime are an art that requires attention. reject lime is over or under burnt lime which cannot be properly slaked in an economic manner. Is this correct?

    If for some reason (overburning, higher than expected magnesium content, greater than expected hydraulicity from clay impurities) the lime cannot be slaked by the means at the disposal of the lime operation, the end user must take the cause of the poor slaking into account.

    free lime, resulting from improper slaking, is *death* to whatever is being built. lime which slakes from moist air or water *after* it is incorporated into a concrete will expand, creating tremendous internal pressures.

    Le chatlier, in his famous book on the constitution of hydraulic cements, sites an experiment where 1% free lime is added to a high quality portland cement. The swelling of the cement increased from negligible to %10 and compressive strength dropped to 1/3. That was finely divided, well mixed lime. A single small grain of unslaked lime in a portland briquette will crack the whole thing when it slakes.

    so, are there chunks in your reject lime? Those aren’t inert, those are a serious problem (unless they are set hydraulic lime). if they are chunks of higher magnesium lime or overburnt lime then they will eventually (over years) hydrate and swell.

    reject lime is sometimes treated in an autoclave by the lime manufacturer if it is economically viable. weeks, moths or years (as pliney the elder recommends: 3 years) or resting as a putty will also probably be effective.

    Please contact me if you want to discuss this.

    -elliot hallmark

  12. Elliot Hallamrk

    edit: weeks, months or years *of* resting as a putty.

  13. Zach Dwiel

    What kind of progress has been made on this front? I am currently designing a similar house for construction starting next spring and am hoping to incorporate any lessons you guys learned.

    1. Marcin

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