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Blog updates by Watershed Materials. Developments for sustainable new concrete block technology funded by the National Science Foundation.

Watershed One Demonstration House - Putting on the Finishing Touches

You'll notice that the post before this one was written a long time ago, back last winter when we put the roofs on, and then the crew relocated to Hillsborough to begin construction on a large and complex rammed earth house. That left the Watershed One house feeling stranded and abandoned. We were afraid it would be months before the Rammed Earth Works crew was back; but thanks to our archival roster of former employees and trusted subcontractors, plus a few lucky finds from Craigslist postings, we assembled a crew of carpenters, cabinet makers, concrete finishers, and iron workers. Soon after the first of the year we were back in business, only this time around with Cynthia and Juliet in charge rather than me.

Actually, this was as it should be, since they are detailed oriented, and details were what it took to bring it all together.

The biggest challenge was building the bridge over the water course, the suspended floor of the living room that connects the two block volumes.  Each of the three spaces is rotated 8 degrees, which meant the living room floor had non-parallel sides.  Adding to the complexity of cutting the joists was the fact that the southwest corner of the floor cantilevered fifteen feet from the block wall.  Think of a diving board hosting a cocktail party, then imagine a steel post mounted to the end of the board supporting 25% of an 8000 pound roof.  Oh yes, and there is a steel and wood deck projecting from the living room floor another four feet.  We had to design the steel guardrail as a vierendeel truss to stiffen the edge frame.

The porch rail, like the two on the interior stairs, incorporates 4" x 4" rock screen in the framework, the same type of screen we used when sorting boulders during the site excavation. We like the idea of putting construction materials into the finish work.  In fact, we carried this theme through to the end by using HDO forming plywood for all of the interior ceilings and walls rather than gypsum board.  We topped the roof membrane with 3/8" gravel, built the exterior stairs with pise rebound, laid 4" high Watershed blocks for the permeable paving, used rammed earth test blocks for stepping stones and planters for the herb garden, built all of the storage shelves out of cabinet plywood cut-offs, and brought the screened cobbles back to use as rock mulch over all of the drainage swales.

Finishing the house took a long time. Cynthia was on site every day from seven to six, peppered with questions as fast as Annie Oakley could shoot. Juliet was on the computer drawing SK's and as-builts at about the same pace. Some days it was one step forward and two backward, but those were few. Mostly it was a team of talented craftsmen working together to assemble a first-run, contemporary modest masterpiece, all designed to celebrate the launch of the Watershed Blocks.

I've put together a few of the many photos taken during the final months. The pictures illustrate some of the challenges encountered along the way. They also showcase the use of how "construction" materials can double as finish.