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Ketter-McDiarmid House

Steve and Chris
Ketter-McDiarmid

Before we share some of the experiences of our cordwood home "journey", we should explain that neither of us ever attempted anything even remotely like building a house. Not even a doghouse. Not even a birdhouse. We had the desire, and the dream, and we hoped that with some tools (which we had yet to acquire) and with enough trips to the library (first carpentry books, then roofing, then plumbing, then electrical, etc, etc), we could learn what we needed to go for it.

Our cordwood home building was a three stage process. We began by dismantling an old, abandoned 1800's home, which took us about 8 months (working on weekends only). We kept the original stone foundation (circa 1860's) which provided a full basement space. That foundation measured about 18X18, and we planned to use it to construct a small guest house, as a sort of practice for a larger, round cordwood home on another part of our land.

As the process unfolded to the second stage, that of actually building the new structure, one idea lead to another, and before long we were extending the stone foundation (welcome to masonry"!), expanding out the back and out over the kitchen bay. Then the front porch became the dining room, and the entrance way became enclosed as our front vestibule. Suddenly the floor plan became large enough to qualify as our true home, and practice was going to have to be the real thing (and "guests" would have to bring a tent!).

The construction we chose incorporated a post-and-beam frame of locally sawn oak, to enable us to erect the roof before filling-in the cordwood walls. The massive oak posts were 9"X9", with the tallest ones weighing almost 600 pounds. Erecting them by hand, with the help of some good friends, was a very challenging and satisfying part of the "homeing" process. The most challenging placements were the 12 foot long 6"X8" rafters, hoisted by block-and-tackle up to their final resting place 18 feet above the floor. Perhaps they were also the most satisfying as they successfully wedged down into their angled positions - calculated and chiseled on the ground with no opportunity for any adjustments! After the timbers came the roof, complete with tongue-and-groove vaulted ceiling above the rafters and purlins (we were even beginning to learn the lingo!).

 

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Our finished home ended up just under 1,000 square feet, including the loft. The basement provides us with another 600 square feet of storage/work space. Also during this second phase, we changed our cordwood building medium from 12 inch oak, which refused to yield its bark, to 9 inch red cedar. The choice of the cedar presented itself when we suddenly realized that our land was blessed with rows and rows of old barbed-wire fence on cedar posts, which we were planning on taking down anyway. When we began to pull the old posts (some over 50 years old) we were in awe to find that the majority of them were still as solid as could be and, when cut to 9 inch lengths with our miter saw, showed their beautiful red heart and special cedar aroma. And so our building material became a wonderful example of true recycling within our piece of land. The curious passerby and neighbor, however, wondered what we could possibly be planning to do with that pile of old fence posts!


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Once roofed-in, we began the exciting process of the cordwood infill. Perhaps exciting is not the most appropriate word. The floor, the timber-framing, and the roof took us about seven months (mostly three-day weekends), but now there was no holding us back! Cutting the cedar fence-posts to nine inch lengths went quickly with our 12" miter saw, and before we knew it we were mixing mortar in the wheel-barrel and filling-in our first section of wall. Chris became the expert "pointer". (In fact she ended up pointing every single log end in the entire house! She's just full of "pointers" now!) The cordwood process went quickly, in part because we were now devoting full-time, seven days a week to the house. Three months later we laid-up our last piece of cedar, and spent the next two weeks installing our red oak hard wood floor.

 

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Wrought iron spiral staircase finally replaced our temporary ladder to the loft bedroom, which also marked the end of the "cat-ramp" for our very patient, but not ladder-capable, pet cat. Internal plumbing and wiring commenced and continue to this day. (Perhaps I should have said that our house is a four stage process!)


Well we moved in - ready or not, and continue to complete internal details like drywall, tiling, etc. ("Chris, where is the how-to-book on drywall?"). But we love it more than we had imagined, and would encourage anyone else to give it a whirl!

One important note: we did attend a seminar on cordwood construction with Rob and Jackie Roy in Wisconsin, which was invaluable in giving us the initial confidence to move forward.

One more important note: this cordwood site (the "Masons") was also a great source of information and inspiration (and even some enlightening "discussion"). Thanks to you all, and just enjoy the whole process. Enjoy this day!

~Steve & Chris~

Click on the above image for a larger view.