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GSBN: Digest for 10/26/04



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-> Re: GSBN:Danny Buck's SB water problem
     by Paul Lacinski paul@...


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Date: 26 Oct 2004 06:40:09 -0600
From: Paul Lacinski paul@...
Subject: Re: GSBN:Danny Buck's SB water problem

Danny,

I, too, have dealt with my share of moisture problems- so far all in
buildings both designed and constructed by other people.  But given
what we know now about the way we were doing things 10 (or even 5)
years ago, I must humbly submit that that statistic is likely to
change.  Hopefully not soon.

Following are some thoughts in an order that bears no correspondence
to your own:

1. Retaining the interior plaster should be possible, if you can
avoid excessive vibration as you move toward the inner part of the
bale wall.  Chansaws should be OK, sawzalls are not a great idea.  A
diamond blade on a circular saw works very well for cutting away
plates of exterior stucco, especially if you don't have mesh and
tie-wires anchoring through the wall.

2.  Sandblasting is a way bigger deal than it sounds.  We had a
similar situation on a house where a valley leaked for 6 years before
I got the call.  Needless to say, a section of wall needed to be
replaced.  But because the repair was near the front door, I had the
bright idea to sandblast a large section of paint (over cement
stucco, over dry, remaining bales) in order to tie it all back
together with a uniform finish coat.  You definitely want a
sandblaster that runs off a tow-behind compressor, like that used for
the Quik-spray.  And even this is slow, producing a cone of sand of
maybe 2" diameter, which you move slowly across the wall. Plus you're
trapped inside a foggy hood, with a small and rather sandblasted pane
of glass through which to peer out at your work.   I have never
cleaned a shower with a toothbrush, but I'm pretty sure the
psychological effect is the same.   My point here is that your time
estimate should run toward the pessimistic. and also that you
shouldn't stop calling around until you're confident that you've
found the largest sandblaster  available.  But there is one piece of
good news- contrary to what the rental guys tell you, you can recycle
the sand; you just need to run it through fine screening, like a
window screen.  Otherwise, you would probably be looking at hundreds
of bags of sand for this job.

3.  If you have any significant areas of saturation in the lower
parts of the wall, you would be wise to have a close look at the
bottom of the wall.  Not surprisingly, once liquid water reaches the
base of the wall, it spreads horizontally.  And if the supply has
been both large and concentrated, it can spread for a significant
distance.  I would guess this would also be the case along the
horizontal concrete beams.   The good news is that if the source is
really the window sills, you should be able to cut the plaster off
the lower section of the walls, and remove both plaster and bales,
and the material above will support itself by its connection to
interior plaster, concrete columns, and any window framing.  You may
prop up the core of the wall as you go, but I think you will be
amazed by how self-supporting the remaining bale and plaster panel
is.  It truly acts as a SIP.

4.  Are the window bucks floating in the wall, or are they anchored
to vertical framing?  In this system, I can see where they might be
floating, as the builders would have had nothing to anchor the top of
the framing to until after the walls were up.  In this case, you may
be in luck- if you remove a panel of straw and bale below the window,
but leave it at the sides and top, the window buck will just stay
there.  It should then be possible to retrofit a flashing pan from
below, either of bituthane or aluminum or lead.  I guess ideally this
would turn up the sides of the  buck by a few inches.  I suppose the
concern here is that if the buck were within the flashing pan, would
the buck framing itself eventually rot out?  Maybe someone else can
comment, here.

5. Re-inserting bales.  You may find, once you actually begin to
remove straw, that the extent of the musty zone is beyond the extent
of the wet zone.  In this case you may as well rip out more straw
while you're at it.  It sounds, in this case, that replacing larger
sections will almost be easier than replacing smaller sections, as
you can make custom-length bales to go between the concrete columns.
I assume that these intervals will be quite regular.  Though it will
be heresy to some on this list, I wouldn't shy away from using spray
foam to fill small gaps (especially back against the interior
plaster) that you can't practically get at in other ways.

5.  Insurance.  I would hesitate to go after the original architect/
builder's insurance, unless you or the owner has some reason to
suspect that he or she acted negligently- which I woud define as
intentionally proceeding with an inferior technique, while
understanding the potential consequences.  This is a very different
thing from making an honest mistake.  We all understand that straw
bale construction is still an immature technology, and that people
who build sb houses are taking a risk.  I make this abundantly clear
to everyone who calls, usually in the first conversation.  (It sorts
out the litigious and faint of heart.)  Now, if the builder led the
homeowners to believe otherwise; if they were sold the idea of SB
construction, or this particular brand of SB construction, with
assurances of success, then the burden of liability is shifted
entirely onto the builder.

I would be more inclined to go after the homeowners' insurance.  This
is why people pay for insurance- fire damage, water damage, the big
stuff that most people can't afford to pay for out-of-pocket.  They
probably won't pay for fixing the source of the problem (like a poor
roof or window design) because those are structural components of the
building which are supposed to be built well and maintained by the
owner.  But they will likely pay for the resulting damage.   This has
been my experience on two repair projects.  Of course there is a
philosophical issue here, as well- if there are too many water damage
claims, SB is going to be in a tough place with insurance companies.
But SB homeowners do deserve to receive the coverage they have paid
for....

6. Those wise members of this list who have suggested changing the
roof might ultimately be right.  This is a horrible thing to talk
about from a distance, without ever seeing the building.  Maybe it's
just impossible, physically or visually.  But if it is possible, I
think you need to pause in the midst of this headache and consider
this possibility- what if you fix all this, and it happens again?  I
had this very experience on the house with the six-year leak.  I
replaced the bales, and got on a base coat of plaster.  The roof was
supposedly repaired, but in fact it was not.  I came back some time
later to apply a lime coat, and there was a very noticeable wet
patch.  (And, on closer inspection, a mushroom or two.)  Then a
different roofer came, and re-shingled the problem zone.   I ripped
out much of my previous work, and started again.  I was unhappy, the
owner was unhappy, the insurance company was unhappy.  I don't
recommend this.

I guess that will be it for now.  Please keep us posted on your
progress (both thoughts and action) and best of luck!

Paul
- --
Paul M. Lacinski
GreenSpace Collaborative
Sidehill Farm
Mail: PO Box 107
Packages: 463 Main Street
Ashfield, MA 01330 USA
(001) 413 628 3800

View excerpts from Serious Straw Bale at:
<a  target="_blank" href="http://www.chelseagreen.com/2004/items/seriousstrawbale";>http://www.chelseagreen.com/2004/items/seriousstrawbale</a>

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