Excerpt from The Stucco Book, The Basics by Herb Nordmeyer
“Let’s get away from the chemistry for a little bit and look at a wall that is freshly plastered. IT tends to be a dark gray color. As time passes, some areas of the dark gray fade to a lighter gray. As more time passes more of the dark gray fades to a lighter gray. That dark gray color indicates that there is plenty of moisture present in the mud for chemical hydration to continue. That lighter gray color indicates that there is not enough moisture present for the chemical hydration to continue. That is a slight oversimplification, but pretty accurate.
If the wall dries out, it is difficult to get it wetted down again to re-create that dark gray stucco color. As a result, it is best to moisten the wall as often as necessary to prevent the dehydration. You are not trying to add water to the stucco, but rather to add as much water to the surface of the stucco as evaporates from the stucco.
The rate of hydration of the cement molecules is temperature-dependent. At lower temperatures, the rate slows and almost stops. If the wall freezes during the first 24 hours after applying the mud, the water in the wall turns to ice and expands. That is why ice floats on top of liquid water. When the water in the stucco freezes, it also expands and puts pressure on the stucco. This causes bonds to break and pieces of stucco to come loose. As a result, the stucco should not be allowed to freeze during that first critical 24 hours. After that first critical 24 hours, a portion of the water in the stucco has been chemically combined with the cement molecules. With that and with a minor loss of water from the stucco due to evaporation, there is some space within the stucco, so if the wall freezes, there is a possibility that no frost damage will occur. With each passing day, the wall can handle more freezing.
The first step in successfully curing stucco is to arrange your schedule so you do not have to apply stucco when freezing weather is anticipated or when strong drying conditions are likely to exist. f freezing weather is anticipated, plan the construction of the protection before you apply any stucco. After the stucco is applied, encloses it with protection and add gentle heat. A little heat over a long period of time is more effective than a lot of heat over a short period of time.
In hot weather, plan your day so you are never plastering in the sun. Come out early and start on the west walls so they will have a long curing period before the sun hits them. Then move to the southern walls. After the sun passes its zenith, move tot the eastern walls, and finally finish on the northern walls.
So, how should a wall be moistened? Use a Hudson-type garden sprayer. Wait until the wall is thumbprint hard, so water will not erode it, and then lightly moisten the entire wall. If you use a garden hose, you may erode some of the stucco. Spray the wall whenever the wall starts appearing just a little bit light.”
More details about curing stucco and a variety of other topics including application techniques, lath materials, the chemistry and history of stucco are available in The Stucco Book, The Basics by Herb Nordmeyer.
Papa Carney is a very ambitious grandfather, he recently completed a backyard model train and garden project with his family and had a blast building a larger than life concrete mountain. He used a mortar sprayer to apply his concrete and even got some help from the youngest family member.
This DIY mountain was constructed using a combination of wood, chickenwire and fabric as the base followed by multiple layers of concrete applied with the 4 Jet Wall Blaster. They loved the texture of the concrete using the sprayer so they left it au natural and then stained the mountain with a variety of liquid stains using standard garden spray bottles. See the video below and follow this link to the original blog post on Papa Carney’s blog.
Without color, stucco can be drab and unattractive. Stucco will take on the color of the components its made of including sand, gray or white portland cement or lime. A dry iron oxide pigment can be integrated into the stucco during the mixing process to give a deep layer of color which will keep the application consistent over time even if the building sustains any damage. Or, a stain can be applied after installation and drying is complete, this will give greater control especially if there’s a need to match the color of an existing stucco wall for example during the construction of a home expansion or adding to an existing building.
If a wall contains a waterproofing coating or polymer-modified cement, the stain will not absorb into the wall. The best path of greatest success is to apply a stain to new stucco wall, or an existing stucco wall free of any paint, stain or sealers. Start with staining a small inconspicuous area, allow it to dry and make sure the final color is what you want. You can add additional layers of stain to achieve a darker color. Use a Hudson-type sprayer to apply your stain, several lighter coats will give better results than one heavy coat. Wait one week or more and decide if you want to add more.
More info is available in The Stucco Book, The Basics by Herb Nordmeyer
Stucco has a reputation for cracking, one solution is to add fiber to the mix. The fiber creates an interconnected three dimensional web suspended within the stucco or plaster moving in every direction and linked, to reduce cracking and improve the overall strength of the entire installation. Premixed bagged stucco and custom mix designs with fibers are readily available online and positive reviews as well as heated discussions abound for each type of fiber including metal, PVA, Fiberglass, Polypropylene, Nylon and Asbestos.
The fibered mixes come from the historical practice of using animal hair often horse hair in plaster mixes to enhance the strength and reduce cracking of plaster and stucco mixes. Below is a short description and a few pros and cons of each type of fiber.
Asbestos has a long history going back to the time of the Romans. It was found to enhance the flexural strength of concrete but was also used for textiles to make table cloths and other utilitarian fabrics. It was thin, lightweight and when proportioned properly it was a great benefit to any concrete mix, plus it seemed to last forever. More recently, asbestos was used into the 1950s for siding, roofing, and pipes. Once it was found to cause cancer it fell out of popularity but an alternative that is as effective and economical has yet to be developed.
Fiberglass was developed shortly before World War II, it was marketed as a replacement to steel mesh for stucco as it could be mixed directly into the concrete. With time, the makers of fiberglass fiber for concrete switched to advertising it as a way to enhance a concrete mix but not as a replacement to the structural elements of a project. Fiberglass is still a popular choice for mixing into concrete, there are two main grades, E-glass which is less expensive and AR-glass which stands for alkali-resistant.
Polypropylene fiber came onto the market after fiberglass and was promoted as a way to increase compressive strength and tensile strength. It was pointed out though that the polypropylene fibers would melt at fairly low temperatures and would often become quite brittle once added to a wet concrete mix, therefore losing any of its benefits over fiberglass.
Nylon has been around since before fiberglass or polypropylene but it was not used in concrete. The nylon industry jumped on board as the polypropylene fibers began to fizzle out. Fiberglass salesmen pointed out the pitfalls of nylon such that nylon was very stiff and would stick out of any stucco or plaster wall. Also, it would absorb moisture when the wall became wet and then shrink once it dried out losing its bond to the stucco.
When one hears about steel fiber for the first time, they may imagine something like a chopped up piece of steel wool. The steel fiber sold for the stucco industry is often 1 ¼” long by ¼” wide and 1/16” thick. This is most used and effective in the shotcrete industry, not recommended in stucco.
Other fibers are available on the market and there is a long explanation of adding fibers to mixes in Herb Nordmeyer’s book The Stucco Book, The Basics.
Congratulations goes to Herb Nordmeyer for his continued work to help the recovery effort for the built environment in Haiti. Nordmeyer has been working tirelessly for several years to teach people how to build disaster resistant affordable homes, working with crews throughout Haiti he has lifted bar for quality affordable housing across the island while also ensuring a properly trained workforce will continue to construct communities using proper concrete mix designs and building techniques to withstand future natural disasters. Nordmeyer will receive the Four Chaplains Award February 4th, 2017 at the St Francis Episcopal Church in San Antonio.
For the last four years, Herb Nordmeyer along with an outreach crew from his home church, Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church and Mission Haiti, have been visiting Haiti and helping local communities build concrete dome homes and community buildings. Herb has begun teaching a college-level course on concrete inspection and building techniques to withstand a variety of natural disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. He also published a book about his experiences in Haiti called Homes for Jubilee.
Under Nordmeyer’s guidance, the local crews have built a number of dome structures using balloon forms from Monolithic Dome Institute and a basalt rope rebar to reinforce a custom structural concrete mix. The balloon form is placed over a circular concrete slab 30 feet in diameter and remains expanded until the various layers of concrete and basalt rebar are thick enough to support itself. Final thickness is designed to be 2 ½ inches with slight variations across each project.
Nordmeyer will continue visiting Haiti throughout 2017 to oversee the ongoing construction projects and continue teaching at the American University of the Caribbean. His goal is to complete a second book before the end of 2017 which will be a form of training manual focused on quality concrete mixing and installation for regions prone to seismic activity and natural disasters.
The need continues for expert volunteers to provide training to skilled and semi-skilled crews throughout Haiti as well as donations of used, fully-operational equipment and tools. To provide donations or inquire about volunteering contact:
2269 S. University Drive, No. 227
Davie, FL 33324
A friend and artist Mikey Sklar took on the challenge of stuccoing a shipping container. Shipping containers are widely available and fairly affordable from a housing perspective around the world. But one major issue with shipping containers is that they heat up fast during a hot summer day and are not insulated from the cold in winter. A standard stucco application of 3/4″ to 1″ in depth will add a layer insulation, raise the R value significantly and create a comfortable temperature inside the container for a cozy, homey environment. Take a look at the video below and see how Mikey used his 4 Jet Wall Blaster to easily apply the stucco. Mikey’s stucco mix was actually a papercrete mix he designed himself. To learn more about papercrete follow this link.
We got this great video and some photos from a customer recently of his incredible concrete pool installation with a cave, water slide and rope swing. Check out the video below to see how it turned out and get some inspiration for your next project. Mike used metal rebar with an overlay of SpiderLath to create the entire cave, slide and tree structure. He applied his gunite layer using the 3 Jet Wall Gun.
I built the whole cave with the mortar sprayer, except a structural dry gunite coat on the inside of the cave after it was built. Its a great tool and can do the same work of very expensive shotcrete pumps just takes you longer. But for a guy starting out its a must have tool and I’m glad i have one.
See more work by Mike’s company Bazay Construction on Facebook.
While at the Northeast Deco-Crete Conference we got to try out the new Proline reclaimed Timber table top mold. It is exceptional with the look of 200 year old barn wood and the durability of concrete. This mold is incredibly durable and reusable, the final product is very authentic and the mold comes directly from a true reclaimed timber table. Deco-Crete is based in Orrville Ohio and carry all the tools and materials needed to complete successful decorative concrete projects including stamps, molds, brushes, GFRC mixes, paints and stains, etc…
This project was made using the 3 Jet Downward Sprayer and reinforced by a layer of SpiderLath inlaid in the middle of the table. The SpiderLath helps to reduce the chance of shrinkage cracks and long-term cracking or breaking, it reinforces the entire table and gives it greater strength from edge to edge. The mix was evenly applied and allowed the the GFRC fibers in the mix to properly disperse throughout. Hand packing will often compact the fibers and prevent them from achieving adequate dispersion.
We shot the face coat with the Deco-Crete GFRC mix. It is the same as the backer mix but without the fiber.
Here is the mix formula:
2.5 pounds Duracast modifier
0.5 ounce Deco-Crete Superflow
6 pounds water
20 pounds Portland cement
The Deco-Crete East Coast training program is a yearly event free for all contractors, suppliers and fans of Deco-Crete products. Learn more about the products and training at Deco-CreteSupply.com. Deco-Crete is a distributor of ToolCrete sprayers to check their stock and purchase a sprayer call (330) 682-5678.
This past year’s Concrete Decor Show took place in Fort Worth Texas. Before the show began there were two days of training classes at the Presbyterian Night Shelter just a few minute drive from the main event at the Forth Worth Convention Center. Nathan Giffin of Vertical Artisans worked with a team of students to complete a faux stone entryway complete with benches and planters. He and his team worked for 2 1/2 days using a combination of vertical carving mixes, styrofoam, hand tools, a mortar sprayer and a collection of paints and stains to complete the stone entryway with hanging pots and two big planters. Here is a collection of photos of that project, learn more about Nathan’s training courses, events and join his online forum at VerticalArtisans.com.
Coloring stucco, plaster and other cementitious materials is a great way to have everlasting color in your walls, concrete countertops, pools, etc…
Jeremy French of BLUE Concrete explains how to formulate and pigment your mix for your next project.
Pigments come in an unlimited variety and can be combined to make or match almost any color. Some basics colors to have in your kit include earthen pigment colors like greens, blues, yellows, browns, black and white. These earth colors are popular choices for exterior stucco and interior plaster applications.
Integral color via pigments like these are wonderful for long lasting beautiful walls, sculptures and other projects. The integrated pigments allow the color to last and stand up to the elements including attacks from the sun, rain, wind and humans! Accidents and paint can’t always hold up like a stucco or plaster wall with integral color.
Thorough dispersion is important for a consistent color across your stucco wall. During the mixing process add all your liquids and 80% of the dry components. Add in all of the pigment and mix thoroughly before adding the final dry ingredients. The sand will help break down the pigments and disperse it throughout, be sure to follow manufacturers instructions for mixing.
Nathan Bernard, owner of the Yachats Farm Store and Yachats Brewing is in the middle of constructing a 3 story addition using the FasWall blocks. We got to spend a day with him as he began applying the first coat of interior stucco (Stucco Core Mix). Watch the video below where he gives a tour of the project and explains the construction process. Nathan used a 4 Jet Combo Blaster to apply the stucco while a second crew member followed behind troweling the wall to a consistent 3/8″ layer. The scratch coat was followed by the brown coat, also 3/8″ and the finish coat 1/4″. The sand Nathan started with was a sharp mixed grade gray sand that had some aggregate that was quite large that worked fine for the scratch and brown coat. Nathan wanted the final coat to be as white as possible so they used a white portland cement and a mixed grade sharp white sand. Yachats Brewing plans to begin operation this October. Until then the Farm Store is open serving lunch 11-3 and offering over a dozen brews from Western Oregon. You can learn more about the FasWall system at FasWall.com or call (855) 558-4588 and ask for Tom. If you’re looking for a sprayer or stucco mix for your next project give us a call at (541) 683-4167 or email info@MortarSprayer.com.
Nathan spraying the HERB-CRETE Stucco.
Nathan spraying his first wall.
Spray, Trowel, Spray, Trowel…
Local, organic heirloom tomatoes!
List of current brews on tap.
Back troweling the first coat of stucco to create greater adhesion with the second coat.
We have some incredibly creative customers and they always amaze us with the most wonderful projects. Here is a collection of images and videos from theater, tv and film sets from across the US. These folks have turned to their mortar sprayer for help when nothing else could do the job. Some projects include sets for caves, mountains, rock formations castles and even traditional stucco and plaster house designs that are durable and mounted for easy movement.
Many of these very authentic looking designs are created on a foam base to make transport fast and easy. Boulders can look to weight a ton but because of the foam core can easily roll or be picked up and thrown across the stage. With the appropriate mix design, a durable long lasting application will make setup easy and tear down fast. Set changes can be fast and easy and when needed all pieces can be easily transported.
Check out the photos and videos below of various set designs all created with the help of a Mortar Sprayer.
This is a film set created by Dael Keplinger daelart.com
This castle was designed for a theatrical production, the set was created to be moved in pieces, lightweight and durable.
This is set for a haunted theme park Spooky Woods in North Carolina, Kersey Valley.
This is a tree made with of an extremely flexible and durable material called Elephant Armor.
And just for fun, here are some sculptures designed by in house artist Cameron Chapman at the Australia Zoo.
To discuss your project and find out which tool and materials will be best please give us a call or email us at (800) 669.3272 or info@MortarSprayer.com.
Recently we visited a jobsite where the FasWall system was being used to construct the basement walls of a new home. FasWall insulated wood chip-cement forms are made of recycled material and extremely environmentally friendly. Building with this approach is a fantastic choice for anyone looking to go Green and especially if you’re located in the Pacific Northwest. These forms are manufactured exclusively by ShelterWorks ltd in Philomath OR and are designed to create a highly insulated, breathable and clean environment.
Thermal mass is a very real benefit of the Faswall® green building system. It significantly reduces the energy needed to heat and cool buildings. It creates an elegant interior living space as both humidity and temperature remains constant. -FasWall.com
Using FasWall is easy and fast for a DIY home builder, in conjunction with a stucco sprayer and a premium breathable stucco, a team of 2 or 3 can construct the walls and apply the stucco easily. Watch this video below to see how one homeowner applied his stucco in just one day.
Applying HERB-CRETE Stucco Core Mix™ directly to the FasWall forms using a 3 Jet Wall Gun.
These guys worked fast and efficiently using their sprayer, the scaffolding helped them quickly move up and down the wall.
The mixing station- For the best mix be sure to use a tow-behind mortar mixer.
After spraying, another guy followed closely behind to trowel everything smooth.
Covering the walls after applying the stucco is very important for proper curing. This ensures the final strength of the wall.
It’s very important to clean the Mortar Sprayer and putting it in a bucket of water during any downtime to keep it from clogging with dried stucco.
Closeup of the FasWall form.
Click the links below to learn more about each of these products…
Bill Foster of SpiderLath recently made a huge donation of the finest fiberglass lath to the West Coast Training Center in Lorane OR. This lath will be used in the upcoming Decorative Concrete Training Course run by Nathan Giffin of VerticalArtisans.com. Nathan will be joined by some of the finest minds in decorative concrete April 28 – May 2 for the 3rd annual West Coast Training Seminar.
The West Coast Training Center is an underground house built in the 1960s and is currently being renovated into a hobbit home (see concept drawing here). Each room will be occupied by a different trainer, each applying their own distinctive and signature design to the room while keeping with the central hobbit theme.
- Nathan Giffin- VerticalArtisans.com
- Steve Kornher- FlyingConcrete.com
- David Seils- WallSculpture.net
- Earl Senchuk- EarlSenchuk.com
- Ellie Ellis- EliteArtistryByEllie.com
Read more about the upcoming course and signup here.
Monolithic Structures has been perfecting the process of building dome shelter for decades. Gary Clark, VP of Sales in Italy Texas gave us a tour of their world headquarters recently and showed us what years of testing and perfecting can produce. Watch this video as Gary shows us around and describes the process of building EcoShells with basalt rebar and a mortar sprayer and see what amazing things they can build.
Did you know that a dome is one of the most structurally sound designs in the world. Monolithic domes stand up to natural disasters with great success including tornadoes, earthquakes and hurricanes. Monolithic Structures has built their domes across the world in 49 states and 52 foreign countries.
Watch this video and get in touch to discuss your project.
UPDATE: The last classes have been wonderful as a time to learn and also make connections in the industry that have not been possible in other formats. The next class will be in September 2015. If you are interested in themed concrete as a profession or an art please contact Nathan Giffin early at: firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s that time of year again, Nathan Giffin is gearing up to join us here in Oregon for the 3rd training program at the West Coast Training Center. If you’re interested in learning from the best about vertical decorative concrete clear your calendar between April 28 and May 2nd. The West Coast Training Center is an underground house located in Lorane OR. It was built in the 1960s and is now the location of this yearly gathering of the finest minds in decorative concrete.
Teachers at this year’s training will include…
Nathan Giffin, VerticalArtisans.com– Nathan is the organizer and leader of this training program. He is a Chicago born decorative concrete master who travels the world constructing some of the most amazing concrete designs. He is a regular participant at the World of Concrete and runs VerticalArtisans.com, an online community of decorative concrete artists and online training program for all types of decorative concrete work.
David Seils, wallsculpture.net– The artist/sculptor David Seils has revived an art style that has been used for thousand of years to decorate walls and the frieze of buildings, relief sculpture. In the past, artwork was tediously carved in marble or limestone to only a depth of a few inches to create the illusion of depth. With the advantage of new materials, the same effect can be accomplished by building up the relief sculpture instead of carving.
David is originally from West Salem, Wisconsin and received formal art training at Viterbo College, La Crosse, Wisconsin; The Clearing, a University of Wisconsin Extension; Madison, Wisconsin; The University of Kansas; Lawrence, Kansas and the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida.
Earl Senchuk EarlSenchuk.com– First HANDS ON CLASS with Living Tree Art for Vertical Artisans! Earl will be sculpting a Bonzi Tree in the main “Nerve Center” Room. arl’s art mediums include various clays, welded metals, watercolor, wire, fiber, concrete, and living foliage. His works are on display in various locations around Marquette, Michigan and at the Michigamme Moonshine Art Gallery in Michigamme.
Steve Kornher, FlyingConcrete.com– Steve specializes in lightweight concrete design and will be teaching his signature catenary arch roof design. Steve has lived in beautiful central Mexico for over 20 years in San Miguel de Allende with his wife where he has designed and built numerous houses, studios and other buildings. Steve’s home is a testament of his work and has been featured in magazines, online and TV shows. He has constructed some of the most fascinating and wacky properties in North America. Steve also conducts training courses throughout the US and Mexico, teaching his unique vertical and ceiling techniques. Check out a recent photo album of his work here.
Some of the topics that will be covered include…
- One Day Walls
- Stone Facing
- Positive Carving
- Foam Design
- Armature Bending
- Mold Making
- Epoxy Molding
- And Much More!
- One year subscription to VerticalArtisans.com core curriculum ($800 value)
- All meals will be catered
- 5 days of training by some of the finest minds in decorative concrete
- Collaboration and networking with decorative concrete colleagues from across the country
We are going to prep a room, by the way all the rooms are circular and domed, anyway this room will be prepared and EVERY DAY in the morning sessions David will be introducing new techniques that can be executed in the room by the students.
So the entire room will be laid out and drawn out. This way the students once they have practiced the effect on the practice wall they can then attempt the technique on the real wall under the supervision of David himself…
Every morning this can be done and their is no limit the room is big enough and techniques will include:
Trees, rocks, bushes, shrubs and leave, grasses ect… all the things that make up land scapings.. .
After the session with David we will continue with various techniques of Stone Facing, Positive Carving, Foam Design and One Day Wall Applications.
Finish the Final Wall in the Main Center Room ( The Nerve Center )
Design a Foam Based (Interior) Concrete covered & sculpted Water Feature to go in the center of this room
Complete a “David Seils” Room
Finish Exposed Stone Room complete with plaster and ceiling effects.
More Positive Carving in the entrance
One Day Wall system on the other entrance with a archway to garden / patio area
Call Now To Sign Up 708.233.9394
Learn about previous courses at the West Coast Training Center Here.
Will Higginson is an architect/ builder who is in the final stage of completing his thinshell ferrocement performance stage. He built it for his yearly gatherings with friends and family where they spend a week celebrating the passing summer and many of his friends sing, dance and share their talents.
Will meticulously planned out each aspect of the shell which has turned into a multi-year project. He used his 4 Jet Combo Blaster to apply each layer of the ferrocement which helped him achieve an even layer across the structure and save him significant time compared to the traditional painful hawk and trowel method.
The finale of season 3 of Doomsday Preppers was all about Drones & Domes. Check out the clip below to see David Nash of Tennessee build his geodesic dome in preparation for impending disasters and catastrophes. David used the 3 Jet Wall Gun to apply the concrete shell onto his dome. Watch the one minute clip below and check out more at doomsdaypreppers.com.
Earlier this year we spoke with Michael Stevenson, a fourth year civil engineering student at the University of Florida who plays a vital role in one of the school’s most fascinating teams. He is the construction captain of the university’s Concrete Canoe Team. This past season the University of Florida used their concrete canoes constructed using a ToolCrete Mortar Sprayer won their regional competition and went on to the ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition (NCCC) at Lake Champlain IL. This competition is put on each year by the Association of Civil Engineers in order to give engineering students the opportunity they need to utilize the skills that they have learned in the classroom. It also provides them with experience in team building and project management that they will be able to take with them as they pursue their career after college.
The competition is hosted by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) that represents the biggest network of engineers within the United States university system. This organization provides students with a means of gaining experience outside of their college careers. The Concrete Canoe Team represents one of these outlets for students to hone and apply their skills.
After gathering information from Stevenson regarding the canoes unique building process we were able to gain knowledge on the way our sprayers were used in their construction. After constructing the canoe’s mold, from mixing to applying carbon fiber, Shotcrete is then sprayed onto the canoe until the layer is about an eighth of an inch thick. The canoes themselves are actually lighter than water (about 55 pcf for the canoe vs. about 62.4 pcf for water) due to the concrete used within its structure.
This year the team placed first at regionals, a feat one must accomplish in order to qualify for the NCCC. The canoes constructed by the university using their Mortar Sprayer by ToolCrete showed the value and competitive edge a sprayer can provide when building a concrete canoe. We wish them all the best in the years to come.
To some the idea of living within the walls of a Zambian mining town may not seem all too attractive, however Imison recently wrapped a project that may change the way one thinks of a typical African mining town. The construction company has supplied Structural Concrete Insulated Panel building kits to mining areas like those in Solwezi where 85 3-bedroom houses, a school, sports center, and guest lodge are being put into place for the mine’s management.
One attractive quality that clients found about the homes were insulation benefits that ToolCrete™ Mortar Sprayer products provided. Zambia rests within an extremely warm climate- summer heat often rising above 100° F. For this reason it was essential that the buildings maintained consistent and comfortable temperatures year round without the use of air conditioning. The houses have been incredibly well received by mine management and their families due to ‘green’ credentials that they represented, the most popular being solar water heaters. Angus Ferguson, of Comstruct Corporation in Zimbabwe, stated in an interview with ToolCrete™ that “the mine itself has its own objectives as being as environmentally friendly as possible”.
When the project first began, a specialized crew was sent in from South Africa by Imison to train local foremen and builders on the erection process for the first frames of the structures. They then came back with suggestion for improvement, which is where the ToolCrete Sprayer Guns came into play by providing stucco as an easy, eco-friendly alternative that creates a comfortable living space given the harsh climate.
The Comstruct crews worked in teams for spraying the stucco onto the Imison SCIP Panel system. Each house had 2 to 3 spray crews going at once to get the job done fast and efficiently. The first crew member mixed the stucco while the second supplied fresh mix to the third who used the sprayer to apply the stucco onto the Imison SCIP Panels.
Click here to see more photos in our Facebook album.
This technique in turn influenced other construction companies in surrounding towns. Developers in Solwezi and Kansanshi specifically, conveyed huge interest in this alternate way of development along with contributing positive feedback. In the end Imison declared they were far happier with the stucco sprayers compared to what they had originally started with. Continue reading about SCIP Panel Construction…
Nathan Giffin is an incredibly talented artist. He uses stucco and concrete to sculpt and transform ordinary spaces into amazing works of art. Recently Nathan and his crew completed a gorgeous home wine cellar. With some help from his helmet GoPro 3 Cam we get to take a look at the project as the transformation took place. See Videos and photo gallery below… read more →
Compressed Earth Block or CEB is simply a form of construction using highly compressed earth in the shape of large bricks. This technique is more popular in the Southern United States as well as Latin America and many developing countries. These blocks are made of clay, inorganic soil, aggregates and sometimes cement.
Open Source Ecology has published a design free for anyone to use of a compressed earth block press. They say this press will allow two people to produce a wall of blocks 20 feet in diameter and 1 foot thick in one 8 hour day.
Once a CEB structure is complete it’s vital to cover the blocks and protect it from the elements. The stucco sprayer provides a method of applying the adobe or earth based stucco in an efficient manner while providing a coating that is consistent in depth. It’s important to be sure when applying plaster or stucco to CEB’s that the mix has the same coefficient of expansion as the blocks. In other words, cement stuccos should not be used on CEB’s because of the likelihood of delamination between the two materials.
Sprayer Used in this video:
Open Source Ecology CEB Press
Wicking beds are becoming more and more popular as an easier and more efficient method for growing fruits and vegetables. Rather than the traditional downward drip or spraying method, wicking beds allow water to spread from the bottom up giving plants the water they need and nothing more. One simple way to create your own wicking bed is with some Styrofoam or rammed earth covered in stucco.
The customers who built these wicking beds explained their process. “This was 1″ styrofoam sprayed with basalt fiber impregnated ferrocement mix. Use hole to fill with water. Pea gravel below hole, then landscape cloth. Water wicks upwards to plants. Rain water is also captured. Hole also serves as overflow. Growth has been excellent, and have only filled once. I’m not sure I even needed to fill it, but I was near with a hose. Can add urine to hole for additional wickable fertilizer. The hole is turning out to be a more elegant solution than the piping used for other solutions.”
“Second larger bed in the distance was made with rammed earth then sprayed with basalt fiber ferrocement. Roving wrapped around outside, then sprayed again. We found that the effort to use rammed earth was greater than the embodied energy benefit of using earth.”
Stucco sprayer VS. Stucco Pump VS. Dry Gunite, what’s best for your application?
by Nolan Scheid
For a DIY project or for a contractor who doesn’t focus on shotcrete full time, the stucco sprayer is the most affordable and efficient choice. Learning to use a Stucco Sprayer is fast and a team with little or no experience can be up and running much quicker than any pump device. Also, in countries with abundant and affordable labor the Stucco Sprayer is generally hands down the best option.
(One customer used more than 30 guns at the same time on a remote housing project).
Plan on ½ to 1 yard per hour as a spray rate per sprayer. More is possible but always plan on the short side to give yourself some extra time.
On a larger scale with a trained crew and ready mix, the Blastcrete 2” squeeze pump can be successful, but only after the initial $15,000 to $20,000 investment and the large, specialty trained crew (4-6 people).
I have limited experience with the dry gun rigs for a reason, the health of my family and coworkers is more important. I did not like the dust and don’t see it as a good choice if there are other people or buildings nearby. (watch this video to see what I mean)
While setting up to spray stucco the whole project picture needs to be considered.
Equipment scale: mixer, sprayer, delivery. Can the mixer keep up to the delivery and the spray rate? Can the people keep up with the spray rate?
People scale: 1-3 2-4, 6 or more. Look at the combinations in the work cycle to get everyone moving in sync. If you get a bunch of material on the wall is there someone to follow up and rod it smooth?
Coordinating the workflow of men and machines can lead to much higher and greater efficiency than setting up piecemeal.
When it comes to haunted house construction Tony Wohlgemuth knows how it’s done. In High Point, North Carolina Tony has been developing a Haunted House theme park amidst his family’s Christmas tree farm. Using a 4 jet Wall Blaster, Tony’s team applied stucco over SpiderLath and used an artistic touch to create the creepy old feel everyone knows and loves to be scared of each October at the Kersey Valley Spookywoods.
During the summer of 2012, Tony’s team built an elaborate labyrinth within the forest including a castle, crematorium, mausoleums, and vaults all from a combination of common building materials as the base and then applying SpiderLath and stucco to bring the forms to life. Continue below to see the haunted house come to life and watch the video tour, contact us to discuss creating your house of horrors.
We are proud to support our friend David as he embarks on a journey to write a book on a popular construction material and method called ferrocement. Known worldwide, ferrocement is still gaining popularity in the US. We are proud to back this kickstarter campaign and hope you will too. Help us spread the word on this simple and affordable construction method that is more sustainable, durable and efficient for the 21st Century.
Ferrocement defined by Wikipedia
The term ferrocement is most commonly applied to a mixture of Portland cement and sand applied over layers of woven or expanded steel mesh and closely spaced small-diameter steel rods rebar. It can be used to form relatively thin, compound curved sheets to make hulls for boats, shell roofs, water tanks, etc. It has been used in a wide range of other applications including sculpture and prefabricated building components. The term has been applied by extension to other composite materials including some containing no cement and no ferrous material. These are better referred to by terms describing their actual contents.
Ferro concrete has relatively good strength and resistance to impact. When used in house construction in developing countries, it can provide better resistance to fire, earthquake, and corrosion than traditional materials, such as wood, adobe and stone masonry. It has been popular in developed countries for yacht building because the technique can be learned relatively quickly, allowing people to cut costs by supplying their own labor. In the 1930s through 1950’s, it became popular in the United States as a construction and sculpting method for novelty architecture.
The economic advantage of ferro concrete structures is that they are stronger and more durable than some traditional building methods. Depending on the quality of construction and the climate of its location, houses may pay for themselves with almost zero maintenance and lower insurance requirements. Water tanks could pay for themselves by not needing periodic replacement, if properly constructed of reinforced concrete.
Ferro concrete structures can be built quickly, which can have economic advantages. In inclement weather conditions, the ability to quickly erect and enclose the building allows workers to shelter within and continue interior finishing.
All kids love to play with balloons. Some like them at birthday parties some like them in bounce houses.
Nolie Scheid, 14 years old, from Eugene dreams of having his own balloon home. On a sunny day in Oregon he gathered the few materials needed; Vinyl, wood, tape, and set out to make his dream come true. With the help of his family Nolie cut out eighteen vinyl gores, that when placed intricately together, formed a dome shape. He then made a curved brace out of two by fours. Then taped each of the pieces together. Here is a photo of the last two pieces being taped together.
Here is a photo of the final product, blown up %90 of the way.
Nolie will combining this with another smaller balloon form to make his own thin shell dome home!
Stay tuned for more updates as he progresses.
By: Herb Nordmeyer, author of The Stucco Book—The Basics
There are two general types of Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF), the forms that will burn readily and those that will not burn as readily. The latter are usually EPS beads encased in a cementitious paste. The former are EPS, XPS, or urethane that either consists of sheets that are connected to make block or have been formed by molding. Building codes require that the interior of a structure be protected from flammable walls. This can be done with 5/8″ of sheet rock, or it can be done with three-coat stucco or plaster. Most contractors use sheet rock.
The exterior of the ICF needs to be protected as well. While the ICF formed from a cement paste and EPS beads are more resistant to degradation from the elements than the EPS, XPS, or urethane ICF, they do degrade and need to be protected.
An EIFS-type coating adheres well on all ICF and is permanent, but it does not provide any fireproofing, so it should never be used inside a structure. Remember: Fire plus EPS equals very toxic fumes. It can, if the local code approves it, be used as an exterior coating if fire protection is not required or desired.
There are many one-coat stuccos that offer a one-hour fire rating, and some mistakenly use them to provide fireproofing to the ICF. The one-coat stuccos are systems, and they obtain the one-hour fire rating with an interior skin of 5/8″ sheet rock and nonflammable insulation between the studs. While one-coat stuccos are great products for other applications, this is not one of them.
Most building codes do not allow the direct application of stucco or plaster to EPS, XPS, or urethane. The reason for this is that if the surface of the insulating material has been exposed to the sun for 24 to 48 hours, the stucco or plaster does not bond as well, and a bond failure can occur at a later date. The low bond can be overcome by rasping the surface and applying stucco within a matter of hours. This method is not approved by any of the building codes so should not be used unless you want to get a professional engineer to sign off on the technique and then convince building officials that this is an acceptable method. Good luck if you want to try.
If you have an EPS, XPS, or urethane ICF, and you need a one-hour fire wall, you need to attach lath to the ICF and then apply stucco or plaster to the lath. Doing this, any good plaster or stucco formula will work.
If you insist on going against the building code and direct-applying stucco or plaster to EPS, XPS, or urethane, rasp the surface within a few hours of applying the stucco or plaster and add 1/2 gallon of exterior acrylic paint to each cubic foot of stucco concentrate you use. I prefer a stucco mix that consists of:
1 bag Portland,
1/3 bag of hydrated lime, and
4 cubic feet of stucco sand.
To get your paint, go to one of the big box stores and ask for paint that was tinted wrong or was returned. Ask for a deep discount. Remember, if you do this, your heirs may have a problem selling your house after you are gone.
If you are direct-applying stucco to the EPS bead/cement paste type of ICF, then the above formula, with or without the paint addition, will work.
Herb Nordmeyer, author of The Stucco Book—The Basics
By: Herb Nordmeyer
We hear a lot of talk about one-coat stucco. It is less expensive than three-coat stucco. But is it as good as three-coat stucco? The answer is a definite “Maybe.” Then the serious question is asked, How can I achieve a quality one-coat stucco job?
One-coat stucco’s are not listed in the International Building Code or in other building codes, but are authorized by evaluation reports. If a one-coat stucco does not have an evaluation report issued by an official evaluation service, then it cannot be used where code-approved three-coat stucco is specified. Obtaining an evaluation report is not cheap. Often up to $100,000 is spent on testing before the report is issued. The evaluation report is a statement by code engineers that they have studied testing data and that the product being rated meets the intent of the code if it is used in a specific manner. If a one-coat stucco is going to be used on the house that you are having built, you should ask the contractor for a copy of the evaluation report. After you have read the report, ask the contractor to explain different parts of the evaluation report. When I read an evaluation report, the word obfuscate comes unbidden into my mind. There is no intent to obfuscate, but the engineers have tried to cover all eventualities with precise language.
If a one-coat stucco is applied according to the terms of the evaluation report, a user can assume that it will function as well as a three-coat stucco will function. Sometimes, in order to save money, or because the applicator has not carefully studied the terms of the evaluation report, an applicator may not follow all of the terms of the evaluation report. In such cases, problems can develop. By having the contractor explain the report to you, you are ensuring that s/he has read the report. By showing an interest, the contractor knows that you are monitoring the job, so s/he will ensure that the crew is more diligent than they otherwise might be.
Many failures occur around window penetrations when adequate care is not used to join two dissimilar materials. Insist that the window opening be wrapped according to the window manufacturer’s instructions and that after the stucco is applied the interface between the window and the stucco be sealed with backer rod and a good quality sealant, not a $0.79 tube caulk.
The evaluation reports do not specify the top coating for one-coat stuccos. All stuccos need to be protected. Some applicators have mistakenly assumed that a diluted coating of latex paint provides adequate protection. This is not the case. Most one-coat stuccos need to cure for at least seven days, and some for as long as 28 days, before an acrylic finish coat will permanently bond to them. Don’t rush the contractor. By delaying, he is giving you a permanent finish. Most one-coat manufacturers have a warranty program that is tied to using one or more of the finish coats that they produce. If the one-coat stucco that your contractor has selected does not have a manufacturer-furnished finish coat, then as a minimum, it should be finish coated with two coats of elastomeric paint for a total dry thickness of 12-mil. An acrylic texture coat is an acceptable substitute.
Get involved, so your contractor knows that you are interested in a quality job and that you and he both understand what the evaluation report requires. Then you can expect to obtain a quality job.
Herb Nordmeyer, author of The Stucco Book-The Basics
Which Lime Is Best?
By: Herb Nordmeyer, author of The Stucco Book—The Basics
We have all heard that mixing lime with Portland cement makes an excellent mortar or stucco, but which lime is best? In answering that question, we have identified the different products that are sold as lime and explained why they are appropriate or not appropriate.
Agricultural lime is calcium carbonate. That is ground limestone and for our purposes is of no value.
Quick lime is limestone that has been heated to about 1,6500 F to drive off the carbon dioxide. It is calcium oxide. When it comes into contact with water, it reacts to form calcium hydroxide. In the process, heat is given off, often enough to boil the water; and if the chucks of quick lime are fist-sized, they may explode. Quick lime can be used to make lime putty, but should never be considered as a component to be added to a mortar mixer.
Lime putty is quick lime that has been hydrated and has a toothpaste consistency. It can be made directly from quick lime, or it can be made by adding water to hydrated lime. It has a place in historic restoration and a few other places, but it is not worth the effort for most mortar and stucco work.
High-cal lime is a hydrated lime that is produced for water purification, wastewater treatment, and many other industrial processes. There are people, including some who should know better, who use it for making mortars and stuccos, but the quality testing is such that sometimes it has oversized (problems can be caused by particles that are less than 1/8″ in diameter) particles that can lead to lime-pops months after a job is complete. The oversized particles are calcium oxide particles, and it takes them a while to hydrate. When they do, the resulting calcium hydroxide takes up more space, so a bit of the mortar is broken off. Usually this results in a conical hole in the plaster or mortar with a white dot in the center. An additional problem with high-cal lime is that it is more prone to causing lime burns than Type S dolomitic hydrated lime.
Type N hydrated lime is very similar to the high-cal lime, but there are more quality checks, and the oversized particles that cause lime-pops are not present. With Type N hydrated lime, over 8% of the lime can be unhydrated. The unhydrated portion may be fine particles that fairly easily hydrate, or it can be hard-burned particles that are very difficult to hydrate. Hard-burned particles usually have a glassy layer around them that takes a long time for the water to penetrate and bring about the hydration process. Since there is unhydrated calcium oxide in the Type N hydrated lime, it can cause lime burns on skin.
Type S hydrated lime has less than 8% unhydrated particles. Much of the Type S is produced from dolomitic limestone (calcium-magnesium carbonate). Since magnesium oxide is harder to hydrate than calcium oxide, the hydration usually is done in a pressure hydrator. As a result, virtually all of the calcium oxide is hydrated, and the magnesium oxide which is not hydrated is less likely to cause skin burns than calcium oxide. Type S hydrated lime particles are usually larger than the Type N hydrated lime particles and give the resulting mortar or stucco more body and more workability. Where it is available, the Type S dolomitic hydrated lime is well worth the extra money it costs.
Herb Nordmeyer, author of The Stucco Book—The Basics
By Sylvia Scheid
I was fortunate to be able to visit with Herb Nordmeyer as he was beginning this series of books about stucco. To some small degree I am proud of the fact that I actually encouraged him to share his knowledge on the subject gained from his career and several generations before him.
While visiting with Herb in San Antonio Texas, I got a first hand perspective of the different types of stucco. While he and I toured the Alamo, I felt very fortunate to be perhaps the only one to hear about the correct and incorrect upkeep of this beautiful structure. By simply glancing at the stucco, Herb recited the exact problems and types of material that were used to repair the cracks– one problem being that cementitious stucco had replaced the original earthen plaster.
After Herb and I finished the most interesting and informational hour-long tour of the Alamo, we scuttled downtown. At random intervals I would notice Herb was not by my side. After looking around, I usually found him examining a portion of stucco on the side of a building. When I walked up to Herb, he would start to explain what the angle of the crack in the stucco meant. Or what mix the stucco was made of. He always did this with a humorous and educational twist. It is these types of facts and tidbits that are included in this wonderful stucco book. Herb has accomplished writing the most informative series about stucco and plaster that has ever been published. If you’re interested in how to stucco, how to mix stucco or even learn some of the history of stucco, this book will become the very best tool in your toolkit.
The Stucco Book – The Basics is the first of an interesting series about stucco. The next book is about the forensics of stucco. In it, the reader will learn the difference between the horizontal crack and the vertical crack– and the many other details of what you need to know to create healthy stucco. The final book in this series teaches the art of stucco. From faux stones, to theme park work, to stuccoing on straw, or even to giant dinosaurs, Herb reveals the details that will help the reader grow his creative stuccoing skills.
Read more about the stucco book…
~Buy it now~
Shipping and handling is 5.00 or included when you purchase a stucco sprayer.
Ferrocement Water Tank: Part One
By Ted Uram
Ferrocement Water Tank Definition: a water containment structure built from a mixture of Portland cement and sand reinforced with layers of woven or expanded steel mesh, and closely spaced small-diameter steel rods (rebar) – source: Wikipedia.org read more →
by Ted Uram
David Kottman of Roanoke, Mo. is no fool. Like many savvy shoppers, he clocks a lot of research hours before making any purchase. It’s the smart thing to do. So when looking for a solution to resurface the block wall foundation of an old homestead building on property he had purchased, he spent lots of time on the Internet, several hours of which were on MortarSprayer.com.
“I searched numerous websites to try and see what to do with this foundation,” David explains. “We wanted the solution for the foundation to be something we could do as a do-it-yourself project.”
An inexpensive solution was also important. The property on which the old house rests is something of an investment in the future. One day soon, David hopes the building will be surrounded by a thriving winery.
“Approximately eight acres came up for purchase at an estate sale,” David explains. “We purchased the property with the intention of creating a winery.”
In addition to the building with the ailing foundation, a 3,700-square-foot, 1890s era, three-room schoolhouse also rests on the property.
“We hope to renovate that structure, as well, to serve as the main building for the winery,” David says.
First things first. The first hurdle was the small out-building.
“This little building sits on the corner of the property,” David explains. “At one point, we thought we were going to fix it up and flip it, but then we decided not to do that.”
Since the building did once serve as a residence, David considered making it habitable to rent. But that plan was scrapped as well. It was decided the building would be incorporated into the winery, and while there are still no concrete plans for exactly what purpose it will serve, the building most definitely needs work. Regardless of its new role as a winery structure, the foundation of the building was in desperate need of a makeover, and other issues arose.
“The whole project involves a new roof, insulation, and new siding, as well as fixing up the foundation,” David explains. “This block foundation is under the oldest part of the house, under about two thirds of it.”
Like many of the old Missouri buildings built around the turn of the Century, the small structure is supported by a block foundation. Mortar used to set and finish blocks in the old days was not nearly as efficient as it today, and several patches of block on this home had to be reset and mortared before any resurfacing could be performed.
Using jacks, the house was lifted. Failed block was replaced, and all of the loose blocks re-mortared. David was ready to tackle the foundation.
Even after straightening and re-mortaring there was some surface unevenness, so David opted for a surface bond mix enriched with glass fibers, which he laid on pretty thick using a sprayer from MortarSprayer.com. With the help of a mixer mounted on the three-point hitch of a small tractor, he was easily able to complete mixing and be underway.
“We combined that mixture with a stone-veneer mix (Quikrete) that has high-adhesive qualities. We covered it with a pretty quick coating.”
Once that coat had set up, David came back over with another layer of stone-veneer mix combined with Quikrete sand topping mix. This succeeded in hiding any of the remaining glass fibers still sticking out.
The amazing part about all of this is that David did not have an adequately sized compressor to push the flow. What he did have was two smaller compressors for powering air tools. His solution was to tie the two compressors together.
“They had small tanks with fairly low CFM pumps,” David says. “We knew that we had to increase the rate of compression.” Having enough compressed air was also an issue. Tying the two pumps together using a couple of ten-gallon air pigs did the trick.
“The guy that was helping me with the project is a roofer by trade. He already had his compressor set up for the roofing nails, so we tied his compressor in with mine.”
The two compressors were run through one manifold which fed the sprayer.
img class=”aligncenter size-medium wp-image-2829″ alt=”Mortarsprayer Compressor” src=”https://www.mortarsprayer.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Mortarsprayer-Compressor-300×225.jpg” width=”300″ height=”225″ />
“It worked great.”
Since David had never sprayed plaster before, there was a learning curve involved. But it didn’t take him long to catch on.
“It took some time, but we eventually had a good feel for how to keep the tool moving, when to pull the trigger, etc.”
His mix kept leaning toward the dry side, so it also took a little playing to get the right consistency. “When we had fingers of mix coming out of the holes that didn’t drip on the ground, that was what worked best.” From start to finish, the entire job only took about two hours.
All in all, David was pleasantly surprised with the results. “I thought it was going to be a dull, concrete gray, but it dried up a little whiter than I expected and looks real nice.”
David says he doesn’t know how he would have completed the job without the sprayer, and he was quick to justify his purchase.
“There’s going to be some foundation work on the schoolhouse, too,” David adds. “This will work well for matching the original foundation.”
David says that since he’s completed this project, he has all kinds of additional potential projects floating around in his mind, such as stucco siding on some buildings, and even a compost containment bin.
“I don’t know which of these projects will happen, but it’s certainly opened our eyes to a whole wide range of potential projects. It’s just a new method of construction that we hadn’t considered possible before.”
In the meantime, the foundation of the house is complete. And while the grapes mature, David has his eye set on the schoolhouse.
Hello and welcome! This is Ted with MortarSprayer.com, and today we’re talking to Lisa Nudo of LaFarge, Wisconsin. Lisa and her partner, Aaron, along with their two boys Clovis and Bryer spent several years building a STRAW BALE TIMBER FRAME house on their property in the Kickapoo Valley of Southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Region. read more →
Hello everyone! This is Ted with MortarSprayer.com, here with Maureen of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada to tell us about their DIY cement stucco garage. Maureen and her husband Alex had a detached garage they wanted to coat and protect with a stucco finish. They came to our website and bought one of our stucco sprayers and decided to do the entire project themselves. And you can see from our photos what a fine job they did on their new cement stucco shop. read more →
At Mortarsprayer.com we are often blessed by meeting interesting customers that are doing exceptional things with our tools, building an earthbag home retreat to be used in a three year long retreat is one of the examples. Ben Christian is one of those wonderful people. He recently traveled to the United States from Australia to help build strawbale and earthbag homes and prepare for a three year long Retreat for Peace. Here is a story of his passion and commitment:
The story of how one earthbag home got started:
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to seek enlightenment at a yoga and meditation retreat center… a chance to study with an American teacher who learned everything he knew from rare Tibetan manuscripts. He was the only teacher with this kind of knowledge, and it was the only time… and the only place… this would ever happen. Ben could not pass it up. With a short timeline nipping at his heels, he sold everything he owned so he could attend.
Ben is from the old school, though, and believes when a teacher gives him a job to do, he does what the teacher asks. He hit the floor running, in search of others who had built straw bale cabins. They helped draw up plans and gave him advice, but much of what he learned was on-the-job training. Conditions were very difficult: it was the middle of summer, very hot, and it was difficult to get materials to the site. The terrain was mountainous, there were no roads, no electricity, and the cabin had to be constructed in an environmentally friendly manner.
Another straw bale cabin on the retreat had been in progress for 5 years, and was still not done. (Shown on the left) In fact, when Ben found out that the plasterwork by itself was a 3-month job, he went online to find something faster. He found expensive systems requiring heavy machinery and plaster pumps, . He continued searching until he came across Mortarsprayer.com, where he discovered the stucco sprayer an inexpensive tool that could be used with his 5 1/2 horse power gas compressor. After discussing the sprayer with owner Nolan Scheid, Ben bought one on the spot. Actually, he bought two on the spot: one for completing the cabin, and one to take home to Australia. As a testament to the sprayer’s minimal size and weight, it was carried home in a guitar case.
Building the homes had challenges. Ben was used to metric measurements, and of course there were local permit requirements and government agencies. Luckily, some of the staff members were accustomed to working on those issues. They took the burden off his back, submitted the plans, and dealt with local government agencies.
Ben stayed in the US as long as possible to work on the cabin. There were no helpers, no money, his U.S. visa was expiring, and he had a prior commitment in Australia. In the end, he was not able to finish the project before he left, so it was handed over to a local contractor for completion.
During Ben’s five years at the retreat, he became committed to building an Australian retreat center on his own property, but family illness has postponed the completion of that project. At the moment, his goal is to finish the earth bag cabin that was started earlier, which is a series of round cylinders joined by hallways, as seen in these photos. Since meditation requires touching the ground, the meditation room floor is made of rammed earth, but the living area has a wood floor.
This cabin will have a circular kitchen on one wall in the living area and a heater, and it will be used for longer retreats. However, it is the last one to be built for now. There is also a large earth bag building for the caretakers, with one central room with two rooms off to the side. The inside is plastered, but the outside is not yet finished.
Sometimes the bags are filled by people in their spare time, then sewn shut and transported to the site. It is far easier to transport these modules than to transport trucks filled with dirt, especially since there are no roads in some areas. For this cabin, however, the bags were filled directly at the site with excavated dirt. Another reason for sewing the ends shut, which is not usually done with polypropylene bags, is because when the bags are lifted up onto the wall, the ends will release dirt if left open.
Earth bag construction has been used in various forms worldwide, often with polypropylene bags and barbed wire to hold the slippery layers together. However, a few limitations in this case excluded the use of synthetic bags. For one thing, they are not available in Australia, but they also do not fit in with Ben’s goal of environmentally friendly materials. These cabins are built with biodegradable jute bags from Bangladesh, which are about 1’ x 3’ x 4” thick and can be easily filled by one person. The rough surfaces are held together by the weight of the bags, with no barbed wire needed between the layers.
It has taken 5 month to get to the stage shown in the photos, with crews that have ranged from one person to 5 or more. There is no road, so everything must be done with a shovel and wheelbarrow, walking up to the site. This is a very isolated location, but when Ben needs help, he contacts students who fly in from all over the world.
There are also a few yurts on the property, which have been used for short retreats. One is connected to a small earth bag dome, but it is not really suitable for long retreats. For one thing, the goal is silence, but there is a wind noise factor with the fabric. The second issue is lack of insulation, meaning they are hot in summer and cold in winter.
For potential earth bag builders, Ben has a helpful hint for spraying mortar. First, make sure the bags are laid with the seam facing out, because it is more difficult to smooth the seams on the inside. Next, cover the whole outside with wire mesh, such as a fine chicken wire or similar material that has about a 3/4” mesh. It may seem like a lot of trouble, and it is not quicker, but it is cheaper because it reduces the amount of plaster used, and eliminates carrying sand and other materials up the hillside.
Ben has only one change he would make to future earth bag cabins. These structures are very difficult to heat; he tried a very expensive heater, but it did not even take the chill off. Next time, he will place hot water heating coils in the floor and walls. That is basically the only change he would make in constructing an earth bag cabin, because they are incredibly peaceful inside. In fact, he says, it is so quiet one cannot even hear the rain or wind.
Sometime in the future 3-year retreats will be hosted in the earthbag home, but it will be quite a while. None are planned at this time. For now, Ben’s time is balanced between completing his earth bag cabins already under construction on his property, spending time with family, and illustrating Buddhist text.
To learn more about the retreat for peace please visit their website, retreat4peace.org
Finally, we added a Stucco, Mortar and Concrete Blog to the website to help get the word out about new stucco, mortar and other articles pertaining to concrete as well as other announcements like new products.
At the same time we decided to open up comments on the all our previously published articles in the Projects, Highlights and Advice section.
Last but not least we refurbished all the store pages to make it easier to browse our stucco, mortar and plaster spraying tools.