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  #1  
Old 04/14/07, 02:02 AM
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Building a house out of stone/rock--has anyone done it?

I am looking for people who have experience building a house out of field stone or rock. This would not be dressed stone, but simple field stone. And stack and moarter method, NOT slipform method. Any information you can pass along to me is appreciated.

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  #2  
Old 04/14/07, 08:39 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RoseGarden
I am looking for people who have experience building a house out of field stone or rock. This would not be dressed stone, but simple field stone. And stack and moarter method, NOT slipform method. Any information you can pass along to me is appreciated.
Lots of native rock buildings in the area I was raised. I watched the rock walls being built on my Grandfathers farm, it is very labor intensive. My father and his brothers were the labor. The stone was native to that area and had been dug up by them.

To put it in perspective, look at a row of stone one foot high, one foot wide and about 12 feet long. That is close to one Ton of stone. It varies a little by the stone type. This was limestone.

I have seen cold rooms etc. up in the pacific northwest that were build up out of river rock, semi-round washed stones about 10 to 12 inches across. This was easier to build, took a lot more motar, but the fitting and shaping was easier.

If you are considering building a house by your self, remember the rock is very heavy. That is why commercial building has gotten away from using it, too labor intensive, using manufactured stone is much cheaper and faster.

Good stone masons are hard to find.

Bob
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Old 04/14/07, 08:53 AM
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It makes my back hurt jut to think about it.I stand in awe of those old stone structures and their builders.

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Old 04/14/07, 08:56 AM
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Practice!!

Our house burned down when I was 13. Over the next five years my family built a new house, one section each year. The year we laid the field stone foundation for the boys rooms my dad was in a full body cast from his knees to his armpits. Made him rather cantakerous. But the work could not stop. Under his supervison 6 teenage boys built a 3 walled foundation 14" wide, 7' tall, and 28' per side. Being the oldest and tallest I was the one in the hole laying the stone. It seemd a like a tremendous waste of time back then but before we laid rock one, my dad had us build a fieldstone outhouse. (We already had a wooden one. Why do this Dad?)

Everytime those walls got out of plumb or out of square we had to tear out that section and rebuild it the right way. Well, by the time those walls were three feet tall we didn't have to tear any more out after that.

I (16) was down in the hole. Kenny (14) and Tom (13) were responsible for mixing the concrete. The main thing here is don't make it too watery. Too much water actually weakens the concrete. You want a consistency about that of natural peanut butter. When in doubt, drier seemed to work better.

Jack (12), Richard (11 - foster child), and Lou (12 - foster child) were the rock fetchers. I'd describe what I wanted next, and they'd go find the right rock out of the pile. Yeah, rock walls weigh a lot, but you're only moving one rock at a time. That's why I listed the ages. If they could do it, so can you or your DW.

This is VERY time consuming. Those walls took us from Memorial day to Labor Day working 4 hours a day, six days a week. But what an incredible sense of accopmlishment. and imagine the pride of telling all the kids on your school bus that "I built that foundation". Would never have been believed if Mom hadn't taken pictures.

If you have nothing else to do, and no restrictive time schedule, go for it. If you're under time constraints block builds much faster.

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Old 04/14/07, 09:37 AM
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We build all our livestock buildings out of basalt which is mostly roundish. I have friends who have used the same stone to build houses. They had all the beds shelves cupboards etc built into the walls. For livestock we build one row of stones only using big ones at the bottom and going smaller as we go up. For a house I would use a double row and stick some wire in for reinforcing occasionally. We just pick the stones off the ground. My pig pens took about 20 pickup loads.

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Old 04/14/07, 10:39 AM
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Hey.

I've built a 2400 sq. ft house and a large barn with 3 ft thick walls out of fieldstone. I've been growin my rockpile to build one more house. I have 30 years experience as a stone mason. I'm built like the Hulk and work like a mule. You better be if you want to build a stone house.

RF

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Old 04/14/07, 12:46 PM
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Thanks everyone for the replies, it's a lot of food for thought. Here's the background... it would be just me (female) and one other person (a guy I know, to help on occasion). I have time, and rock, but very very little money, so I have decided that if I'm ever going to get a house built on my land, I'm going to have to opt for the cheapest building material available to me, which is rock (and cedar, to be used in some applications). I can't even afford building block or lumber for a cabin sized wood frame structure. There is plenty of rock for a house or two and a couple of outbuildings easily. I have even found what I would use for cornerstones. So, no shortage of building material. The bedrock is only about a foot to 1.5 ft. below the soil in the area where I would like the house to go. So I can remove the soil for the foundation walls relatively easily. I will build them directly on bedrock then. This is what the builders did in the classic 'The Stonebuilder's Primer' book. Again, I have no time constraints. I understand that this may take a few years at the least, and maybe longer. I'm not talking about a massive 2500 s.f. house either, maybe 900 to 1000 s.f. I'm not the hulk, but in relatively good health. I have a 24' travel trailer I can stay in while working, so I can be fairly comfortable.

I am trying to make myself as aware as I can be about what the pitfalls might be, but my desire to be on my acreage is so strong that I don't want to wait until I'm too old to enjoy it. Where I am living now is no longer the country, and it's turning into a barrio. I love my house here, and my property, but I don't like the area anymore and I feel it's time to be gone. The only way I'm going to be able to move is to build with rock. There simply isn't money for any other options, at least not at this time. Who knows what the future holds, but if I wait passively for something to happen, well, I may be waiting forever, KWIM?

ETA--lots of rock structures around where my land is, houses, fences, and a lot of round cisterns.

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  #8  
Old 04/14/07, 01:22 PM
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The secret to stone building.........

is layout, layout, layout.
have stone laid out on the ground so you can see them all.
set a big one, then fill up with little ones. you will HAVE to develop an "eye' for what will fit and the symetry(sp)
Did I mention layout?
Also, you can only lay up so much, one or two courses per wall per day, then you have to let that mortar set up.
Keeping the wall straight and plumb goes without saying.

Rocky fields is right on this one. It is some of the toughest work in the world.

Having the TT and no time constraints make this doable. I would recomend you build a small storage shed first. You'll need it to lock up tools etc and it will give you experience.

Rose, I admire your spirit and empathize with your situation, but this is killing labor.
good luck,
Dave

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Last edited by dave85; 04/14/07 at 01:25 PM.
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  #9  
Old 04/14/07, 01:40 PM
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Helen and Scott Nearing built two stone houses. They wrote a book about it too. I figure if they could do it, anyone could. I think they called them, their 40/60 and 50/70 houses, the numbers being their ages at the time of construction. I wish I had a good rock supply.

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Old 04/14/07, 02:09 PM
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Good on ya!!

Rose, you already have to the most important things needed to build your house.

(1) The land and the rocks.

(2) The right attitude and determination.

I look forward to pictoral progress reports. And I agree with dave, build a shed first. Maybe something on the order of 10' x 15' or even 12' x 16'. That's small enough to be done in a reasonable amount of time, and big enough to be useful once it's finished.

Best of luck, and good on ya for having the pluck to chase your dream.

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Old 04/14/07, 03:55 PM
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On edit..........

Rose,

I forgot the most important part. Stonemasons are artists. I was an amateur.

Stone/rock building is the most satisfying kind of construction there is.

I encourage you to try this.
Dave

ps in reality the Nearings had interns doing most of the work. Not being critical, just a fact.
Dave

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  #12  
Old 04/14/07, 05:05 PM
 
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I know there are several folks on this board that have done stone work so you shouldn't have trouble getting questions answered. My two* first pieces of advice: start hiting the yard sales when they open and auctions, keeping an eye open for tools. The list isn't long, but gotta have them. While looking for your tools, start gathering your stone, you're going to find you need a lot more than you believe once you get started. Get it in all sizes from large building stones to smaller ones for filling and chinking. Third, make sure you have a good plan for your building before you start. I find myself from grading to roofing nails designing it in my head first, then on paper, then building it in my head first. Lots of luck to you, I'm also eager to see your progress photos as you go.

*Got on a roll, make that my first 3 pieces of unsolicited advice

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Old 04/14/07, 07:35 PM
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I am in awe! I admire your desire & fortitude. Sounds like you have already done some research. I know you can do it.
I would suggest that you consentrate on what you have accomplished, not what you still have to do. It sounds almost overwhelming.

What aout electricity & plumbing in the house?

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Old 04/14/07, 09:32 PM
 
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Here are a couple of pics of a natural river rock wood stove back wall. The time consuming part is getting all the rocks available and then picking the perfect one for each position. Came out OK as far as I'm concerned. I have more of this river rock available than I know what to do with. I'm thinking of building a sauna/steam room with it. Going to put an old wood stove in one of the walls. The doors will face outside and half of the stove will be inside. Drip water on the hot stove to create steam.



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Old 04/14/07, 10:26 PM
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Those are wonderful photos, and your stone work is beautiful, so professional, thank you for sharing the pictures. I love the rounded shapes of the river rock, I wish I had that kind of rock on my land. I love the different colors too, very pretty.

I have talked to a couple of people about it, and I get the same responses. First, they give me a 'are you NUTS' look and then proceed to tell me all the reasons I *can't* build a house out of stone. I'm a woman, I don't have experience building, it's too remote, one person with a helper can't do it, and on and on. But if other people build with stone, why can't I? Their arguments are absurd to me. I have a lot of experience in other areas of construction and home renovation, so it's not as if I am totally unfamiliar with the fundamentals. I think their reaction comes more from the fact that most people have never met anyone who has built from stone, and so just assume it's not possible, or possible only with heavy equipment or by large work crews. But people have been building with stone for millennia, why would it be different now? And people in the area where my land is have built plenty with stone, so again, why would it be different now?

I'm aware that it will take me time to dig down to the bedrock. Several days, a week, two. So? And I know it will take time to lay my foundation wall, that the top of each course must be flat, and that takes time to ensure. I have time. I know the walls have to be plumb, square, level, straight. I understand that some rocks should span the thickness of the wall to act as 'ties' to keep the wall strong, and in other places it's a good idea to have rebar inserted, and that vertical joints and stones that do not overlap will also affect the structural integrity. Yes, and I have no doubt about my ability to ensure those things. As someone here said, rocks are heavy but you are only moving one at a time.

If I go slowly, am vigilant in adhering to the rules of working with stone, why shouldn't I be able to?

As for water and electricity, I can get electric to the house, that's not a problem. Water will be by catchment, from the house roof.

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Old 04/14/07, 11:08 PM
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RG,
texican has shown some photos and described his stone house building project.
maybe he'll tune in here, or perhaps send him a quick PM to ask about it.

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Old 04/14/07, 11:49 PM
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Oh, thank you, I wasn't aware he had a project underway. I will defintely send him a p.m. to see if he can offer any pointers and maybe some pictures so I can see what he's doing. That would be fantastic.

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Old 04/15/07, 12:20 AM
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I think you are very admirable and this is something my wife and I are researching as well.
Every great journey begins with a single step.

Your dream house will be built one simple stone at a time.

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Old 04/15/07, 12:23 PM
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Rosegarden, sent a PM...



I started working on my walls again last week... instead of digging out some long stretches of footers by hand, I used a backhoe I'd borrowed to get the work done in a hurry. It's about the time of year where I don't have to worry about frost damage.... don't want to get a section of wall done, and it freeze the mortar and ruin it .

It's slow work, when you're doing it yourself...

But if you've got more time than cash, laying the stone yourself is the way to go... after a day of lifting rocks, and seeing em set in the wall, knowing they'll last for hundreds of years, is a mighty good feeling... and I like knowing that I did it myself!

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Old 04/15/07, 01:58 PM
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Awesome photos, thanks a bunch! I got your p.m., and will reply and ask you a few questions later today when I have time to sit down and marshal my thoughts.

That rock looks exactly like the kind I will be using.

See everybody, it CAN be done! :baby04:


RoseGarden <------- getting excited by the challenge!

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Old 04/15/07, 02:09 PM
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Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it! This lady is an inspiration to me

http://www.hollowtop.com/cls_html/stone_home.htm

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  #22  
Old 04/15/07, 08:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kshobbit
Helen and Scott Nearing built two stone houses. They wrote a book about it too. I figure if they could do it, anyone could. I think they called them, their 40/60 and 50/70 houses, the numbers being their ages at the time of construction. I wish I had a good rock supply.

This is the house at Forest Farm in Harborside, Maine. It's very pretty inside. I'd love to have a stone house.

The main garden is surrounded by a
Rock wall.

Good luck RoseGarden!
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Old 04/15/07, 08:38 PM
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Go Girl!
I can remember Zell Miller telling a story when he was governor of Ga. His mother was widowed when he and his siblings were still young. Each evening, she would take the mule and a sled and walk over their rocky north Ga farm and pick up rocks. She and her brother built them a house out of rocks.

I am so glad this thread has come up. I have long dreamed of building our own home. We will begin looking for land early next year. SE Ks has an abundance of rocks....... We have miles of stone fences in this area and it has got me to thinking....
Tana Mc

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Old 04/16/07, 09:21 AM
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Rose, if I lived closer I would come help you. I have built several low retaining walls from feildstone- drystack style. You can certainly do it. I don't know how old you are, but reading some of your posts I could swear that I wrote them myself! I do the same thing; research online and in books, then try to garner some "hardearned" advice from people that have actually done it, and you have to constantly throw out the "so-called" advice from people that have a)never actually done it themselves b)know even less than you because they haven't researched it.

I don't have the experience to offer much advice on the actual technique, but it sounds like you have gotten much of that from your research. I do have this though.
When it comes to the backbreaking work of moving those big heavy stones from the pile to wall, or from the ground to a wagon to get them to the pile, save some energy by using a furniture dolly to move anything over 25 lbs. If your stones are square you can even stack a couple on that dolly and move them yourself.
The awkward shape of the stone means that sometimes 20 lbs feels like 30, but with a dolly (as opposed to a wheelbarrow or wagon) 50 moves like 30.

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Old 04/16/07, 03:10 PM
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Thank you Jennifer! That is the kind of advice I am looking for! I have two dollies, one 'regular' sized and a larger one, and I will definitly plan to use them. An excellent idea, thanks again.

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Old 04/16/07, 05:38 PM
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More encouragement.............

and one more tip.

As you lay your stone out, watch for pieces with a flat side. put them aside. They will be for your top courses, corners, windows, doors etc.

please keep a photo record and keep us posted.

Dave

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Old 04/16/07, 06:02 PM
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I definitely plan to document the progress. I have a good digital camera.

It will likely not be until this fall before I even make a start. The summer heat will be here before I will be able to arrange to start, and I still feel the need to do more research and assess what tools I have. I have some hand tools like pick axes, shovels, dollies as mentioned, levels, a commercial sized spool of construction string I just happened to find a couple years ago. I don't know if I'm going to opt to buy a small cement mixer or not. If I can find a decent used one, I might. I have decided that I will buy the mortar already mixed, it might cost more but I won't be able to deal with large piles of the additives anyway. I can buy just several sacks of the premixed stuff at a time, as I need it. Anyway, I need to be sure my plans are good ones before I start, and over the summer will give me plenty of time to go and stake it out, gather what I need, and then when the temps cool down a bit, I can start gathering rock.

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  #28  
Old 04/16/07, 10:56 PM
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My wife an I covered our log house that we built with fieldstone. It took 4 years walls 16 feet hi, an 40 feet long in front an bk. we had never done anything like this before but we wanted in an we figured if we could build the house [that took 3 yrs ] then we could do the rock work. lay out a grid with string on your walls one ft. sq. away from your wall ,the thickness of the wall you want. then when you lay your rock just bring it out to the string an your wall will remain plumb. of course its labor intesive that just makes your home that much more special. use a lot of brick ties in the wall also. we poured a 4 inch concrete wall between the log wall an the rock wall as we went up our walls are 14 inches thick whats time when you are doing it for yourself. plenty of people to say you cant do it , all you need is the right attitude an you will get it done

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Old 04/16/07, 11:20 PM
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Rose, first thing to do is read, read, read about how to construct stone structures.

The second thing to do is get your foundation and first row absolutely perfect, as this will make the rest of the work relatively easy.

Stone walls must be narrower at the top than the bottom in order to remain stable, and require certain foundation techniques depending on the soil beneath them in order to remain stable long-term. You also need 'tie' stones that go through the thickness of the wall at certain points. Details for doing these things *right* can be found in books.

I have only built small stone garden structures, but knowing the 'engineering' and planning carefully makes a huge difference in avoiding wasted efforts.

And I agree, a friend with a backhoe would be handy...

PS: Earthquakes are rare where you are. Personally I wouldn't build a stone house in my own region (California) because I don't think it would be safe if a big one hit--I don't think they can be properly reinforced against earthquake damage. I think a foundation up to about 3 feet tall can be made to be somewhat earthquake resistant, but taller than that I think would have to have too thick a base to be stable in earthquake country. I guess what I'm saying is to consider what the hazards in your area are and build accordingly.

I've watched videos of boards blasting through brick walls on TV mock-ups of tornado force winds. Dunno if that's a hazard in your area but you might have to overbuild a bit if it is, to keep walls from falling on you in that situation. I imagine a board couldn't go through an undressed stone wall because stone is more massive than brick and the irregular shapes of the stones would tend to dissipate the force more diversely. But the wall as a whole could flop over, and this could be Bad.

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Old 04/16/07, 11:40 PM
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I won't need a backhoe, I don't think. The bedrock is only about 1 to 1 1/2 feet below the soil where I want the house to go, and I think I can get that handled myself. And the money for a backhoe might not be do-able.

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