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  #1  
Old 03/22/08, 12:46 PM
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Building a house with concrete blocks

I know I asked this before, but I can't find the thread since the move. Can any plan be adapted to this building material? How difficult is it to use?

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  #2  
Old 03/22/08, 01:13 PM
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Laying concrete block used to be considered an advanced building activity, since conventional masonry work requires a great deal of skill to do properly. However, many beginners now "dry stack" concrete block and then "surface bond" to make stable concrete walls. Here's a link to the process (image intensive page, please be patient).

http://www.thenaturalhome.com/drystackblock.htm

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  #3  
Old 03/22/08, 01:58 PM
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Tiny Cottage

Concrete block is very easy and forgiving. This is what we used for our cottage as well as stone and brick. Our roof is a ferro-cement barrel vault. See these posts for pictures and discussion:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/blog/labels/Tiny%20Cottage.html

We did mortared in some places, dry stacked in others. Most places we poured the cores and put rebar in vertically as well as horizontal bond beams. Very easy, very solid and very long lasting.

Inside view looking out through big windows:


Outside view still in progress:


We insulated outside the concrete with four to six inches of rigid pink foam and then did a parge coat of fiber cement to protect the insulation. This puts the thermal mass inside the insulating envelope which makes the house very energy efficient. It holds heat and soaks up the passive solar gain without overheating.

We did all the work ourselves. It is a very do-able project for a family. In our case two adults, a 14 year old, a 9 year old and a 3 year old. It took about two months to close in and then another two months of other work. But, that was spread out over about a year. There are still some things to do but they'll wait until the weather is warm.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
in the mountains of Vermont
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/blog/
http://HollyGraphicArt.com/
http://NoNAIS.org

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  #4  
Old 03/22/08, 03:54 PM
 
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Originally Posted by highlands View Post
Concrete block is very easy and forgiving. This is what we used for our cottage as well as stone and brick. Our roof is a ferro-cement barrel vault. See these posts for pictures and discussion:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/blog/labels/Tiny%20Cottage.html

We did mortared in some places, dry stacked in others. Most places we poured the cores and put rebar in vertically as well as horizontal bond beams. Very easy, very solid and very long lasting.

Inside view looking out through big windows:


Outside view still in progress:


We insulated outside the concrete with four to six inches of rigid pink foam and then did a parge coat of fiber cement to protect the insulation. This puts the thermal mass inside the insulating envelope which makes the house very energy efficient. It holds heat and soaks up the passive solar gain without overheating.

We did all the work ourselves. It is a very do-able project for a family. In our case two adults, a 14 year old, a 9 year old and a 3 year old. It took about two months to close in and then another two months of other work. But, that was spread out over about a year. There are still some things to do but they'll wait until the weather is warm.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
in the mountains of Vermont
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/blog/
http://HollyGraphicArt.com/
http://NoNAIS.org



I see your dog is making sure the dirt doesn't run off.:banana02:


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  #5  
Old 03/22/08, 08:06 PM
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Dang...at first glance I thought that dog was a horse! I'm sure he's put the feedbag on a time or two;-)

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Old 03/22/08, 08:29 PM
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That is Saturn, one of our livestock guardian dogs. He's only about 100 to 120 lbs - one of the medium sized dogs. He has an uncle that is pony sized, leaps tall buildings and all that good stuff. Fortunately feeding big dogs on a pig farm is pretty inexpensive - they take their pay in pork, bones, mice, coyotes, etc...

Here's a blog post with a photo of the cottage as of today:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/blog/2008/03...pring-day.html

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  #7  
Old 03/23/08, 10:50 AM
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Sandra, I don't know if "any" plan could be adapted... but most with straight walls could, if using the dry stack/surface bond method. Do some prior planning, so your wall lengths come out to the exact lengths of the blocks, to save expensive time consuming sawing/fitting.

Highlands... looks like your 'supervisor' was taking a break ... my lil dog went with me on all of my jobs, off the farm, and on... I'd always tell the kids that he was my supervisor, and the job had to pass his approval....

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  #8  
Old 03/23/08, 12:00 PM
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I'll probably make everybody mad but I would look for some "old" block houses and see what you think. Anything of any size is going o be hard to plumb,wire and insulate. Ive never sen one that didn't ventually have moisture problems
I've been involved in about every kind of alternative houseing methods , Block , Yurts,Ferro Cement, Igloos, Straw, Cordwood,and there is a reason that a conventional framed house has prevailed. The only thing i see replacing it would be the sips panel construction.

But if you got the block and the time, Maybe different story

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  #9  
Old 03/26/08, 03:03 PM
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Thanks for all the input.

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  #10  
Old 03/26/08, 05:15 PM
 
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Masonry walls can be quite comfortable if you are allowing for the dead air space and weep holes that any masonry wall requires. I've been in several in Southern Germany, a relatively damp climate by any standard, even my uncles new home, and they were nice. If you have any building skills then they are not that hard to put up (my youngest son went through the masonary program at the vocational school, block is what they train them on before they let them move on to brick work, easier to train someone to keep walls square and plumb with a big block than a smaller brick). Hermit is correct about the electric and plumbing, make sure you have your runs planned before you start cause retro work sucks in block unless you take the time to cut out raceways as you build. Block walls make a great substrate for stone or brick veneer or plaster and stucco, don't rot or burn, stand up well to storms and termites, and add a lot of thermal mass. Yea block!

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  #11  
Old 03/26/08, 09:37 PM
 
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Concrete block and home building

Have to agree with Tn Hermit. Have seen several people build with concrete blocks and thought they were saving money. IF you know what you are doing, and IF you plan out all electical and plumbing, and IF you never want to add any electical and plumbing, and IF you never want to change any windows, doors or any other walls you can build a block house. If you mess up on the insualtion it will be cold and damp and hard to correct. If you ever want to sell and face it most houses change hands several times. I will never sell the farm but I will die and then it will be sold. Banks don't like to finance block houses. It will be hard to sell. True if you pour the cavitys and place rebar in the cavitys before filling with concrete they will resist wind. Hollow they will just come apart. I have hundreds of concrete blocks in the woods here on my farm from a straight line wind in 1995. Blew apart a neighbors concrete block shop. As for fire the contents will completely distroy the building if they catch fire. High rise buildings are all steel and concrete but a fire in the furnishings will melt the steel beams and destroy concret floors. Yes you can build a concrete block house but personally I just don't want one there are no real good reasons to change my opinion.

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  #12  
Old 03/27/08, 08:06 AM
 
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Would it be in bad tatse at this point to make a joke about block masons and heavy drinking?

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  #13  
Old 03/27/08, 02:45 PM
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They need to drink to kill the pain.

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  #14  
Old 03/27/08, 04:07 PM
 
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You could play fill in the blank with any of the trades when it comes to drinking: finishers, carpenters, rod busters, plummers or red iron workers, plasterers, painters and sheet rockers.

Can it be done and comfortable? Yes. Is it done? Yes. Just remember that "can't" never did a darn thing.

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  #15  
Old 03/27/08, 05:00 PM
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Decisions, decisions, do I want to be exposed to all the wonderful modern chemicals from all the pressboard used in new stick houses or the radon gas from the concrete......

Actually the powers that be in my county have zoned rural areas last November (sure didnt make the news) and I suspect strongly that they will have building permits and inspections required by end of this year. I need to get more comfortable place built before then or at least a dried in shell. I am thinking going with concrete block though I have mostly done stick construction my whole life. Time is of the essence and too late now for fieldstone or log construction plus I just dont have the physical energy anymore nor any helper. If I dont make it then I will have to move to more rural county where I still have the freedom to build to suite me not some burocrate or real estate agent. I have no decendents, what do I care about making some future buyer happy. when I am dead sell my place for a dollar for all I care, I wont have any further use for it. This will be my last house I think though one should never say never.

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Old 03/27/08, 05:53 PM
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Here in FL, nearly all the houses are block. One good thing- termites can't eat it! Our house has firring strips and drywall inside. There's just enough depth for electrical outlets. Plumbing shouldn't be on outside walls anyway- in some places, it's against code. A few things I've noticed after living in block homes for 28 years- they change temperature very slowly. We can ride through cold snaps and never turn the heat on. They are very quiet for outside noises. They must be fairly cheap and easy, otherwise they wouldn't build so many of them down here. I'd rather have wood, though, and my next house will be wood.

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  #17  
Old 03/27/08, 09:42 PM
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Originally Posted by MushCreek View Post
Our house has firring strips and drywall inside.
Am I the only person left in this country that hates the ricky-ticky cardboard look of drywall. I can respect a traditional REAL plaster job, but drywall, well...yuck. Thats one of the big attractions to me of block, I dont have to have drywall to save money. If I build my own stick house, I want either quality plaster job or real hardwood paneled walls, not pressboard with a picture of real wood stamped on it nor cardboard. Plus I'd want real redwood siding not plastic. This cost $$$$ unless one has own sawmill. Block and stucco look is as close to real as one can get commercially anymore unless you are Daddy Warbucks or can find an existing pre-wwII house in solid condition that hasnt been molested with a quicky modern makeover.
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  #18  
Old 03/27/08, 10:48 PM
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Try:
http://www.texasmusicforge.com/gimmeshelter1.html
Interesting way to build

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  #19  
Old 03/28/08, 12:22 PM
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Thats a great website although I got bogged down with page after page of roof construction that wouldnt be practical for me anyhow. They also designed very large house with huge roof area that didnt try to be economical with amount of material. I am sure great for dry southwest but.... The basics are there though and lot little helpful hints. I still have no problem with metal conduit on inside walls rather than trying to hide everything inside the block. Sure the house flippers and real estate people and banks wouldnt like that since they want cookie cutter houses with cookie cutter sales and profits, but I dont give a fig and it would allow shell to go up much faster and be wired later at least in a simple house.
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  #20  
Old 03/28/08, 05:13 PM
 
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We insulated outside the concrete with four to six inches of rigid pink foam and then did a parge coat of fiber cement to protect the insulation. This puts the thermal mass inside the insulating envelope which makes the house very energy efficient. It holds heat and soaks up the passive solar gain without overheating.
Walter, we are considering a dry stacked house, and I want to insulate it on the outside like you did (it's hot here in summer, cold in winter).

After cement fiber-bonding the inside and outside of the walls, how did you attach the insualtion to the walls? Also, how do you get the parge coat of fibercement to stick to the insulation?
Thanks much!
Maddy
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Old 03/28/08, 06:31 PM
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Glue. Seriously. We used minimally expanding foam. Comes in a can. It is extremely sticky. We used that to draw on the wall and then pushed the pink foam up against the block walls hard using 2x4's to brace it. Then repeat for the next layer of pink foam overlapping the joints. This produces a great insulation seal. Next we parged the entire exterior of the pink with a PVA fiber sand based concrete. To get it to stick to the foam let the foam age in the sun a little, scratch it up and paint it with a neat cement. Then parge from the bottom up. Works slick. Next draw texture the concrete with stones by dabbling and then lines to produce fake rocks. From a little distance it looks like a stone cottage. Someday I'll do the outer stone wall with real field stone. Project for another year.

On the poured wall along the uphill side and half the front the foam never came off from where I did the pour. Twenty years ago I figured out to line my concrete forms with foam when pouring to get a great bond and easy release for the forms. That side had a poured knee wall because there will be more hydrostatic pressure there so it is poured as one piece with the slab.

Cheers

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Sugar Mountain Farm
in the mountains of Vermont
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/blog/
http://HollyGraphicArt.com/
http://NoNAIS.org

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  #22  
Old 03/30/08, 08:58 PM
 
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Wow, thanks Walter, I'da never thunk to use the foam, but you're right it IS very sticky!
Did you tryto completely coat the wall with it, or just spray "lines" of foam? I'm thinking that trying to smooth lines of foam over the whole wall would not work so well, as the foam kind of disintegrates when you touch it...and I guess pushing the foam board hard against the wall would spread out the spray foam alot anyway?

Thanks much!

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Last edited by bbbuddy; 03/30/08 at 09:02 PM. Reason: addes question
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  #23  
Old 04/07/08, 05:59 PM
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Questions

Hi Guys,
What did you do for the floor my original plan was to pour concrete over reinforceing mesh with pex radiant heat tubbing in it. How thick did you pour if you used concrete?
I'm planning on 4 inch on dry sand over 2 inchs of foam on the perimeter. providing heated water using a tankless water heater with a solar pannel or two down the road if I can swing it.
The expanding foam idea for glueing the foam together is brilliant I was hopping to find the long steel fasteners but they go thru to the cement block so that would hole the water tightness. I plan on berming it to two feet of the top of the wall and putting a more or less conventional roof with a standing seam roof. how expensive was the dome to build?
So your idea of making it look like stone is great one also.
Dutch
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  #24  
Old 04/10/08, 03:08 PM
 
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Hi Dutch, when we build we also want pex radiant floor heat, but I don't like the idea of it embedded in concrete. I want to be able to fix future problems. So we are planning a brick on sand floor, with sand in the cracks, like you do on a patio, and then seal the whole thing with a clear sealant. That way we can dig out a portion if needed for repairs, then reseal...

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Old 04/10/08, 04:40 PM
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4" of slab is good. If there will be interior weight bearing partitions consider making those spots and about 1' wider on each side 6" or even 8" depending on the load. You can do the math or just do overkill.

Don't put long metal fasteners through the foam. I experimented with that years ago. The heat conducts right through and they become a path for water, bugs, etc.

We did the dome ourselves, actually a barrel vault rather than a dome. The total cost of the cottage is less than $7,000 everything included and the barrel vault is just a small portion - maybe $1,000 absolute max. Labor not included of course since we did everything. See this search patter for discussion of the roof construction.

http://www.google.com/search?&q=site%3Asugarmtnfarm.com+tiny+cottage+roof
PEX / in-floor radian heat is something I want to try but have not played with yet. My brother did it under the wooden floor of his bathroom and then insulated under that. He likes it a lot. I've spoke with other people who have done it and all liked it including one 90 year old relative of my wife who's husband put it into their house back in the 1950's. Not PEX then but same idea and it still works great.

Like bbbuddy says, my one fear is something going wrong with the pipes embedded in the concrete and not being able to fix them. My first test, which I'm working on now, is in sand in the bathroom. Rather than PEX it is PVC and doing heat recovery from the bathtub. A first test of ideas.

Cheers,

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
in the mountains of Vermont
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/blog/
http://HollyGraphicArt.com/
http://NoNAIS.org

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  #26  
Old 04/10/08, 07:12 PM
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You can build a fine home using block. Take a look at some older block buildings and look at the corners. Look for cracks. It's not unusual to see a crack running along the joints in a stair step pattern where the foundation under the corner has settled.

Make sure that for your soil condition you have a wide and thick enough footer.You're going to be putting a lot of weight on them. I'd use a number 6 or 8 rebar in the bottom. Buy the 2" cement spacers to support the rebar in the trench. Overlap the rebar and tie it based on the size you use. I'd space the rebar about 3" to 4" across the bottom of the trench. Make sure the rebar is at least 2" from any surface. If you're buying concrete go for somewheres around a 4" slump. Rule of thumb: one gal of water per yard equals a 1" change in slump. In general the more water the less ultimate strength you'll end up with.

To strengthen the block walls to resist high winds use the horizontal reinforcement and incorporate a bond beam at the top with two bars running the circumference. They make a block shape that looks like a trough for the bond beams. fill the trough with grout (sand, water and cement) after you have the rebar in place. If you add vertical rebar into the footer you can continue the rebar all the way up to the bond beam. The vertical rebar can be about every four feet or so. You'll want to grout those cells too. You don't have to tie the vertical rebar. Simply stuff a bar into the wet grout so there's an overlap with the bar below.

For insulation you can get the same two part foam (Handi-foam is one brand) that insulators use. Drill a small hole at the bottom of an empty cell and foam the cavity until it comes out the top.

You'll have a stronger, better insulated home than most. Good luck!

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Old 04/11/08, 09:00 AM
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Am I the only person left in this country that hates the ricky-ticky cardboard look of drywall. I can respect a traditional REAL plaster job, but drywall, well...yuck. Thats one of the big attractions to me of block, I dont have to have drywall to save money. If I build my own stick house, I want either quality plaster job or real hardwood paneled walls, not pressboard with a picture of real wood stamped on it nor cardboard. Plus I'd want real redwood siding not plastic. This cost $$$$ unless one has own sawmill. Block and stucco look is as close to real as one can get commercially anymore unless you are Daddy Warbucks or can find an existing pre-wwII house in solid condition that hasnt been molested with a quicky modern makeover.

No.. I detest drywall...we are currently drywalling a 3000 sq ft house and the work is aggravating, unforgiving, and Yuk...i just hate it... but you are right the $$'s made the decision.
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  #28  
Old 04/11/08, 09:50 AM
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For insulation you can get the same two part foam (Handi-foam is one brand) that insulators use. Drill a small hole at the bottom of an empty cell and foam the cavity until it comes out the top.
Good points but I would strongly suggest not filling the concrete block cavities with foam. It is a waste of money and insulation. The energy will be transmitted through the connection points of the block, the bars of the H. I've done tests on this. It isn't worth it.

Instead, insulate outside the block wall. That way you gain the thermal mass of the block wall inside the house to keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It acts as a flywheel. For this same reason the Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF) are not a very good idea.

The #6 or #8 rebar is way over kill and expensive as well as being hard to get in some places. #3 is strong enough, #4 is what we have readily available here, a little stronger and what we used. Putting in the bond beams at the window sill and top of the wall heights with one pieces of rebar in addition to one piece in the foundation beam (we used floating slab) makes it far stronger than putting in extra rebar in the foundation. This is because the whole house becomes a beam with a ring beam at the top and the bottom since they go all the way around - the window sill height gets interrupted by the door(s).

A very important issue is to understand your soils and put the house firmly on hard packed soil - or ledge. You don't want one side of the house settling!

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
in the mountains of Vermont
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/blog/
http://HollyGraphicArt.com/
http://NoNAIS.org
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  #29  
Old 04/11/08, 03:52 PM
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You have some good points. The heavier rebar will be hard to find. In this area finding anything over a #4 is tough. FWIW, the one story block building I'm working on that was designed by an architect used #8s in the footers. There's no doubt the foundation was designed for worse case. That was the owner's decision.

We had some 2" thick foam panels that came in 6' by 6' sheets. They were used to insulate the foundations and used for the first 2' next to the footers under the slab. The foam didn't meet some of the requirements when subjected to flame. There's a strict restriction on using it anywhere above grade after the architect found out it didn't meet spec.

I don't think using foam on the outside of a block wall would be a problem. I would be very careful about using it in the interior of the house unless it was the type that wouldn't add an additional hazard during a fire.

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Old 04/11/08, 05:07 PM
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Totally agreed on the foam. Keep it all outside the house. That achieves both the thermal mass inside the insulated envelope goal and fire safety. This is a big factor in our design, we have as little burnable material, including possessions, as possible inside the house.

2"x6'x6' sheets of foam, that's a size I've never heard of. What was it? Was it closed cell?

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