Building a house with concrete blocks

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by sancraft, Mar 22, 2008.

  1. sancraft

    sancraft Well-Known Member

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    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?
     
  2. Nevada

    Nevada Voice of Reason Supporter

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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
     

  3. highlands

    highlands Walter Jeffries Staff Member Supporter

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    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 Cottage.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:
    [​IMG]

    Outside view still in progress:
    [​IMG]

    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
     
  4. ninny

    ninny Well-Known Member

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


    .
     
  5. Rocky Fields

    Rocky Fields Failure is not an option.

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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;-)
     
  6. highlands

    highlands Walter Jeffries Staff Member Supporter

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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/beautiful-snowy-spring-day.html
     
  7. texican

    texican Well-Known Member

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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 :D... 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....
     
  8. TNHermit

    TNHermit Well-Known Member Supporter

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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
     
  9. sancraft

    sancraft Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for all the input.
     
  10. Farmerwilly2

    Farmerwilly2 Well-Known Member

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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!
     
  11. Shadow

    Shadow Well-Known Member

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    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.
     
  12. fishinsoap

    fishinsoap Well-Known Member

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    Would it be in bad tatse at this point to make a joke about block masons and heavy drinking?
     
  13. Wanderer0101

    Wanderer0101 Well-Known Member

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    They need to drink to kill the pain.
     
  14. Farmerwilly2

    Farmerwilly2 Well-Known Member

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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.
     
  15. HermitJohn

    HermitJohn Well-Known Member

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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.
     
  16. MushCreek

    MushCreek Well-Known Member

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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.
     
  17. HermitJohn

    HermitJohn Well-Known Member

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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.
     
  18. freeholdfarms

    freeholdfarms Well-Known Member

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  19. HermitJohn

    HermitJohn Well-Known Member

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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.
     
  20. bbbuddy

    bbbuddy Well-Known Member

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    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