Balance: Efficiency and Beauty

May 15

As I have noted recently, new stuff is happening at the building site on a regular basis now and my technical education is ramping up, too.


Today, I received a lesson from Steve on the exterior insulation project.

The first step is to frame the outside of the house with wood. These strips of wood are called “furring strips.” I call them “wood dividers” because their real name makes no sense to me! These wood dividers are placed two feet on center which makes it easy to do the next step.

Pieces of insulation will be cut appropriately and placed between the wood dividers . The insulation and the wood dividers will then be covered with 1/2 inch thick sheets of plywood.

Next is the felt paper, which is the same as the felt used on top of the ceiling. The felt creates a vapor barrier and protects the materials under it.

Then stucco netting (a kind of mesh that resembles chicken wire) will be installed on top of  the felt.

At this point, the entire exterior of the house will receive three layers of stucco: 1.) stucco scratch, 2.) stucco brown coat, and finally 3.) stucco color coat. The stucco color coat  is composed of  concrete made up of Portland cement and masonry cement. The color will be “sand” and will blend in nicely with the color of the adobe blocks inside the house and all of the exterior wood.

There is more, but I need to read up on it. This insulation project is creating a “thermal barrier” between the adobe blocks and the outside environment. Some materials conduct and others insulate. Apparently I need to learn more about the laws of thermodynamics…because this is a big part of how passive solar works.

Why the insulation and the stucco, you ask? I asked this, too. I thought the adobe blocks, being as thick as they are, would be sufficient protection from the elements. If the house were not on top of this mountain and subject to the dramatic heat and cold fluctuations–and the WINDS–the adobe blocks might be enough to make this house an efficient passive solar environment. But Steve has experienced the weather up here and he knows that, if we want this house to work, then insulation–including the stucco–will be necessary. So, another new project begins.

I’ve been so caught up in the beauty I am seeing everywhere (both inside the house and outside in nature) that I do not always remember we are trying to create something very efficient and stable in this new home. The insulation project and the refresher lesson about the technical aspects of passive solar that Steve understands so well are a reminder. I have a book about passive solar and I’m working up a posting to help you understand it in more detail. There will not be a test, however. 🙂

What is clear to me now, though, is that balance is achieved when we combine the efficiency of a stable passive solar house impervious to the shifting weather environment with the beauty of a traditional smooth stucco exterior–what we all see in our mind’s eye when we think of “adobe.”

Form is definitely following function in this house. Beauty is all around, but the stable environment inside the house is what I will need in order to be able to live here–without freezing in the winter or melting in the summer or using the heating/cooling system every day!

Remember to click on the first image to open up the Big Gallery.


I think I was hungry on this hike.

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