Bienvenitos Casa De Las Domas

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 11:37 AM

The last few days have been long and tough, but full of fun and adventure.   As is typical in this community, the workers had done most of what had been ageed, but no rush occurs till the client comes back with checkbook.  Then all hands on deck to get the final payment. But I must say, everyone I have worked with performed admirably, and each has been a teacher to me.  From concrete work with Gonzalo, to basic infrastructure and form building with Isidro, earth techniques with Ricardo, electricity and water systems form Jose Martin, carpentry with Jose Luis, the art of aluminum window work with Hector, and all the polite and curious interest I received from the community of El Cardonal - I come back blessed with new skills and appreciation for the complexity of house building!

I must say, building with earth bags is a good idea, but ultimately, I’ve come to realize that building a modern house is a multi faceted and complex affair, requiring the skills and/or tutelage of many good folks.  I have a deeper appreciation now for the craft.

So, here’s some random thoughts on main features of mi casa:

The windscoop ROCKS!  While it’s not the heat and stillness of summer yet, the long 90+ degree days of March were plenty to test the differing ventilation options of the windscoop, playing doors and windows to differing effects. I’m more than happy with the endless options for creating breezes this technology affords.

Outdoor bathroom and shower.  There is some delicate questioning from local gringos, like “You do know how the wind blows here in the winter’ and ‘It gets cold - do you really want to walk outside”?  Basically, why build a bathroom outside, when you can build one inside?  Well, I must say, I have come to enjoy my decision here.  Even when the wind was howling, a nice hot shower, outside, star gazing is perfect.  And leaving the cozy of bed at 4 am topee, one simply stares in awe at the star show the middle of night brings.  Yes, bringing us out doors is a smart decision, and this trick of using architecture to change the perspective of its occupants was a right one for Baja.

The solar hot water heater has not been put to its paces yet, as we just sealed it in a glass house yesterday. But the initial results are promising, as the water has been a nice warm each time I turned it on. I plan to fine tune the design a bit with a gauge to stop allowing the mix of cold water into the 33 gallon tank until 25 gallons has been let out. Why dilute when I can store 145 degree water?  But no worries, my electric water -on -demand system delivers a constant flow of hot water for guests!

Windows.  Due to the climate (sea side) and cost, I chose aluminum windows. The guys who installed them thought arched windows like mine would be a piece of cake.  They were wrong! But the design is beautiful, and the crew was really appreciative of me working with them and taking an interest in their craft.  And they thought this the most challenging design project yet they’d undertaken, as ‘bending’ aluminum is not easy and is fraught with errors, all of which becomes their waste.  They return now to a world of rectangular boxes...

Working In Mexico.  The hard work of my Mexican co-workers was inspiring, to say the least.  Each day started at 7 am, and most everyone worked consistently and strong throughout the day.  And attitude! I can tell you, getting a smile and warm reaction from the folks I worked with was as easy as asking for it.  This is a polite and quiet society, and I was given nothing but respect, and leave with the same. One of my many pieces of good luck was simply choosing a nice, traditional community.  El Cardonal is a strong community, with strong family ties, and that is where the character comes from that I was lucky to entice into the Hootenanny.

Lighting.  I have only one incandescent bulb, for an upright reading light for my bed side.  Other lights are truly amazing - LEDs (1W energy consumption each) for front and back doors;  red  LEDs (shower) and green (main dome) fun; LED nestled in the niche, shooting reflected color form my ‘dome tiles’; and florescent lighting reflected to the tops of the ‘rustic plastered’ bag works. It’s all very cool and taken together, excluding my 1 incandescent light used for bed reading, the whole home consumes less than 50 watts when ALL lights are on at once!

Kitchen.  The most important room of any home, and the one I love most.  More counter space than I know what to do with, and deep counters as well. Compared to each home I’ve lived in for the last 20 years, I can stretch out in the kitchen finally,

Guitar playing in an earth home. I had wondered how I’d feel playing my guitar in the center of the dome, where true ‘reverberation’ is alive.  Add a margarita in this beautiful home ... well, it’s quite an emotion.  I hope others who have watched this novice do it believe they can do so as well. 

Self-Building. This question has finally been answered for me - do I wish to actually build my home?  I had always said I did, and I am still happy with that self assessment.  However, the project is a vast one, and this is only a 4 room home.  It’s hard work, and more so in a foreign country.  But I found the most rewarding element of the project was the engagement with the community.  Initially, the ‘green and sustainable’ building tricks I was playing with were most inspiring, but those didn’t hold my interest as did getting to know the community through this project.  Having a general contractor handle all the materials and staffing would have insulated me from these daily decisions - and the chance to get to know so many folks in El Carondal. I now truly feel like a member of the community, And I don’t doubt the economic ‘justice’ of contracting directly with every vendor and paying the prevailing ‘gringo’ wage direct to a worker, as opposed to paying a contractor who pays a significantly lower wage to the same workers. Anyway, this has been a most excellent lesson to learn. 

As to the artisanal aspect of ‘building every piece of my home myself’ - well, that is obviously of little interest to me, though it seems to be that of many folks who engage in self - building endeavors.  There would be A LOT of lessons learned the hard way if I had taken this approach :-)

I will post the complete financial and material break down of this project in the next posting - I have a lot of receipts to go through and facts to double check. But I made the project under time, a little over budget, and significantly more happy with the result than I had envisioned.  So, I’m a happy man.  And proud to welcome all of my friends and family to come and experience an earthbag home on the Baja coast. Details for how to do this also forthcoming....Hasta pronto!