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The comforts of building with stone.

COUNTRYSIDE: When I decided to build my first (and last) house, I knew I would use alternative building methods. The problem was deciding which alternative to choose. I knew I wanted earth sheltered passive solar, but that still left many options. Choosing to go alternative is easy, finding your way among the myriad methods is not. So, after much study, I chose to timber frame (post and beam), infill that with cedar stackwall, and slipform stone and concrete foundation walls. Trying to conserve both money and planetary resources, I cut the timber framing from my property, scrounged cedars where I could, and gathered every stone I could find (and lift) within about five miles of my place. Slipforming is an old building method where wooden forms are set up wall thickness apart, a flat-faced stone is placed against a form, and concrete is poured in behind the stone, forming a wall with embedded stones facing out. Once the concrete has set, another layer of forms is placed on top, and the process is repeated.

Now, with two (or more) layers of forms up and concrete set, you can remove the bottom forms and leapfrog them up the wall, thus greatly conserving form lumber, as you work your way up and along the wall.

Most stones are not very large and heavy, and flat-faced stones do not have to be very thick to cover a fair amount of wall. The heaviest piece of wood in my house is easily heavier than the heaviest stone. In my search for stone, I found several old homesites where the only evidence of a home having ever been there was a stone chimney or pile of stones. This is a tribute to the enduring quality of stone: it won't rot, burn, or get eaten by insects. After you have it mortared in place, it will remain right there, looking exactly like it does, virtually forever.

An added benefit, in my circumstance, is that stone is an excellent heat sink, or thermal mass. It soaks up excess solar heat on cold sunny days, and returns it at night. Conversely, it keeps indoor temps cooler during hot days, acting as a thermal flywheel, evening out temperature fluctuations in either direction. And all of these benefits from a free resource!

We mixed our own concrete, which helped to keep costs below the cost of a block wall, not counting labor. I feel I should mention that the stonework is, in the opinion of many, the most attractive walls they have seen. Another benefit is that unlike the typical stick framed wall, once you pull the forms and mortar, you're done, vs. the many steps of sheetrocking, painting, etc. Oh, and no maintenance, ever. Thick stone walls do not transmit sound very well either, making for a quiet, attractive, evenly heated interior space. They can be insulated on the outside by applying sheet insulation and stucco. If anyone would like to see the finished stone walls, they are invited to call Doug Kalmer at 931-722-5031.

Further reading: Build Your Own Stone House by Karl and Sue Swenke, and Our Home Made of Stone by Helen Nearing. -- Doug Kalmer, Collinwood, TN
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Author:Kalmer, Doug
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 2000
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