This time it is Antonia blogging here. I am a long-term volunteer from Germany and I am in Bozevce since September. Since I arrived, we did a looooot of stuff! For example, we insulated our red house. Completely by hand and our insulation materials were straw, clay and sand. What sounds like a hard job was actually really funny – because we had many lovely people here helping us.
Ok. I can feel the question mark rising in your face. Insulation with straw, clay and sand? How does it function? Here is an explanation.
Straw is a material which can keep heat easily, in an even higher percentage than some of the modern insulation materials. There are even houses built with walls only made of straw and in the old times it was quite common to use it.
In our case, we added the straw as an insulation on the outside surface of our red house. We call it “red house” since it is made of red bricks. These bricks did not insulate good. So here is what we did to improve the situation:
Insulation – a step-by-step explanation
Step 1: Buying and preparing material
For straw insulation, you need – damdamdam – a lot of straw, of course. We bought it from our neighbors and piled it in our field. Next to it, we put the huge pile of sand that we bought. A truck brought it here, otherwise it would have been impossible for us. But the clay we got from our own property. We dag a huge hole and took out the clay. And, of course, we had to dig around the house as well since the insulation has to go from the very bottom up to the top, otherwise it would not make sense. And we bought some buckets and tools as well. So far about preparation.
Step 2: The frame
Straw does not glue to the wall itself, of course. We made a wooden frame for holding it. It is quite hard to describe the construction we made, so check out the pictures! The important thing about it is that air should go into the frame for letting the straw “breathe”. The distance between the horizontals and the wall in the end was around 17 centimeters. This step we did with around five people which was enough. But for the rest we invited all friends of GAIA to come and we ended up to be quite a big group of happy working people.
Step 3: Mixing of clay, straw and sand
The mixing station was a busy place all the time. One person bringing new clay from the digging place and putting it into water to soak, the next person mixing clay, sand and water in a big bucket ad then several people adding straw to the mix by hand. The proportions for it depend on how the clay is you are using; for us it was two times clay on one time sand and around eight cups of water per mix plus a lot of straw.
Step 4: Filling the frame with straw
The straw needed to be compressed inside the frame. I mean, for the insulation it would be useless to have holes of air in there, would it not? Therefore we always had two people working on filling up with straw and compressing it as much as possible.
Step 5: Applying the mix on the wall
This was the last step and it sounds quite easy: Just splash it onto the wall. But no, actually this was one of the hardest jobs. You really had to work it into the wall, with the muscles of your arms and fingers. On the lower part you had to apply the mix ducked whilst the upper part of the wall needed to be treated with the help of ladders. Hard – but also funny because we had quite some mud fights there.
This was basically how we worked. Thanks again to all the people who helped us! Now we have snow all around here and it is quite cold and we can really feel the difference the insulation makes. But it is not finished yet. There is more mix to be applied on it in summer, just to fix it better. And, for an even better result of insulation, we also need to apply mix of clay and sand on the inside of the house. So, a lot more work to do! Of course, we will show you our results here. Stay attached!