Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 331: Building in Boonville .....

The plan was, and to best of my knowledge still is, to help my brother Alan, his wife Torrey and their two children Sam and Willow to build a new family home in Boonville California. The new home is located on approximately 160 acres of hillside along a private road that looks down across vineyards and redwood forests into the depths of the Anderson Valley. It’s a large parcel of land that under normal circumstances would be totally unaffordable. But this is not a normal place, this is Boonville and everything happens a little differently in these parts. The 160 acres of land borders an intentional community called ‘Emerald Earth’ (‘Intentional Community’ is a new age name for a commune) and was initially purchased by a Californian whose name I will not divulge. The Californian in question purchased this particular parcel of land in order to protect the integrity of the neighbouring community at Emerald Earth and thus avoid the creation of new vineyards. The production of fine wines is essential to the economy of the Anderson Valley but the establishment of new vineyards deprives the small farms of much needed water during the dry season. The people of Boonville enjoy their wines just as much as everybody else, but they also enjoy their local organic food and it’s one of the few places that I’ve visited in America where the word ’Community’ really applies. It’s a community where people help other people and at a chance meeting in a local restaurant, Alan was introduced to the Californian land-angel. By amazing coincidence, the Californian land-angel was looking for an organic farmer to take on the 160 acre plot and Alan was looking for around 50 acres of land on which to expand his organic farming operation. The intentions of both parties matched perfectly but the numbers simply didn’t add up. Alan and Torrey could never in their wildest dreams afford to purchase 160 acres of land with a million dollar view, but the land-angel made things simple for them ….. “however much you can afford is exactly what I‘ll accept for the 160 acres” . And so the deal was done. It wasn’t quite that simple and certain restrictive covenants apply, but it was certainly a lucky day for the Thomas’s…… mai pen rai

At the beginning of August 2010, Alan approached our good friend and Boonville resident Steve ‘Guitar’ Derwinski and asked him to draw-up plans for the proposed new house at Lone Tree Ridge on Peachland Road. Steve was officially in retirement but instantly agreed not only to draw the pans but to personally manage the build up to roof level. Plans were submitted to the Ukiah Planning Department and the intention is to make full use of ’Class K’ planning regulations. ’Class K’ is a planning system available for building low density dwellings in rural locations and allows for the building of some quite funky and unique dwellings. Under ‘Class K’, once the initial plans are ’Accepted’, you build the house and the planning department will only inspect the building at the end of construction. This avoids the costly process of ’Permits’ and ’Periodic Inspections’ and allows the builder to use ’Free-Cycled’ materials. Being five miles away from the main road, the house is designated ’Off-Grid’ and will be self sufficient for energy. It will have wood burning stoves fuelled by the many fallen trees on the land and solar panels to capture the year-round sunshine. No more heating bills, thank you very much.

On the 25th of August, Steve Mize brought his excavation equipment to the building site and began to make a level platform in the side of the hill for the home to sit in. Once the pad was cleared, foundation trenches were then excavated and the building process could begin.

Wooden forms were then constructed and reinforced with steel bars ready for concrete to be poured for the base foundation. While the forms were being erected, Steve Mize constructed a new road that runs several hundred yards from the existing private road to the new building site. The site is on a steep hillside and the new road had to navigate it’s way up the unfeasible gradient and around ancient oak trees before reaching the house. Personally I thought that it was an impossible task, but two days later the road was complete and the cement trucks were able to gain access and the foundations were poured.

Two days after the concrete had been poured, the form boards were removed and the building began to rise. Wooden plates were attached to the tops of the new concrete walls and massive wooden beams laid down to support the floor joists. The spaces between the floor joists were packed with insulation and then plywood laid and nailed on top to form the floor.

Exactly four weeks after the first shovel full of dirt was moved, all of the ground floor walls have now been build and we’re about to start work on the second floor living and kitchen areas. We’re using a building system called ’SIPS’ - Structural Insulated Panel Systems - and it’s actually not dissimilar to using a child’s building set. Each panel is a six inch thick piece of polystyrene sandwiched between two pieces of eight foot by four foot weatherboard. Channels are already cut to carry the electrical wiring and you simply put the panel in the right place and attack it with a huge pneumatic nail gun. On it’s own, each panel seems quite flimsy, but when joined to the next panel the strength of the structure increases dramatically. That’s just as well, because we’re building one hundred miles north of San Francisco and I suspect that puts us right on the San Andreas fault line… mai pen rai

We’re now four weeks into the twelve week build and we’re on-budget and slightly ahead of schedule. I’ll be leaving Boonville on the 16th of November and hope to leave the building with a roof. The internal finishing will take a little while longer but Alan and his family intend to move in to the new home before Christmas. Every day on the site I can hear Kevin McLoud’s voice ringing in my ears -Channel 4’s Grand Designs- but hopefully there are no major disasters looming on this build. Oh, did I mention that we’ve just had our initial planning permission refused? …. mai pen rai

No comments: