Straw Bale House: DIY Flooring with Adobe and Flagstone

| 8/12/2011 1:36:49 PM

Tags: straw bale house, flagstone, adobe, tamping, subfloor, troweling, homesteading, Dave Larson,

Dave L HeadshotThe floors of our buildings here at our desert homestead are all different. Adobe and flagstone are the primary materials. One building has flagstone flooring and the other three have adobe floors. Each of the adobe applications used a different set of materials besides adobe and each has turned out to have very different color and texture from the others. We decided against concrete because we were a crew of two and a bit weak in concrete finishing skills. We had helped lay a large concrete patio base for our son and the drying time snuck up on us. The result was not what we would have liked. We knew from previous experience that adobe dries much more slowly and is more forgiving. There is also the comparative benefit of natural material, adobe, versus material with a great amount of embodied energy such as concrete for those considerate of Mother Earth. We do use cement, but try to use it sparingly.

     AB base
In all the floors, we began with a well-tamped sub-floor of AB sand mix such as is used in a road base. With repeated leveling, wetting, and tamping, this material provided us with a solid base for our earth and rock floors. The material was inexpensive and available from our local sand and gravel people.

          Ttamping Floor
For those who don’t have a young fellow teacher ready to help out for a few hours, small power tampers are readily available from tool rental outlets. On damp evenings, my shoulders can still feel the effects of tamping down sub-floors by hand in three buildings plus the shop. We don’t have a rental outlet anywhere within 75 miles of the homestead, so it was a hand-tamper for us.

The results using hand tamping were fine, though the process took longer.  The tamped sub-floor was brought up to two inches below the ultimate finished floor level. The rest of the way would be either stone or layers of adobe.

        First Coat of Floor Plaster
The need to have precisely level floors was not as great in the Bear Cave and the shop, so we simply used wood guides for the layers above the sub-floor.

Using dimension lumber in the same manner as screed boards in concrete work, we spread and smoothed the first layer with a garden hoe and a long, handmade combination trowel and screed called a darby float.

8/30/2011 12:14:46 PM

I recommend sealing your flagstone with something. I have flagstone bathroom counter tops and fireplace hearth, and oily spills/candle wax, for one, stain the stone. Also, living in the dusty desert, a seal would make cleaning easier, instead of the water you clean with soaking right into the stone. I have the same issue with my unsealed saltillo tile flooring. I'm not into using chemicals, but the floors look stained and worn over time.

Mountain Woman
8/16/2011 3:17:28 PM

Your floors are beautiful. Never knew about using manure and if you were closer, I'd have quite a bit to give you. It's been really amazing watching your house be built. It's not only the techniques you are using which are so interesting but also the amount of care and work you are putting into your efforts. Your house will truly be a home.

Nebraska Dave
8/13/2011 4:47:52 PM

Dave, those are definitely unique floors. You have so many different techniques involved in building your house and other buildings. I'm quite amazed at every post you give us to read. Just one part of your building project would take me forever to figure out. I'm not sure I could handle horse poo in my floor although I wouldn't have an issue with using it in my garden compost so I'm a little contradictory on that one. Old tools that are not as high tech or fancy still get the job done. I am all for anything that keeps the cost down on projects. With everything that you have had to learn to build your home, you have become an expert in straw bale house, adobe, flagstone building. Your experiences prove that ordinary people using low tech methods can build a beautiful home with a reduced cost if they are willing to work for it. I'd say that's true modern day homesteading. Have a great high plains desert day.

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