Reconstruction, part 3: Putting flesh on the bones

Once the framework is finished, the body of the house begins to be filled in. First, wires and pipes for power and plumbing are run within the frame. Although it is only a small house with relatively simple systems of lighting and heating/cooling, an impressive number of circuits are laced throughout the house.

On the other hand, the plumbing remains fairly simple. All the water-related functions (bathroom & kitchen) are in one downstairs corner of the house, so the infrastructure needed is basic – a few PEX (plastic) pipes and the hardware that will receive the sinks, faucets, toilet, etc. An on-demand water heater will be located just outside, on the exterior wall.

The sheep’s wool insulation, sourced from a hat factory in Pennsylvania, arrived in many large rolls. Unpacked, the batts are trimmed and easily fitted into the floor, ceiling, and walls. For several weeks, the house smells as if it is occasionally visited by a herd of roving sheep.

In preparation for the plastering, the wall studs are faced with a rough lattice of steel. This netting receives the wet plaster and gives it a foothold. (It likely also creates the interesting side-function of being a Faraday cage, trapping electromagnetic radiation from entering or exiting.)

Lime plaster is an ancient craft, now almost unknown because of the labor efficiency of Portland cement and other modern building materials. Lime plaster consists of only three elements: powdered limestone in a putty form (from a quarry in Wisconsin), common sand, and water (in this case from the nearby spring). The tools needed are simple – a trowel, a rake, a mixing station.

Bill Derr is a local expert in plastering. Every few days over several weeks, he visits the site and applies another thin layer, or works over an existing layer, or simply sprays on a light mist of water to keep the plaster flexible and not crack in its curing process.

The first coat applied is called the scratch coat, named for the raked scratches applied across its finish which provide the ‘tooth’ for the next layer.

As the plaster hardens, it essentially becomes a layer of stone about an inch and a half thick. The plaster breathes, yet also retains heat or cold from its mass. Even in this early stage, the plaster feels cool to the touch during the hot summer days.

The final plaster surface is a little rough, but pleasant in its tactilility. It is unpainted, and left as a light tan sandy tone.