Poultry Houses of the Ultra-Wealthy

Root Simple reader Christopher Calderhead tipped us off to a story in the Guardian on the plans by British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey to build a neo-classical chicken coop. Odey will, apparently, be spending at least £100,000 just for the stone. The Telegraph also covered the story and has more details on the construction,

The temple’s roof – adorned with an Anthemia statuette – will be fashioned in grey zinc; the pediments, cornice, architrave and frieze are in English oak; and the columns, pilasters and rusticated stone plinth are being hewn from finest grey Forest of Dean sandstone.

Sir Peter’s duck house.

This isn’t the first poultry house to cause a scandal in Britain. In 2010 Sir Peter Viggers claimed a £1,645 duck house as part of his expenses as an member of parliament.

Now if your taste runs more towards Dwell Magazine than the neo-classical, a British company sells a £1,950, “Nogg” chicken coop. Modern design, apparently, comes with an even higher price tag than Sir Peter’s duck house!. And, like most modern design, the Nogg is more conceptual than practical. Looks like a tight squeeze for a couple of hens. The Nogg could get Prince Charles started on on one of his anti-modernist architecture rants.

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A DIY Whole House Fan

Our DIY whole house fan.

How hot is our unairconditioned, uninsulated old house? Kelly has temporarily banned bread baking and I’m thinking of opening my own Bikram hot yoga franchise.

But seriously, a few summers ago I decided to install a whole house fan. What’s a whole house fan? It’s a large fan, mounted in the ceiling, that pushes hot air into the attic while simultaneously drawing cool air in from the outside. You turn on a whole house fan when the air outside is cooler than the air inside the house, usually in the evening. It works best in climates that have hot days and cool nights–like Los Angeles or many other parts of the Southwest.

Diagram from Gear Hack.

Whole house fans are usually placed in a ceiling towards the middle of the house. For us that’s the hallway. Unfortunately, between the attic access door and the intake for the central heater, our hallway ceiling had no room to fit a standard whole house fan. And I’m cheap. So I decided to make a DIY version.

I picked up a shop type fan and installed it in a 3/4 inch piece of plywood cut to fit the attic door. It was a simple project and saved a lot of money. I think I spent around $30 for the fan and used a piece of scrap plywood. I added two handles to make it easier to remove the fan/door and access the attic. The final touch was to install an outlet in the attic wired to a switch hidden in a closet so that I can turn the fan on and off. When cooler weather comes around I simply swap out the attic fan for the normal attic door. Would a commercial whole house fan work better? Yes, but I try not to let perfection be the enemy of the good around here.

An attempt to use a bike pump as an air conditioner. Hot cat in background.

It’s still damn hot at Root Simple world headquarters during the day. So maybe I will open that combination bakery/Bikram yoga franchise where you can eat buns while you tone your buns.

How to Make a Native Bee Nesting Box

Back in the spring I made a native bee nesting box by drilling a bunch of holes in the long end of a 4 by 6 inch piece of scrap wood. I cut one end of the 4 x 6 at an angle so that I could nail on a makeshift roof made from a piece of 2 x 6. I hung the nesting box on an east facing wall or our house with a picture hanger.

I used three sizes of holes to see which ones would be most popular: 1/4 inch, 3/16 inch and 1/8 inch. All were moved into by, I think, the same native bee within days of putting up the box. This afternoon, when I went to check on the nest to take some pictures for this blog post, I was delighted to see a lot of activity. There were bee butts sticking out of the holes, as well as bees flying in and out. I think they are some sort of mason bee–extra credit to the person who successfully identifies the species:

They move fast, so I was only able to get these two blurry shots. No, they are not Chupacabras.

With the success of this primitive native bee box, I decided to make more nesting boxes to see if I could attract other solitary, native bees. I put this one together with some small pieces of bamboo that I found in a neighbor’s trash can:

I think there’s a great potential to create works of public art that double as insect nests. For a nice example of this idea see the “insect hotel” designed by by Arup Associates.

For general guidelines on how to build nesting boxes see this guide from the Xerces Society

We also have a project for a native bee box in our book Making It.

If you’ve built or seen a nice native bee box, leave a comment or a link.

Of Man Caves and Woman Caves

I spotted this magazine yesterday at the checkout line in Home Depot. According to Manland, the “ultimate man cave site,” this magazine is “a special-edition magazine from the publishers of WOOD Magazine.” Paging Dr. Freud–WOOD Magazine sponsoring Man Caves? Will Rigid Tools be an advertiser? The Man Caves editors get to have lots of fun coining new words like “mantastic” and throwing around headlines like “Chromed-Up Harley Hangouts.”

From the preview on the Manland site, it seems Man Caves Mag delivers the usual man cave aesthetic package of neon beer signs, motorcycles and flat screen TVs. The editors of WOOD, promise that their Man Caves Magazine will “go behind the scenes to reveal what makes their personalized man space so popular—sometimes the most popular room in the entire house—and find out how they pulled it off on budget.”

Man Caves Mag caught my eye, because our friends at Zapf Architectural Renderings are working on a man cave remodel of the Root Simple garage. It will look something like this:

But seriously. Man Caves Magazine got me pondering gender equality issues. Why no Woman Caves Magazine? A haphazard Google image search for “woman cave” turned up things like this:

Looks like a room that’s never used.

I’m curious if Root Simple readers have man or woman caves. What activities take place in the woman cave? What room of the house does it occupy? Does your woman cave take up less square footage than the man cave? And gentlemen, if you have a homesteader’s man cave what’s in it? Is the man/woman cave trend just another manifestation of the decedent American clutter culture a UCLA study just documented? Comments!

Five Gallon Ideas: A Blog Devoted to the Five Gallon Bucket

I’ve got a new favorite blog: Five Gallon Ideas which is, as you might have guessed, devoted to what to do with five gallon buckets. Incidentally, my favorite place to find five gallon buckets is behind bad bakeries–the sort that go through buckets of crappy frosting. My favorite use for five gallon buckets? Self Irrigating Pots, of course!

Let us know where you scavenge five gallon buckets and what you like to do with them.

Qualitites of a Good Outdoor Room

Our front porch.

One of the features of gardens that I like is that they tend to be divided into smaller spaces, what has come to be called outdoor rooms. The Ecology Center, that we visited on Saturday, is a nice example of how to arrange a large space into many smaller ones. Just like the Huntington Ranch, the Ecology Center is subdivided into distinct spaces that host school visits and classes. Well designed residential gardens, like guest blogger Nancy Klehm’s, also leverage small outdoor rooms to make a small space seem bigger and to provide pleasant spots to read, meditate, use as an outdoor office, or host gatherings.

Our arbor and earth oven.

Outdoor rooms can be as simple as an area of mulch or gravel surrounded by shrubs. Or they can be much more elaborate affairs incorporating arbors, tables and decks. Their greatest benefit may simply be in getting us outside to commune with nature for at least a few minutes a day.

My ugly outdoor home office near the chicken coop.

We’re in the middle of a year of re-designing our garden and there’s still a lot of work to do. As a part of this process I’ve been trying to figure out why I prefer sitting on the front porch to sitting in the backyard. I came to the conclusion that the front porch works better as an outdoor room than the spaces we have in the backyard. I think it’s because the porch better embodies qualities that make for a successful outdoor room. Those qualities are:

  • A sense of enclosure or shelter
  • A view
  • Some shelter from the elements (in our climate that’s the sun)
  • A ground treatment that sets it apart from the rest of the yard (could just be mulch or could be concrete or wood)
  • A place to sit
  • Art, objects, i.e. some human touch

With these ideas in mind, how can I improve the outdoor spaces in the photos in this post? On the front porch I could add a small table to hold a book and a glass of beer. The space with the stove needs shelter from the sun during the morning (in another year the grapes will cover the arbor but until that time maybe I need to string up some shading). The earth oven we built definitely improved the “roomedness” of this space, creating a sense of enclosure and providing a focus. But I clearly need to construct something to hold the wood for that oven so as not to create a cluttered view. The last photo, of the area by the chicken coop, is obviously a disaster. Cleaning up will help, but the space also needs more of a sense of enclosure and a larger footprint to accommodate the table. A vine to cover the trellis would also help.

So what do you think makes for a successful outdoor room? Is there something I left off the list? What is your favorite space to sit in the garden and why do you like that particular spot?

Google Sketchup as an Urban Homesteading Tool

I just completed a new chicken run, greatly assisted by an amazing and free 3d design program: Trimble SketchUp (formerly Google SketchUp). While it takes some time to learn (I’m still learning!), this program helped me visualize the chicken run as well as estimate the amount of materials I’d need to buy. Here’s how I used it to create the run:

Previous runs either did not work (chickens squeezed out and flew over) or were hideously ugly. I resolved to design a run that was both aesthetically pleasing and practical. Inspired by A-Frame cabins of the 60s Kelly and I came up with this idea:

I took my A-Frame plans to a friend, John Zapf, who runs Zapf Architectural Renderings. He took some time out, literally, from rendering multi-million dollar buildings to help with my lowly chicken run project. He could see a few problems with the A-Frame idea immediately–wasted space on the side towards the fence, and a lack of continuity between the shape of the chicken coop’s roof and the new run. Taking out pen and paper (sometimes the quicker option!) he sketched out  a much better design:

I took John’s sketch and entered it into Sketchup:

Being the low-tech bumpkin that I am, once I completed the run I was excited to see how much the real thing looked like the rendering.

SketchUp has some powerful features. There’s a library of objects other people have already drawn for you that you can download for free. For instance, the fence and tree (the exact same species of tree in my backyard, by the way) were both in the SketchUp library. And, amazingly, you can drop your model into Google Maps and even figure out the shadow patterns it will cast in the course of a year.

I’d strongly recommend going through the tutorial videos before trying to use SketchUp (I didn’t do this and wasted a lot of time initially).

And thanks to John Zapf and Anne Hars for your help!

A 3d Printed Self Irrigating Pot Yogurt Cup Insert

A really nice low-tech/high-tech hybridization here: a 3d printed insert that turns yogurt containers into small self irrigating pot. Creator, Carlynoram, describes the project:

This project is a 3D printed insert for a yogurt cup or any container that needs a new purpose. It turns trash into a self irrigating planter for kitchen herbs or flowers. Done in OpenSCAD, I tried to make it as parameterized as possible. Also, it should be able to print without support material in most cases.

You can download the plans at: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:22978.

Apparently this project was inspired by a demo we gave at the innovative Crash Space in LA. We’re proud to have prompted this project and wish Carlynoram the best of luck in refining the design.

Tiny Homes Simple Shelter by Lloyd Kahn

Full admission, I’m a bit of a Lloyd Kahn fanboy. So when he announced a new book Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter I knew I had to have a copy.

Kahn has profiled the alternative building scene since the 1960s and edited the building section of the Whole Earth Catalog. I often thumb through a tattered copy of his seminal book Shelter that I picked up at a garage sale. Want to live in a driftwood shack? Shelter will show you how.

I heard Kahn speak at Maker Faire and show photos from the new book Tiny Homes. He began his talk by describing the first two best selling books that he wrote, both about geodesic domes. To Kahn’s credit he pulled these books from print when he realized the folly of dome building: the waste of materials (plywood comes in 4 x 8 sheets), the fact that they are hard to add on to and their propensity to leak. As he put it, “I didn’t want any more domes on my karma.”Of Dwell Magazine, he says that he doesn’t believe that anyone actually lives in the fastidiously clean and sterile rooms shown in the lavish photos spreads.

In contrast to Dwell, the buildings shown in Tiny Homes look well lived in. And very diverse: there’s everything in this book from conventional frame structures, to intricate masonry, to cob, to yurts and sailboats. Plenty of inspiration and ideas here for the aspiring owner/builder. And Kahn has an eye for vernacular American architecture.

In a way my favorite building is Tiny Homes is the most modest–Tom’s cabin. It’s a a $4,000 Tuff Shed from Home Depot turned into a cozy caretaker’s cabin. Tom took the shed, which already has a built-in loft, converted that loft to a bedroom, insulated the walls, put in a small kitchen and covered the interior studs with 3/8″ particle board.  Ton’s cabin isn’t much to look at from the outside, but on the inside it’s a real home. And that’s the point. It may not actually be practical for many of us to live in really tiny houses (Kelly and I are happy with our current, and by the standards of this book, mansion-like 980 square feet). But size is not what matters. While limited to buildings of less than 500 square feet, Tiny Homes is really about the search for meaning and spirit in the places we call home. After years of bloated McMansions and the debt crisis that went with them, it’s no coincidence that this book has appeared at this time.