Cordwood Castle in Maine

Alan Adolphsen built this absolutely beautiful small cordwood home in Hope, Maine in 2004. He describes his building adventure as an owner-builder. One with pluck and a good knowledge of construction. Here are a few words from Alan on how he decided upon cordwood and then tackled his project with gusto.

Alan's home under a soft blanket of snow.

Alan’s home under a soft blanket of snow.

Alan Adolphson of Hope, Maine built this beauitful cordwood home of aspen He built a post and beam framework and the buried it within the cordwoodA corner section of wall with triangular split aspen pieces, which allowed for very precise mortar joints.

“Deciding to build my own house was an easy decision for me. What was hard was waiting for the right time to tackle whatever it was that I came up with. The first thing that I wanted to build was stone. I have plenty of stone on my site so that was not a problem but it did seem a little too time consuming to do a stone structure. So my mind began to wander.”

Alan Adolphson Hope, Maine4

The interior is comprised of beautiful arches and excellent wood and stone work.  Alan Adolphson Hope, Maine.6

“I started looking for alternative methods for building. I have done a lot of modern conventional construction and I just could not bring myself to use these flimsy methods that would allow someone to virtually kick a hole through my house.
Dry wall, plywood and fiberglass insulation all send shivers of contempt down the back of my neck. They were all out of the question except perhaps the ever-useful plywood products that seem to keep getting better and better.”

With the walls under construction, a bleach water solution is applied to reduce the possibility of the log ends darkening.

With the walls under construction, a bleach water solution is applied to reduce the possibility of the log ends darkening.

“I eventually came upon cordwood construction. This method did not seem to be the complete answer, at first. I had a lot of reservations about the types of insulation to use and the inevitable shrinkage separation cracking that occurs when one stacks mud and wood in the same place. I put a lot of thought into this subject. I knew that there is no way to completely stop wood shrinkage from happening, but I was determined to at least minimize its negative effects.”

Alan Adolphson Hope, Maine 9
“After about 500 sketches of the ultimate house, I finally decided to look at what I really needed to accomplish. Living in Maine, I wanted first to heat as cheaply as possible, so big was out of the question. If the place was going to be small, by golly, it is going to be “cool.” This led to another 500 designs lying on the floor.

At this point the design process actually began to get more fun. It was time to go for a long ride. I drove all over looking at different shapes of houses. What I discovered with this trip, and many others, is that some builders had got it right with regard to house shape. I decided on squares and 45-degree angles. Luckily for me, cordwood lends itself to these shapes quite well. That is how I came up with what I built. I decided that I could live with a somewhat reduced version of my stone castle if I just incorporated some finite amount of stonework on the inside and the outside.”

Alan Adolphson Hope, Maine 1
“Castles have lots of arches, which frame the view and lend their shape to the observer’s peace of mind. So I decided that major design elements, like windows and doors, had to have arches over them. Arches, combined with squares and 45-degree angles, are what “makes” this little house visually. And arches have very real structural benefits, too. I looked for products that would let me build masonry arches. I thought of pouring them in concrete. I thought of lifting them, but then quickly decided on fitted wood.
A couple other details down the scale, from arches and the like, are the gable ends. They had to be continuous walls—bottom to top—and the arches were my rounds, so all the wood would have to be split at least once. There is, however, one lonely round log-end high in the wall.”

Alan Adolphson Hope, Maine 14

The interior with its masonry stove and arches is quite a thing of beauty.

The house is now all finished, comfortable and gorgeous.

The house is now all finished, comfortable and gorgeous.

For information on building with cordwood construction you might wish to visit www.cordwoodconstruction.org and if you have a notion go to the menu on top and click on NewsArticles, Photos and Books for a visual feast.

The backyard BBQ is all set for grillin'.

The backyard BBQ is all set for grillin’.

Someone asked about how the roof was installed.  Here is a photo that shows the hidden post and beam framework.  This was mortared around and covered with short log ends on each side.  Pretty clever…no:0)

Alan Adolphson Hope, Maine 13

Should you wish to learn how to build a cordwood cottage, cabin or home, please visit www.cordwoodconstruction.org   While you are there, click on the pictures, read the brief articles, check out the latest workshops and newsletter and if you are interested click on the Online Bookstore to see all the cordwood literature available in print and ebook format.Cordwood Construction Best Practices Front_Cover_-_CC_Best_Practices small pixelsIf you have questions that aren’t answered on the website you can email me at richardflatau@gmail.com  

Readers have requested a brief bio, so here goes:

“Richard & Becky Flatau built their mortgage-free cordwood home in 1979 in Merrill, Wisconsin. Since then, they have written books, conducted workshops, facilitated the 2005,  2011 and 2015 Cordwood Conferences and provided consultation for cordwood builders.  Cordwood Construction: Best Practices and Cordwood Conference Papers 2015 are the newest publications available from their online cordwood bookstore.   www.cordwoodconstruction.org

 

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15 responses to “Cordwood Castle in Maine

  1. Great house, I plane to build a cordwood house in Arkansas.

  2. I noticed it isn`t post and beam structure. How did you manage the roofing part?

  3. Why didn’t you use the walls for structural support of the roof?

    • Hi Ross,
      Cordwood used to be built to hold up the roof. The problem was in two areas. 1. The mortar had to be strong enough to hold up the roof and because of this, it would dry to fast, crack mortar joints and separate from the log ends. Hence there was air infiltration and crummy looking walls. 2. The other problem was getting code approval in most areas. So the game plan switched and it became a best practice to use cordwood as infill with a simple post and beam framework. This meant the mortar could be weaker (a good thing) and not dry out so fast and there was much less mortar cracking and log loosening. We have developed a set of 14 best practices that we teach and encourage builders to use. Of course, these are not mandatory, but they are very helpful in getting a building permit. They are summarized in detail in the book Cordwood Construction Best Practices, which I wrote in 2012. Let me know if you have any more questions. +Richard Flatau

  4. Have you had any of the wood cracking or splitting with moisture or extreme temperature changes. In the one photo you had a green sprayer, is it all sealed with something?

    Thanks Dave

    • Hi David,
      The green sprayer is a bleach water solution to keep the log faces from turning black. Aspen will do that when rain hits it. The wood needs to be peeled, split and dried before it is used. Usually for 2 years. That way it has done it’s cracking and splitting before being placed in the wall. The theory behind cordwood is that the log ends breath and transpire moisture. So they should never be sealed. However they can be stained on the exterior to keep a uniform color.
      All the best,
      Richard

  5. sorry one more question… how did you work the insulation part of the build. Walls look plenty thick, but I wouldn’t think the R value of wood and mortar would be that high? Does the mortar sweat with diff. temperatures. I love your design, just curious on these few things. thanks

  6. Hi David,
    If the wall is 16″ then there is a 3″ mortar bead, 10″ of insulation and another 3″ mortar bead. The wood must be bone dry, the mortar slow setting (we use sawdust and lime) and the walls tuck pointed and covered for 7 days. The U of Manitoba tested the r-value of the walls at their engineering research facility in Winnipeg. They came up with 1.5 per inch of wall, so a 16″ wall is R-23.5. Here is a link to hundreds of photos of cordwood walls on my Cordwood Facebook page… http://www.facebook.com/cordwoodconstruction
    Richard Flatau

  7. Beautiful and looks like it’s well installated

  8. Do you have any information regarding the flooring, electrical and plumbing?

    • Electrical is handled by either conduit or “jacketed/insulated” wire run inside the post and beam framework using wire staples. There are many pictures of electrical installations. It is actually very easy and code compliant.
      Plumbing is done on the interior walls.

    • Electrical is handled by either conduit or “jacketed/insulated” wire run inside the post and beam framework using wire staples. There are many pictures of electrical installations. It is actually very easy and code compliant.
      Plumbing is done on the interior walls.
      Flooring is covered in 4 different posts on this blog. Use the search engine and type in Cordwood Flooring.

  9. I love the house, & it was a great idea to build this way.

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