Vela Creations is an in-depth resource for off grid living. The site documents our research and experiences, hoping that they might help others interested in pursuing this lifestyle. This blog is designed to document our day to day experiences as we build our new, sustainable homestead. If you are interested in seeing more photos and videos, we have a flickr account at the following url:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Brick walls are finished

After another week of not being able to work on the house, we did get a few days done this week, and saw a lot of progress.

The bricks are now all laid. This was our first brick laying experience and on the final (5th) day, the two of us laid 180 bricks: we are getting better and faster.

We then poured the posts at the corners and at either side of the door and
window. We used wooden forms for these instead of our preferred fabric forms. The door and window frame are now in place. It is looking more and more like a real room.

We have now started framing the bond beam. We should be able to pour that on Monday.

For more photos, click here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

19 months old

Our little guy just turned 19 months. I'll be putting all photos and videos over the coming month in 20th Month.

The truly great news is that all his teeth, except the 2nd year molars, are now through. Leo has suffered terribly with teething - they come through slowly, painfully, often with blood blisters, sometimes causing a fever. But now we all get a little break from the whole ordeal.

Perhaps the most noticeable change in the past month has been the level of independence. He's by no means ready to leave home, but he does seem to be able to entertain himself for longer periods of time. Animals, books, toys, Sesame Street, music keep him engrossed for lengthier stretches.

Plus, he is now wanting to work along side us. If we're moving rocks, or shoveling sand, or anything, he wants to do it too. He's even done a little concrete work!! We like the fact that he's willing to work, but we are so far not that impressed by his work ethic. For example, when I was filling up the area in between foundations with sand, he would move around behind me, filling up a little can with sand and throwing it back outside!! Mmmm!

He's still not talking that much, sticking to his comfortable grunts and signs. A few words here and there get added to his vocabulary, but very little. Hasn't yet said a Spanish word, though he seems to understand it almost as well as English.

He's quite the little charmer these days. With strangers, he'll wave and shake their hands. With friends, he'll shake hands and kiss.

We watched an extreme skiing video the other day, and ever since he will climb every boulder he sees, jump off and shout "Wow!". I am filled with dread at the years to come!!!!!!!

CEB walls

This week we worked on the brick walls (north and east) of the kids' rooms.

We are using Compressed Earth Blocks, basically adobe bricks that are stabilized, compressed and use very little water. They turn out much stronger than regular adobes. We use them for the floors too.

It was our first experience of brick laying, but we really enjoyed it. It goes fairly fast and comes out beautiful. Between us we lay about 160 bricks a day. So far, in four days, we have completed 25 feet of wall, and have started on the last 12 feet. Just another day or two to finish.

We start off by doing the ends of the wall, three layers high, but with just a brick or two. These we level well, in all directions. We then put a string in between the end bricks of each course and fill in with bricks, using the string as our guide. It's pretty simple stuff actually.

We will the pour the castillo posts at corners, ends and either side of door, and finally pour a bond beam.

For more photos, click here.

Homestead maintenance

We usually have our two closest friends, Armando and Estela, come up and help us with the house. Armando, Abe and I build; Estela keeps Leo out of trouble. Last week however, they couldn't make it, so we took a break from building.

We did a few bits and pieces to the building site, like fill in with sand, but for the most part we used the time to catch up on some stuff around the property. We made a new road into our place, did some maintenance to the road up here, fixed the fence in a couple of places, worked on some compost piles. That kind of thing.

This week we got back to the kids' rooms though.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


We poured the foundations for the brick, exterior walls (42 linear feet, 10 inches thick, 6 inches deep, with two strands of 1/2 inch rebar running through them) and for the interior, stud walls (20 linear feet, 6 inches thick, 6 inches deep, with two strands of 3/8 inch rebar running through them).

First of all, Abe compacted all the sand sub floor with a compacter we borrowed from our local city council. Yes, that's right, I did say borrow - our city council lends out its tools, no charge, to its constituents. It also delivers our sand by the dump truck load for $18, and we had a load arrive this week.

Next, we set up the forms for the foundations. We used fabric forms. We loved the system for pouring posts and have been eager to try it out on foundations. It worked a treat. We used 2"x4" lumber, raised up to the level we wanted on little stilts, which were pounded into the compacted sand. We leveled the top of these boards. We then stapled black plastic to the top of the boards, allowing it to sag down to the ground the depth and width we wanted. We put in our rebar reinforcement and our corner castillos, and then poured a 3:1 mix with added concrete fibers.

We are now in the process of filling the rooms up with sand, up to the level of the foundations.

More photos

First touch of winter.

This week we had a couple of days of HOWLING wind, and with it came the first hint of winter.

It was blowing so hard that it nearly lifted me off my feet when I went outside. In the house, however, it was deceivingly calm and quiet. We just snuggled up as a family, watched movies and read, enjoying the days off work.

Since then, it seems as though the temperature has taken on a chillier turn at night. Still not super cold, it is getting down into the 40s instead of 50s. The lowest we've had inside the house has been 57 degrees. In the mornings, with the curtains open and the sun pouring in, the temperature rises about 3-4 degrees an hour, and by 11am we shut the curtains to avoid getting into the 80s. So far, we are super impressed by the solar heating system. But it's not really cold yet, so this front was enough to make us get a little more prepared.

Over the past three years, they have been building a paved road to our village and beyond. They finished it about 6 months ago, but the oak and pine trees they had to cut down are still all along the sides. So we decided to take a drive up the new road, with its breathtaking vistas of pine-covered, 9000 feet mountains. We took the chainsaw and filled the truck in no time. Leo did his part by finding twigs and throwing them in!!!!

We will be building a wood-gas heater for when it gets colder, but in the meantime we went ahead and bought a wood-burning heater for the living room. We have a wood burning stove for the kitchen, but the size of the logs you can use is very small; the new one will allow us to put a big, all-night log on before we go to bed. With the stove pipes all hooked up and wood all cut and ready, we couldn't resist trying her out, even though it wasn't really cold. Man oh man, did it get hot! It was beautiful. Almost makes winter appealing, though not quite!

More photos

White, white!

We painted the outside of the south and west walls of the kids' rooms, which meet the roof of the previously constructed rooms. So far, we have just used a waterproofing paint, which is white. We will probably leave it white as it helps reflect heat in summer, but who knows.

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