by Daniel Combellick
*New Photos added
The house began with ordering 60 logs from the forest service, which they delivered to the site. Common Fir. Some of these I used to build a small hut, which were all hand-hewn, along with some Birch logs taken from my forest. I lived in this small 12 X 16 ft hut the entire time I was building the house.
The foundation was dug by hand, and filled the same… this was one of the three procedures on the house I had help with – the other two were installing the metal roof, and hanging the drywall – besides these all work was completed by me. In my shed there was no electricity or water – the water I brought in containers in a wheel barrow, or on a sled in the winter – from a nearby farmers well, the old kind, drawing the water with a bucket on a chain and dumping into the old milk containers I used for storage. My light was from headlamps, and kerosene lanterns. I had a propane stove, an outhouse, and an outside bathing shelter.
When I had completed my lumber take-off I sent the logs to a mill and had them sawn. Then, I commenced building. I was alone almost every day, this is a very remote spot, it is very quiet. Sometimes the loudest sound above that of my tools was the flap of a bird’s wings overhead. Did you know crows are very noisy fliers?
I used a modified timber frame system of my own design. The windows and doors were produced by local craftsmen. All hand made.
Winters are long and dark here which slowed me down, but after three summers the house was complete(enough to live in), and had electricity connected. Under such conditions one becomes very intimate with a sharp hand saw. I had them, but still remember counting strokes on the rafters… 144 strokes on the 45 degree cuts….
The principle of the house is very simple. The exterior is light and insulated, the interior walls are all brick, and the floors are insulated concrete. So when this house is warm it stays warm a long time, and in the summer it never needs air conditioning. There is just too much thermal mass for quick temperature fluctuations. The brick stove, which is also the heat source was adapted from an old book lent by a friend called “How to Build a Country House” written in Russian, but with good enough illustrations I could follow it. It is amazing, in that the smoke leaves the stove lower than the fire, but it does not end there. Behind it is a thick brick wall where there is a serpentine chimney. The smoke passes through this chimney heating up, literally, a ton of bricks. In warmer weather there is a damper to open, to allow smoke to go straight up and out. I was very skeptical of this as I was building it, coming from an American background and knowing how they vent fireplaces…. but it works, and works very well. There is never a scent of smoke in the house. Indeed, you will find most country homes here have variations of this same technology, hundreds of years old. And my chimney had added one luxury. On one side of this “warm wall” is the shower, so when you are in the shower there is wonderful radiant heat.
So there it is. The lower level is about 500 sq ft, and the upper level less than 300. It is very comfortable for two people, but a family of four would do well.
I have just recently bought another property here in Lithuania and am hoping to repeat this process soon.
I am sending you a picture of the stair, the posts for which were made from a single birch tree that was carefully skinned. Behind it, as in more plain in the second picture, is the warm wall with the serpentine chimney inside. In this one the direction is side to side, but often they are made with the channels going up and down.