My first interview with Harold Reynolds was over the phone, sometime in late February. As we talked, I tried taking notes on my laptop. I say tried, because by the end, I was typing so fast, all I had were sentences like “code officer was unfamiliar, and unsure a building over in french creek and cordwood and round.” By the time we finished the interview, I realized I had to see Harold’s house for myself; there were too many things to talk about just over the phone. So, on a sunny day in mid-March, I packed up my notebook and camera: my sister (my volunteer photographer) and I headed over to Sherman for a visit.
At the beginning of this building project, Harold wanted to build his entire house using cordwood construction; he was inspired by a book he read as a child, My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, where a young boy builds his own home in the base of a large tree. However, after some complications arose (code laws, expense, time, etc.), he decided to scale back his original plan. In 2003, he and a small team of dedicated friends and family members began work, as they say, from the ground up. They installed a floating concrete slab foundation (no basement due to the location of the house on the watershed), and, with great effort transported two small, nearby houses (due for demolition) to the site. The houses, each cut in half, were dragged onto the slab, and placed on opposite ends of the foundation. In between the houses Harold built a floor system to bridge the gap then a pole barn system around it all and roof over the top–the house began taking shape. He used a combination of cordwood and regular wood siding to encompass the entire structure, making a single, rectangular, house.
Throughout the entire process, Harold has done his homework. Researching on-line and in books, he has learned all about cordwood construction and other methods not only to reuse materials, but to make his home more energy efficient (A cordwood wall has an insulation value of about R26). Two books in particular, Cordwood Construction by Richard Flatau, and Cordwood Masonry Housebuilding by Rob Roy, really helped him in learning how to build and insulate walls using cordwood and home-made mortar. He experimented with different combinations of sand, sawdust, cement/lime, and mud, until he found the blend with the best consistency.
This picture shows how the cordwood is set up, with the mortar to hold it in place, and a filling of sawdust to help insulate the wall—with additional sawdust in the mortar, the wall is impervious to air, insects, and moisture. Harold used wood from his own land—mostly locust wood and ash, since they are very hard and durable. The wood can be different lengths and widths, although many who use this kind of construction make sure the wood is flush on the inside of the wall. In addition to its energy and environmental benefits, cordwood is also a very attractive style. On the front, Harold added a sun design using different shaped pieces of wood, and in the back, he painted the mortar white for more contrast.
While the bulk of time Harold has spent on this home relates to the foundation, structure, and cordwood, his ingenuity has not stopped there. Old stone steps salvaged from a church have become windowsills in the main room. Glass blocks sandwiching colored plexi-glass have become stained glass window accents (seen in the photo above). Rescued materials have been turned into kitchen cabinets, countertops, and wood paneling; reclaimed sinks, bathtub, and an old-fashioned stove have been cleaned and refitted as well.
Before we left, I asked Harold if he had any advice for those dreaming of building their own home. He said, “If you want to build your own house, get busy and do it. It will take a lot of money, and a lot of time, but it’s worth it.” He then said, “this place started out as a house, but it’s slowly turning into a home.” And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we’re all looking for?