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Archive for the ‘Ceilings’ Category

Cedar latillas create a true Territorial feel (click to enlarge)

Cedar latillas create a true Territorial feel (click to enlarge)


Split cedar latillas create a different, yet traditional look

Split cedar latillas create a different, yet traditional look


Roundhouse ceilng made with latillas and vigas

Roundhouse ceilng made with latillas and vigas


Skipped peeled latillas

Skipped peeled latillas


Saguaro cactus rib latillas (click to enlarge)

Saguaro cactus rib latillas (click to enlarge)


Historic vigas and latillas (click to enlarge)

Historic vigas and latillas (click to enlarge)


Colored latillas and carved corbels

Colored latillas and carved corbels


Definition of latilla from Dictionary.com: “luh-tee-uh, a peeled branch or piece of wood laid between beams of a ceiling or above the vigas for decoration.”

From Southwest Building Supply: “Latilla is from the Spanish word Lata, meaning stick. These “sticks” are used as a traditional ceiling material, laid between beams or vigas. Latillas are cut from spruce or pine [or other woods] and are available in varying lengths and diameters.”

Additional facts:
– traditional latillas were mostly laid straight
– latillas in many modern homes are laid diagonally
– latillas can be peeled, stained, painted, burned, split or milled
– latilla panels are available to speed construction

Image source: Camino del Contento
Image source: Grand River Supply
Image source: Soledad Canyon
Image source: Mark Wright Construction, Inc.
Image source: Colorado Preservation.org
Image source: Idaho Forest
More good Latilla photos: Southwest Ideas.com

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Timbrel roof by Guastavino

Timbrel roof by Guastavino


Readers really liked the previous post on Timbrel Roofs. This comment is from Paul, one of our readers.

“Your post a few days back about timbrel vaulting grabbed my interest, and I began to look into it. I found some interesting PDFs on Guastavino.net, in their resources page. Click on the Texts button. It contains several texts written in the 1895-1905 time period on fireproof building construction. I haven’t read them all yet, still working on the Prolegomenos on the Function of Masonry. Part II, 1904 text. I will read the earlier texts once I have finished this one.

It goes into some detail on why masonry is the ideal construction material, particularly for roofs, and why other materials (stone, wood and metal) are less than ideal. It also discusses the classical architectural advances of the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans at different stages of development.

I think you will find these texts of value.”
Paul

“Welcome to guastavino.net
The Guastavino Project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is dedicated to documenting and preserving the tile vaulted works of the Guastavino Company. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Rafael Guastavino Moreno and his son Rafael Guastavino Exposito were responsible for designing tile vaults in nearly a thousand buildings around the world, of which more than 600 survive to the present day. The remaining buildings are found in more than 30 U.S. states, and include major landmarks such as the Ellis Island Registry Hall, the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal, and the Boston Public Library.”

Source: Guastavino.net

Follow-up email from Paul:
“Hi Owen,
It took some researching, but I found a clean (and free) copy of Rudolf Gustavino’s book on Cohesive Construction. This is the second edition and is complete, with all of the plates, etc. I printed a copy of this 167 page file for my research library. The new Adobe software has some tricks to it. It will automatically print double-sided (if your printer supports this) but can be disabled for printers that don’t have this feature.

When you read this file on your computer, it shows two pages at the same time, but when you go to print, it does a ‘flattening’, which I have never run into before, but what it does is to split the pages into one page per sheet. There is not a lot of print per page, this must have been a pocketbook, so that it could be taken to a job site and consulted.

Here are my thoughts on the subject. Gustavino used baked clay tiles, and even held a patent on how to make the edges staggered so that if a joint should fail, the tile would still be held in place by the shape of the tile alone. This is a really good idea, and this patent, which should be expired by now (the company shut down in 1965) so that this shape should be able to be used. Is it possible to use geopolymer to create these tiles, and possibly for use as the mortar? Some of Davidovits’ videos would indicate that this is indeed possible. Gustavino recommended tiles fired to a minimum of 2000 degrees F, so that if a fire should occur in the structure, the tiles would not expand significantly. This would prevent distruction of the structure, and seems to have worked, as the only Gustavino buildings that have been destroyed were done so deliberately, and not accidently by fire.

With earthbags for the walls, and geopolymer tiles used to create both floors and roofs, a building should last several generations. The only thing to ensure this would be aesthetics, for an ugly building is ugly forever, and is not likely to be kept around.

Gustavino used the arch in many different forms, but preferred the dome where possible, as it distributes the tension more evenly than a barrel vault will. He has a short discussion in his book how a barrel vault, built to his system, will stand up even if cracked diagonally from one corner to another. I found that point interesting. He liked to use arches (domes) even for ceilings that comprise the underside of floors, by putting up vertical ribs between the two surfaces of the appropriate height, generally 24 inches apart. To keep moisture from condensing between the two surfaces and to permit the running of pipes, wire, etc, he sometimes made them partially or completely hollow. This of course did not take into account insulation, but I suppose this could be installed before putting the floor down, as the arched ceiling is installed first.

I have seen some videos where modern test structures were tested to failure. However, every one of these were only one layer thick whereas Gustavino always built a minimum of two tile layers thick and up to 4 layers thick. As the tiles that he used were only 1 inch thick on the average, this makes for a very thin and light structure, yet one in which was of sufficient strength that after only a day or so, workers could walk across the structure and apply more layers of masonry.

All in all, I find the subject fascinating and full of promise.”
Paul

Image source: New York Daily Photo

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These drawings show two ways of making wood ceilings with pallet wood. (click to enlarge)

These drawings show two ways of making wood ceilings with pallet wood. (click to enlarge)


Shipping pallets are incredibly useful for building. They’re typically free, widely available and very strong. The wood is cured, and often hardwoods such as oak are used in pallets. There’re just good to waste.

The two ceiling discussed here use short or longer pieces of pallets (or any wood, actually) that are cut to fit your ceiling joists or rafters. Measure ‘center to center’ – the distance between the center of one board and the center of the next board. The most common spacing is 24”. This is the length you will want to cut your pallet boards. This distance will likely vary and you’ll have to adjust the sizes accordingly. If you have longer boards from large custom pallets, go ahead and use them because they will add a little strength and save some cutting.

Method 1: (top drawing) This method uses pallet wood nailed on the underside of joists or rafters. Here, the wood framing is covered for a more finished look. You can use trim to hide the joints. This method is best suited for insulated ceilings.

Method 2: (lower drawing) You can also nail pallet wood to the top of joists or rafters to create a ceiling with open or exposed framing. This method would look good on a loft floor where no insulation is necessary or other areas where you want to highlight the framing.

The recommended finishing method involves pre-sanding the wood with a belt sander and 80 grit sandpaper. The wood doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth, but it will look better if you clean it up and remove most of the roughness. Sanding makes finishing easier and also aids cleaning the ceiling in the future. The easiest finish is a wipe on Danish oil finish. The most popular color is called Medium Walnut. One coat is all you really need.

The following videos show various ways of disassembling or breaking down pallets. Combining techniques from various videos will greatly speed the process and minimize damage to the wood.
Introduction to Reclaiming Pallet Wood
Pallet Stripping Bar by Cargo Cycles (it wouldn’t be hard to make one of these)
How to Dismantle a Wooden Pallet
How to Dismantle a Pallet Without Splitting It (tip: use a 2 or 3 lb. sledge instead of an awkward concrete object)
Taking Apart Pallets – Sarah’s Workshop 1
How to Dismantle Pallets to Obtain Free Usable Wood for Construction and Woodworking
Hammering Out Ring Shanked Nails from Reclaimed Wood with the Nail BOSS
Cleaning Wood Pallets

We’ve already discussed how pallets can be used for floors, trusses and pallet/straw bale walls. And, in case you missed it, how you can use pallets as a base under straw bale shelters.

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Make ferrocement roof panels on the ground so you don’t have to plaster overhead.

Make ferrocement roof panels on the ground so you don’t have to plaster overhead.


I just found this great technique for making ferrocement roofs at Steve’s Flying Concrete site. Steve explains how to make roof panels on the ground so you don’t have to plaster overhead. This eliminates the most difficult and awkward step of making ferrocement roofs. The panels can be hoisted in place by crane or with a crew of strong workers.

“My latest idea is pre-fabricated, arched triangle, roof panels. 12 -18 ft wide–On the ground you build arched triangles in a dish shape. Finish the inside of the dish, flip the dish over, set with a crane and this becomes the ceiling of the dwelling.–No overhead plastering. A row of tiles inside, finishes interior ceiling.

The panels can either be set in a circular pattern to form a “dome” or alternating in a line to roof a rectangular shaped room. Building triangular dishes– start with insulation then structural layer and then polish the inside of the dish. THE HARD PART–Turn the dish over and stack it in vertical pile until the crane comes to set 8 dishes. Crane –reality check– for these dishes on the first floor I’d say 4 hrs at $150/ hr is $600– or $75 X 8 panels. Set the dishes and stick them together in the valleys– form work very simple using plaster lath– mix this pour on site, (pour out of a 5 gal bucket) and vibrate from above. 1/2 yd should go a long way.”

More details at Flying Concrete

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Box beams are made of three or four pieces of wood nailed together to create a decorative effect.

Box beams are made of three or four pieces of wood nailed together to create a decorative effect.


Finished box beams can be as simple or as complex as you like.

Finished box beams can be as simple or as complex as you like.


It’s good to know a variety of building ideas to draw from as you design your dream home. Box beams are hollow, nonstructural members made from ¾” plywood or solid wood. They add a beautiful look that can dress up an otherwise boring ceiling without too much time, cost and labor. You could build box beams with recycled wood for virtually free. Sometimes box beams are used to hide ugly steel beams, but usually they’re added just for aesthetics. You can add crown molding and extra trim if you want to make the ceiling extra nice. (It’s easy to make custom trim on an improvised router table.) The photos above offer a glimpse of design possibilities. If you’re interested in learning more, search Google Images for lots more info.

Image source: Levanna Restoration Lumber (reclaimed/salvaged wood looks great! And be sure to check out their gallery page.)
Image source: 5th Wall Designs (lots of good photos and ideas on their site)

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The 'Sustainable Urban Dwelling Unit' (SUDU) uses timbrel vaults, and is constructed with only soil and stone.

The 'Sustainable Urban Dwelling Unit' (SUDU) uses timbrel vaults, and is constructed with only soil and stone.


Timbrel vaults offer another low cost, sustainable roof building method. This method is suitable for do-it-yourself owner builders if you do the research. Suggestions include: use a simple design with a reinforced concrete bond beam and modest spans. Look into using low-fired, lightweight brick like the type used in Mexico and SE Asia.

“The ‘Sustainable Urban Dwelling Unit’ (SUDU) in Ethiopia demonstrates that it is possible to construct multi-story buildings using only soil and stone. By combining timbrel vaults and compressed earth blocks, there is no need for steel, reinforced concrete or even wood to support floors, ceilings and roofs. The SUDU could be a game-changer for African cities, where population grows fast and building materials are scarce.”

Source: No Tech Magazine (This site has hundreds of great articles on low cost living and building!)

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La Casa Vergara was designed by José Andrés Vallejo and built in Bogotá, Colombia in just 5 months, early in 2011.

I am delighted to see that professional architects are beginning to accept earthbag technology as a viable approach to building. La Casa Vergara is a fine example of  an upscale home that is built by a professional crew, with solid engineering and with all of the amenities and refinements that you would expect in this class. The attention to finishes, flooring, light, and form make it an aesthetic journey just to browse the photo gallery.

I have assembled an extensive project page that reveals much about how it was actually constructed. There is very little descriptive text, so you have to study the images to follow the proceedures, but there is much to be learned from this project.

From the architect’s website.

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