Philomath Man Building Dream Home with Rammed Earth
Dave Wills has been working on his dream home for over eight years – with walls made from earth from a nearby quarry, a small percentage of Portland Cement, small amounts of color pigments, a special acrylic sealant, and lots of labor. Wills’ home is called a rammed earth house, and his is the first in Benton County.
Inspired by the church missions built in the 18th century near his hometown in California, Wills said, “If they can last that long, it must be a solid way to build,” explaining why he looked into this atypical method to build his home. “I read David Easton’s book Rammed Earth House and then started looking for someone who knows what they’re doing.” Finally, he came across John Richards, who owned Rammed Earth Builders in California.
Richards started his company in 1989, and now only builds select projects. Since the local building department had never dealt with rammed earth before, Richards and Wills worked with an engineer and tested the earth and cement mixture, similar to how one would test concrete with Pounds Per Square Inch (PSI).
Wills recollected the mixture to have around 7% Portland Cement and the rest aggregate earth from his land and a place down the street. He also explained that cement is used in small amounts to stabilize the soil layers. They then used hydraulic pounders – also known as tampers – to ram the earth into the forms that made the walls. Wills said he had about seven people at once working on creating walls.
PHOTO: DAVE WILLS POINTING OUT MARYS PEAK
To the left of the front entrance, Wills points out a design in the wall he calls “Mary’s Peak.” Wills says he mixed five-gallon buckets of earth with pigments and added them as they went along. One day at lunch they came up with the idea to make the mountain peaks. It was created that afternoon. The design in these two-feet thick walls can also be seen on the inside of the house.
Concessions to Oregon Weather
While Richards has built in the sunny California weather, Wills had to keep in mind the rain and snow that comes with living in the Willamette Valley.
MASTER BEDROOM WINDOWS
As Wills showed off a window area in the master bedroom thaeventually will have a natural wood sill, he pointed out where you can see the insulation inside the thick walls.
“From my Freshops business, I have coated mylar bags that can’t be sent to a recycling plant,” he explained, “so I used those for reflective insulation, and stuffed inside are recycled styrofoam planters that capture pockets of air that help with retaining temperatures. This gives my house an R33 insulation factor which is 50% more than the typical home.”
Another way to stay warm is through heated floors. Wills created a radiant system that runs low-cost, energy-efficient warm water through pipes under the floorboards. “We won’t have to worry about installing any radiators,” said Wills, “and our bare feet won’t be walking on cold floors.”
In the office space, the window ledges are installed and are the same sassafras live wood he plans to use on the unfinished window in the guest bedroom. The beer bottle caps are a tribute to his beer-related businesses and favorite guessing game, “What is This Mystery Beer?”
Wills plans to build a solarium on this side of the home. He already has heat exchanges – seen above the painting of wolves – installed which will take advantage of how heat rises as a further way to warm and cool his home.
The interior walls – which are also made using the rammed earth method – intentionally don’t reach the ceiling. Instead, Wills designed the roof system with additional south-facing windows, so that heat of the sun reaches the opposite walls, keeping that space warmer longer. The fireplace also offers heat exchanges to keep the room toasty on cold winter nights.
Interior walls also received sealant “to help keep the dust down,” Richards added.
Still Working On More Projects
PHOTO GALLERY OF MISC SHOTS
The kitchen is part of the open plan concept. The most recent addition was an overhead light made from copper pipes. Outside the living room and the other bedroom, he is building cement paver patios where he and his wife can sit on warm summer nights and enjoy the views of Kings Valley and their Christmas tree farm.
“All the doors except two are from other buildings. The ones for the extra bedroom and bathroom are from old doctor’s offices. I’m making the bathroom vanity from an old dresser and new sink,” said Wills.
The master bathroom vanity’s counter and drawers were custom made with wood from a sassafras tree – the same wood used for window sills around the house.
WATER TANK PHOTOS
Living on 15 acres of forested land in Philomath, Wills takes measures for fire prevention. He’s participating in a state plan where he trims the trees that border Kings Valley Highway to help prevent the spread of a possible fire. He also has his own fire hose and high-pressure canister attached to his rainwater-filled tank.
“I can spray water beyond my solar panels and far all around my house. The rammed earth walls won’t burn, but the wood parts do,” said Wills.
Moving In, Moving On
Although he and his wife have started to slowly move things over from the mobile home that they’ve lived in for the past 30 years, they won’t fully enjoy the rammed earth house until they are able to move the mobile home out.
Wills asked, “Are you looking for a trailer? I’ve got one to sell!”
He knows he won’t need the second home again. “This house will last hundreds of years,” Wills said proudly.
People interested in learning more can reach Wills through his website at Freshops.com