House warming

Posted: February 19, 2011 by tinatherrien in Uncategorized

Yesterday there was a rush to get the finishing touches completed on the Ti Kay Pay. The front doors were hung, trenching was done for drainage, the interior bamboo wall was started (until we ran out of materials), and the finishing touches of paint were completed. Oh, and some initial landscaping.

Samel installs bamboo into the partition wall

The front doors...finally installed!

We hosted an open house in the late afternoon for people on the base here at Grass Roots United, so there was an incentive to finish- that, and the fact that Mark is leaving today, and I’m out of here tomorrow. Andy will be here until Tuesday, but hopefully, he’ll actually take a couple of days off.

A spead of good food & punch attracted the base to the Ti Kay Pay

We staged the building for the party yesterday, and our guests were really impressed by the beauty of the building, and by the finishing touches of bamboo, indirect lighting, etc. We are all really proud of the house, and it felt good to show it off to folks from the base.

We'll complete the partition wall as soon as more bamboo arrives


On the home stretch with flying colours…

Posted: February 15, 2011 by tinatherrien in Uncategorized

The front doors aren't yet installed, but they sure do look great on the front of the house. Andy looks pretty good too!

The Ti Kay Pay continues to see improvements daily. All of the plastering is complete, and today, Annio & Jean Louis applied the first coat of whitewash inside. The lime that Andy has had slaking for over a week is still really chunky- we sieved it through hardware cloth & window screen to separate the chunks from the smooth cream. Some people are natural painters…while others are not. I may help with the cutting in on the subsequent coats! We’re going to put a bit of yellow ochre pigment into the final coat of limewash, to give a nice creamy bright finish inside.


The earthen floor is gradually drying out. I asked Chad if we could borrow a fan to hasten the drying, and he brought us over the mondo fan from the dome- thanks, Chad! It’s working brilliantly- will allow us to get the finish coat on! We have to build the interior wall, do a bit of framing & either plastering or painting to close off the trusses on one section of ceiling, box in the electrical, etc. before we can do the finish.

Mark worked on electrical for the day- getting the PV system up & running.  A little bit more problem solving and we’ll be there. I can hardly wait until we can light up the Christmas lights on the galeri and christen the Ti Kay Pay.


Mark spent the better part of the day in the baking sun, working on the solar hook-up. We're almost there...Christmas lights on the galeri tomorrow, with any luck!









It was really exciting to see colour go onto the shutters- it really dresses up the building. We have a rusty red for the foundation, but are looking for something a bit darker, so will mix a bit of black paint into the red. It feels like we’re on the home stretch…


I really think these shutters are sweet. The colour looks terrific with the plaster.


Back at the Ti Kay Pay

Posted: February 6, 2011 by tinatherrien in Uncategorized

Here I am, back at Grassroots United home base, with Andy Mueller & Mark Phillips, and our Haitian crew, Jean Louis, Annio and Samuel. Martin left the same day I arrived, without a chance to see one another, so I trust he is safely back at home, relaxing and getting caught up on life.

I received the warmest welcome upon my return from both the international community and my Haitian friends- it feels great to be back here again! Lots of changes here at GRU- they no longer have the big generator operating all day, there is a large roof that has been built over the tool sheds, and the Earthship crew returned to finish the earthship, complete with systems. There is always something interesting going on here.

The ‘Ti Kay Pay’ looks fantastic- it’s really interesting to work on a project where the torch keeps getting passed back and forth. The base coats of plaster look terrific, and the foundation for the galeri (or porch) has been poured. Mark got the PV panel & wiring done, and Jean Louis was most proud of the shutters he made for the windows. Screening will go over the windows to keep mosquitos at bay.

Inside the building, there is a bamboo ceiling with light clay/straw packed in on top of it to insulate the living space. From our travels to the countryside, it seems that thatched roofs fare the best in terms of keeping the interior temperature down.

We put the finish coat of plaster on almost three quarters of the exterior of the building. We may be  back to the drawing board experimenting with recipes. We used the rubble sand, which makes the plaster behave more like a cementitious plaster. In any case, there are more shrinkage cracks than desired, so we’ll do more tests. The rubble sand plaster fared well in the sample tests, but that didn’t translate over a larger area.

Andy and Jean Louis finishing our last section of wall for the day.



Mark started getting ready for the framing of the galeri, but not before trying his hand at plastering.  More photos will follow as the building takes shape. It is a terrific looking little house!


Mark making decisions about the framing of the galeri


Posted: December 29, 2010 by tinatherrien in Uncategorized

Reunited once again!

It’s my last day here. Andy Mueller arrived last night, so that means that the project will continue on without any break, and it will be easier to reach the target of completion for January 12.

We have started installing corner mesh and stitching, some parging of the earthbag foundation has occurred, and I was able to test some plaster recipes. The ‘clay’ that has been wheelbarrowed over to the site is quite variable, indeed. There’s not a really high clay content, at all, but in the tests, it has stuck fine to the slipped walls. The rubble sand isn’t screened fine enough for finish plaster, that’s for sure, but can be used in base coats, at least for the earth plaster.

We’re STILL waiting for the lime…this is 6 weeks of waiting, I believe. I’m told that the lime is sitting in a yard in Jacmel, so at this point, it’s just a matter of someone going to pick it up. It sure would be good to get it slaking!

Jean Louis & Annio were both overjoyed to see Andy again

Jean Louis & Annio, attaching X bracing

– there was a really strong bonding and connection when he was here for his first stint.

The wiring just arrived yesterday (and Andy brought some too), so that has to happen before we can plaster the interior. And the lime has to arrive before the exterior can be plastered…

Mixing cement for the foundation parging

So, I came to help plaster the Ti Kay Pay, and instead, tweaked walls & top plates, put up trusses, and steel roofing, and then did more wall tweaking. It was good to at least spend a bit of time playing with mud- it would have been a lot of fun to get muddy with Annio & Jean Louis, and I’m sure other Grassroots folks would have come over to join in the mudfest.

The house will be in good hands as I pass the baton on to Andy. Happy continuation!


Grassroots Home Base

Posted: December 24, 2010 by tinatherrien in Uncategorized

The Ti Kay Pay is being built at Grassroots United, an extremely worthy and interesting NGO. In addition to distributing medical supplies, doing cholera training in communities, demolition work and shoring up damaged buildings, Grassroots United ( do an amazing job of networking with other organizations and volunteers from around the world. It is a transient station, with people stopping by for a night or two, while others have been here for months, all the way from Australia to France to the U.S. and even Canada! There is a definite warmth here, not unlike being amongst family. There is always something really interesting going on here. Yesterday, one group of volunteers went up to a remote village, accessible by donkey trail only, that has been really badly hit with cholera. Jesse & Chrissy, two relatively new volunteers from the U.S., brought water filtration systems with them, so the team is taking about 15 systems up to this remote community. A wonderful Christmas present!

Many visitors and other NGOs come to Grassroots for information sessions or to stay here. The Ti Kay Pay has been really well received, with most people really appreciating the fact that it is being built with (mostly) local materials, and the fact that it fares well in seismic conditions. I haven’t heard a single Three Little Pigs joke (but perhaps that’s cultural?). In any case, people are enthused about the project, and love touring it, asking intelligent questions.

A few days ago, Martin & I went to the countryside near to visit with Father Bénite Jeune about some construction projects he is doing in his community (with straw bale one option that is being considered). After our meeting with him, we went into his community to speak with the villagers about their homes. We were particularly interested in the earthen plasters and any possible additives they may have used. My French allowed me to converse somewhat with folks, and Alex, our amazing translator & chauffeur, asked more in-depth questions in Creole. It was a most wonderful experience. There were a variety of homes there, including wattle & daub, brick, banana leaf, wood and cement. Post earthquake, the brick & cement buildings had lost chunks of walls, or even entire walls. The wattle & daub buildings were still intact, but many of them ended up slanted or skewed.

We were hoping to investigate plaster recipes and succeeded in learning that they took the mud from the ground and smeared it directly onto the walls, sometimes adding a bit of sand. There was lime wash on some of the homes, so I asked one of the villagers where they got the lime from (since we’ve been waiting over 5 weeks for our shipment of lime!). He told me that they use ash left over from welding to make the lime wash, and he claimed that it has no protective properties for the plaster, but rather, is used to make the buildings look pretty. That may be so, but it would be worth investigating. The lime wash seemed to have failed at the lower sections of wall, but was fine up near the eaves where there was overhang.

Last night I put the ridge cap onto the building, which means our roof is now completely on. While it wasn’t snowing (every year it seems that I have at least one ridge cap to put on in December in the snow), it was dark by the time I was finished, and I had to wait for Martin and the boys to finish installing a door buck before they put up the ladder to let me down.

The eavestroughing for the house was rolled by a local fellow, and then he soldered it here on site to length. It was an amazing thing to see- they arrived with a bucket of glowing coals, and a slab of silver, and an assortment hammers, some of which no longer had a handle. Their process was very similar to blacksmith forging. After the solder was complete, they painted muriatic acid onto it. I’d love to invite these fellows to tinker in my forge back home.

Most of the door bucks & window bucks are installed, but installing them after the bales are already in place is fiddly work, and not at all a time saver. Once they are all installed, the rest of the compression straps can be cinched down, and the hurricane X bracing completed.

Today is a holiday for many people in Haiti. Christmas is celebrated more so on the 24th than the 25th. Our cook is wearing a Santa hat today, getting in the spirit. I guess she isn’t taking a holiday. Jean-Louis & Annio are taking today off, but both want to work tomorrow, and Martin flies out today, so I guess I’ll continue tweaking the building on my own.

One other thing that the good folks at Grassroots do is provide supplies to several orphanages. I am hoping to go with Emma later today and possibly tomorrow to a couple of the orphanages, to hang out with the kids a bit, and to give them each a present. Imagine, for many of these kids, this is the first time they will have ever been given a gift at Christmas. That really puts the season spirit into perspective for me. Joyeux joyeux, tout le monde!

Where things are at with the Ti Kay Pay

Posted: December 23, 2010 by tinatherrien in Uncategorized

I’ve been in Haiti now for just over a week, and the straw bale Ti Kay Pay (Little Straw House) is advancing nicely. I arrived December 12th (my flight had been delayed twice prior to that due to the violence in Haiti after the election announcements) to join Andy Mueller & Martin Hammer at Grassroots United, the NGO base camp where we are situated, and where the house is being constructed. When I flew out of Montreal, my flight was yet again delayed (but only by 50 minutes this time) due to a snow storm that had just started…and I arrived at Port-au-Prince to T-shirt & shorts weather. Quite a welcome contrast!

My original arrival date would have had Andy and I overlap by close to a week, but with the changed date, we only had a day and a half to work together. When I arrived, Andy had already been here for close to three weeks, Martin for close to that time. The foundation was complete, and all of the bales were stacked, complete with top plates installed, but the walls of this load bearing building weren’t yet cinched down. We spent a day tweaking corners, straightening walls, and trading off information so that I would know where to take the project from there.

The rice bales are smaller than bales I’m accustomed to, and certainly not as dense. They are quite ‘squishy’- the walls of the house have lost a foot of height to date! The farmer has been by a couple of times, and for the next bales he does, they will tie them much tighter in hopes of creating stronger bales that won’t compress nearly as much.

Jean-Louis & Annio, two local Haitian men, round out our team. Over the past week, we have erected the trusses, put on the purlins, and installed the metal on the roof, so the roof is now nicely protected (minus the ridge cap: it is being made by some local fellows, and should be here today).

I have had to let go of expectations of how long thing take, being here. My estimates of how long tasks take are generally quite good, but here, there are constant interruptions to the work flow, materials that don’t arrive on time, materials that don’t exist, and so on. It’s also really hot (despite this being ‘winter’ here), and the heat always slows you down somewhat. You definitely have to be creative with materials at hand, improvise, and invent. The sand for plastering, for instance, is being made by taking rubble (of which ther is no shortage in Haiti!), putting it into the rubble crusher, and manually crushing it. Then it has to be sifted to get the larger chunks separated out. It takes a lot of labour to make enough sand to plaster a tiny building, but then again, there is no shortage of labour in this country with such a high unemployment rate.

I came here to this BWB project to help with plastering, but alas! we haven’t come anywhere near plastering yet. We still have window & door bucks to install before we can plaster, wire X bracing has to be put on, and walls will want to be tweaked once more. We are planning a lime plaster for the exterior, with earthen inside. The earthbag foundation will receive a cement based plaster, with a break between that plaster and the upper wall plastering. The lime hasn’t yet arrived, so it isn’t sitting there slaking and getting rich and creamy, as one would hope. (The lime was ordered some five weeks ago, but alas, no sign of it). And we haven’t even unearthed any clay yet for plaster tests, as all of the energy up until now has had to go into getting the building protected from the elements. So, we’re inching forward, learning as we go, and making note of improvements for next time.

There has been favourable support of our little house from visitors to the site- this house is made with local straw, will be plastered with local clay, in a relatively simple building style. Many of the homes being built in Haiti by foreign contractors post earthquake are made entirely of imported materials- plywood homes, or framed vinyl-clad homes. It’s great that people are coming and building homes to help some of the thousands of displaced people move into a proper home, but it won’t be sustainable to build vinyl homes once that foreign aid disappears. There is still rice being grown in Haiti, and more could be grown should the demand increase, for an accessible form of building.

We aren’t sure how the rice straw will perform in this hot climate, but there are several moisture meters spread throughout the building so that we can graph and chart moisture levels.

Time to go see if breakfast is ready before starting out a new day of work at the Ti Kay Pay.

tina therrien

The First Strawbale Building in Haiti

Posted: December 14, 2010 by Andy Mueller in Uncategorized

Stacking bales in Port-au-Prince

By the Builders Without Borders team –
Welcome everyone.  This blog will chronicle the construction of the first strawbale building in Haiti, currently under construction in Port-au-Prince.  Read more soon . . .