Flushed Away

Partition Pieces

The other day I mentioned that we were placing partitions. Those are ‘ferro-cement’ partition pieces above that we use to fill in holes and build non-structural walls. Rather than being made with metal (ferro) these are made with basalt and fiber but the principle is the same. Our walls are trusses so that the empty spaces can be used for storage. This makes it so that our tiny butcher shop is bigger inside and more of the floor space is useable.

Our butcher shop covers a range of masonry techniques including good old fashion plain steel RC foundation work, mold poured concrete, insulated concrete, stainless steel reinforcement, basalt reinforcement, fiber reinforcement, masonry block, dry stacked, core poured, mortared joint, parged, plastered, ferro-cement and cut stone. Each technique has it’s place and I’m not wedded to any particular philosophy of construction. We even have a lot of standard 2xX construction for building the forms although that will all vanish in the end as it is neither sanitary or durable.

Toilet Tank Partition

When we cast the building we left holes for doors, windows, shelves, conduit and more. Some of these holes then need closure on one side such as shelves. Thus the need for partition pieces like the ones pictured here. These are made with an adobe concrete mix of 1 cement : 4 sand plus fiber and embedded 25mm basalt mesh. The fiber and mesh greatly strengthen the resulting partition panels.

Foam Template

To make the panels Ben cut out 1/2″ thick foam templates which he test fit to the holes in the walls. He then parged the fiber reinforced concrete mix on one side and laid in layers of basalt mesh. Once these cure for two to three days they’re ready to have the foam template peeled off which can then be used to make the next partition.

Most of these ferro-cement partitions are just 1/2″ thick and have a single layer of basalt. Others like the toilet tank are structural so they’re thicker and have more layers of reinforcement.

Theoretically the steel frame of the toilet tank is supposed to provide all of the support for the cantilevered wall hung toilet. I do not trust it not to crack the partition so I made this partition 1.25″ thick. Once we plaster the wall it will be a full 2″ thick and contain additional layers of basalt. There is also a strain relief gasket on the toilet side and on the tank side to mute the forces. Hopefully that will be plenty strong enough.

“Why not use a less expensive and much simpler floor mounted toilet you ask?”
Well, do you like cleaning bathrooms? No, I thought not. Neither do I, at least not more than necessary. By avoiding floor penetrations we’ll be able to more easily keep the bathroom clean. In fact, our bathroom is designed to be hosed down. Nice!

You’ll notice that a lot of businesses now have these wall mounted toilets in their public bathrooms. I saw them in the Vermont state tourist traps, er, I mean rest stops. They looked really good after five years so I noted the supplier they used.

We’ve applied these same principles to all the rooms of the butcher shop as a way of maximizing sanitation. By avoiding floor penetrations in particular as well as minimizing exposed pipes and wiring by building conduit and plumbing right into the walls we have smooth, easy to clean surfaces. That means better sanitation and less time spent on maintenance. The name of the game is clean – If it is easy to clean it will stay cleaner.

Testing Toilet Tank Partition Placement

The toilet is not actually functional in this photo. Before parging the partition in place Ben and I tested that it was right such that all the penetrations for pipes, pins and push buttons were properly aligned and the toilet was level.

One of the fun things about building the cottage and butcher shop is everything is right! Plumb, square, level, flush, right. For decades I’ve renovated old houses and nothing was ever right. I like things right. When I put in the foundation under the existing old hay shed 25 years ago I got it to within 1/4″ slope (just perfect for drainage). When we tore down the hay shed to build the butcher shop on its footprint I check and the foundation was still perfect. Very satisfying. The fact that I locked it into the mountain ledge probably helped. The butcher shop is set on that foundation which gave us a good start on getting the new construction right. Then with each layer of our cake we fine tuned.

Looking very carefully you might notice that this toilet has two flush buttons. The big one (blue) is for government compliance with low flushes. Apparently the government thinks it is better for people to flush multiple times or maybe they are retentive and never need as much water. The small button (red) flushes the amount that real people actually need to do the deed. This is how the toilet manufacturers deal with the regulatory bodies. It works. I might label them #1 and #2 to avoid confusion of which you need to do for doo-doo. Someone had a pictorial suggestion that was a bit more graphic.

Shelf Hole

Once we got the structural toilet partition firmly parged in Ben and I placed the pieces for the shelves that go above the toilet tank. These have flaps of mesh that get interlocked and parged together to create a strong shelf built into the wall. Later Will may fabricate stainless steel doors for it but that isn’t something we need to open for meat cutting.

Back Side of Toilet Tank in Office

The back side of the toilet tank is open for access from the office side of the wall. This is where I’ll do all the plumbing interconnects and where my clean outs are located. Leaving it open behind a bookcase makes it accessible while keeping the bathroom side of things smooth and clean. I already plastered this side of the concrete block wall while Ben did the ceiling. This gives an idea of what the finished surfaces will look like. It isn’t acid stained yet and doesn’t have the final poly urea seamless seal but it is one step closer to finished.

We put so much effort into building the laundry and bathroom to the same specifications needed for actual meat processing rooms because these spaces are where we work out the techniques and materials needed to do the final work rooms right. Practice makes perfect. This gives us very easy to clean back rooms as an added bonus.

Partitions Parged

All the partition pieces are now locked in place with a mortar parge and it is curing. This is one of those wait times. A time to work on a different project. In a few days we’ll come back to the bathroom and plaster this wall to bring it to full thickness. This picture’s perspective looks a little funky because it is a composite of four photos all shot on wide angle. In reality all the angles are square and everything’s plumb.

Excitement! It Flushes!

All systems functional! Yeah, we’re hicks – We get excited over a flushing toilet.

By the way, in the back of these photos you might notice there is cardboard covering something. That is the marble wainscot. The cardboard protects the marble from my cement work.

Outdoors: 13°F/-3°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/56°F

Daily Spark: You are young until you can’t plant an apple trees anymore.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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9 Responses to Flushed Away

  1. Dawn Carroll says:

    I had just started a load of laundry before stepping out to feed piggies and was returning to the house cold. I decided I was going to take a hot shower but I opened the bathroom door to one’s worst nightmare water, black stuff everywhere, and I explicatively said the word…shit…!!! Something had surely gone awry with an inch or two of dirty water on the floor, a tub full of black water, the toilet overflowing, and the bathroom sink even had black water in it.
    So out came the Bissell water sucking machine, disinfectant cleaners, rubber gloves the works I knew I had to get the water up off the floors because they were not cement. I spent my Christmas Eve scrubbing the bathroom until 5 am, windows open 8 degrees outside, exhaust fans, and the heater on…good times to be had by all well me anyway.
    I then knew I really needed a hot shower after that but of course the tub would not drain and plunging the toilet was doing no good whatsoever. So I shut the drain on the tub and took a shower turning the water off & on when needed.
    Wanting not to look at the mess Christmas Day I spent it with my daughter at her place.
    Today I got the first lid (homemade tank I am sure) off the septic tank to find it was working properly but nothing was coming out from the house and I still have standing water in the tub.
    Tomorrow the plumber is coming out to run the machine up from the tank to the house. That run is approx 62 ft long and of course the person that lived here before me did not put in an access port so it is either go in thru the tank or take the toilet apart and go from there. Either way it is a stinky proposition.
    When I do build a new house here it is going to be a cob house, 2 stories, solar infused, with a Mass Rocket Stove for heat & hot water. The floors will have drains the walls will all be cement everything will be hoseable because I have decided that this is the way to clean house.
    The up side to all this is I am going to get a new toilet. I want one of those elongated ones that I can install the heated “rump” washer & dryer to that I bought several years ago at the Costco store. Think no more toilet paper…the thing is even has a remote control in fact I may never come out of the bathroom again.
    Take care and Happy New Year to you and yours!

  2. Pam R. says:


    I have loved reading each of the posts about how and why you’ve done what you’ve done for the various buildings. With really clear photos, it is almost like being there. It’s exciting for me to see how much closer you are to being able to start. And there’s lots to be said for getting things right when building. (We have a 150 yr old tobacco shed!)

  3. Someone asked about types of reinforcement and costs…

    Basalt is about 2.5 times more expensive than plain steel and about 1/4 the cost of stainless steel. We use all three plus polyfiber in our construction depending on the engineering needs and exposures.

    Plain steel is strong and cheap but can corrode. We used this in areas that are well protected and thick concrete. See: http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2013/11/18/interlocking-pours/

    Stainless steel is strong and expensive and won’t corrode. We used this in critical areas such as the overhead truss beam that supports the high rail that may get as much as 30 tons of force dynamically. See: http://www.google.com/search?q=site:sugarmtnfarm.com+stainless%20steel%20rebar

    Basalt is between the two on cost and strength as well as testing and also will not corrode. We used this in thin areas that are prone to acid, bleach and other corrosive exposures. e.g., partition panels, thin arched ceilings, brine room (high salt), etc. The basalt does not have as long a track record so I’m not depending on it in critical area like the overhead beam where the stainless steel is the primary reinforcement. See: http://www.google.com/search?q=site:sugarmtnfarm.com+basalt

    We also used polyfiber in all the mixes and we’ll be using basalt fibers in the mixes where there is higher heat levels such as around the smokehouse and ovens. See: http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2011/11/07/good-pour-great-pour/

    Each reinforcement has it’s pros and cons. Mixing them works well.

  4. David lloyd Sutton says:

    Walter, when you’ve gotten your butcher shop and some of its ancillaries going, where is actual slaughter occurring until you get the busies to approve you doing it on site? How much transport is involved, and are the newly deceased to be brought back on-farm still intact so you can employ your fabulous de-bristler? And just how onerous is approval for a slaughter facility?

    Awed with your progress and by the sheer magnitude of capabilities you have to have to make it. Your kids are lucky. There is no university in the world that could give the education they’re getting in your home.

    • Initially we will start with doing the meat cutting, probably immediately adding sausage making. Then we will add smoking as quickly as possible. This brings the three highest cost processes on-farm. Butchering costs about $135/pig, smoking is about $2.50/lb and sausage are about $2.50/lb. Most of that will be saved doing it here. We trade time for money.

      During this period we will continue taking pigs each week to the slaughterhouse in Mass. Will is building a stainless steel cooler box that will go in the mid-section of our van for transporting the cleaned and chilled carcasses back to our butcher shop.

      Finishing out the construction of the abattoir (slaughter) costs the most of any of the sections (~$120,000) and yields the least return on investment ($55/pig + $100/wkgass + 1 day driving) so it has the lowest priority. We also must have all the other processes in place to make it worth doing slaughter here. For comparison, the shell of the butcher shop cost about $90,000 in materials plus the cost for tools and forms we built. Finishing off for meat cutting (butchering) is around another $45,000 or so. Smoking will cost about $25,000 or so. It’s a little vague as to where one ends and another starts since everything is highly interrelated and some functions are shared such as the inspector’s office, hall, bathroom, parking, electric installation, plumbing, etc.

      The big improvement that on-farm slaughter will give us is we’ll be able to break through the six pigs a week barrier. For the pigs it will mean no more long trip.

      We look forward to having it all on-farm. The key is to bring the high cost processing on-farm first so that when we’re ready we can close the loop.

  5. Someone asked if basalt reinforcement is the same thing as fiberglass:

    Fiberglass is different than basalt. They’re different chemicals and different source materials. The basalt used to make the reinforcement we use apparently comes from volcanic basalt deposits in the southwest of the USA and northern Mexico area. I think I remember reading that what the company we get ours from uses is deposits in Arizona or New Mexico.

    What we’re sitting on here at Sugar Mountain is granite. We use a lot of granite, in fact it makes up the vast majority of the mass of our construction. Most of it is in the form of the aggregate in the concrete, the stone. Concrete is mostly aggregate which in our case is local granite. We also have used a lot of granite as spacers and for the door sills. See:


    We’ve also used a significant tonnage of marble in building our butcher shop:


    Much of the stone we use comes from the waste piles of the local stone quarries and carving sheds. The only cost is trucking it here. We get big dump truck loads full and then pick out what we want to use in construction. The rest becomes fill.

  6. Martin Hansel says:

    I have a somewhat related questions although not entirely. I know you really like a lot of thermal-mass and you built your home like you built the butcher shop with concrete and have talked about how the building stores the heat so your cottage stays warm. My question is isn’t it difficult keeping the fire going through the nite? I have never heated with would but I would not want to have to get up several times in the nite to add wood to the fire.

    • Because the house’s thermal mass stores the heat we don’t have to burn a fire all night long. The wood stove is inside a surround of masonry making it into a high mass heater and that is an integral part of the thermal mass of our house.

      Our tendency is to start a fire in the morning which burns at full open. We’ll feed it a few more pieces of wood but may not give it much fuel after lunch. The coals burn out so that by evening only those buried in the ash are still alive. Late in the evening I may put a couple of logs in that then dry out over night so that the next morning they are easy to start.

      Many days we only burn a fire for four to six hours. During the coldest times of the winter when it drops to -20°F or lower we will burn a fire all day and even bank one into the night.

      The short answer is the cottage stores so much heat that it isn’t necessary to feed the fire through the night.

  7. Someone asked for some more details on the mesh, mortar mix and mixers:

    That is the 25mm mesh. They have a variety of mesh sizes and I got samples of others, some of which feel like a silky cloth. The 25mm works well for us although I would be interested in a 100mm for some applications. I think they just started making that.

    They also have a rope version which I bought 50m to test but we haven’t done anything with it yet. It’s waiting for the right project.

    We’ve used a lot of the 6mm and 8mm basalt rebar to replace corrosion prone plain steel rebar in some locations. I would like to move to all basalt and fiber for the reinforcement as we start doing some animal housing which will be in very high corrosion environments (manure, urine) but I’m still testing the basalt.

    In the butcher shop we also used stainless steel rebar. That is about 10x more expensive than plain steel rebar. The basalt is about 2.5x more expensive than plain steel.

    The parge is generally 1 lime : 2 cement (OPC) : 4 sand. It’s about 1.125 gallons of water to a five gallon pail of parge. We’ve experimented a lot with that over the past decade building our cottage, various sheds and now the butcher shop and found that to be our favorite. Sometimes we’ll vary it to change the strength and such.

    We parge with steel floats and spatulas out of five gallon pails. Wet down the surfaces before parging. See:




    We have three Husky mortar mixers. See:

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