Meet Ed McAllen of Galesville, Wisconsin
"Nature insists on things being round," Ed McAllen proclaims. "Look around and you'll notice that no animal builds its home square except man." Not wanting to go against nature's intentions, Ed decided his cordwood "DreamCatcher" home would be "within the circle".
Ed first found out about cordwood construction in 1979 upon reading about a homebuilder's experience in Mother Earth News. The idea lingered in the back of his mind to someday build a cordwood structure on his own. "Someday" took on a sense of urgency in 1992 when his wife, Julie, announced their impending parenthood.
Ed researched several cordwood books and built upon the knowledge of others. "I was especially impressed with the circular home philosophy of Jack Henstridge as expressed in his book Building the Cordwood Home. Another source I found helpful was Steve Carlson's book, Your low-tax dream house, which outlined several things to consider in keeping property taxes to a minimum."
The McAllen's dream has proved achievable due to some fortunate circumstances and a diligent savings plan coupled with reasonable sacrifice. They purchased their Trempealeau county property on Wisonsin's Black River in 1987. The land was beautiful and it contained a two room shack which Ed updated to "livable". The couple experienced two years of hauling water from town and improvised without the convenience of indoor plumbing. Julie has benefitted to this day from her eleven years of expreience in the "space program" where she became proficient in orgainizing a 14' x 30' house.
In 1993, Ed cleared a friend's land of his Red, Scotch and Jack pine needed for the house, plus purchased some Northern white cedar from Birnamwood, Wisconsin. He peeled the logs and left them to dry until the following spring. Meanwhile, he bought a tractor to skid out the peeled poles, but left the straightest 25 poles uncut to later be used as floor beams. He cut the rest into 16 inch lengths, splitting most of them, and stacked the pile on his land for another year of drying.
During the drying time, Ed assembled his bottle cylinders and window frames, improved his floor plan several times, and did more research. He cleared the homsite in 1995 and laid an 18 inch thick sand pad from 240 yards of gravel to create the 48 foot diameter base underneath which lie two connecting circles of 4 inch perforated drain tile for a "dry wall footing". Ed was impressed by Frank Lloyd Wright's aversion to basements, sighting them as expensive, damp, and unhealthful space. Therefore, DreamCatcher is built upon a floating slab. In a region of deep cold, it is necessary to keep away all water and moisture from underneath to prevent a building from moving. If no water is there to freeze, the foundation cannot be lifted. Beneath that 4 inch concrete slab lie 2 layers of 1 inch polystyrene insulation with overlapping seams. Nine inches of concrete support the exterior wall and interior support beams. Sixteen inch thick mortar walls provide thermal mass to the home helping to slash heating and cooling costs. The mortar is a mixture of 9 parts screened sand, 3 parts builders lime, 2 parts Portland cement, and 3 parts wet sawdust. Working alone, Ed had about 45 minutes to apply the mortar and another 45 to point or smooth it out around the new logs placed. It was a constant race against the elements (the sun).
The first floor was completed in the fall of 1995 with Ed working on the structure full time. He forsook traditional employment for the construction seasons of 1995 and 1996 to devote exclusive time to the dream. The family lived on savings acquired during their dual income days B.C. (Before Children). After the main beam and floor joists were fully incorporated into the wall, the protruding joists served as a plate to support the 2 x 12 foot temporary roof rafters. He then constructed a temporary roof to protect the slab and wall during the Wisconsin winter and Ed took a temporary factory job to save towards the next spring construction season when he dismantled the roof, cut the joists flush to the outside and continued with the second floor of cordwood.
Now the home boasts a permanent green, corrugated sheet metal roof over a felted 1 inch pine deck which extends 40 inches beyond the walls ensuring a dry foundation and minimal splash back for dry walls. "A tin roof is low tax, low maintenance, and fire-proof." Ed says with satisfaction. The estimated cost for the 1,608 square foot home is $12 per square foot. Inspired by the wisdom of Henry David Thoreau who said, "Most men appear never to have considered what a house is, and are actually though needlessly poor all their lives because they think that they must have such a one as their neighbors have." Ed doesn't view his 4 years of hard work and material sacrifice as too high a payment to live in such an artistic, well-designed, mortgage-free home. He has grown from the experience and expresses himself abundantly within the circular walls adorned with various animal bones, antlers and glass bottles which form the Big Dipper on the west wall and a pine tree and morning sun on the east wall. Ed's brunette pony-tail is even wrapped inside a multi-colored bottle on the south wall.
A wood stove warms the first floor family room where one bedroom, a full bath with laundry, and office are also located. The main living area and kitchen are upstairs taking advantage of rising heat and the river view. Another bedroom, half bath, and large pantry are also included on the upper level. Mainly south-facing 3 x 5 foot windows circle the house and serve as 16 inch deep seats.
The McAllen girls, Cassidy Cheyenne and Cedar Sioux, share a unique bedroom complete with their own loft. Ed and Julie enjoy sharing a private room with their own closets. During the building years, the McAllen family slept in one bed, shared one closet, and bathed the girls in the kitchen sink in their starter cabin. Julie relishes the "space, glorious space!" Ed feels vindicated by the realization of his dreams which many previous co-workers had doubted. "I'm the same guy, but now I've been upgraded from lunatic to eccentric artist." Ed hopes to help other 'lunatics' achieve their dreams of alternative home construction as well.
If you would like to contact Ed, you can write to him at:
W18261 McKeeth Drive
Galesville, WI 54630