Thursday, November 18, 2010

A new resource for getting off the grid a little - or just DIY in general.

I have a new news feed to keep up with, a very interesting site called Low-Tech Magazine.  The site's purpose is to point out that things don't always need a high tech solution to accomplish a task and it uses historical references to point this out.  A neat little mechanical history lesson! 

Now, how does this pertain to would-be castle builders?  I guess it's what you make of it.  There's information on timbrel vaulting, a more efficient way to build with brick; a link turns up to that has information on how to build with stone and a host of other back to basics DIY info (a little dire, but good info), or even information on masonry stoves with their uses and design.  So, it's not directly castle related info, but it's certainly useful in adding DIY ideas to your to-do list along with maybe making your home a little more off the grid.  Worth a look!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Yep, the little one is consuming all of my free time.  All that spare time I had to peruse the web for castles and doodle my little houses with Sketchup:  *poof*.  Gone.  Now it's the never-ending chain of soiled diapers, feeding and entertaining a 4 month old with all of the inherent baby fussiness, and then scrambling to catch up on the household work that can be done while she naps.  Ah, the joys of parenthood!

Doesn't mean I haven't been giving thought to building.  We have plans to contract the sewer system this coming year.  Our permit for putting one in is only good for 2 years, so we need to get this done sooner rather than later.  Otherwise we run into the trouble and expense of having to have the approval re-done, and the potential risk of having code and environmental rules change in such a manner that we would no longer be able to build what or where we plan on the site.  This means we'll need to get a site plan done (which will help immensely in my building design effort), likely build an access road/driveway and then find someone to do the work. 

First steps are coming soon.  Wow.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Adirondack Castle Resurrected? (Leary Castle)

Back in February I posted a castle in the Adirondacks that a reader had found for sale.  Just recently another reader stopped by and commented that she'd found a blog featuring the very same castle!  It looks to have been purchased after the original owner-builder's death by the family that is working on it now.  Pretty cool! 

Looks like the castle is called the "Leary Castle".  I'll send them a hello message and see if they want to share any info about their project.

Thanks, Fionnait!

(Image from the Leary Castle Blog.)

Coronado Stone Products

SYWBC reader Derrick pointed out a castle that used Coronado Stone.  It's pretty neat and looks to be huge, but not owner built as far as I can tell.  You can see the castle at the Coronado Stone site by clicking Enter Site > Gallery (left hand side) > Residential (from the drop down menu)  and then using the slider at the bottom and going just about half-way across with it, the titles are alphabetical and it's under "Country Castle". 

The part I'm more interested in is the large variety of products offered by Coronado Stone.  I'm sure they're quite expensive, but may be useful for a future castle builder?  Soem of it looks great, and they even offer cast frames for arches and doorways that look like stone.  Anyway, they're added to the tags of products for castle builders.

Thanks, Derrick!

Sunday, August 1, 2010


My apologies to folks that have submitted comments over the last weeks, I'm sure you've checked to see if they've popped up yet and may have wondered why they haven't.  Well, the reason is that we have a new addition to our family, born 24 July, so the time I spent fooling around on the 'puter looking for and designing castles has now been usurped by diapers, laundry, dishes, no sleep and trying to figure out what a screaming baby wants (which is usually food).  So, until our little one settles into a routine that allows us a few minutes of free time, I'm afraid this blog will suffer.  I'll get to comments ASAP, I promise! 

Ah, time to change another diaper....

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Comansion Castle (remains) for sale

I first saw this castle on the Dupont Castle site.  I think I might have mentioned previously on the blog that it had caught fire in one of the California wildfires a couple of years back and was badly damaged.  Unfortunately it appears that the owner was unable or unwilling to put the castle back together, and the Comansion Castle lot and castle remains are up for sale.  (photo from realty agency site)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Old vs. New: Concrete

Ed pointed out this discussion taking place on another blog regarding the durability of the concrete used in Roman times vs. what we have to work with now.  I thought it was really interesting, considering that folks building a castle with non-traditional methods might choose a concrete reinforced structure as a building option. 

The author's opinion is that reinforcing concrete ruins it, causing splitting and cracking; adding too much water to the mix is bad (Roman concrete was "zero slump"), that ancient structure's longevity is partial proof of this. 

I think he is partially correct.  Yes, steel will rust and expand, causing failure of the concrete.  Without a doubt.  But there are some major differences between then and now in construction philosophy.  I'd be willing to bet that an Roman engineer, presented with re-bar and shown its abilities, would have fired half the workforce used to build those massive structures and put it in his concrete!

So, the Romans used rubble walls with stone or brick cladding.  This allows for a lot of flexing, and essentially makes a composite structure.  Even if the concrete begins to crack, the stone or brick will prevent it from going anywhere.  The structures were also massive, many feet thick.  This also prevents shifting or collapse.  Try building a one foot thick wall using Roman methods, I bet it never makes the 500 year mark, and would probably be lucky to make 100 years. 

Also, let's consider that reinforcing concrete allows us to build structures lighter, thinner, and higher than any Ancient Roman could have.  It also can prevent us from being buried under our structure in event of an earthquake, even if some of the concrete should fail. 

So, while I agree that re-bar is bad for longevity, the alternative is massive structures needing much more time, money and material; and that's from bridges to the slab under your house.

BTW it was nice to see the pics of Rome again, we were just there a couple of months ago and saw a lot of the same places.  We ate at that very pizza roach-coach in the foreground of the Pantheon picture.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Mini-interview" With Stephenson Castle Owner

Not really an exhaustive amount of information, but certainly good info nonetheless.  You can gather the rest of the info from his blog at Stephenson Castle, and what we have at SYWBCE here.

EDIT:  He's also shared one of the latest construction pics.  Looks to be moving along very quickly for a one-man job.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Castle Project Castle

The Castle Project is a tilt-up owner built castle project with a blog.  Have a look at the construction site and progress at the website.  Very interesting!  I looks like the builder is using a DIY tilt-up system.

Eastwind Castle

Eastwind Castle is in Aiken, SC, on 25 acres.  Looks like they have a Ren Faire or festival on the property as well.  Looks to be owner built, but no other information other than this article.

Stephenson Castle

Another owner-built castle!  I came across Stepehnson Castle being built in Ohio.  It loos like the owner is doing quite a lot of the work themselves, and perhaps is doing the contracting as well.  They've elected to use Azar Block, a CMU product that is similar to Faswall block in the way that it is designed to be dry-stacked and assembled very quickly, but Azar is strictly concrete, not a composite type material.

Anyway, the site for the castle is in blog form, and you can see the castle being built.  It's definitely worth a look.

UPDATE:  I was able to contact the owner, and he was kind enough to share some information about his castle building so far: 
As for my castle, the website is about 2 months behind on updates.  But, should be updated in the next 2 weeks.  I am not skilled in any construction at all.  My previous skills include building a pine wood derby car and a bird house in scouts.  So, my project moves slow and I spend a lot of time on the site siting scratching my head.
As for the planning, I search typical home blue prints after blue prints until I found one I liked and resembled a castle.  Of course I looked at many different options for building and was leaning to ICF, but was afraid of doing it myself and having a costly blow out of one of the forms.  So the local concrete supply company had some samples of the Azar block and gave them to me.  I was sold when I got home and played with them.  I was shocked at the unit price of $3.25 each.  However, after a year of waiting, and they could not move them, I had over 9000 blocks available to me at $1.25 each.  So, I bought as many as possible, 2 1/2 truck loads. 
I have tried to do 99% of the work.  I did contract $600 of work for a trackhoe and licensed septic installed to draw septic plans to be submitted to the county.  I also paid $125 to get the first course of blocks laid level, after my test footing came out un-even.  Ever thing else, I have done my-self with the help of typical construction DIY books. 
As for the Azar block, my test building, AKA the water tower I find the product excellent to work with.  They are 42lbs a pice which makes a lay person like myself cringe every time I think of laying more block.  The first six or seven courses went up fast.  The ones higher up slowed us down due to the weight.  I did discover, these CMU shed small chips of stone and concrete which do cause un-even places.  Now, I watch carefully and dust off all new courses as I build up. 
I wish I had more skills because I see my dreams and money sometimes vanish when I can't figure out something I want.  Like, I am not sure how much rebar to use.  I have been told by masons and contractors that I am wasting money by using to much, but I joke that my castle is going to be around for thousands of years and well with all the rebar and concrete I am using, its not going any place any time soon. 
In the main keep, I might hire more skilled labor to figure things out like ceiling beams and roofs. However in the water tower and carriage house, I am building myself working out all the bugs... hopefully!
Great info!  It good to know that there are folks that are not experienced in construction out there building a castle, and doing it as inexpensively as they can.  Stephenson Castle is going to be high on my watch list, especially as we hope to follow a lot of the same route he does.

Friday, June 4, 2010

From the Department of Useless Information:

While updating this blog and doing some Sketchup I ran IOGraphica just for fun. It tracks and plots mouse paths and clicks. Pretty useless, but entertaining. For some odd reason, one hour's worth of my mouse tracks and clicks is reminiscent of a picture of the United States.

Faswall block

Faswall Block

One of the visitors and fellow future castle-builders here suggested this material to be of potential interest. I spent a few minutes looking through the site to get some information about it, and in a nutshell: Treated woodchips with a cement coating formed into CMU-like blocks. It has better insulative qualities than straight CMU, can be dry-stacked, and supposedly is mold-free. Also stated that it is similar in cost to ICF or SIP, and supervised unskilled labor may be used for installation - great for owner-builders, they say.

My thoughts are mixed after reading about it. Cement is hygroscopic, and one should never place wood structure directly in contact with stone or cement, it rots faster; but the site says that rot isn't an issue. I wonder why? Are there additives preventing rot? Also, I'm curious about the engineering data on these blocks: How high can they be stacked? How much weight can they bear? Also, at a cost comparable to ICF and SIP, is this with or without labor? And if the cost is similar to ICF, and ICF provides a higher R value, why go with these blocks at all? Also with the expense of the needed cement reinforcement, the total outlay maybe comparable to ICF or SIP. 

I don't mean to sound negative about the product, it looks pretty neat; and I'm all for someone making a green product that is good for an owner-builder to use. I've done lots of research on alternative building methods and materials, and often they don't turn out to be all that they're cracked up to be, so I'm reserving judgment on this one. My concerns may be simply because I'm uninformed. I hope it does well, and certainly would consider it as a material in the future.

Thanks for the link, Gary.

Simulated slate recycled rubber roofing

Something I've always thought that would look great on a castle or Schloss would be a real slate roof.

Obviously a real slate roof requires a master mason, or at least a highly skilled and specialized team of laborers to attach them to the roof - not cheap!  Add to this the reinforced structure required to hold the weight, the cost of installation and materials, and slate becomes unaffordable to all but the wealthy. Certainly unavailable for the wishful builder like myself.

I haven't been able to find a cost PSF for this material yet, but it sure looks good! There are a few places that sell it that I could find online, but of course there's no price, you have to call to find a local installer/distributor.

Anybody besides me think construction material suppliers should get over the "fill out this form" or "call us" shortly followed by a full-press sales pitch method of business besides me? I just wanna know how much 1 unit of "x" material costs!

Anyway, here's some manufacturer's sites, and the have some pretty pics in their galleries.

DaVinci Roofscapes
RuBBur Concepts

Monday, May 31, 2010

Hear ye: The rolls are called -

- and Castle Freedom, Thornwood, and Tirion are stricken. Castle Freedom simply because the main site is gone, though the creator of that castle's idea has several pages scattered throughout the web wishfully talking about it and his philosophies. Subjective of me, yes; but I don't see it going anywhere. Thornwood has turned into a farm (for now), so no more castle there either. Tirion has fallen off the face of the Earth. I know, Tirion is off in the West and us mere mortals aren't meant to find it, but a website would be nice!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Polls ended:

What Kind of castle do you want to build?

Big fortress type - traditional looking "stone block"

94 (35%)

Mixed - little bit of stone fortress, but some decorative turrets

111 (42%)

Schloss - less fortress like, quite decorative with turrets, etc...

32 (12%)

Walt Disney Castle!

25 (9%)

Votes so far: 262

How far are you from building a castle?

Man, I'll never get there!

37 (21%)

I've got the land, just waiting for the $$ and/or plans to build!

29 (16%)

1 - 3 years

9 (5%)

3 - 5 years

10 (5%)

Dreaming about it, but I will do it!

91 (51%)

Votes so far: 176

When building your castle, how much of the work will you do yourself (hammer in hand)?

100%, I am the contractor/builder.

0 (0%)
Builder will do things I can't do, heavy work like grading/pouring a slab. I'll do the rest.

0 (0%)
Builder will do heavy work + basic structure + plumbing, etc... I'll do the interior.

3 (100%)

The builder will do it all while I sit back and watch

0 (0%)

Votes so far: 3

Surprisingly few votes on the "Who is going to do the work?" poll. Lots of dreamers out there, and a not insignificant number who actually have the land and are planning to build. The favored look of the castle seems to be semi-decorative, not limited to a stone fortress, but not Neuschwanstein either.

So; suggestions for castle-building and related polls readers might like to see? I'll take a suggestion or two, and if it seems appropriate, put your submitted Q&A up as a new site poll.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

Final version

Final version, plus one that I hacked out the port cochere quick-and-dirty. This resulted in a larger overall structure square footage-wise. With a little more work, the facade would flow more nicely.


© Jeff Wagner


© Jeff Wagner

Sans Port Cochere:

© Jeff Wagner

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Took a trip to the land again

...and not a whole lot to report. Quite pretty there when it's all "greened up", we saw deer while we were traipsing about amongst the trees. Unfortunately I can tell that black flies will be an issue, you couldn't walk 20 feet without having to swat an ever-growing cloud of the annoying buggers away. We also discovered that there are actually 3 streams on the property, not just the 1 large one. The 2 biggest combine at the bottom edge of the land, while a small, possibly seasonal, stream meets up close to the junction of the other two. Also, we noted that the plastic "No Trespassing" signs had likely deliberately been removed. We thought the wind had pulled them off, but no... they were all on the ground in the same spot at the end of the land where someone had carried them to the point of the last sign removed. Whatever for? At any rate, we were equipped with aluminum signs and a ladder this time and placed them as high off the ground as we could reach with the ladder. Hopefully they'll be out of reach of the casual vandal.

As a side note, if anyone uses an iPhone, there are a couple of free apps I'd recommend for driving expenses and fuel economy measuring. I wanted to see how much it cost round-trip for tolls and gas, and what sort of economy the car got; so I recommend "Road Trip Lite" for checking economy and "VehiCal" for expenses during traveling.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sketchup Design Again

Back at it again. I kept messing with the previous design and found it looked less and less castle-like the more I tweaked it. Some parts of it looked good, the rest didn't, and no matter what I did I couldn't find a way to make it look good. With this design I backed off and made it simpler in some ways and more complex in others. I reduced the half-timber overhang and timber ends, made the port cochere square, and tried to make it look a little more like 2 separate buildings, a gate house and castle. Overall it's smaller as well, giving it a less massive and more cozy feel. As usual, I'll work with it until it works or I get sick of it, and comments are always welcome.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Property visit

We drove out to the land to check up on things (can't do it as often as we'd like, it costs a bundle in time, fuel and tolls) and had a look around. After signing the papers last year, we placed several signs of the "No Trespassing" variety on the roadside perimeter just as a CYA precaution. Oddly enough, upon our return visit, the signs were gone! Not cracked with pieces hanging on, but removed - along with the fasteners too.

Still working on designs for the house, all recent versions have wound up in the trash bin.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A fellow Sketch-upper and cement caster

Found this blog while digging through the Google analysis for this site. One of the referred sites was this Centerstone, so I paid it a visit. Seems the author is a fellow "Sketch-upper" and is also doing something I definitely plan on doing: Making cement molds for decorative "stonework". Check it out, looks pretty interesting and you can learn something.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A bit on the pricey side

Submitted the design to an architect/designer, and discovered that the price will be in the vicinity of $500,000 and upwards for building. That's not going to work; way, way too high. Of course this assumes contract labor, ashlar stone facade, etc... So one could reasonably cut a chunk of the cost of labor off of the price and soem of the materials, but all the same, even after that it might be too high. We'll have to see how much a basic CMU design will cost, with us doing everything else. If we can't get it down to a more reasonable price, I might have to strike my own site from the rolls!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Unknown Adirondack owner built castle for sale?

A reader stopped by and commented that she'd found this castle online for sale. It looks like a great deal of the external structure has already been done, though the fate of the castle could go either way at this stage, ruin or Camelot. Looks like a lot of those castles in various stages of disrepair scattered around Western European countries. Maybe someone will rescue it? I'll contact the agent when I have some time and see if there's any additional information on the project.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving the comment, Janet!

UPDATE: I wrote to the real estate agency via the website and have not received a response. Sorry folks. If I do get a response, I'll be sure to post it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Still working on a design

Yet another modified version of the design I've been trying to bring to life. I've done my best to try to balance things out a bit, but there are some consistency issues to work out. One if the features is starting to irritate me slightly, the port cochere; the building front looks really large with it, but it takes a big chunk out of the ground floor space. It makes it a little difficult to get the best use out of the area provided, but of course the second floor over everything is very usable.

As in the previous model, the building at the back corner is for use as a mother-in-law, possibly as a small B&B area later, and perhaps as an apartment for us as we age and rent the main house out.

The greenhouse is attached to the kitchen, hopefully it can be utilized as a sun room and the heat generated from it can be used to warm the house in the spring and fall - along with some nice evacuated tube solar heating in the winter.

Anyway, the main work at this point is door and window placement, figuring out how to arrange rooms and cleaning the model up. Then to find an architect and hope he/she doesn't wind up "ROFL" and telling me to try something that won't cost $2M. (The building isn't that large! 2,200 s.f.!)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

NPR site featuring a few American Castles

Found this when looking for more castles online. They did interviews with a couple of modern castle builders, specifically Roznik's Castle and Bull Run Castle, and have a clickable map made up with a few castles in it.

Some slightly discouraging information though, I did find out that the stonework on Roznik's Castle was $600,000. Hmm. Half-timber and shingle styles are looking a lot more attractive!

Another castle for sale

Not modern (in the sense of this site), but interesting nonetheless. Lyon's Castle in California is for sale.

A good castle story

This isn't by any means a modern castle, but I thought it was good to see that a castle that was going to ruin got some attention. Kimball Castle is in New Hampshire on Lake Winnipesaukee, and according to some of the comments on Youtube, has been purchased by a motorcycle shop and is being worked on.