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Switching to Slate

by Going Slowly

Over the past few months, we have come to the realization that a thatched roof for our cottage just isn't in the cards. We're both in love with the idea, but making it a reality would be a massive undertaking, and right now, neither of us can muster the energy. Between the reed collection, the eventual workshop we'd want to organize with Deanne, and the weeks of installation time required, we're not feeling very inspired.

We still want to experiment with thatch, and we still plan to harvest reeds this winter, but we'll start by using them on a small outbuilding instead of our home. A thatched garden shed perhaps?

So, we've decided top our timber frame cottage with slate. Not only is it known to last hundreds of years, but it turns out our land is situated in the middle of one of the largest slate-producing regions of the world. The more we learn about slate, the more we are convinced it's a good idea. Lately, Tyler has been reading The Slate Bible, and scouring craigslist for reclaimed roofing material.

Just recently, we found over a thousand tiles that came off a barn built in the 1800s. Tomorrow, since it's supposed to rain (and thus, there's not a whole lot we'll be able to do on our building sites), we've planned a trip to northern Vermont to see them. We can't wait to take a mini-road-trip, and a day's vacation from working on the land!

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I hope you'll take some pictures to share with us! This trip sounds cool. Where in Northern VT are you heading?
Posted by Dave on June 5th, 2013 at 12:31 PM
Hi guys,
I may have missed the respective post: what shower / kitchen water / sewage systems have you decided to go for? My mom lives in Omsk (you've been there))) in a house without any modern amenities (except phone and electricity=). I'm researching into cost-effective systems (probably will dig a trench between the house and the well and lay piping and then dig a cesspit and connect it with house effluents).
Posted by Stanislav on June 6th, 2013 at 9:55 AM
My dad grew up in England and swears by slate roofs. He's always telling stories about houses that were 2-300 years old (sometimes older) with slate roofs (according to him the original ones put on way back when) then disparages about how North Americans cannot build houses.
Posted by maddie on June 6th, 2013 at 10:17 PM

Great questions!

The little cottage won't have a full bathroom--just a dry composting toilet. Next season we'll be building a bathhouse for showers. In the interim, we have a solar shower, our neighbors have been kind enough to let us shower at their place, and we have a membership at a nearby rec center where we can take showers/go swimming.

In the kitchen, we have a pipe plumbed for an eventual connection to some outdoor water source (barrels filled by rain catchment, a cistern filled by our well, perhaps a pressure tank in a wellhouse, etc). For the moment, the line is taped up and buried in a trench. Until we use that, we'll be carrying water from the well. During this time, water will leave the house via 5 gallon buckets under the sink that get dumped on a compost pile (what we are currently doing in the camper).

Hopefully we'll discard the 5 gallon bucket under the sink plan and move to a simple greywater leech field leading to mulch beds around trees, but we're not sure how well that will work up here in the winter. Long term, we will likely bite the bullet and pay tens of thousands of dollars for a mound septic system to avoid legal hassles.

Very long term, the cottage we are building will become a guesthouse and we'll build a larger home (~800 sq feet) with all the skills we've learned.
Posted by Tyler on June 7th, 2013 at 8:55 AM

Hah! Tara and I have a LOT to learn about construction, but I agree with your Dad. "Conventional" building methods in the USA seem awfully short-sighted to us so far.
Posted by Tyler on June 7th, 2013 at 8:59 AM
Slate roofs are all over New England and our personal favorite type of roofing. It's natural, beautiful and it lasts FOREVER, plus you can repair as needed without having to replace an entire roof. Very excited that you made this decision. I think you'll be much happier with this in the long run.
Posted by Sheila on June 7th, 2013 at 4:26 PM
We went to South Hero, VT--and we just published several entries about the trip.

Thatched roofs have all of those qualities too! Well, nothing lasts forever, but we have seen 100+ year old thatched roofs. At the moment, being able to purchase the material at a reasonable cost edges slate out over thatch, though.
Posted by Tyler on June 8th, 2013 at 10:39 AM