by John Rowe
This month I sat down with Crestone resident and long time natural and alternative build– ing enthusiast, Carmin Teeple, in her strawbale-hybrid home lo– cated near downtown. During our talk I was reminded of why I have thought it so important to feature local owner/builders, bringing to light to Eagle readers their remark– able stories and what they have contributed to Crestone culture.
Carmin came to Crestone in 2000 from an intentional commu– nity and school called Greenbriar near Austin, Texas, looking to es– cape the heat and start a new ad– venture. She liked it here and de– cided to live here for a couple of years before deciding where and what to build. She recommends that approach to all would-be own– er-builders. “And look around, see what others have built, and see if any of them are for you. And if you don’t have building experience, by all means try to hire on and help someone who is building their own home. That kind of knowledge is invaluable. And, oh yes, [pointing at her many building books and smiling] read every thing you can and pour over the internet, too.”
Carmin is a case in point about how living out your passion and sharing it with others is a recipe for staying young and enthused about life. She moves through her home showing me around with an ease and grace belying her 77 years. She has been interested in home build– ing since she was twelve. Carmin de– signed her first home in high school and has never really stopped since. She built various and sundry struc– tures at Greenbriar and had real building experience before starting on her own home in Crestone. Car– min still talks with conviction about alternative and natural building and loves to welcome people into her home, and shows all who are in– terested what she has done. Carmin has had a used bookstore in town for years and has moved it into her home in the last year or two. She has good seating for browsing, both indoors and out and is always on the lookout for good books to add to the store.
Carmin originally built a 660 interior square-foot home and has added about 300 more over the years. She is especially proud of a 9’x10’ guest house she built for $50. All of it—floors, walls, and roof— are made of salvaged doors, al- ready insulated and often painted, too. She put a bed and little wood stove in it and little house was good to go. Carmin, like so many owner builders, is big on recycled materials when she can get them. And like just about all of Carmin’s house, it still looks great after quite a few years of wear and tear.
Carmin’s home is mostly strawbale with beautiful chocolate- colored earthen plaster, inside and out. She has a beautiful brick floor she installed herself. She wanted to be able to demonstrate to oth– ers different building styles and
has interior walls of cordwood with earthen mortar, a wattle and daub wall, a stove surround made of adobe bricks and some other stick frame walls as she has expanded here and there and always seems to have had a project or two going. Even now she has a bookshelf in process. When asked if she still en– joys building, she smiles and says “Well, I like the result.”
I was startled to find out that the exterior plaster on the original house was clay-based with no ce– ment or lime thrown in because it is in amazingly good shape, con– sidering that it is around ten years old. Carmin had to patch it a little after a year in the elements but it has held up well ever since. When I asked what was in the plaster, she patiently referred me to the full page printout she gave me, which details the entire buildout process of her home. The earthen plaster has no cement or lime in it; it was applied, allowed to dry thoroughly, and coated with a linseed oil and mineral spirits compound. Interest- ingly enough this good result has been had with overhangs of only 2’, not the longer ones often associated with a earthen plaster exteriors.
Carmin uses wood heat al– most exclusively and uses about a cord or a little more of wood to heat her home every year. This is usu– ally with one small stove, although she will start a second stove up oc– casionally on very cold days. She attributes this energy efficiency to the thick straw walls, of course, and to using double pane windows, lots of ceiling insulation and a large bank of south-facing windows that provide an effective passive solar component. Carmin was careful to include good floor insulation as well.
Carmin chose to build in town for a couple of reasons; she did not like all the contentiousness sur– rounding the POA and some resi– dents and did not wish to be party to any of that. She also liked the idea of being able to walk to stores, the post office, and various social functions. She stresses that living here for a couple of years before choosing a lot was really important to be able to get a feel for the poli– tics here, the building restrictions in different locales, and to discover what just seemed to suit her best.
Carmin’s home is thoughtful– ly laid out and is comfortable to be in. Like so many good owner builds, it is soulful, inviting, and contains everything you need, and nothing you don’t. I was a little sad to leave as it had that special handmade quality most of the world does not.
Carmin talked to me about replacing a broken window in her work studio and I allowed that I had a couple of wood window sash– es that she may be able to rig up to work okay, I talked to her about how I used those to build windows for my strawbale studio and offered to take her to my house to show them to her. She grinned broadly as swapping stories about building is something she dearly loves. Car– min is an inspiration to me in that perhaps, I, too, can still be passion– ate about life in my late seventies, if I follow my heart as Carmin has so truly followed hers. And lest I forget, Carmin wants me to include her phone number, 256-4511, and would like everyone to know she welcomes calls to chat about alter– native building and to show inter– ested folks her cool little house. She has a lot of good knowledge; I only hope you can keep up.