Standard Housing

Written by Mark Sexton, Edited by Steve Tremblay

Throughout the mainland housing is directly influenced by the materials readily available and the craftsmanship of the builder. Most farmers live in a home that had been in their family for several generations and has changed relatively little over that time. As harvests bring slowly increased prosperity, a larger, more modern, home may be constructed while the previous home would generally be converted into storage for crops and/or equipment. Many farms still have the original hut-like structures that served as the first permanent home for the family.

These first structures are no more than huts, the floor cut a foot or so down into the earth with walls of intertwined sticks and branches. The gaps in the walls are packed with wattle (a mixture of straw and mud) used to seal out the weather. A small smoke hole is left in the center of the dome-like structure to allow smoke from the cooking fire an easy escape. The fire is tended throughout the day, although during the summer it will often be maintained as coals. The constant heat from the fire helps harden the wattle and makes it very effective insulating against the cold and wind. There is only one door, typically looking out upon the animal pens or fields. While it may start as a hide stretched on a frame, a wooden door is often the first major purchase of a household, although it will often never have or need a lock. This door is typically only made 4-5’ tall and 3’ wide.

The small size helps maintain the temperature inside the hut, but is large enough to accommodate medium sized livestock during the most inclement of weather. Wattle huts are resistant to fire and cold, but are susceptible to heavy rainfall and if not reinforced well, may collapse on the occupants.

The next step in dwelling for rural folk is to construct a wood cabin with a shake roof. More affluent families will have dug out a basement area and lined the foundation with stone. Walls are framed in hardwood, with long floor joists laid across the basement area. These basements may be as small as 8’x8’ and only 4 feet tall, or could match the footprint of the home itself. The exterior of the walls and roof are often covered in overlapping wedge-shaped wooden shingles, known as shakes. This construction is not nearly as well insulated as wattle huts, so the walls are often stuffed with straw if available. It is not uncommon to see a shake house that has had an addition extending out from it where the family expanded and needed more room. These extensions rarely are done as well, and often have a thatched roof and dirt floor. Shake houses are very susceptible to fire and rodent infestation.

If the family had a stone foundation for their wattle hut, this round base often is converted into a vertical silo, as large as 30’ tall, with a wood frame and thatched roof. Having a silo in a more rural area confers some political power. Other farmers will often band together, storing their goods in the communal silo for a small fee paid to the owner of the silo. These communities may slowly evolve into hamlets and later villages.