Laughing Heart: Building An Earthbag Home

Earthbag home at Laughing Heart homestead

Earthbag home at Laughing Heart homestead

“Hello, I’m Ember and I’d like to share my earthbag building experience. Last summer I moved onto a small family farm called Laughing Heart to learn about earthbag building, permaculture and community living. I was there through the WWOOF program and camped on the land and was fed in exchange for working–a great deal for me considering the work was getting to learn and engage things I’d been dreaming about for a long time. The main project for the summer was building the family’s permanent home, a combination of earthbag, light straw clay and traditional construction. This was my first time participating in any type of building project and I was excited and ready for the experience.

My first week was focused on settling in, getting acquainted with the land, people and routines as well as prepping for the 2-week earthbag building workshop that would kick off the big project. A roving, earthbag building monk called Dada led the workshop and there were up to 12 participants on any given day, most of whom had no building experience, but everyone had visions of building their own home one day. The materials were collected and staged, the site leveled and foundation poured, the workshop participants arrived and it was time to build!”

More at the source: Homestead and
Dada Krpasundarananda

Laughing Heart: Building An Earthbag Home is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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SolarAid: Creative distribution brings solar lights to East Africa’s rural poor
Ashden Gold Award 2013

“Some 590 million Africans live off the electric grid, instead using dangerous and polluting kerosene lamps. With the ambitious goal of eliminating the kerosene lamp from Africa by 2020, Solar Aid’s sales teams work with headteachers in rural areas to promote good quality, affordable solar lights to families. With over 400,000 lamps sold since 2010, the organisation is now the largest distributer of solar lights in Africa.

The immediate benefits are immeasurable: children are able to study in the evening, kerosene is avoided, and families save money. And by using competitive procurement, SolarAid is helping raise standards across the industry.”

More at the source:

SolarAid is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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The Nomad Foundation

Earthbag domes for nomads in Niger

Earthbag domes for nomads in Niger

“The Nomad Foundation — Combining ancient skills with new technologies to bring prosperity to nomadic people.

Nomadic people need permanent structures only occasionally for seasonal storage, to start a small shop near their well, for cereal bank or fodder bank storage, and if they want a school they must pay a contractor a high price to bring materials and laborers from the city. If the building ever needs repairs they must pay him again. Structures are rare in nomadic territory, but they are needed.

The Earthbag building program is based on a type of building invented to allow the poorest families to build their own structures using a material available to them: the earth.

As one of our ongoing educational programs at Tamesna we propose in February of 2014 to bring a team of experts from the US to teach the skills of earthbag building to a group made up of nomadic people and local workers already skilled in building who can become future trainers in this method.

This program will be able to build three dome structures in two weeks time. The skills to build future ones will remain after the experts leave. With this education, the nomads at Tamesna should be able to finish construction of their school at a greatly reduced price.

The cost of the education program is $20,000. Please help us by donating today.”

The Nomad Foundation

The Nomad Foundation is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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Making Better Buildings — a Review

betterbuildingsWe recently posted an announcement about the availability of this book, but since then I have had a chance to finish reading it, and have reviewed it below.

Chris Magwood’s Making Better Buildings is a comparative guide to sustainable construction for homeowners and contractors. It is also a masterpiece of research and experience folded into an encyclopedic reference book for anyone interested in sustainable approaches to our built environment. Clearly a labor of love and a commitment to improving our situation on Earth, this book will have enduring value.

To my knowledge, building science has never been approached with such an attitude of precise evaluation of all of the factors that affect the environmental impact of materials and building systems. Chris Magwood looks at both common, and not-so-common, ways of building to see how they stack up against each other, giving the reader the opportunity to compare every environmental and economic aspect. His criteria for this evaluation embrace environmental impacts, embodied energy, waste, energy efficiency, material costs, labor inputs, ease of construction for homeowners, sourcing/availability, durability, code compliance, indoor air quality, and future development. The environmental impacts include harvesting the material, manufacturing, transportation, and installation. Simple bar graphs indicate at a glance just how “green” each material or system might be.

In addition to this meticulous look at materials and systems, Chris provides an overview of how each system works, in terms of methodology and skill. Here we can benefit from his many years of experience as a builder and teacher to offer tips for successful installations.

Foundation systems evaluated include earthbag, stone, rammed earth tires, screw and wooden piers, poured concrete, concrete masonry units, autoclaved aerated concrete blocks, certain insulated concrete forms, and rubble trenches. At the end of the chapter Chris explains why he decided not to evaluate several very common foundation systems, such as pressure treated wood and concrete slab foundations. Basically he feels that these are so inherently unsustainable that he doesn’t want to encourage their use. I would have preferred that he included these popular concepts to allow the reader to form his own opinion about how sustainable they might be, based on the data itself.

Wall systems evaluated include wood frame, straw bale, cob, cordwood, rammed earth, compressed earth block, and adobe. Chris indicates that many of the foundation systems can also be extended upward to incorporate whole walls, such as using earthbags for this. In this regard he failed to recognize that since earthbags can be filled with a wide range of materials (besides compacted earth), they can be tailored to meet a wide range of needs ranging from highly insulated to entirely thermal mass walls.

Choices for insulating walls include cotton batt, straw/clay, hempcrete, hemp batt, perlite loose-fill, mineral wool, cementitious foam, wool batt, and cellulose. Again, some very popular insulated wall systems (including structural insulated panels and insulated concrete forms) are not thoroughly evaluated, other than to specify why they are too unsustainable.

Floor and roof structures are combined into one chapter, and include wood framing, wood trusses, wooden I-beams, glulam framing, open web steel joists, timber framing (and post and beam), conical grain bin roofs, slab based floors. Then, as a separate chapter, various sheathing and cladding materials are evaluated. Earthen plaster, wood planks, plywood and oriented stand board, gypsum board, magnesium oxide board, fired clay brick, lime plaster, and stone are all indicated as useful for cladding walls. Roof sheathing includes metal roofing, cedar shakes and shingles, thatch, slate, composite shingles, green/living roofs, and clay tile. For flooring materials we have earthen floors, hardwood, softwood, tile, linoleum, bamboo, cork, and concrete.

The environmental viability of various surface finishing materials is evaluated. Here we have earthen plaster, lime plaster and paint, milk paint, silicate paint, acrylic paint, oil paint, natural oils and waxes, wallpaper and coverings.

The final chapters deal with utilities and mechanical systems. As sources for water, there are surface water, well water, rainwater catchment, and desalinated water. To pump that water, most common pumping systems are described.  Possible water filtration is outlined. Common pipe materials are evaluated for their environmental impact. For waste treatment, we have municipal wastewater systems, septic systems, and compost toilets.

For heating and cooling, passive solar, solar hydronic, solar hot air, various heat pumps, boilers, on-demand heaters, tank heaters, forced air furnaces, wood and pellet stoves, and masonry heaters are all considered. For electricity, there is grid power, photovoltaic power, wind turbines, and micro hydro turbines.

From all of these lists you can gain a sense of how comprehensive this book really is. Over 400 pages of in depth data and evaluation give both professionals and homeowners the ability to make informed choices about all of the materials and systems that go into putting together a house.

One thing became abundantly clear to me as I read through all the various chapters: building codes are pathetically out-dated, and don’t really take into account the truly important environmental considerations in their prescriptive codes. This must change if we want to move toward a sustainable future!

Making Better Buildings — a Review is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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Thompson Indian Tribal Pithouse

Thompson Indian Tribe Earth Lodge, Agassiz, British Columbia

Thompson Indian Tribe Earth Lodge, Agassiz, British Columbia

“Computer model data from NATIVE AMERICAN ARCHITECTURE, by Peter Nabokov and Robert Easton, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, 1989.”

Dennis Holloway Architect
Excellent website.

Thompson Indian Tribal Pithouse is a post from: Natural Building Blog

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