Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

Natural Building and a New Sense of the Earth


This nearly one hour video program features some of the luminaries of the natural building movement and is well worth watching. In addition to the many interviews are some luscious images of the process and result of fine natural craftsmanship.

Meet Linda Smiley and Ianto Evans who pioneered cob building in the U.S. and who now run the North American School of Natural Building in Coquille, Oregon where they and their students have used natural building methods to create a little village. Coenraad and Courtney Rogmans took a piece of undeveloped land, built straw bale and cob buildings complete with solar electricity and a water catchment system, and now teach natural building workshops. Taylor Starr at White Oak Farm, an organic farm and educational center, is putting the final touches on a striking timber-framed straw bale and cob community center. Brendan Flanagan, with his family and friends, turned a remote wooded hillside into a snug community of homes and gardens. Rob Bolman, an advocate of incorporating natural building techniques into mainstream building practices, created an ecovillage in the middle of Eugene, Oregon, and speaks passionately about the link between natural building and social justice. Meka Bunch, after only a week-long workshop, built his own elegant cob cottage and now works sharing natural building with people abroad. And Kiko Denzer, a sculptor and cob builder, and his wife Hannah, an organic gardener and baker, transformed a dilapidated outbuilding in the country into a cozy cob home surrounded by beautiful gardens.

The post Natural Building and a New Sense of the Earth appeared first on Natural Building Blog.

Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

Natural Building and a New Sense of the Earth


This nearly one hour video program features some of the luminaries of the natural building movement and is well worth watching. In addition to the many interviews are some luscious images of the process and result of fine natural craftsmanship.

Meet Linda Smiley and Ianto Evans who pioneered cob building in the U.S. and who now run the North American School of Natural Building in Coquille, Oregon where they and their students have used natural building methods to create a little village. Coenraad and Courtney Rogmans took a piece of undeveloped land, built straw bale and cob buildings complete with solar electricity and a water catchment system, and now teach natural building workshops. Taylor Starr at White Oak Farm, an organic farm and educational center, is putting the final touches on a striking timber-framed straw bale and cob community center. Brendan Flanagan, with his family and friends, turned a remote wooded hillside into a snug community of homes and gardens. Rob Bolman, an advocate of incorporating natural building techniques into mainstream building practices, created an ecovillage in the middle of Eugene, Oregon, and speaks passionately about the link between natural building and social justice. Meka Bunch, after only a week-long workshop, built his own elegant cob cottage and now works sharing natural building with people abroad. And Kiko Denzer, a sculptor and cob builder, and his wife Hannah, an organic gardener and baker, transformed a dilapidated outbuilding in the country into a cozy cob home surrounded by beautiful gardens.

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Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

The Bizarre Houseboats of Brittan

In West Sussex, England, a small community has formed around a colony of bizarre houseboats. Using spare parts from old buses, missiles and planes, each boat has its own unique look and feel. Among the residents of the community is Hamish McKenzie. An imaginative houseboat renovator, he’s incorporated his wacky and creative personality to create a truly spectacular home. From a microwave as a mailbox to the nose of a jumbo jet as a window, Hamish infuses glorious new life into discarded objects.

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Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

The Carriage House

About 15 years ago I built the “Carriage House” using a prefabricated steel vault as a supporting structure for earthbags filled with scoria as insulation. It is a two story affair, with the lower one being a garage/shop and the upper one an office and storage space. I located a new 34′ X 16′ steel quonset building that was sold disassembled for $1900 delivered. I realized that if I raised it up 4 extra feet, I could build a loft in it, so that is what I did, using a double row of earthbags on either side to support it. There is potentially about 900 s.f. of usable floor area on two stories.

Each arched section is composed of five pieces, and there are 17 sections, so it entailed a lot of ladder work to bolt the thing together one piece at a time. Since the steel vault is completely covered with insulating earthbags, the building is very well insulated, and comfortable year-round. This concept could be converted to residential use, with the addition of kitchen and bathroom functions.

The end walls were created with wood framing and siding materials. Most of this wood was either recycled from nearby building projects (taken from the dumpster), or bought as remnants. The cedar lap siding actually represents four different styles, so the facade has a rather patchwork quality. The door and windows  were all recycled as well. The bags were initially covered with papercrete that adds to the insulation value, but then later the entire vault was plastered with durable stucco.

The first floor houses the garage, shop, and some storage functions. There is a separate entry door, as well as the garage door. If the building is oriented with the glass end wall facing south, significant solar gain can be attained (in this case it might be advantageous to provide a solar shade over the window to shade it during the summer. The staircase to the second floor is rather narrow (about 2 feet) because it must fit between the two-foot intervals of the joist/ties. The interior of the shell could be finished in a variety of ways, or even left with the steel showing, as I did with this workshop and office. Cloth material could be draped over it, sheetrock could be scored on one side to allow it to curve to the shape of the vault, or wood tongue and grooved siding could be installed, to name a few possible surfaces.

The second floor has 6′ 7″ of head room in the center, and this diminishes toward the sides. The significant counter space utilizes areas where standing room is not available. The front office area has plenty of natural light from the southern windows, which can also be opened to provide ventilation through to the northern window.

The cross section shows the hybrid nature of this design. In order to gain height, the steel shell is erected on top of an earthbag stem wall, and then the earthbags continue on up over the building. The double columns of the stem wall provides thermal mass on the inside and insulation on the outside. An insulated concrete pad is poured for the shop/garage floor. The second floor joists and tie beams are essential elements of the design, since they resist deformation of the vault from all of the weight on it.

As I recall the entire cost of the Carriage House came in around $5000, with me doing most of the labor, and a lot of scrounging for materials. You can read more details about this at  greenhomebuilding.com and the basic plan is available at dreamgreenhomes.com

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Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

Forest Gardening in Practice

I have been developing a bit of a forest garden in my urban back yard, so when Tomas Remiarz’s new book, Forest Gardening in Practice, was offered as a prize at permies.com I decided to see if I could win a copy. I am pleased to report that I actually did win a copy of this very informative book.

It features an in depth look at the history of the development of forest gardens, or food forests, and why they are becoming so popular around the world. The concept is only about three decades old, and seems to have taken root in Great Britain, where Robert Hart was an early adopter. His property is one of many around the world that are profiled as case histories in the book.

This approach to gardening draws heavily on permaculture principles, so the importance of understanding how ecosystems evolve with many layers of plants, soil, insects, humans and other animals is stressed. There is a step-by-step guide to how to create your own food forest. The book is heavily illustrated with color photographs and other imagery.

Forest Gardening in Practice  is intended for private gardens as well as community endeavors. And then if you get the bug to go into business with your forest garden, there is much advice for doing that as well. All in all, I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the concept of maximizing the potential edible output of your land in an ecologically benign way.

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Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

An Environmentally Sound Alternative to Portland Cement

Cement has been called the foundation of modern civilization, the stuff of highways, bridges, sidewalks and buildings of all sizes. But its production comes with a huge carbon footprint. Environmental chemist David Stone was seeking a way to keep iron from rusting when he stumbled upon a possible substitute that requires significantly less energy. Special correspondent Kathleen McCleery reports.

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Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

Multi-Unit Residential Building Plans

Owen Geiger is a prolific designer of simple and elegant housing solutions. Among his many designs are a number of multi-unit dwellings that could accommodate a range of multiple families or various living arrangements. I have recently compiled a page at www.dreamgreenhomes.com that shows six of Owen’s designs that are for sale. I’ll post pictures of these below to give you an idea of how interestingly varied they are.

Double Unit Ecoresort

Fourplex

Six Pods

Torus

Rainwater Towers Apartments

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Posted in Sustainable Homes and Living

An Earthbag Privacy Wall

Wayne Talbot, a reader from South Africa, sent me these photos and description of an earthbag privacy wall that he just completed. I think that is very nicely done! Inspired by Owen’s earthbag building resources, I recently completed the construction of an earthbag boundary wall. 11m L x 2.5m high. Bags filled with building sand and 6% Portland cement.

Bags filled with building sand and 6% Portland cement.Chicken mesh attached to bags using roof nails.Initial plastering was done with a hand-held plastering ‘machine’ I got off eBay. Cost USD$140.00 delivered to S. Africa. Plaster is standard cement plaster. Top of wall waterproofed using ‘flash harry’ water proofing ‘paint’.

Thanks again to www.naturalbuildingblog.com and Owen for the inspiration. This was just a ‘test’ project to get a feel for the technique. Next project will be an entire home (straight walls, contemporary house, Cape vernacular type architecture).

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