The Starlighter 1, built by Bob of Showme Tiny Homes in Missouri, is very nicely put together. It features radiant floor heating, reclaimed items throughout, folding deck, off-grid ready, folding bed, and many more well thought out things.
I received an email from Professor Sunny Cai, who teaches architectural design at a college in Beijing , China. He mentioned his interest in ancient Chinese architecture, especially the earthen buildings called “tulou,” and he sent me some pictures of these rammed earth buildings. I had never seen anything quite like them, so I queried him further about how they were made and used. He replied, “The foundation was built with rocks, 2 feet high all around. The juice of glutinous rice and some lime is mixed into the earth for strength, and then sliced bamboo, reeds, and sometimes pieces of wood are also used.”“Tulou is a kind of special building, located in remote areas. People worried about bandits invading their home (before 1950); that’s why tulou were built so big and strong. Inside the building are many families (most of them of blood relation) sharing the space, with as many as 200 to 300 people.”
I did some further internet research and found out more about these interesting structures. Tulou are traditional communal residences in the Fujian province of Southern China , often of a circular configuration surrounding a central shrine. Some of these vernacular structures were constructed of cut granite or had substantial walls of fired brick. The end result is a well lit, well-ventilated, windproof, earthquake resistant building that is warm in winter and cool in summer.
There are more than 20,000 tulou in southern Fujian , and these were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 as “exceptional examples of a building tradition and function exemplifying a particular type of communal living and defensive organization, and, in terms of their harmonious relationship with their environment”.
Actually the Tulou were built by a minority called the Hakka, who were originally Han who fled south to escape war and famine during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). As they gradually moved they changed the local architecture by incorporating Han styles and that produced the tulou. Not only were the high walls built for defense but they were also the result of traditional Han architecture. Tulou were mostly built between the 12th to the 20th centuries. The oldest one was constructed over 1,200 years ago and is regarded as a “living fossil” of the construction style of central China .
There are three types of tulou. The Wufeng has three halls and two side rooms and are said to be the result of a redesign of the Han courtyard. The oldest tulou are the rectangle ones, and the most emblematic ones are round. They are typically designed for defensive purposes and consist of one entrance and no windows at ground level. The biggest round one can have up to five stories with three interior rings. The largest houses cover over 40,000 m² and it is not unusual to find surviving houses of over 10,000 m². Most round tulous are three or four stories, with family kitchens and livestock on the ground floor. The next floor becomes a storage room for food and furniture (with no windows), and above that are the bedrooms.
These structures are exemplary of sustainable architecture in that they are built of local, natural materials with simple techniques. They have good thermal attributes, with the massive earthen walls to help buffer temperatures. They are obviously built to last, and house many of the necessities for life. And they embody a communal life style that conserves energy and resources; these represent a form of ancient co-housing.
In a way Purple is like a modern wizard, transforming old trash into useful treasures for his off the grid homestead. After being gifted an old Bedford bus by a friend, he has been restoring it over the years and it’s now a wonderful off the grid tiny house in an upcycled homestead. Purple’s house bus home is a perfect example of how old items can be repurposed and upcycled for unique and useful purposes. You can also achieve a lot with very little money. Purples home allows him to live a simple, off the grid life. With all his needs met, he is able to focus his efforts on his creative work as an audio engineer and create beautiful and useful things from old items. I hope you enjoy the full tour of this special tiny home and off grid homestead.
The late Malcolm Wells was a writer, artist and architect who was a vocal advocate of underground building since the early 70’s, having written nearly twenty books on the topic. He wrote in a humorous, personal, eloquent and inspiring style. His books are completely written by hand in pen and ink, and are liberally illustrated with both photographs and watercolor sketches.
Two of his books that I found most intriguing are titled “Recovering America: A More Gentle Way to Build” and “Infra Structures: Life Support for the Nation’s Circulatory Systems.” The first one is based on a trip he took across America with camera in hand to document the extent to which our country has been covered with concrete and asphalt, killing the wildness of nature that is always attempting to erupt. The other book documents how the roads, bridges, ports, airports, etc. are all disintegrating, and in need of more than repair: they need to be re-conceptualized. Malcolm’s solution to these dilemmas is to put it all underground!
In response to these books, I wrote to Malcolm, “I have been wrestling with the whole question of how to remediate the architectural and infrastructural atrocities that have been committed in the name of progress, prosperity and domination over nature. Your vision of putting it all underground certainly has its appeal, but to me it brings up a slew of other concerns. Could we afford the enormous acceleration in the release of carbon dioxide? (They say that the manufacture of every ton of cement releases another ton of this gas into the atmosphere) The embodied energy in your suggested remake of America is truly staggering: fuel to make all that concrete and steel, dig up the earth, make the supporting structure and then cover it all back over with soil. The structures themselves would have to be extraordinarily massive to sustain the loads you envision. I know it is possible, but would it be worth it? Would the resulting increase in vegetation absorb enough carbon dioxide to make the proposition a net gain for life on earth? Is there enough fossil fuel left to do this?”
“Another concern is aesthetic, and is not directed at you personally, but at the whole direction of western architecture over the last century or so. If you look at most of your lovely drawings of how it will look after the whole mess is put underground, it is instantly obvious where the man made stuff is. It is obvious because it is comprised of straight lines. Most of the designs are based on rectilinear concepts. If we are to emulate the works of nature, shouldn’t there be more curves? I know that Mother Nature delights us with an occasional linear sunbeam, watery horizon, or tall tree, but these elements are used sparingly. Most of nature is elegantly curved.”
“Thank you so much for getting me thinking about what should be the next step for humanity, and can we make it lightly enough to take the next one after that? I don’t think anybody really has the answer to this question, but at least we are beginning to ask it. Your thinking is decades ahead of its time. Thank you for pointing the way.”
Malcolm wrote back to me: “As to whether underground architecture has a net positive or negative effect upon the world environment, (a) It’s such a miniscule movement it won’t have any effect for decades, and (b) If you factor-in its centuries-long prospects for survival, you can perhaps make a case for each building’s positive total.”
“In spite of all the touted benefits of underground architecture (permanence, thermal efficiency, fire resistance, silence and ease of maintenance,) I have never really cared about any feature other than the building’s ability to restore life to the land on which it was built. The green “footprint”–the restoration of a native landscape, on and around it, is what I aim for.”
Darrel sent in a note on the Rain Harvest Calculator that he has developed and made available free of charge on his website. Its a dandy.
Its a very good Rain Harvest tool that provides a lot of flexibility — you have control over all of the following:
Location — specify your location and the calculator looks up the average monthly rainfall.
Water usage by month
Water storage available
Supplementary water available by month
Specify years with less or more than average rainfall
The calculator provides very nice graphic output that makes it very clear what your rain harvest and water supply situation is and makes it very easy to do what if studies on collection area, storage, usage, …
Well worth having if you are planning a rain water harvesting system.
David has designed and built a very nice solar water heating system for his energy efficient home. It is a drainback system that uses an EPDM lined, non-pressurized wood tank for heat storage.
Some of the highlights of Dave’s system…
Tank design suitable for limited height crawlspaces.
Nice tank frame design using half lap joints for the corners
Used new old-stock commercial collectors at a very good price
Efficient heat exchanger installation
Using used and recycled materials kept the cost of the system down
David with his three drainback collectors
David’s system consists of three collectors mounted vertically on the south wall of his house. The heat storage tank for the system is in the crawl space under the collectors. Its a drainback system, so for freeze protection, the water in the collectors drains back to the heat storage tank when the pump turns off.
The collectors were obtained on Craig’s list as “new old-stock” for a very good price.
The heat storage tank is a non-presurized, wood framed, insulated with polyiso rigid foam, and then lined with an EPDM liner – this is a design that has been used on quite a few Build It Solar projects, and works well.
David with heat storage tank in his 29 inch deep crawl space.
The heat exchanger uses a 300 ft coil of pex pipe that has been used successfully on several Build-It-Solar projects. The scheme that Dave used to support the pipe coil and space the coils out is very nicely done and likely provides a worthwhile gain in heat transfer efficiency. One nice thing about this style of heat exchanger is that it stores several gallons of fully preheated water right in the coil.
PEX coil heat exchanger with nice coil separation and support scheme.
Rather hot out to be growing the microgreens right now, but we received our new seed order and are anxious to taste the new varieties that we will grow this year. The real growing starts in mid-September and ends at middle of next July, but we need to give them a taste to see what mixes might work well, by seeing which ones have similair growing times and which flavours would work well together.
They don’t all go into mixes of course. Two of the favourites last year were Pea shoots and Sunnies (sunflowers), which will keep on going, along with a few others.
Here are the new varieties just starting out (only 4 days old).
We have just started fermenting our own root veggies
I must admit that I never really liked foods like store-bought Sauerkraut. We had both tried Kimchi at Korean and Japanese restaurants and were not impressed. So when I started reading and hearing about how important our gut bacteria is, to not only only our digestive system, but the healthiness of our entire body, we were both rather skeptical.
Then we realized that fermented foods we have eaten previously sometimes contained vinegars, which is what gave them such a harsh flavour. Looking into fermented foods further, and talking to family that grew up with fermented foods, we realized that “real” fermented foods were much simpler.
On to YouTube to look at some videos and away I went with trying out my first fermented food trial. We happened to have a few turnips in the cool room that were getting towards the end of their storage life. We picked up a small celeriac (celery root) to go with the turnips and also added ginger root, mustard seed and Himalayan salt.
All I did was put grated ingredients together, pound them for a bit to get juices coming out and put them into an earthen bowl. There was not quite enough liquid to make sure veggies were fully covered (otherwise there will be spoilage), so I poured small amount of previously boiled water over the mix.
A lid from another bowl fit in upside down to give a partially sealed cover. I also added a few extra plates on top to make sure it stayed down on first batch. Didn’t need it on this one. Then I just covered it up and put it in a dark corner of kitchen for a week or so.
It tasted great! It wasn’t harsh like the vinegar-based products at all and the ginger gave it a nice little kick.
This time I am using sweet potatoes, carrots and ginger, along with mustard seed and salt. Next time, I may even add some onions and garlic!
Try it out for yourself. It is very good for your health and adds a flavourful condiment to your meal as well. Don’t eat too much in a day to start or your digestive system might not be too happy. Also, if you have health issues, or an overbalance of bad bacteria in your system, you may experience die-off like I did.
Be sure to sterilize everything used in process, and don’t use any veggies with molds on them.