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.
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.
Here is a description of how a small cob shed was made with all local, natural materials. The audio is compromised by wind, but you can still get a good feeling for how the structure was built. Nicely done I would say.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.