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Archive for January, 2009

There are dozens of building methods and design techniques that enable virtually anyone to build their dream home at rock-bottom prices. The solution lies in natural building – using locally available, low-impact materials such as earth, stone, straw and small diameter wood, in conjunction with timeless vernacular building methods.

tamping-bags

Our grandparents didn’t need a quarter million dollar bank loan to build their house. (My grandfather was a carpenter.) Instead, they used time-tested skills passed down from generation to generation. They learned what materials and designs worked best in each climate through many years of experience. Much of this know-how got brushed aside in the post-WWII building boom, but the good news is these skills haven’t been lost. Countless thousands of owner-builders have made the switch and are now living in comfortable, beautiful, nontoxic homes built of natural materials, and you can too.

The reason I love working with natural materials is because there are so many benefits. First of all, most of the materials are dirt cheap: sand from nearby streams or river beds, straw bales from local farmers, clay free for the digging and so on. A thrifty do-it-yourselfer can scrounge a large part of what they need from construction sites and yard sales. And as far as beauty, there’s no comparison. A home built of natural materials is more like a work of art that’s personalized to match your lifestyle and needs.

The rest of the article can be read at Buzzle.com.

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We’ve added another project to our Projects page: Angel’s Dome in Mexico.

Angel's dome in Mexico.

Angel's dome in Mexico.

A lot can be learned by examining other projects. There are many ways to do things and people are constantly innovating. On this project you’ll observe how they used volcanic rock, built eyebrows over their windows with rebar and utilized barrels for window forms. They also show how they built their door form. Thanks for sharing.

If you are involved in an earthbag project and would like to share your experience with others through these pages, please contact us. Providing good photos and sufficient detail is appreciated!

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My earlier post about Earthbag Building in Cold Climates on January 17, 2009 piqued some interest. Since energy performance on most buildings can be improved with insulation, including those made of earth — adobe, earthbag, etc. — I decided to pursue this idea further.

Insulation-filled tube sandbags on exterior of soil-filled earthbags creates a superinsulated wall with high thermal mass.

Insulation-filled tube sandbags on exterior of soil-filled earthbags creates a superinsulated wall with high thermal mass.

So here’s another method for insulating earthbag buildings using tube sandbags, also called traction tube sand bags, typically used to improve automobile traction on snowy/icy roads. (The bags are sold to add weight for vehicle traction.) This method involves stacking tube sandbags filled with insulation on the exterior of earthbag walls, thereby creating a double wall. One benefit over the other method just mentioned is ease of filling.

Filled tube sandbags provide about 10” of insulation, which is perfect for many climates – not too much, not too little. Again, scoria, pumice, perlite, vermiculite or rice hulls could all be used for insulation. Perlite would be my first choice due to its high R-value (R-2.7×10”=R-27), although the final decision needs to be weighed against other locally available and inexpensive natural materials.

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Green roofs or living roofs have a number of advantages over conventional roofs. In addition to being beautiful, green roofs reduce runoff problems, provide habitat for wildlife, buffer noise, filter the air and reduce the ‘heat island effect’ in cities. They also improve the energy efficiency of buildings, reducing heating and cooling costs.

All these benefits and more have made green roofs popular across Europe, especially in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France, where experience has shown a proven return on investment.

One drawback, however, is the added costs of green roof materials and reinforcing the structure to carry the extra load. This was foremost in my mind when I built the dome for Mother Earth News magazine. (See post on January 22, 2009 below.) My goal was to make the green roof as ‘green’ as possible.

The design I arrived at minimizes synthetic, non green materials typically used on green roofs – insulation, root barriers, filter fabric, drains and rubber waterproof membranes (EPDM, etc.). It also avoided added structural reinforcement because domes are inherently stronger than other forms. While not perfect, my design is a step in the right direction, and it’s very simple. The earthbag dome was draped with two layers of 6 mil plastic as a moisture barrier. Shade cloth was placed over this on the steep upper half to prevent erosion. Backfill was built up in layers and tamped (road base first and then topsoil), and then planted with drought-resistant grass. It has weathered one monsoon season with no leaks, mold or other problems.

If you haven’t voted for your favorite green roof at Huffington Post, I believe there’s still time. When you vote, think about which design is the greenest.

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owendomesmall

Owen Geiger built an earthbag dome with a green roof for Mother Earth News magazine that is scheduled for the August/September 2009 issue. It is a multi-purpose storm/rootcellar and storage shed.
www.motherearthnews.com

A picture of the dome was submitted in a green roof competition at Huffington Post. It is moving up the charts and is currently ranked #2. You can vote for your favorite green roof by going here. (Owen’s dome is #9.) www.huffingtonpost.com

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There needs to be much more focus on sustainable housing solutions that benefit average people. According to the UN, approximately 1.2 billion people lack adequate shelter. The main problem is lack of affordable housing.

Natural building can play a major role in addressing the current unprecedented housing crisis. Everyone can have safe, decent, debt-free housing by using locally available, natural building materials such as straw, earth, earthbags, bamboo, stone and sustainably harvested wood. Also, using recycled materials is encouraged.

Natural building is the logical solution to the housing crisis. There is simply no other way to create affordable housing for all those in need. Highly processed materials such as concrete, steel and synthetic materials are beyond the reach of many and cause great harm to the environment.

To read the entire article, go to Amazines.

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In my opinion, this project ranks as one of the top in the world not just for its sheer size (over 40 earthbag domes) but also for its leading role in demonstrating how earthbag building can provide affordable housing to those in need (in this case homeless children in Nepal).

The Pegasus Children's Project in Nepal

The Pegasus Children's Project in Nepal

The Pegasus Children’s Project includes an orphanage and school for 80 children in the Himalaya Mountains near Kathmandu. Perhaps the most striking feature is the seamless blending of domes of various sizes and shapes. The final result is artistic, practical, safe and affordable. This is a must-see project for all those studying earthbag building.

To learn more, visit our Projects page.

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