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Archive for October, 2011

Tiny Texas Houses builds homes with 99% recycled materials

Tiny Texas Houses builds homes with 99% recycled materials


You can blow through a lot of money in a hurry at building supply centers. For many, buying all new materials isn’t practical. Instead of buying new, you could help demolish a building, trade work, etc. Let’s start a list of the easiest to find recycled building materials. Suggestions are welcome.

Lumber, doors, door hardware, sinks, bathtubs, tile, paint, wood stain, pallets, wire, assorted nails and screws, twine, scrap wood, scrap metal, buckets, cabinet hardware (knobs, pulls, drawer slides), glass bottles (bottle windows), plastic sheeting, tarps, poly or nylon straps (tie-downs), bricks

Tips:
– Look for higher quality faucets and windows (you might lose money on low quality windows due to heat loss)
– Avoid: particle board/pressed wood cabinets, sheeting and trim, plastic trim, vinyl wallpaper, treated/preserved wood, old carpet, foam padding, moldy materials
– Bigger cities/nicer neighborhoods have the best selection
– Network with building professionals to buy used materials direct
– Get to know people who own or work for demolition companies, scrap yards, construction companies, etc.

Image source: Tiny Texas Houses.com
(click to see some very interesting photos in their gallery)

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Cope ends of loft poles to fit roundwood beam.

Cope ends of loft poles to fit roundwood beam.


Lowering costs is a major goal of earthbag building. One way to reduce costs is by using wood poles for lofts, roofs and other parts of the house. The poles are practically free if you obtain a firewood permit from the US Forest Service. There may be similar programs in other countries. This is a good way to obtain dirt cheap building materials, plus you’re helping improve the health of the forest and reducing risk of forest fires by thinning out smaller trees. (In recent years, wildfires have burned up to 9 million acres (3.6 million hectares) of land in the US.)

Okay, so you’ve obtained good, straight poles that are a little longer than needed, painted the log ends to reduce cracking, removed the bark and dried them under cover for about one year. You might even be fortunate to find standing dead trees that are ready to build with. Now you’re ready to start building your loft when the earthbag walls are at loft height (usually around 8’ high). First, set the beam in place with the crown upwards. Mark the beam and cut to final length. It’s a good idea to apply a tar product on the log ends so it will not absorb moisture. On domes, the beam will usually sit directly on the earthbags and extend almost to the outer edge of the earthbags. Drill a hole in each end of the beam for ½” rebar with holes aligned so the rebar goes into the center of the earthbags. Cut and pound in 24”-30” rebar pins to secure the beam in place. If the beam sits on a bond beam, then you’ll probably have to remove some wood on the bottom so it sits flat and level on the concrete. And, you’ll have to plan ahead and embed anchors in the bond beam for the beam and loft poles.

With the beam in place, now you’re ready to set the loft poles. Probably the easiest way to cope the ends of the logs to fit the beam (see drawing) is with an electric chainsaw. Gas powered chainsaws are preferred for cutting lots of wood. Electric chainsaws are good for smaller jobs on a construction site such as notching or coping wood. (Hand tools work too, of course, but it will take much longer.) In comparison to gas powered chainsaws, electric chainsaws are less expensive, much quieter, don’t create clouds of noxious smoke, don’t require fueling and, if there’s a cord handy, they’re ready to use almost instantly. You could probably buy a used electric chainsaw and resell it at the end of your project for about the same as you paid.

Here’s how I would cope the log ends to fit the beam. First, I would make a partial notch so you can get the pole in close contact to the beam. Use a compass to trace the beam curvature onto the pole, being careful to keep the compass horizontal the whole time. Mark both sides in the same way. Darken the line with a felt tip marker so it’s easier to see. Now move the pole aside so you can make numerous parallel kerf cuts about ¼”- 3/8” apart into the end grain with the electric chainsaw. Be careful not to cut past the line. Use a hammer to knock out the kerfed wood then use the lower edge of the tip of the chainsaw blade to ‘sweep’ (move side to side) the joint smooth. Make the interior of the joint slightly concave so you get a tighter fit. Test the fit by sliding the pole into position. Trim some more if necessary. You could use a wood chisel at this point for a more precise fit. Next, cut the pole to length, coat the end and insert the rebar pin in the joint for extra bearing strength. Toenail a few nails or screws to secure the joint. Then add a rebar pin to secure the other end to the earthbag wall (or use an anchor in the bond beam).

Repeat the process for the other poles, always checking for level and keeping the crown up. Trim the top of the poles if necessary so the tongue and groove decking sits flat. Install the decking with small head deck screws. Start at the leading edge above the beam and work toward the walls. You may need to shim some low places.

These loft poles sit on the earthbag wall and run the full length (no beam).

These loft poles sit on the earthbag wall and run the full length (no beam).


Finished loft

Finished loft


Photo source: Kelly Hart of GreenHomeBuilding.com fame

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Here’s a practical list of tools that would be good to have on hand, whether you’re rebuilding from a disaster or not. These are the tools relief workers brought with them to rebuild Haiti. I would add how important it is to buy good quality tools that last. You don’t necessarily need top of the line contractor-grade tools, but you do want tools that will stand up to regular use. Prices at yard sales (get there early), going-out-of-business sales, pawn shops and online sites such as Craigslist are far lower than building supply centers.

Source: Popular Mechanics

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Barrel Oven

Barrel Oven



“Ever dreamed of an efficient earthen oven that was hot in just 15 minutes? How about a canning stove that could process 32 quart jars at once?

Check out this efficient wood-fired barrel oven and canning stove that were made in Eugene, Oregon out of adobe bricks that were made on-site. These two wood-fired implements will be part of a community outdoor kitchen.

See this and more of Firespeaking’s natural building work at www.firespeaking.com.”

Source: Natural Building Network

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Keep barbed wire straight and overlap ends in center of wall

Keep barbed wire straight and overlap ends in center of wall


An engineer of note gave us some suggestions on how to improve earthbag corners in seismic areas. The engineer is concerned the barbed wire could shift in a quake. He felt that wire mesh anchors (4- 5 with 1″ long teeth, bent so it stands up nicely) would better secure barbed wire at corners. He preferred the idea of running the barbed wire straight out the end of the wall, around a wire mesh strip at the corner and back into the wall. That way it was nearly tensioned. The barbed wire could also run up and over into the next course.
Wire mesh anchors can better secure barbed wire at corners

Wire mesh anchors can better secure barbed wire at corners


Related:
Reinforced Mesh Corners
Low-Cost Reinforcement of Earthen Houses in Seismic Areas
Source: Special thanks to Patti Stouter of Simple Earth Structures for networking with engineers at a recent earth building conference and coming up with these ideas, the drawing and photo.

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Background information from Wiki: Open Source Architecture
“Open-source architecture (OSArc) is an emerging paradigm describing new procedures for the design, construction and operation of buildings, infrastructure and spaces… it describes an inclusive approach to spatial design, a collaborative use of design software…

A contemporary form of open-source vernacular is the Open Architecture Network launched by Architecture for Humanity, which replaces traditional copyright restrictions with Creative Commons licensing and allows open access to blueprints. Wider OSAarc relies on a digital commons and the shared spaces of the World Wide Web to enable instantaneous collaboration beyond more established regimes of competition and profit.

Its proponents see it as distinguished by code over mass, relationships over compositions, networks over structures, adaptation over stasis, life over plans. Its purpose is to transform architecture from a top-down immutable delivery mechanism to a transparent, inclusive… [system].”

My personal goal is to see a range of plans for affordable, sustainable and simple to build structures freely available for download from the Internet. Here are some of the projects I’m currently involved with:
Solar Pit House, Mindfulness Project Insulated Earthbag Domes, Mindfulness Project Site Plans, Earthbag Pit Greenhouse, Rootcellar, Cool Pantry, $300 Earthbag House, $300 Stone Dome (Geopolymer Earthbag Dome), $300 CEB House, Economizer, Narrow Lot House, Earthbag Shed, Straw Bale Emergency Shelter, Post-tsunami Emergency Housing Project, Earthbag Emergency Shelter, Mother Earth News Earthbag Dome (rootcellar, storage, etc.), UN earthbag shelter, Multi-purpose Outdoor Stove, Insulated Earthbag Foundation for Yurts, insulated earthbag foundations, earthbag greenhouse, tornado shelter (tornado dome) and vaulted rootcellar (under development).

Does anyone know of a good way to make all the plans available for download from one site? I want to post AutoCAD plans as well as PDFs so people can easily modify the plans to their needs.

Related:
Open Source Ecology

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Earthbags make great insulated foundations and platforms for yurts.

Earthbags make great insulated foundations and platforms for yurts.


I posted an idea for Insulated Earthbag Foundations for Yurts at Instructables.com. One reader who left a comment liked the idea, but needed a simpler design so he wouldn’t have to get a building permit. Here’s an idea for a very simple design that might get around building codes. Stack one course of earthbags in a circle and then fill the center area with sand, sand/gravel mix or an insulating material such as scoria. Spike the bags in place with saplings to prevent slippage. Berm earth against the earthbags to protect from UV rays and help hold them in place. The floor could be topped with a 2″ layer of subsoil to create a temporary tamped earth floor.

I know it’s rather crude, but it’s also super low cost, quick and easy. No concrete or lumber required, which means almost zero cost if you use recycled bags, and it should bypass the codes because it’s only ‘temporary’. (Har, har. This could last indefinitely if the bags aren’t exposed to sunlight, but don’t tell that to the code officials.)

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