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Archive for December, 2011

We have been following the building of a school in Nepal with earthbags and just got the following note from one of the organizers of that project:

I just wanted to thank you for all your efforts and work in documenting and promoting earthbag construction.  I am working with an organization in rural Nepal to build schools in areas where timber is scarce and skilled labor is limited and we have started building with earthbag construction. Your websites, reports, video’s, etc. have been an invaluable resource and I think I am safe to say there is no way we would be where we are today without your resources.

Not only are we just building schools but more importantly we are training the local NGO (non-profit organization) to build with earthbags, who will in turn educate all of the local villagers of an alternative building method to the traditional stone and mud.  The areas we are working are only accessible by foot (8 hour hike from the nearest air strip) and all materials not found in the natural surroundings have to be hiked in by porter or mule.  Due to this restriction building technology in general has not advanced and villagers are still building the same un-reinforced stone and mud structures they did centuries ago, even though they are in the highest of earthquake zones.

Anyway I just wanted to say thank you again and let you know of the impact and reach of your work.
Travis Hughbanks

A previous blog post about this project explains more about this project.

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Earthbag in Gainesville, Texas

Earthbag in Gainesville, Texas


Earthbag in Gainesville, Texas

Earthbag in Gainesville, Texas


Earthbag in Gainesville, Texas (click to enlarge)

Earthbag in Gainesville, Texas (click to enlarge)


I found these pics on Inspiration Green and have been unable to find more information. The photos are by Justin Martin. Please leave a comment if you know more about this home. It’s a good example of a house many homeowners would be interested in owning. It also looks like a contractor built house and I would love to hear their story. [Update: this house is in Texas, not Flordia. Thanks for the clarification.]

Source: Inspiration Green
150 photos by Justin Martin on Flickr

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Here’s something to consider when designing your home. In mathematics and the arts, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one. The golden ratio is an irrational mathematical constant, approximately 1.61803398874989. Other names frequently used for the golden ratio are the golden section and golden mean.

Golden ratio expressed algebraically

Golden ratio expressed algebraically


At least since the Renaissance, many artists and architects have proportioned their works to approximate the golden ratio—especially in the form of the golden rectangle, in which the ratio of the longer side to the shorter is the golden ratio—believing this proportion to be aesthetically pleasing. Mathematicians have studied the golden ratio because of its unique and interesting properties. The golden ratio is also used in the analysis of financial markets, in strategies such as Fibonacci retracement.
How to construct a golden rectangle

How to construct a golden rectangle


Construction of a golden rectangle:
1. Construct a unit square (red).
2. Draw a line from the midpoint of one side to an opposite corner.
3. Use that line as the radius to draw an arc that defines the long dimension of the rectangle.

Source: Wiki – Golden Ratio
Lots of interesting reading on how the golden mean can be applied. See The Square, The Circle and the Golden Proportion: A New Class of Geometrical Constructions
Leonardo Squared the Circle! – – Da Vinci’s Secret Solution in the Vitruvian Man Decoded

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Design details have a big impact on the final appearance.

Design details have a big impact on the final appearance.


It is easy to find appealing aesthetic details by browsing web galleries of natural homes.

It is easy to find appealing aesthetic details by browsing web galleries of natural homes.


The importance of making your home beautiful goes without saying. Have fun figuring out the aesthetics as you design your home. Train yourself to search out the details that might otherwise be missed by casual surfing. There are lots of good online sources for inspiration. Here are a few sites with very nice galleries of natural homes.

Images source: Eco Friendly Shelter
Natural Building Photo Galleries
More Beautiful Houses

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Murrong Gunya sandbag house near Sydney, Australia

Murrong Gunya sandbag house near Sydney, Australia


“I have now finished my first sand bag dome…well almost. It was a great experience, however lonely, as I moved over 25 tonnes of sand by hand, mixed it with cement and put it in the bags myself. I am excitedly happy with the result thus far. The dome was built at a significant Aboriginal heritage site on the beach at Sandon Point south of Sydney, Australia.

This project was initiated to effect positive and sustainable change in Aboriginal and community housing in Australia. Appropriate housing in remote and bushfire prone areas must be met with sustainable solutions such as earthbag building. I built and donated this History Pod dome with respect to Australia’s first peoples and the continuation of their Original Sovereignty.”

Source: Murrong Gunya (Sand House)

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Infrared image showing heat loss in a home.

Infrared image showing heat loss in a home.


“Earlier this year, my colleagues Ace McArleton of New Frameworks Natural Building, Ben Graham of Natural Design/Build, and I conducted extensive blower-door testing, infrared thermography, and a series of moisture tests (probe, pin, and scan) on seven different buildings we had built in part or whole over the past seven years in Vermont and New York. We have just published the findings of this research in a report, Final Report for Energy Performance of Straw Bale Buildings Research Program. This research was conducted in support of a book by Ace McArleton and myself, The Natural Building Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to Integrative Design and Construction, to be released by Chelsea Green Publishing in the spring of 2012.

You can read and download the complete report at this address: http://www.newframeworks.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Research-Paper-2011_Final_Complete.pdf

We welcome any feedback you may have about the report, and encourage you to distribute the report to colleagues, media outlets, or others you may feel would benefit from or take interest in this work. Keep up the good work, and have a safe and happy new year.”
Warmly, Jacob Deva Racusin
New Frameworks Natural Building, LLC

I’m glad to see their report because testing is so important in order to design and build better buildings in the future. While this report is on straw bale buildings, many of the same principles apply to earthbag and other building methods. The information is particularly relevant to those who are going to build in cold, humid climates such as the northeastern United States. $30 spent on a book filled with practical tips like in this report could easily save homeowners many hundreds of dollars. Here are a few excerpts.

“We frequently, but not exclusively, use lime as both interior and exterior finishes because of its durability.

– The primary locations of air leakage were in roof assemblies. Of these, significant or repeated bypasses included:
1) around chimneys and plumbing vent stacks
2) around blocking between rafters on the exterior
3) where tongue-and-groove ceiling/clerestory wall paneling extends through the envelope to the exterior as soffit material
4) at framing transitions where air barriers (such as air-tight drywall or gaskets) were either non-existent or inadequately detailed

– Windows and doors were also consistently leaky. These leaks occurred:
1) between the plaster edge and the window framing/trim, particularly on older buildings with less-thorough air fin detailing
2) between the rough opening (R.O.) and the window sash where foam sealants were inadequately installed
3) within the window units themselves, especially in salvaged windows but also in new windows
The most significant and widespread thermal bypasses occured in situations that could have been avoided or easily fixed, rather than systemic failures of the design.

Design is critical: A thorough and comprehensive design process is essential to ensure a building’s overall thermal performance. Results for nearly every project clearly show that non-straw bale components of the envelope were most responsible for thermal bypasses in the buildings.

Convection leads to moisture: There is a direct correlation of convective losses and increased moisture concentration, particularly in the upper half of the structure, as evidenced repeatedly by elevated moisture content in exterior readings taken in air bypass cracks in plastered straw bale walls.”

Related:
Energy-efficiency Upgrades by Owen Geiger

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Vastu Sandbag House

Vastu Sandbag House


23 January 2009
“The new Vastu home is ready. The interior walls have been covered with clay, which naturally regulates humidity. From the outside, the buildings look like conventional homes. Sandbag filled Vastu houses can be finished with wood, marble, and other beautiful materials.
The walls are coming up! The builders proudly stand near the half-finished home. The sand-filled walls are an excellent sound barrier. Electrical wiring, and radiant floor and wall heat are also very simple to install.”

Source: Ukraine ‘Green’ Maharishi Vedic Architecture Building

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