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Archive for February, 2012

Finished straw/clay sauna with post and beam and metal roofing

Finished straw/clay sauna with post and beam and metal roofing


Drawing showing rocket stove heater and urbanite foundation

Drawing showing rocket stove heater and urbanite foundation


“Ok, the Rocket Stove heated, Cob Sauna is on!! There is a client who will pay me to build one, which is GREAT! ‘Cause it means I’ll actually have the time to build it, and see it finished in a timely manner.

I’ve delivered the urbanite for the foundation today, I’ll be prepping the parts and picking out the brick and whatnot tomorrow. Hopefully by Friday, I’ll have the rocket stove guts layed out and working. Most of the guts of the stove are going to be below floor level, so I gotta build the stove and the foundation together.

Ok. Today I built the platform that the stove will sit on and insulated underneath with pumice. I chose pumice ’cause I’ve had it laying around for some time and it was a freebie, also I expect that it will encounter moisture occasionally. Seems to me that pumice will handle a periodic wetting better than perlite or something like that. Today I also built and tested a quick-and-dirty 6 inch rocket stove on the platform. It felt right, to gauge system size by just making one and staring at it. It seemed to me, (after fiddling with wet wood in a wet 6″ stove on a gusty day) that an eight inch system will likely be more appropriate.. So tomorrow, I tear it all off and build an eight inch system in it’s place.”

Read the rest at the source: Sauna Project

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Rustic whole-tree timberframe (click to enlarge)

Rustic whole-tree timberframe (click to enlarge)


Rustic whole-tree timberframe (click to enlarge)

Rustic whole-tree timberframe (click to enlarge)


Rustic whole-tree timberframe (click to enlarge)

Rustic whole-tree timberframe (click to enlarge)


Here’s another beautiful custom home design by Whole Tree Architecture.com. We covered their work in a previous blog post on Whole-tree Building that was very popular and so I decided to expand on this topic some more. You can think of whole-tree building as maximizing the trees that nature gives us to create rustic timberframe structures. Many can’t afford or don’t have the skill to build a classic post and beam house, but whole-tree building is simple enough and inexpensive enough for everyone. The cost can be extremely low if you obtain the wood from local forests.

“Kara House was designed and built for two sisters of the Wheaten Franciscan Order, which focuses on
– Promoting peace;
– Effecting reconciliation;
– And being in solidarity with the poor; thus,
– Bringing hope to all.

Every Whole Trees house is a combination of accumulating green-building craft and nudging the frontiers of sustainable construction. It’s reassuring and illuminating to see what has come before as we get ready to inch forward. This house is straw bale with a sod roof and passive solar design.”

Source: Digging in the Driftless

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Spiral stairway-fireplace from the Owner-Built Home

Spiral stairway-fireplace from the Owner-Built Home


Spiral home from the Owner-Built Home

Spiral home from the Owner-Built Home


Climate control from the Owner-Built Home

Climate control from the Owner-Built Home

Ken Kern traveled the world in search of innovative building ideas and reported his findings and ideas in The Owner Built Home. In my previous blog post about Kern, I said I would highlight more of his ideas. Well, here are three more ideas in addition to the Plunger Pile Floor System. Imagine hundreds of pages of ideas like this!

From the Kasparowitz blog: “Besides writing and selling books, Ken would answer questions and even give you a sketch through the mail for $10!! If you were then interested, he would actually draw up plans for your owner-built home.” [Ed. Hmm. Maybe I should do this?]

Images source: kasparowitz.blogspot.com

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Weaver-Hovemann timberframe and straw/clay home by EcoNest

Weaver-Hovemann timberframe and straw/clay home by EcoNest


Timberframe and straw/clay house in Crestone, Colorado (click to enlarge)

Timberframe and straw/clay house in Crestone, Colorado (click to enlarge)


Mixing straw/clay for filling gaps between straw bales

Mixing straw/clay for filling gaps between straw bales


Straw/clay has been in use for thousands of years with great success. The focus of our blog is obviously earthbag building, but we’ve decided to include coverage of other natural building methods to broaden our horizons and reach a wider audience. It’s good to know a whole range of building ideas so you can obtain the best possible house. For instance, maybe you want to use earthbags on exterior walls and straw/clay on interior walls. This is a very good option that requires no formwork. You could stuff straw/clay inside pallet walls for soundproofing between rooms. Most often straw/clay is combined with a timberframe that carries the loads.

“One of the best low-cost insulating materials is clay-coated straw (or other lightweight plant materials). A light coating of clay acts as both a binder and preservative. Clay-coated straw has been shown to last over 700 years as a non-deteriorating insulation! As the clay dries, it binds the straw together in a surprisingly rigid mass. It’s a “natural styrofoam”.

Materials
Any stiff agricultural waste similar to straw will work. Hay is too flimsy and has seeds, so it doesn’t work very well. Barley straw, wheat straw, and other grain straws work well. Clay can be gotten from the earth. Many subsoils are primarily clay. River bottoms and river banks are usually clay. Clay is also used by brick and tile manufacturers and can be bought from them cheaply. (in our area, about $16 per ton)
Even soil which has a moderate amount of clay such as commonly used for adobe, about 35-50% clay, will work. The slurry is not as sticky, compared with pure clay, but even ordinary mud works well enough. This is not rocket science. Use a dry wall stirring paddle and electric drill to mix the clay or mix in any kind of mixer. Mud mixed in a box with a hoe works.

Method
1. Break the clay into small particles so that it will mix with water easily.
2. Make up a slurry of clay and water. Any soil that is mostly clay will also work. The consistency should be like cream or a thin milk shake.
3. Spread the straw out on the ground. Dampen the straw with a spray nozzle if available.
4. Pour (drizzle) the slurry over the straw, then toss and mix the straw so that it becomes lightly coated. Ordinary garden rakes work well. The clay should only very lightly coat the straw. This is NOT adobe. Maybe 5-10% clay, 90-95% straw. When dried in the wall, you can hardly see the clay, but it binds the straw together very well.

Uses
In addition to being an insulator, it can be used as a wall forming material. In the middle ages, even up to the present time, the method works like this:

1. A post and beam structure is first built.
2. Two boards are temporarily nailed to the posts, one on each side.
3. The resulting cavity is filled with straw-clay.
4. The material is tamped down (a 2×4, 4×4, or small post will do). The idea is not to compact it into a solid mass, you couldn’t do it easily anyway because the straw will remain springy until it dries.
5. The two side boards are moved up immediately and stuffed again and again until the wall is as high as desired. No need to wait for the straw-clay to dry before moving the boards up. (A moveable, sliding form could also be used to make walls.)
6. A saw is used to cut out windows, or window frames are placed first.
7. The wall is allowed to dry and is hand plastered inside and out. The soft undulating plastering adds a charm that cannot be found in modern buildings.”

Source: Planetary Renewal.org
Image source: EcoNest
Image source: Windy Ridge Woodworks
Image source: Our House of Straw

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Buildings without Architects

Buildings without Architects


“A wonderfully informative reference on vernacular styles, from adobe pueblos and Pennsylvania barns to Mongolian yurts and Indonesian stilt houses.

This small but comprehensive book documents the rich cultural past of vernacular building styles, from Irish sod houses to sub-Saharan wattle-and-daub huts and redwoods treehouses. It offers inspiration for home woodworking enthusiasts as well as architects, conservationists, and anyone interested in energy-efficient building and sustainability. The variety and ingenuity of the world’s vernacular building traditions are richly illustrated, and the materials and techniques are explored. With examples from every continent, the book documents the diverse methods people have used to create shelter from locally available natural materials, and shows the impressively handmade finished products through diagrams, cross-sections, and photographs. Unlike modern buildings that rely on industrially produced materials and specialized tools and techniques, the everyday architecture featured here represents a rapidly disappearing genre of handcrafted and beautifully composed structures that are irretrievably “of their place.” These structures are the work of unsung and often anonymous builders that combine artistic beauty, practical form, and necessity.”

Amazon.com

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Adobe house built in Bosque Farms, New Mexico, during the 1930s as part of a government home-building program. Today, “government agencies more typically create roadblocks to the use of earth for building, and are reluctant to provide funding for such a supposedly 'poor' material.”

Adobe house built in Bosque Farms, New Mexico, during the 1930s as part of a government home-building program. Today, “government agencies more typically create roadblocks to the use of earth for building, and are reluctant to provide funding for such a supposedly 'poor' material.”


“The building of homes with adobe is a centuries-old tradition in the state of New Mexico, long preceding the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. The indigenous peoples of New Mexico had used earth for their dwellings for centuries, and the later Spanish arrivals were quick to adapt the indigenous earth-building techniques to their own purposes. Looking back at New Mexico’s building history, adobe was the obvious choice in rural areas and in smaller communities where people did not have the more substantial budgets of the larger cities. Partly because of this very availability, adobe is considered by many to be a poverty material that will wash away with the first rain. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is often forgotten that when the United States was dealing with the economic depression of the 1930’s, the federal government sponsored adobe home-building project in several locations across the country. One outstanding example was at Bosque Farms, a small farming community a few miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The community was established to help relocate farm families devastated by the droughts that created the “Great Dust Bowl” of northern New Mexico, west Texas and Oklahoma.

A portion of a 28,000-acre tract of land, originally part of the holdings of Don Soloman Luna (Los Lunas, NM), was divided into 43 tracts of 40 to 80 acres each. On May 2, 1935, a public drawing was held, and the tracts were sold to the winners of the drawing for $140 per acre. The purchasers had 40 years to pay the government back for their land. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) then cleared the land and built homes for the new land-owners. These homes were first leased and later sold to the occupants. Few details are available on how the construction was actually accomplished, but it is likely that local people, and probably many of the future occupants themselves, were hired to construct the houses of Bosque Farms.”

Architect Paul G. (Buzz) McHenry has more than 30 years of professional experience working with adobe and has published several well-known books on adobe construction.
Source text and image: Arid Lands Newsletter

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The Rural Studio from BluePrint Productions on Vimeo.

One of the earliest Rural Studio projects -- the main house made from straw bales, and a smoker out front made of recycled broken concrete and bottles. (click to enlarge)

One of the earliest Rural Studio projects -- the main house made from straw bales, and a smoker out front made of recycled broken concrete and bottles. (click to enlarge)

“The Rural Studio is a design-build architecture studio run by Auburn University which aims to teach students about the social responsibilities of the profession of architecture while also providing safe, well-constructed and inspirational homes and buildings for poor communities in rural west Alabama, part of the so-called “Black Belt”.

The studio was founded in 1993 by architects Samuel Mockbee and D. K. Ruth. Each year the program builds five or so projects – a house by the second-year students, three thesis projects by groups of 3-5 fifth year students and one or more outreach studio projects. The Rural Studio has built more than 80 houses and civic projects in Hale, Perry and Marengo counties. The Rural Studio is based in Newbern, a small town in Hale County. Many of its best-known projects are in the tiny community of Mason’s Bend, on the banks of the Black Warrior River.

The $20K House is an ongoing research project at the Rural Studio that seeks to address the pressing need for decent and affordable housing in Hale County, Alabama. Nearly 30% of individuals in Hale County live in poverty. Due to the lack of conventional credit for people with this level of income, and insufficient knowledge about alternative sources of funding, mobile homes offer the only chance for home ownership. Unlike a house, which is an asset for its owner, trailers deteriorate very quickly and depreciate in value over time. The $20k house project intends to produce a model home that could be reproduced on a large scale, and thereby become a viable alternative to the mobile home in this area. The challenge is to build a house for $20,000, ten to twelve thousand of which will go towards materials and the remainder on contracted labor. Once a truly successful model has been designed, the aim is to sell the houses in conjunction with the “502 Direct Loan” provided by the Rural Housing Service. The project began in 2005, and there have been 9 iterations of the house so far. The project is typically carried out by four outreach students; international post-graduates with a background in architecture or design.”

Source: Wiki
Image source: Flickr
Video source
The Rural Studio Film
Rural Studio website

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Hello, I am building a superadobe dome here in Brazil and was wandering if I could ask you for some advice about safety issues. It is one dome only building with internal diameter about 24.6 ft wide (7.5 m) and we are using 19.7 inches (50 cm) wide poly bags. The estimated height we´ll be achieving soon for the closure of the dome is about 23 ft (7 m). The earth material is a mixture of clay, cement and sand to avoid infiltration because of the high rainfall here. We are planning to make a light dome on top, which will make us finish the dome in a wide internal ring about 6.5 ft
wide (2 m).

My concern is about people´s safety working and moving heavy material in height. I tried to install some hooks with safety ropes and people are using harnesses to move along the wall. We are using movable scaffolding inside the dome to distribute material along the rows, but it is still not working well. I am not sure how to guarantee the safety of the people working during the closure. Another concern of mine is about the structural integrity of a dome this wide, does it need temporary or permanent. anchoring or reinforcement of any kind? Do you know how can I find technical information I could use in this case? See attached photos (not shown here).
Andre

Owen:
Hello Andre, Your project looks pretty good to me. Just be careful though since you’re at about the maximum size dome for earthbags. I would have added some rebar down through the bags as the walls went up. It’s cheap ‘insurance’. If the dome is not perfectly symmetrical, then problems can develop. Be sure to read the article about the Om Dome. They had to tear down the walls because the shape was off just a little, so be careful. If you feel or see anything strange, be prepared to jump to the outside immediately.

Machinery of some sort is the most efficient way to move lots of soil high up on a wall. The next best way is probably a chain gang of sorts, where workers pass 2-gallon buckets from one person to the next. It’s safer to keep all the workers on the outside until the earthbag work is finished. You could use ladders instead of scaffolding if not enough scaffolding is available, or both. And don’t rush things. It does get quite dangerous up on the wall. That’s one reason I like a loft, because it creates a nice work platform. Next time consider embedding lots of short poles between the bags to support planks to stand on. Cut them off when finished. Good luck and please keep us posted.

Kelly:
Hi Andre, I read Owen’s advice and agree with what he suggests. One factor in determining the stability of the building is how much the wall moves or vibrates when being walked on. If it is shaking very much, then I would be more concerned than if it felt rock solid. All of the larger domes that I have made have stabilizing supports or vigas going across at loft level, and this has rigidified the structure considerably. You might want to add something like this for this reason alone, if you feel unsure about the stability. These vigas can also provide a nice platform for further work above to finish the dome.

In studying you photos, I also have a concern about the way that the large arched opening was formed. I see that you still have the supports for it in place, and this might be a good thing. Even though you are using cement stabilized fill, that top bag runs many feet almost horizontally, with practically no arch to it. This concerns me because it is easy for me to visualize that collapsing at some point, after the form is removed. Usually with long superadobe arches people make sure that the bags also arch, especially directly over the top. You can see this in the pictures at http://earthbagbuilding.com/projects/sandbagshelters.htm You might want to provide further solid reinforcement, such as with a steel frame, to help support this area of the opening.

This looks like a fun project, and will certainly be one of the largest earthbag domes that I know about. Do keep us posted on how it turns out.

Owen:
A few more thoughts. Are you using one of the recommended methods for earthbag domes?
Kelly Hart’s method
Two string-lines method
– Catenary dome: explained by Doni and Kaki in their book Earthbag Building – The Tools, Tricks and Techniques

Also, I suggest inspecting the dome about twice a day to see if any gaps develop between courses of earthbags.

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The Barefoot Architect - Johan van Lengen

The Barefoot Architect - Johan van Lengen


“The Barefoot Architect, in its evolution, came out a stunner. Not only in looks, but also in both usefulness and practicality in today’s world. We didn’t anticipate the timing, but the green movement matured as this book was being produced and it’s a perfect intersection. At a glance, the book may appear to be about building a house out of adobe and bamboo or other natural materials. Which it is. But it’s also about design, planning, integration with the natural environment, using the wind, sun, and water to ventilate and produce energy, and a host of other subjects for people interested in providing their own shelter, or setting up a small community.

In the ’60s, I started remodeling my house, and then adding on to it (with some ambitious first-time architect plans), so I had to learn to build as I went along. In those days I had a bunch of books on carpentry and building, but my favorite was Ken Kern’s The Owner-Built Home, which became the underground building bible. Not “architecture,” but building, and doing it yourself. Simple pen and ink drawings, easy to follow.

Johan van Lengen’s book is for builders today what The Owner-Built Home was for builders of the ’60s. 1000 wonderful simple drawings, easy to follow. A different way of looking at shelter. Earth conscious. Local climate. Local materials. Bio-architecture. (And using intuition and the right brain.) Interestingly, Johan has found a keen interest in his methods recently by people who are bailing out of high-stress jobs and seeking simpler lives, creating eco-villages.”

Source: Lloyd’s Blog
Lloyd Kahn is the owner of Shelter Publications and author of such classics as Shelter I and II, Homework: Handbuilt Shelter, Builders of the Pacific Coast and Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter.

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House made from salvaged materials

House made from salvaged materials


“This article is a distillation of various tips and tricks I’ve learned for making salvaging and building an enjoyable and rewarding process. Building with salvaged materials has many potential advantages. First, salvaged materials are usually less costly than new materials, and they may be of better quality (e.g., well aged wood that doesn’t shrink, crack or twist). Salvaging is also a process that invites the serendipity of unexpected finds of special or beautiful things you couldn’t obtain or afford otherwise. For example, we ran across a solarium that we salvaged; we liked it so much that we redesigned our whole house around it.

As you begin salvaging materials, you develop a network of sources that you can use for later work; not only that, you meet many people in your area. And of course, you will feel all the satisfaction of recycling our earth’s resources instead of having them end up in the landfill. Finally, you can end up, after lots of work but moderate cash outlay, having a home you love without a huge monthly mortgage payment for years and years. This can be an excellent way to build, especially for the many people who don’t have a full-time job.”

Read the full article for free at the source: Permaculture Drylands Journal
More free articles from Permaculture Drylands Journal
Image source: Wiremash.com

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