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Archive for March, 2012

This ecoresort design joins two earthbag roundhouses with private baths between. (click to enlarge)

This ecoresort design joins two earthbag roundhouses with private baths between. (click to enlarge)


Specifications: Two 16′ diameter roundhouses = 402 sq. ft. interior plus 80 sq. ft. baths, total 482 sq. ft. interior (241 per unit), 1 bed, 1 bath per unit, Footprint: 19′ x 49’

Description: This ecoresort design joins two earthbag roundhouses with private baths between. The roof extends over the porch to create a shaded area with benches for relaxing. Windows on all sides provide optimum ventilation and thermal comfort (15 degrees F or 8 degrees C cooler inside than out). Glass block and bottle walls add a splash of color and fun. Thatch could be used, although metal roofing is more durable and fire resistant, requires less maintenance and allows for roofwater collection. With just a little modification, the two units could be joined to create a home by enclosing the porch as a passageway, converting one bathroom into a laundry room, and deleting one kitchen.

Double Unit Ecoresort floorplan. (click to enlarge)

Double Unit Ecoresort floorplan. (click to enlarge)


When something works exceeding well, it makes sense to pursue similar options. I’ve been saying for some time that earthbag roundhouses are the simplest, fastest, easiest, most practical way to build with earthbags. (Domes are great in some ways, but they have certain design limitations and are not the best choice for our hot, rainy climate. Square and rectangular designs have some benefits, but tend to be a bit boring, especially for an ecoresort, and long straight walls require additional support.)

That’s one reason I’ve created designs such as Two Roundhouses with Greenhouse, Three Roundhouses Design, my Hobbit designs, as well as numerous other roundhouse designs at Earthbag House Plans. (You can easily browse all roundhouse plans by selecting ‘Round’ in the Category menu on the right side of the page.) Note — most people end up modifying these basic designs to meet their needs, which can easily be done for a modest fee.

Each step of construction is explained in this Earthbag Roundhouse Instructable.

All plans are available through Dream Green Homes. Not all plans are shown. Just ask if there’s something you don’t see.

Visit my Earthbag House Plans site for complete info.

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Seal gaps around doors, windows, outlets, pipe penetrations and other openings with caulk.

Seal gaps around doors, windows, outlets, pipe penetrations and other openings with caulk.


Weatherstripping doors and windows can reduce drafty air in your home and lower utility bills.

Weatherstripping doors and windows can reduce drafty air in your home and lower utility bills.


Door seals or door sweeps with rubber or felt seals block drafts at the bottom of doors.

Door seals or door sweeps with rubber or felt seals block drafts at the bottom of doors.


“Weatherization facts:
– Low income families will realize greater comfort and additional disposable income, saving over $400 in reduced energy costs (at current prices) the first year. This equates to a 23% reduction in primary heating and cooling fuel costs.
– Taken together every $1 invested in the weatherization program returns $2.72 in energy and non-energy related benefits.
– Some of the largest returns are from the easiest projects including weatherstripping doors and windows, caulking exterior cracks and replacing door sweeps and door bottoms.
– Reducing energy demand decreases the environmental impacts of energy production.”

Source: Weatherization Facts
Image source: Green World 365
Image source: DIY Life
Image source: Soundproofing.org

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Dropping Home Values: One More Reason to Build Your Own Sustainable Home

As if you needed another reason to build and live sustainably… Okay, here’s another reason – dropping home values. Millions of people are getting badly burned on their home investments. This is another reminder to live within our means. Build and buy only what we need, not what some banker or mortgage guy tries to pitch us. Building your own low cost natural home is a lot of time and work, but this sort of lifestyle is looking better and better. Peace of mind living debt-free in your own home = priceless.

From CNN Money:
“Home prices dropped for the fifth consecutive month in January, reaching their lowest point since the end of 2002… Home prices have fallen a whopping 34.4% from the peak set in July 2006… Potential homebuyers lack confidence in the market… A big problem looming is a massive number of potential foreclosures.”

“People see that there are millions of homes underwater, and at elevated risk of foreclosure, and conclude that housing values are unlikely to appreciate in any meaningful way for many years,” he said.”

Source: CNN Money

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Diagram illustrating the coppicing cycle over a 7-20 year period

Diagram illustrating the coppicing cycle over a 7-20 year period


Coppicing is a highly effective method of producing a great deal of fast growing, sustainable timber without the need to replant.

Coppicing is a highly effective method of producing a great deal of fast growing, sustainable timber without the need to replant.


Coppiced wood has all sorts of practical uses for natural builders – sustainable fuel source, pole building, wattle and daub, pinning, braces, latilla ceilings and more.

“Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level. In subsequent growth years, many new shoots will emerge, and, after a number of years the coppiced tree, or stool, is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again.

Typically a coppiced woodland is harvested in sections or coups on a rotation. In this way, a crop is available each year somewhere in the woodland. Coppicing has the effect of providing a rich variety of habitats, as the woodland always has a range of different-aged coppice growing in it, which is beneficial for biodiversity. The cycle length depends upon the species cut, the local custom, and the use to which the product is put. Birch can be coppiced for faggots (bundles of brushwood) on a three or four year cycle, whereas oak can be coppiced over a fifty-year cycle for poles or firewood.

Coppicing maintains trees at a juvenile stage, and a regularly coppiced tree will never die of old age—some coppice stools may therefore reach immense ages. The age of a stool may be estimated from its diameter, and some are so large—perhaps as much as 5.4 metres (18 ft) across—that they are thought to have been continuously coppiced for centuries.

The shoots (or suckers) may be used either in their young state for interweaving in wattle fencing (as is the practice with coppiced willows and hazel) or the new shoots may be allowed to grow into large poles, as was often the custom with trees such as oaks or ashes. This creates long, straight poles which do not have the bends and forks of naturally grown trees.”

Source: Wiki
Image source: Coppice.co.uk

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When Technology Fails by Matthew Stein

When Technology Fails by Matthew Stein


“I PROTECT YOUR INVESTMENT!
Global Warming Equals Increasing Fire Danger
Build a Durable Fire resistant Structure
Fire Resistant Roofing
Fire Resistant Decking
Maintain a Defensible Space
II LESSONS FROM THE 1993 LAGUNA BEACH FIRE – WHAT SURVIVED?
– Many if not most homes burned from the inside out (fire storm heat ignited interior curtains, etc)
– Stucco, or cement walls preferred. If wood siding, apply over 5/8 sheetrock fire wall for improved fire resistance.
– All projections (roof eaves, etc) protected on underside with cement plaster, or sheathed with cement board (Certainteed, Hardie, etc.) for a wood look.
– Minimize venting, screened at openings to prevent flaming embers from entering vents. Removable fires stop vent blocks in place during periods of high fire danger.
– Coat wood decks with Pacific Polymers urethane deck covering or treat with fire resistant coatings
– Well insulated, well sealed envelope, and high thermal mass slow interior heating and ignition.
III GREEN & FIRE RESISTANT
SCIP (Structural Concrete Insulated Panel) i.e.: ICS 3D Panel
Straw Bale
ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms)
COB
ADOBE
PISE / Rammed Earth [and Earthbag]
SIP (with cement board siding)
I.E. Concrete Based, Earth Based, or fill the wall with foam or straw so no chimney effect and sheath with cement board or stucco!”

Source: When Technology Fails
Maybe earthbag will get included in the list in the next publishing cycle.

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Built-in shelving by fireplace

Built-in shelving by fireplace


Custom built-in bookcases

Custom built-in bookcases


Built-in bookshelves and storage

Built-in bookshelves and storage


Overhead built-in bookcases

Overhead built-in bookcases


Built-in shelving and desk

Built-in shelving and desk


Extra storage space always seems to come in handy. Built-in shelving helps organize and store your books and other belongings in a way that adds warmth and character to your home. Built-in shelving is a sign of a well-built home. Lower quality homes, in contrast, typically have bare walls with few or no built-in amenities. This requires homeowners to buy and store everything in furniture that’s not attached to the home. The end result is a sense of impermanence and lack of coziness.

Built-in shelving can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. My experiences include building a simple angled corner unit (painted plywood with ¼” wood edging), an elegant antique looking kitchen shelving unit made out of whitewashed 6/4” beetle kill pine with exposed joinery, and an entire wall of southwestern style adjustable shelves made with white cedar. I bought a whole pallet of cedar fencing at a reasonable price, and paid to have it thickness sanded after gluing the boards into panels. The final design was very understated with just a simple southwestern decoration along the top. The natural warm color of the cedar bookcases harmonized perfectly with the rough sawn cedar herringbone ceiling, peeled pine vigas, oak floor and ‘doeskin’ color walls.

Image source: How to Organize a Personal Home Library
Image source: Built in Designs
Image source: Houzz.com (excellent photos)
Image source: Doornob.com (excellent photos)
Image source: Elle Decor

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One version of a post and beam pallet wall using girts for added strength to support earth berming. (click to enlarge)

One version of a post and beam pallet wall using girts for added strength to support earth berming. (click to enlarge)


One of the best benefits of doing this blog is having the opportunity to network with other natural builders. Loads (thousands of people) send us info on their projects, ask questions and share their ideas. Some of the best ideas you see on our blog have come about through this brainstorming process. We share them here for the world to see.

A while back I got an email from Rex, a reader who’s planning an ultra-low cost home in Texas. We exchanged a few emails and each time he would ask if it’s possible to further reduce the cost. He said “Owen, I have pallets, cedar poles from my land and dirt.” His persistence in lowering costs had me racking my brain for cost cutting ideas. Rex’s original plan was to build an earth lodge. Now he’s planning a rectangular design that he thinks will be simpler and easier to build. The latest cost estimate for his 800 sq. ft. earth-bermed house design is around $1,600. That’s only $2/sq. ft.! Time will tell if he can actually build at that cost. Lots of small costs quickly add up and you almost always end up spending more than planned. Rex is certainly determined though and off to a good start. He’s already gathered most of his materials and hopes to start soon.

The drawing above shows one possible pallet wall building system, although it differs somewhat from Rex’s design. He has extra strong pallets and doesn’t need girts. He might add a horizontal plate between courses of pallets just to be on the safe side. Most people, however, don’t have access to these unusually strong pallets, and so girts are recommended to help withhold the pressure of an earth berm. (See Pallet Houses and Interior Pallet Walls if you don’t have bermed walls.) The girts also create extra space for insulation, facilitate installation of plumbing and electrical, and serve as nailers for barnwood wall cladding or other materials. And note the horizontal cedar poles at the bottom that the pallets are nailed to. This is a good application of rot resistant cedar wood (juniper), and it demonstrates another way to gain a lot of strength inexpensively.

More from Rex:
“At the moment I’m looking at a 24’x30′ (720 sq ft) post and beam (juniper) earth bermed pallet wall house with clerestory windows and 80 sq ft loft for a total of 800 sq ft. Connected to the loft, access via sliding glass door, will be a deck (100 sq ft.). I may screen it in and turn it into a sleeping ‘porch’. There will be a porch below.

Total cost projections are still up in the air due to the different possibilities for exterior cladding, etc. If one were to take the concept we have discussed, use reclaimed materials for the exterior (pallet planking for cladding or reclaimed sheet metal), earthen plasters or wood cladding for the interior, then one could build at around 2 bucks a sq ft and that includes new sheet metal for the exterior roof. Depending upon which elements we decide to reclaim or buy new the house will cost us between $2-$4 sq ft to build. New items don’t have to break the bank. We got our clerestory windows from Lowes on clearance for $25 per.” [Note: This is common. People order products that they never pick up. Check your building supply stores often for discounts like this! Sometimes there’s just a tiny ding or scratch and the product is drastically reduced in price.]

Related:
Juniper and Cedar Poles for Construction

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