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Posts Tagged ‘affordable’

Homes built with natural materials are beautiful, safe and typically cost far less than conventional homes and trailer houses.

Homes built with natural materials are beautiful, safe and typically cost far less than conventional homes and trailer houses.


Sara: John, you know I’ve been reading about earthbag building and natural building lately. Well, I’d like to build our new home this way.
John: [long pause while thinking] Are you sure? I really like those trailer houses we’ve looked at.
Sara: Come on John, trailer houses are shoddily built and you know it. And they smell really bad. They have a lot of formaldehyde and plastics.
John: Oh, they’re not that bad. The smell will go away in a few years. You’ll get used to it.
Sara: It’s not just a bad smell. The fumes are toxic. Look what happened to Mary Hampton and her girls. They all got respiratory problems from their trailer house and have been sickly ever since.
John: [pause] Maybe you’re right about that part. I remember seeing the formaldehyde government warning signs in each trailer house… But it’s so convenient and easy to buy factory made, you know?
Sara: Yeah, it will take more time and effort to build our home, but it will be just what we want… our dream home. Everything will be natural and safe.
John: I know what you’re saying, but what about building codes? Trailer houses are approved by the government.
Sara: You’re kidding, right? Since when did you start believing the government?
John: [loud laughter] Okay, you got me there. I’m sure they must buy off the government somehow. How could those tin boxes possibly meet code?
Sara: Remember all the disaster photos of hurricane and tornado damage? Trailer houses are often wiped out while better houses in the neighborhood are still standing.
John: That’s right. It’s crazy. Geez, everyone knows sleazebag politicians would sell their grandmother for a buck.
Sara: Good… now you’re coming around, darling. And just think about how much money we’ll save. We can save tens of thousands of dollars if we do it ourselves and build with natural and recycled materials.
John: Tens of thousands of dollars! Let’s do it!

Image source: Spy Home Design.com

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A blog post entitled “Earthbag, Superadobe, Hiperdobe, Why Not Hiperpapercrete?” caught my eye. The author makes a very good case for filling mesh tubing with damp papercrete. Here is how he explains it:

“I have recently been reading up about earthbag/superadobe construction. One of the new techniques that some earthbaggers are very excited about utilizes a type open mesh bag material called “knit raschel.” It was started in Brazil by a guy named Fernando Pacheco. They have named their new system Hiperadobe.

The knit raschel is the same type of netting material that is often used to bag produce like onions or oranges in the supermarket. Here is a photo of what this type of knit raschel produce bag looks like. http://www.marketeo.com/photoArticle/big/1940_big.jpg

The bag material has many advantages for construction. Very low cost, fast drying for the contents, no need to run barbed wire between bag layers during construction like typical woven polypropylene earthbags bags require, and when compacted, the earth adobe mixture they use in the knit raschel bags seeps out of the netting openings slightly to mix with the adjacent bags and layers to become one big solid block very much like rammed earth, but without all the extensive formwork or the hassles of ramming tires.

All this is fascinating, but what does it have to do with papercrete you ask? Good question.

What about filling knit raschel bags or tubes with papercrete? (Manufacurers of the knit raschel material make big long tubes that are rolled up so that the company purchasing the tube can cut it to whatever length of bag they want and sew the ends shut.)

This concept has the potential to speed up papercrete construction rather dramatically while drastically reducing the man hours of labor required. No more need for fiddling around with papercrete blocks. No need to pour them into forms, individually turn and dry them. No need to then stack and store until ready to build walls. No need to mortar them into place. No need to build slipforms, wait for a layer to dry, tear off and reattach the forms, and then repour the next layer. One can simply keep working as fast as your mixer can make papercrete and you can dump it into the bag. With a small crew of unskilled people, and splitting up the various tasks assembly line style, work should proceed rapidly. You only handle the papercrete one time. You mix it, and if you fill the bag while the bag is sitting on the wall, you never have to move the papercrete again.

The netting bags would be the formwork. The netting would remain in place and become part of the structure permanently. Think of it as a very light weight reinforcing mesh, ready for interior and exterior plaster, stucco, shingles, clapboards, or whatever you choose.

The netting would allow the papercrete to drain out the excess water easily and quickly. The netting would allow the papercrete to dry in place in the wall after it has been built. The drained but damp papercrete could easily be tamped into place as the wall is built providing for some compression of the damp slurry. It would also help the layers of bags glue themselves together to become one big block of papercrete.

While earthbag is a great technology, one of the biggest drawbacks is that it can become difficult to insulate an earthbag structure if you do not have access to porous volcanic rock to fill the bags, like scoria or pumice. Where insulation is needed the most, like very cold northern regions, volcanic rock is often very expensive to have trucked in from long distances. Papercrete could be the perfect alternative that recycles material that is nearly universally available and being thrown away.

Interesting architectural shapes can be easily accomplished, like very graceful curving walls, the standard straight box type construction, or a blend of both working together.

I don’t know of anyone that has attempted Hiperpapercrete. Heck I think I may have just invented the term, but I am confident that it could work well. It would be great if someone adventurous and sharp is willing to figure out the tricks and kinks being the trailblazer. No doubt there are some details that I have not considered, but I am confident they could be addressed.

Clearly a small test structure should be the first place to start to figure out the details of how to handle the process.

The idea of building an entire highly insulated papercrete structure in a few weekends using the help of a few unskilled laborers like family or friends seems very possible. Even reasonably sized children could help.

Anyone intrigued by the idea and want to be the first to give it a shot?

Here is a video of a Hiperadobe structure getting started using the knit raschel tube material filled with adobe soil. Instead of adobe soil, imagine filling the netting tube with wet papercrete, allowing it to drain while on the wall, and tamping that into place.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqqN9oumCHs

Thoughts anyone?”

I think that this is a brilliant idea! I have a lot of experience with both earthbag building and papercrete (see the house I built using both at earthbagbuilding.com ). I can easily visualize making very substantial walls using the raschel mesh tubes (or even individual bags) filled with damp papercrete.

Everything about this idea fits well with the physical needs of curing papercrete: the damp papercrete is held in place while it cures; the excess water can easily drain away; the wall can breathe on both sides once it is cured; the finished wall ends up being substantially reinforced and monolithic; and all of that mesh reinforcement acts to stabilize the wall against potential seismic forces.

I’m sure that in reality it would be a messy proposition to be filling and placing that damp papercrete, but then working with papercrete tends to be a messy proposition period.

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Homes built with natural materials are beautiful and less expensive than homes built with concrete, steel and milled lumber.

Homes built with natural materials are beautiful and less expensive than homes built with concrete, steel and milled lumber.


The way to save the most money on your new home is to build it yourself. Anyone who has priced new houses or gotten bids for remodeling knows how expensive contractors are. If you build with conventional modern materials, houses tend to be quite complex and beyond the scope of DIYers, so most people end up paying contractors to build their home. Building with natural materials provides a way out of this debt trap. People have been building their own homes with earth, stone, wood poles, bamboo and other natural materials throughout human history. Anyone can do this if they really set their mind to it and move to an area with minimal building codes. In the past, building everything by hand was very arduous. Things are much easier now thanks to ready availability of good tools, machines (low cost if rented), and books and articles that explain the process.

Here are just a few ways to save tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of hard work.
• You can save an enormous amount of time and effort over traditional methods by having soil, sand and gravel delivered right where you need them. This one step could save you 100 hours of hard labor.
• Buy bags for earthbag building instead of building time consuming wooden forms for rammed earth.
• Buy poles from a woodsman if you’re too busy, or harvest them yourself from a local forest. Either way is far less expensive than milled lumber that has been shipped 1,000 miles and marked up in price by numerous middlemen.
• Build tamped earth floors or another type of earth floor and save a bundle on materials. Tamped earth floors are dirt cheap because you don’t need beams, joists, special hardware, sheathing, glue, nails and so on.
• Earth plaster is another way to cut costs. People have been plastering their own homes for thousands of years, so obviously there’s no need to hire contractors for this. Earth plaster creates a superior wall finish on the interior and is suitable for exterior walls with wide roof overhangs.

Image source: Caribbean Living Blog
(excellent blog that I just discovered!)

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Mortgage-Free! Radical Strategies for Home Ownership - Rob Roy

Mortgage-Free! Radical Strategies for Home Ownership - Rob Roy


“This is a banker’s worst nightmare — a book that tells you how to live without being enslaved to financial institutions .Chelsea Green has produced a formidable series of books on innovative shelter. But every alternative building strategy, no matter how low-cost or environmentally benign, requires a complementary financial strategy. The accepted path is to go hat-in-hand to a big financial institution, such as a bank, to borrow a lump sum that is repaid over many years. By the time the loan is repaid, the homeowner will have paid several times the original amount in interest. The literal meaning of “mortgage” is “death pledge.” Author Rob Roy is offering an escape route from a lifetime of indentured servitude. “Mortgage-Free! Radical Strategies for Home Ownership” is a complete guide to strategies that allow you to own your land and home, free and clear, without the bank. Included is detailed advice about: Clarifying and simplifying your notions of what’s necessary; Finding land that you love and can afford; Taking control of the house-building process, for the sake of sanity and pleasure; Learning to take a long-term perspective on your family’s crucial economic decisions; avoiding debt and modern-day serfdom.”

Source: Amazon.com

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– Why Every American Homeowner Should be Concerned
“The following table represents a scenario where home energy bills increase by a very modest 5% per year over a 50 year time frame. Look up your current monthly energy bill to see what your cumulative energy bill will be years into the future.

Cumulative home energy costs (click to enlarge)

Cumulative home energy costs (click to enlarge)


The column highlighted in red represents the average American homeowner’s energy bill for 2010. Could this be your house? Well if it is, by year 30 you will probably have paid as much for energy as your mortgage cost or somewhere around $300,000. But you’re not through paying just yet. You can look forward to another $600,000 in energy costs over the next 20 years. Wake up America! Is your home a zero energy home? If not, you’d better consider your future.

At EarthCo Building Systems, we consider a zero energy home as the bare minimum for a house to be worth owning. We would also like to see people deploy other energy and resource saving technologies to produce truly sustainable housing of the future. This would include (where appropriate) rainwater collection systems, grey-water recycling, composting toilets, passive solar design with minimal mechanical systems, and if necessary solar powered air conditioning and heating systems, fresh air induction systems, well insulated building envelopes built with EarthCo Megablock wall systems, smart electronic control systems, and an indoor greenhouse to provide for at least 50% of a families total food supply. We believe these ingredients are prerequisites for producing sustainable housing solutions.”

Source EarthCo Megablock.com

Comment: I suggest trying to reach the goal of zero energy housing as much as practical even if you can’t obtain 100% efficiency. For instance, due to budgetary constraints you may have to postpone some of the costlier improvements until later. This may mean your home falls short of the goal by a few percentage points, but you’ll obviously be way ahead in energy savings than most homes.

Also note how fiat currency is regularly devalued through inflation. The US dollar, for example, has lost about 99% of it’s value in the last century! This is like a hidden tax that’s gradually eroding our buying power.

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Log end tile flooring

Log end tile flooring


Heart pine log end flooring

Heart pine log end flooring


Log end floor made with custom fit 2” thick slabs

Log end floor made with custom fit 2” thick slabs


End grain hardwood flooring is known for it’s unique grain patterns and superior hardness

End grain hardwood flooring is known for it’s unique grain patterns and superior hardness


End grain driftwood flooring

End grain driftwood flooring


Hexagonal end grain wood flooring

Hexagonal end grain wood flooring


Historic end grain cobblestone

Historic end grain cobblestone


Reclaimed log end wood tile flooring

Reclaimed log end wood tile flooring


I’ve assembled some of the best photos I could find on log end flooring. This type of flooring is made with end grain (with the wood grain oriented vertically). Log end or end grain flooring has been used for centuries in palaces, luxury homes and high traffic areas because of its beauty and durability. End grain is harder than long grain (horizontal grain) and that’s why it is used on professional quality chopping blocks and top quality flooring.

“Residential real estate agents say homes with wood floors hold their value better, sell faster, and fetch higher prices, according to a recent nationwide survey commissioned by the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). By a three-to-one margin, real estate agents said that a house with wood floors would sell faster than a carpeted house. Some 58 percent said a house with wood floors would bring a higher price. Health benefits are also a factor for those considering hardwood flooring. Whereas carpets over the years gather mildew, mites, animal dander, dust and pollen beneath the surface that can cause respiratory problems and aggravate allergies, hardwood flooring has a very durable surface that is easy to clean and maintain. Properly maintained hardwood floors are extremely resistant to mildew and the other ails of carpets. Hardwood and laminated wood floors are the smart and healthy choice.

Hardwood flooring is always made up of a real hardwood surface, whether it’s solid or engineered hardwood. The result is a natural, real hardwood floor that can be resanded, stained, and varnished to match your tastes and changes in your decor. If it’s well cared for, it will last nearly forever. A solid hardwood floor can be sanded and refinished several times over many, many years.”

Source: Hardwood Flooring
Image source 1 and 2: Heart Pine.com
Image source: Signature Floors.com
Image source: Hardwood Flooring
Image source: Materialicious
Image source: Wood Flooring Trends.com
Image source: Flickr
Image source: Revival Flooring

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Mr. Banker Mahn

Mr. Banker Mahn


Dear Mr. Geiger,
My wealthy and powerful associates are not happy with your message of low cost owner-built houses paid with cash, and building small and simple with local materials. To us, this is sacrilege. You see, we are the powers that be that control most everything in the world and who have created the present system to enrich ourselves. You Mr. Geiger and others out there like you are upsetting the apple cart. Nothing is worse than someone like you who causes us to lose money. How dare you. We have a sweet deal going and don’t want things to change. While you call the current system a scam, we call it getting filthy rich. [snort!] We love it when people enslave themselves to us for 30 year mortgages when all we have to do is make a bookkeeping entry to create the money out of thin air. [ha!] We love printing money with nothing backing it up. We love exploiting people, countries and the environment. And the thing is, it’s so freaking easy. Congress critters will sell out for a paltry sum. (It’s paltry to us because it’s just funny fiat money.) They are all too happy to create laws that make what we’re doing ‘legal’. [delirious laughter] We take that same fiat money (something from nothing) to buy up everything of real value and leave the rest of the world in rags and ruin. [choking with laughter] It’s business Mr. Geiger, just business, and we are the best. We are the winners. We are the elite. We run the world. Do you believe for one second the nonsense you are spreading? All this happy talk about working together to create a better world is ridiculous and you know it. Won’t you reconsider what you’re doing and perhaps come work for the other side?
– The Borg Collective

Dear New World Order scum,
Take a hike! You have nothing, nothing that I want. You can go where the sun doesn’t shine. I work for the greater good. Goodness and humanity will prevail over evil.
Owen Geiger

Image source: Democratic Underground.com

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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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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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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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