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Posts Tagged ‘hurricane resistant’

Trailer houses like this meet building codes even though they are unsafe and very poorly built.

Trailer houses like this meet building codes even though they are unsafe and very poorly built.


Trailer houses typically suffer massive damages after hurricanes and tornadoes like this trailer park that got hit by Hurricane Andrew.

Trailer houses typically suffer massive damages after hurricanes and tornadoes like this trailer park that got hit by Hurricane Andrew.


I’ve been writing about the problems with building codes for a while now. Just for the record, I’m not 100% against codes. Limited codes can be beneficial, but the current situation is way over the top. This fact is well illustrated by comparing trailer houses (also called mobile homes) to buildings made of earthbags. A trailer house like the one in the photo above is — how can I put it politely — a piece of junk. They are not built to any reasonable level of strength or durability. For instance, it would be easy to kick your foot through the flimsy 2×2 stick frame walls. Just look what happens to trailer houses in tornadoes and hurricanes. Most of us have watched scenes of trailer parks on TV that have been completely wiped out (flattened) after natural disasters. The same scenes are repeated over and over, year after year, because building officials say trailer houses meet current building standards.

I remember one of my friends who got married and bought a trailer house right out of high school. It was just a matter of months before problems started. In less than a year the particle board cabinets started to fall off the wall and the front door broke. Unlike most houses than typically gain value over time (except in a deflationary housing market), trailer houses rapidly depreciate in value. They make no sense financially.

One time I toured some model trailer homes for sale even though I knew they were a piece of junk. My real intent was to secretly study why trailer houses are popular and how they utilized small spaces. The biggest thing I remember from the visit is the awful smell of formaldehyde in the trailer houses. There was even a warning sign with the required government disclosure about the high levels of formaldehyde inside! (Think about it. They come right out and warn you of the toxicity and yet people still buy this crap.)

The FEMA trailers purchased for hurricane Katrina victims is a perfect example of the hazards of formaldehyde. You can google the articles about this scandal/tragedy by searching for phrases like “banned trailers”, “tainted trailers”, “toxic tin cans” and “FEMA trailers formaldehyde”. Here’s a quote from ToxicTrailers.com http://www.toxictrailers.com/ who’s working to spread the warning about these trailers: “ToxicTrailers.com is dedicated to providing information about formaldehyde poisoning, and advocating effective government regulations. The government spent more than $2 billion on FEMA trailers with hazardous levels of formaldehyde, and now has dumped more than 103,000 former FEMA trailers on the market despite proven problems with formaldehyde, mold and even gas leaks. The FEMA trailer tragedy exposed what is a widespread problem in RVs, mobile homes, modular buildings and even conventional homes and offices. If you are having symptoms such as burning eyes, congestion, sore throat, coughing, breathing difficulties, frequent sinus infections or rashes, and difficulties concentrating, you may have a formaldehyde problem. For questions or to share your story, write 4becky@cox.net.” (Sounds like a big ‘ol class action lawsuit is heating up.)

Not only do trailer houses rapidly deteriorate and offgas poisonous fumes, they’re also poorly insulated. They get unbearably hot in the summer and freezing cold in winter. Trailer houses are also widely known for electrical fires. So keep all this in mind as you ponder why trailer houses are readily accepted by building officials. It’s easy to get a building permit for a trailer house. Now approach these same building officials with plans for an earthbag house that’s practically as strong as an army bunker and see what happens. Yes, you can get a building permit if you jump through enough hoops and spend thousands of extra dollars. But why do they make it so difficult? That’s why we routinely advise people to move to rural areas with few or no building codes if possible.

Image source: Reddit

Related:
American Housing Ripoff
How to Build a House That Will Self Destruct and Burn Like Crazy

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Loft detail in the HNC House, Haiti (click to enlarge)

Loft detail in the HNC House, Haiti (click to enlarge)


How do you get the most space for the least amount of money and yet still have a safe, durable, comfortable home? The two primary techniques we settled on in the HNC House design are large lofts and wrap-around porches.

In the drawing above you can see how the lofts are built. The loft joists sit on the earthbag walls at 7’-6” height and are pinned in place with rebar to help stabilize the walls. The loft joists sit directly on the pole lintels above the door and windows. Bags go between the joists and continue up three more courses to bond beam height. This method creates extra space for a more functional loft.

Coming soon: free plans on the Haitian National Congress (HNC) website
Previous post about the HNC House

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HNC Earthbag House (click to enlarge)

HNC Earthbag House (click to enlarge)


“The Haitian National Congress (HNC) asked me to conduct training next May for bright and eager Haitian adult citizens who want to become entrepreneurs, nudge their country more toward functional democracy, learn problem solving skills and learn free enterprise practices that will increase their personal income. These trainees will then return to each of Haiti’s 10 departments to teach others about developing cottage businesses, managing money, establishing new markets, increasing vegetable production and more.

Haiti needs more housing stock. For the individual Haitian, owning a home and building equity in it is a way to better oneself financially. HNC is working with folks who have minimal income. HNC encourages them to build wealth which helps the country build a stronger economy. That leads to more jobs, more children getting educated, better health care, etc. To have value in the housing market, they need a house that is modern (plumbing and electricity), durable (earthquake and hurricane resistant) and of course, affordable. With a modern and durable house as collateral you can borrow money to start a small business. Lack of access to capital is a major barrier in the third world to individuals lifting themselves out of poverty. Earthbag houses are perfect. Hands on learning how to build an earthbag house will be an important part of the HNC training. The trainees will learn, and they will in turn train others in earthbag building. Modifications can be made in the field in response to local feedback.

Dr. Owen Geiger took my basic ideas, enhanced them greatly and developed an attractive plan. It is a durable and leak proof ‘core house’ with a multipurpose room (kitchen and living room), bathroom and bedroom. There is a covered, raised, and railed front porch for Haitian style outdoor living and for social gathering. Also, Dr. Geiger designed the walls a bit higher than 8’, dropped the ceiling slightly and put two ladder accessible lofts above. There are covered porches around the entire house that can serve as outdoor cooking, food preparation and work areas. They can also be easily converted into additional rooms. HNC and I are happy with this earthbag house plan that offers so much flexibility. The owners will have several options for sleeping, storage and work areas. While the disaster resistant core house remains the same, the lofts and porches allow each family to set up the house just the way they like it in order to meet their specific needs.”

HNC Earthbag House floorplan (click to enlarge)

HNC Earthbag House floorplan (click to enlarge)


Specifications: 288 sq. ft. interior, 274 sq. ft. loft, one bedroom, one bath, covered porch area: 903 sq. ft., footprint: 31’x43’

Source: Dr. Jerry Epps Teach Democracy
HNC House website with free plans coming soon

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Disaster Resistant Catenary Dome (click to enlarge)

Disaster Resistant Catenary Dome (click to enlarge)


Specifications: 314 sq. ft. interior, 181 sq. ft. interior loft, total = 495 sq. ft. interior, Footprint: 23’ diameter

This blog post is a continuation of the discussion about disaster resistant domes. So far we’ve talked about Hemispheric Domes and key ideas about How to Build the Strongest Buildings That Can Last Centuries.

Wiki describes a catenary arch as “the curve that an idealised hanging chain or cable assumes when supported at its ends and acted on only by its own weight.” A catenary arch can be inverted to define and guide the shape of a dome (a dome is an arch that’s been rotated about its axis). This creates an incredibly strong shape, that when combined with the right materials can produce structures with superior disaster resistance.

The idea for this design sprang from a reader who liked the disaster resistant building concept, but wanted a taller dome with a loft. Well, here it is.

More details at my Earthbag House Plans site.

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Disaster-resistant hemispheric dome made with double ferrocement shells with insulating fill (click to enlarge)

Disaster-resistant hemispheric dome made with double ferrocement shells with insulating fill (click to enlarge)


This 20′ interior diameter, 314 sq. ft. design is my proposed solution to Dustin’s dilemma in Florida for houses that can withstand repeat hurricanes. See How to Build the Strongest Buildings That Can Last Centuries for more details. Features include: lexan windows with removable window and door shutters, monolithic geopolymer slab floor that’s integrated with the walls, build on high ground, plastic mesh that won’t rust, geopolymer plaster both sides, geopolymer pumicecrete or geopolymer perlite fill. Integrating the slab and dome and building on a rubble trench is ideal for seismic zones. In an earthquake, the building would slide back and forth somewhat like an upside down cereal bowl on a kitchen table (meaning the whole house remains intact as one shell).

The design will have to be tweaked for individual homeowner needs, and some details worked out with the engineer. Note how a woodstove is shown to reach a wider audience, even though it’s probably not needed in Florida. The woodstove could be replaced with an emergency water storage and filtration system, etc. A fold-out bed saves space.

Disaster-resistant hemispheric dome made with double ferrocement shells with insulating fill (click to enlarge)

Disaster-resistant hemispheric dome made with double ferrocement shells with insulating fill (click to enlarge)

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Earthquake and hurricane resistant geopolymer ferrocement cage filled with insulating material such as scoria or pumicecrete

Earthquake and hurricane resistant geopolymer ferrocement cage filled with insulating material such as scoria or pumicecrete


Dustin: I live in Florida where few domestic buildings last more than 50 years because of hurricanes. I explored the Monolithic Dome for quite some time. They have stood the test of direct hits by very powerful hurricanes that leveled the entire neighborhood; except the dome. The dome is the only sensible structure here. No other structural shape has ever withstood a Category 5+ Hurricane. EVER. Earthbag Domes seem capable of the same, or close. How can I finish an earthbag dome that won’t erode away in Florida storms?

Owen: A lot of people have been impacted by hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. This is something I’ve been working on for years due to the seriousness of the problem. My article on Disaster Resistant Earthbag Housing provides some background information on this issue.

Kelly Hart, Patti Stouter and I collaborated on EarthbagStructures.com as an effort to consolidate information on disaster resistant earthbag structures, especially for developing regions.

The short answer to your question is to use either cement plaster, or preferably plaster the dome with Portland shotcrete or geopolymer shotcrete. Geopolymer is a natural material (essentially man-made stone) that’s stronger than Portland. The incredible benefits of geopolymer prompted me to start the Geopolymer House Blog, which already has over 140 blog posts.

Geopolymer is preferred because it’s stronger and more durable than Portland, although it’s not available everywhere yet and it’s probably more expensive. So fiber reinforced shotcrete would be the next best thing. I recommend ferrocement eyebrows over window and door openings to help keep out blowing rain. See Geopolymer Shotcrete on Reinforced Earthbags.

Another very similar option is to build a double shell ferrocement dome filled with lightweight insulation. Scoria or pumice would work perfectly for fill material in the core. As explained throughout our blogs many times (use the built-in search engine above to read the details), scoria and pumice are fireproof, rot proof, lightweight, insulating and do not attract insects or pests. Earthbags aren’t necessary. You could pump or pour scoria, pumice, perlite, pumicecrte or perlited cement from above directly into the core.

So far no one has built a dome like this as far as I know, even though this building system would create some of the strongest buildings in the world. I’m sure it would work. However, there’s a learning curve to everything and some details would need to be worked out. The end result would be just as strong if not stronger than monolithic concrete domes, and be more durable and more highly insulating. In addition, this design is almost certainly stronger than monolithic domes in seismic areas, because it would more readily flex under extreme loads.

Precision Structural Engineering, Inc. is the pioneer of Reinforced Earthbag Building and the only company at this time that engineers and stamps earthbag plans. They’re also expert in ferrocement and can engineer the ferrocement domes that I’m describing here. They have pre-approved my Earthbag House Plans and provide free quotes. They can get code approval in virtually every state as well as many countries.

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I’ve pulled together the recent posts on rubble bag houses, expanded and edited the info, and published a new blog post at Mother Earth News. It includes details on how to build and reinforce rubble walls.

Concrete rubble from collapsed buildings is a huge problem in Haiti. It is blocking roads and hindering reconstruction. Instead of spending millions of dollars trucking the rubble away and disposing of it, why not use it to build affordable housing? Utilizing this abundant local resource would cut building costs, save transport, and create jobs by turning a waste product that’s in the way into much needed housing. (One year after the quake, over one million people are still homeless.)

Note: There’s no shortage of rubble in Haiti. This Oxfam site says only 5% of the rubble has been cleared. That’s a lot of free material sitting close to future building sites just waiting to be used.

You can read the article for free at Mother Earth News Blog.

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One of the greatest needs in the world is disaster-resistant housing – houses that can hold up against hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, flooding and other natural disasters. If you follow the news like I do then you’ll realize that tragic disasters affecting tens of thousands or millions of people occur almost daily. It’s sad and painful to see so many lives lost, and so many families and homes upended. But it’s even sadder and more painful when you know most of this tragedy is preventable by using sound construction methods. Properly designed structures that can withstand natural disasters can save millions of lives and millions of structures every year.

You can read the entire article for free at Mother Earth News Blog.

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Cylindrical Earthbag Shelters

Cylindrical Earthbag Shelters

Here’s a great shelter design by Delani that was posted at Core 77 as part of a recent shelter competition.

Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest, and this design is exquisite because of its simplicity. That means it’s inexpensive and easy to build. And no doubt about it, it will work structurally. (However, it remains to be seen if these shelters would be culturally accepted.)

Here’s the description from the Core 77 website:
Kay 0.2 (Kay means house in kreyol) is a rapidly deployable, easy to build shelter that can protect occupants from a cat 5 hurricane. Construction specs: sandbags are stacked in a circular shape to form a cylinder with inside diameter of 8 feet with a height of 10 feet. A roof of corrugated steel placed atop the wall at 8 feet height then 2 feet of sandbags are added on with a scupper to catch rain into 55 gallon drums in back.

Comments: I would slightly taper one course of bags just below the metal roofing so water will drain freely toward the rain barrels. Add rafters perpendicular to metal roofing. (No purlins necessary.) Windows and other design features could be added as desired. Tip of the hat to Delani for this exceptional design.

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Domes are very strong and perhaps the best option for many areas. However, in rainy climates they are prone to leaks. (Domes originated in desert regions, after all.) In high rainfall areas, roofs with overhangs to protect walls are recommended. Roofs need to be very well built with hurricane tie downs. This is the weakest link in the design because roofs are vulnerable to wind damage, so study up on the specialized building techniques available.

Consider something like this Sand Castle house built by Steve Kemble and Carol Escott. Round, hexagonal or octagonal shapes are all good choices because wind will flow around the building. Same idea applies to the roof.

One big consideration is building on grade versus building on piers off the ground. Try to find some high ground and build on grade (or 1’-2’ above), since this will be stronger and less expensive.

Bag fill: The crushed coral/sand mix used on the Sand Castle is a good choice if available locally. Road base is more commonly available and can be stabilized with lime. Road base is the clay/gravel mixture used to build roads. It’s cheap, plentiful and very strong. And with lime added, walls become virtually waterproof and almost as hard as concrete.

One story structures reduce exposure. Design in fast mounting storm resistant window shutters. Keep roof overhangs to a minimum, maybe 24″, to help prevent uplift.

So in summary, a properly designed earthbag structure is the strongest sustainable building system that I know of. The only thing stronger is reinforced concrete, and that’s not sustainable.

I have numerous plans that could be adapted for hurricane and tornado prone regions at Earthbag House Plans.

These plans are available through Dream Green Homes. I modify plans at no extra cost to meet your codes.

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