The Hobbit House
The Hobbit House is a natural-built home that is part of a sustainable, mountainside, agricultural system.
My� mission was to develop a sustainable, agricultural homestead on a south-facing mountainside in order to demonstrate that tobacco farmers, textile workers, and other unemployed families could live a rewarding life. The objectives included construction of a home requiring a small amount of capital and development of an agricultural system that could sustain a family living a simple lifestyle.
The Hobbit House emerged from the earth, as clay and sand were turned into pressed adobe bricks and trunks and limbs of local trees formed the timber frame and the basis of the cordwood wall. Almost all the materials from which the house is made came from the Earthaven site.�
The house is earth-sheltered -- excavated into the side of the mountain. A roof was erected over the earthen bank to create what is called a vertical crawl space. Concrete and waterproofing were not needed. An old teepee with decorative Native American paintings hangs to form the wall in front of the earth bank.
Another section of the wall is of bamboo backed by reflective Mylar, which reflects heat back into the room and keeps the crawlspace cool for use as a root cellar. Stacking functions is a common practice in permaculture design, so the door into the vertical crawl space also serves as a book case.
The adobe blocks snake across the front of the house, enclosing windows rounded by decorative cob work. Two stained glass windows are lead-free. They were made by artist Jim Powell with a process he developed using scrap stained glass, cement, bamboo, and clay.
The adobe bricks, which form the front of the house, were made with a hand press called a cinva ram. Cordwood construction was considered the most appropriate building method for the side walls of the house, which have an irregular shape because they rise up the slope. A cob mixture with clay, sand, and straw was mixed to use with the 16-inch, firewood-size logs. Wine bottles placed in strategic places shine in the morning sun.
A take-off from the cordwood wall was used on the floor: one-inch thick wooden "tile" was cut from the logs and placed in a cob mixture above an insulative mix of clay and sawdust and a vapor barrier. The doors and windows came from a demolished university building, except for the round Hobbit House door. The round door is a round piece of metal covered with styrofoam adorned with paper mache and painted with an image of the earth, looking down onto the Indian Ocean. The round door frame was made with adobe bricks -- a machete was used to shave the keystone to the appropriate shape. A liner of cement was plastered on the curve to protect it from wear and tear from entering and leaving the house.
Since the house is only 400 square feet, built-in benches flow underneath the solar-collecting, south-facing windows. A large stainless steel counter saved from the junk yard wraps two sides of the kitchen area. Gravity-fed spring water is on tap, along with hot water heated by the sun and located in a skylight above the kitchen.� A massive rock and clay woodstove provides cooking as well as heat for the house in the winter. During the summer, an outdoor kitchen with its own woodstove is used to keep the heat and humidity out of the house. To further reduce the humidity level in the house, the bath and shower are located in the earth-sheltered greenhouse.
Both the greenhouse and the house have massive posts and beams supporting living roofs, where fresh garden produce can be picked for dinner and eggs collected from Indian runner ducks can provide breakfast. Using a rubber material called EPDM, flat roofs are easy to waterproof, especially if you don't have penetrations, such as skylights, or outside corners.
The site is off the electrical grid -- it is powered by 200 watts of photovoltaic panels, an ample amount of electricity since 15 watts of LED lights fully illuminate the interior. The super-efficient SunDanzer refrigerator by Electrolux takes only 150 watt/hours per day. One hour of sun a day provides for my basic needs.
On same property as The Hobbit House, I designed and built a small structure I call The Amoeba, which features an underground greenhouse on the north side, a living roof, what I call a "paper clay-che" floor, and earth-bag constructed walls.
After 35 years of designing and building natural homes, I conceived of a perfect wall system for passive solar construction, based on earthbag construction. It is cheap and fast and uses unskilled labor. The walls provide insulation on the outside and thermal mass on the inside.
The wall is made of two-foot-long sacks. In the bottom of each sack is placed two plastic grocery bags filled with old clothes or similar material. The sack is then filled with whatever dirt, sand, clay, or rock is found on the site.
The bags are sewed shut and then stacked with the top toward the inside, forming a two-foot thick wall with insulation on the outside. Both sides of the walls are then plastered over with native materials.
Sack Sewing Machine
Paper Clay-che: My latest experiment has been to combine clay with pieces of paper that have been soaked in limewater. The amoeba was plastered creating a thick insulation that easily fill the holes and cracks in the earth sack wall. If the mixture is 50-50, it has a low tendency to crack. My next project is to form it into building blocks and structural panels.
Greenhouse: I put glass over the vertical crawl space to create an underground greenhouse which also has a glass wall dividing it from the bedroom. Stacking functions is a principle of permaculture. This space has five functions: indirect lighting to the house, growing plants, solar energy, keeping the earth from the house, and disposing of many automobile tires that were used to terrace the slope.
The picture below is during the construction of The Amoeba.
Books about building with earthbags are available here.