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.
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.
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
The house I am currently constructing with this method at Earthaven is pictured below. Contact me if
you would like to visit or become involved.
Books about building with earthbags are available here.
THE HOBBIT HOUSE
Since I developed back in the 1970s the Vertical Crawl Space concept
of building earth sheltered homes without concrete (see Mother
Earth Shelter Special Issue), I ventured into gaining experience
in many countries in all forms of alternative building - cob,
adobe, timber frame, cordwood, earth sack, bamboo, rammed earth,
rock without mortar, waddle and daub, sticks and leaves, slab,
clay/sawdust, living roofs, straw clay/slip along with systems
like water catchment, earth sheltered greenhouse, earth plasters,
loreno stoves, earth floors, solar electrical systems using LED
lights, compost and biogas toilets, alternative plumbing, gray
water, and integrated polyculture systems. I decided that I wanted
to use some of these systems in developing an integrated farm
I want to provide an alternative way for some people of limited
means in Appalachia to satisfy their basic needs within their
I want to create an acre demonstration homestead that would satisfy
my basic needs and produce an income using a small savings account
and the resources of the site as the investment
One of the necessary changes a person would need to make would
be to accept a simple living lifestyle and want and be able to
work with plants and animals. It is preferable to live close to
other people so you can share transportation and other services.
I am car free but have made arrangements to rent my neighborís
pickup at 30 cents a mile. I use it very seldom. Sometimes it
is cheaper to pay someone to pick up needed items from town. Transportation
is the second highest expense for Americans (home and utilities
is first) so if you can carpool or become car free, it is easier
to live on less. The challenge is to deprogram from the highly
successful brainwashing of consumerism. The first step is to refrain
from buying things. Next way is to detach and sell or give away
most of your belongings. I live like a King on my small social
security check since I donít have payments, utility bills, car
The hobbit house was built on the south face of a mountainside
in the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina. The land is considered
to be marginal farm land. The rainfall is about 60 inches per
year with solar gain at a premium. Many of the principles used
in this homestead can be adapted to other regions of the world
including the tundra, desert, and coastline.
Careful analysis of the terrain will help prevent disasters such
as mudslides, forest fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados,
and other natural disasters. Leaning trees on a mountainside indicates
The house is built in the temperate zone where temperatures can
regularly be in the teens during the wintertime. In the tropics,
solar gain needs to be controlled and used for thermal siphoning
if high air movement is desired. More solar access can be obtained
by building or growing vegetation higher on the south face of
a mountain side since the mountains and trees will shade the area
less. Longer days mean more energy for growing plants. In the
winter heat from the sun is absorbed into the earth more efficiently
if it is at an angle facing into the winter sun. Cold air drops
so the middle of a south facing mountainside has less frost and
longer growing seasons than the valleys or mountaintops.
All or no trees
In the mountains, a clearing on the side of the mountain will
change the wind patterns so that trees normally protected from
the winds by other trees will be prone to being blown down. On
steep slopes, several varieties of tall trees are susceptible
to wind damage since they have spreading, shallow root systems
in order to catch the fast runoff of the rains. Living trees leaning
in the same direction may be a sign of potential landslides. I
recommend all tall trees be cleared away from structures for the
farmstead and replaced with fruit trees.
Season: The best time to clear timber off the land is in late
winter since the sap is still in the ground and nesting birds
and animals wonít be active.
Preparing log and sawmill space
Place the sawmill down slope and adjoining a road if possible.
Grass cover: As soon as the trees are removed and the soil temperature
is high enough to germinate seeds, the leaves are raked onto the
contours and seed is broadcasted over the area. If you cut into
the soil through the rootlets that hold the soil, it will be difficult
to control erosion. A wildlife mix has been successful along with
Silt fence: Along roads and creeks where surface water moves,
a silt fence needs to be installed to prevent pollution of the
creek during construction. A settling hole is appropriate for
road runoff in order to filter the water through the ground before
it enters the creek. Terraces leading into a pond located near
the bottom of the site will enable most water falling on the site
to stay on the site.
Contouring with branches and logs: Use excess logs and branches
to create terraces on the contour. Slabs and stakes made from
black locust will last longer than other types of wood. I built
a long retaining wall by placing and securing logs in an upright
position in a two foot deep trench and backfilling. Later I constructed
in front of the logs a permanent terrace wall with used automobile
tires. The logs rotted to create organic matter. No organic matter
was burnt or left the site.
Building terraces for erosion control: Automobile tires with one
of the sidewalls cut out can be filled with dirt and stacked at
an angle up a slope to form a retaining wall. If you can, you
can turn the tire inside out to hide the threads.
Designing a farmstead
Zones: To conserve energy and time, place the more frequented
areas closer to the house. Pathways are less strenuous if they
are on contour. My house, bedroom, greenhouse, tool shed, and
woodshed are all on the same contour.
Water: If spring water is used, extra care is given to assuring
that the area around and especially above the spring is not contaminated.
Piping spring water from a natural area can prevent possible contamination
by the farm animals or composting. We are fortunate that the spring
is located high above the house so the water is gravity fed.
Odors: A well designed and managed homestead should not create
obnoxious odors due to raising animals. If there is a barn, it
should be located where any possible odors do not drift towards
the house. If a barn is kept clean, it can be located beneath
the house to help keep the structure warm.
Movement : Pathways and roads between the different work areas
need to be well designed. Each foot of road takes out a bed of
Access: I had a construction access road up to the building site
that would later be turned into a trail and gardens. Trails to
transport produce should be wide and level enough to use garden
carts. Most trails should be on the contour.
Harvesting: Most of the products produced will be in small enough
quantities to be transported by cart or by hand. A food processing
center should be located closer to the access road and possess
ample washing water that can be recycled to the pond or garden.
Excavation: It seems to be a trait of heavy machinery operators
to excavate or destroy more than is necessary. If you have trees
or areas that you donít want destroyed, put flags on them with
a price tag of the value of the tree in plain view of the operator.
If he destroys it, he pays for it. I found that outlining an area
to be excavated with tires or foundations helps keep the operator
from digging the hole too big, a common practice I have withnessed.
Terracing: Terracing can be accomplished in various ways. The
conventional way is to use heavy equipment to dig and level. Other
ways include staking logs and brush and letting silt gradually
build uphill from it. Used vehicular tires filled with clay make
good retaining walls. One sidewall can be cut out with a jig saw,
knife, or saw saw and the tire can be turned inside out if you
donít want to see the treads. Hogs love to cut terraces if you
insert corn into holes on the higher portion of the proposed terrace.
The hogs go after the corn and level the terrace. They can also
build ponds, seal them, and fertilize if water is dropped in the
middle of the terrace on a continuous basis. They love to wallow
in water so will be glad to build your pond for you.
Design of House
Criteria for designing structures: There is no one type of house
that is suitable for all locations. One of the most frequent errors
made is by finding a home in a magazine and putting it on a lot
that is not suitable for the house. A earth sheltered home should
be considered in mountains if the earth is stable. The vertical
crawl space home provides building into the earth without the
use of concrete as a fortress against Mother Earth. Homes elevated
on poles are appropriate on mountainsides but are hard to insulate
and to contain mass for heat storage. Homes with curved or round
walls seem to be more in tune with our natural world since square
items are seldom found in nature. They also have less wind pressure
since wind can easily pass around them. Box houses may be detrimental
to our mental health. Working with alternative materials instead
of dimensional lumber, ply board, sheetrock, and other square
manufactured items makes it easier to construct a free form home.
My belief system is that we are part of nature and there are no
squares or boxes found in nature. Some say the stem of the mint
family are square but they have indented sides. Therefore I think
that the more we stay out of natural environments and more in
boxes, the more psychologist we need to train and they wonít be
very effective since they will be living in boxes too. Therefore
I recommend living in spaces that are more natural in shape and
feeling. Also curved walls and roofs have less wind resistance
and therefore are more stable in high winds.
Functions: A house designed from the aspect of functions instead
of space can increase the usability of the home while decreasing
the cost. Small is beautiful and more energy efficient. Some design
criteria used in small homes include booths for sitting, fold
down tables, benches, and beds, storage underneath booths, no
interior walls or only partial walls to make the space seem larger,
use of mirrors, many small task lights instead of a central light,
contour walls, glass between the house and a greenhouse/living
Topography: Some interesting phenomenon of south facing mountainsides
is that they have longer days than the flat valleys since the
sun isnít hidden by the other mountains and trees for as long
as the valley creating longer growing seasons. The angle of the
mountainside toward the winter sun provides more energy to be
transferred to the soil than the bottomlands, thus increasing
the temperature of the soil and increasing the growing season
of the mountainside.
Movement: Cold air drops down into the valleys causing freezing
sooner than on the mountainside. This condition increases the
growing condition too. The top of the mountain should be left
natural or planted in conifers to shelter from the cold north
Orientation: Much has been said about controlling the sun to the
best interest of the occupant of a house. Well, the sun canít
be controlled but its rays can be shaded. Therefore, instead of
calculating the angle of the sun at any one moment of the year
to design an overhang, use the old fashion retractable canvass
awning. It works much better since the sun has the exact movement
through the sky on March 20 and September 21 although the heating
requirements are very different on those days. Due to climate
changes, we are seeing more warm weather periods in the middle
of winter where we donít want a lot of solar gain. Deciduous trees
usually leaf out much later in the season than when it gets hot.
But they are still great assets on the south side of buildings
in warmer climates. Conifers should be located on the north side
of the homestead.
Structural: Why an earth sheltered home? An earth sheltered home
does not have to cost any more than a conventional home - it could
even cost less. Excavation costs are not that much more than leveling
a site. Bring the equipment to the site is a large cost. With
the advent of EPDM, a rubber sheeting similar to a truck inner
tube, earth covered homes can fit any budget, especially if the
EPDM is not penetrated by chimneys, skylights, etc. The downside
to Earth sheltered homes is the additional support that is needed
for the tremendous weight. I used heavy timber from my site to
erect a timber frame structure with posts eight feet on center.
The huge, round posts give character to the home. I may even carve
a totem pole out of one. On top of the EPDM went cardboard, then
12 inches of organic straw, then a 7 inch layer of soil that was
seeded with rye and clover. My Indian runner ducks and rabbits
will have free range on the roof but my plants will live in cages.
Humidity: Humidity is a problem in many areas of the world so
must be constantly considered when designing a home in those areas.
It seems illogical to create heat or humidity in a home and then
have to use excessive energy to get rid of it. So therefore I
have located my bathing facilities in the greenhouse where I want
high humidity. I can also bath in the midst of flowers. I have
an outdoor kitchen that I use during the humid warm days thus
eliminating humidity in the house caused from cooking and washing.
Size: Small is beautiful
Foundations: Many people do not know why there are more cellars
in the north than in the south. The reason is that foundation
walls in most circumstances must extend below the frost line.
If water in the soil freezes below your foundation, it will expand
when forming ice and may crack your foundation. In the north that
could be four feet deep. Prior to mechanical ditchers, it was
difficult to trench four or five feet, therefore hand diggers
dug out the rest and make a cellar. The exceptions to the rule
include a gravel foundation that drains water to a level below
the frost line or build on ground that never gets wet.
Posts: If posts are imbedded into the ground, they should either
be charred in a fire to the section that will be in contact with
the earth or should set on gravel and have rocks or concrete along
the sides. If concrete is put underneath and on the sides, water
will be unable to escape and will rot the posts. I charred the
posts over an open fire to help preserve them from being eaten.
Termites, mold, and other hungry critters donít like burnt food
either. Black locust poles are the best wood to use in contact
with the ground.
Rock rubble: Rock rubble foundations should extend to below the
frost line. I used them in the house since the inspector wanted
to see a concrete footing. I dug a trench and inserted some reinforcement
rods and layered it with rocks and concrete. Since it came only
to ground level (I did not use forms), I dug clay from both sides
of the foundation to make adobe bricks while at the same time
raising the foundation above ground level. I further raised it
with sacks of gravel.
Sacks of gravel: A sack of gravel placed on the foundation keeps
water from diffusing up into the adobe brick. I used polypropylene
sacks but would have used recycled sacks if I could have found
them. Since most sacks deteriorate in sunlight, they should be
plastered on the inside with a earth plaster and the outside with
a lime plaster.
Walls: Walls are used to keep out of the house rain, wind, harsh
temperatures, unwanted life forms and to provide privacy. All
forms of walls need a protective roof, even conventional walls.
Adobe walls have lasted longer than conventional roofs when the
roof is gone. In the tropics, temperature is less of a concern
but walls need to be constructed to withstand tropical storms
and earthquakes. Increasing the width of the wall usually increases
its stability. A monolithic lightweight structure on a foundation
resting on the ground can be earthquake resistant. A light structure
with guy wires fastened to the earth can withstand all forms of
wind and shakes. Straw bale and earth sack walls must have plaster
to protect the straw and sacks. Adobe, cob, rammed earth, and
cordwood do not need plaster. Paper Clay-che can be pre-formed
for modular structures. Most often, a combination of types of
wall construction will be used in the same structure. It seems
most authors want to convince readers with their way of constructing
instead of recommending each system for its best use.
Adobe is usually known in other parts of the world as mud brick.
It can be made by putting a mixture of soil, straw, and manure
in forms to form bricks. They are then stacked and sun dried before
constructing a wall the same way as building a brick wall. You
use the same material for both the block and mortar. A cinva ram
can compress the soil into blocks using a long lever pulled down
by the operator. Large matrixes of forms can be but on eccentric
wheels and filled with front end loaders for faster production.
A regular brick or concrete maker can be adapted to make adobe
block too. There is a up front time to make and dry the blocks.
No plaster is required. The blocks can be used to create arches
and round doors.
Rammed Earth Structures: Earth is not an insulator but if the
rammed earth walls are more than 2 feet thick, then the mass can
offset the low insulation value. Very sturdy forms are needed,
a great expense if the wall is tall. The amount of earth needed
is huge so a mixer and front-end loader are really desirable for
moving and preparing the soil. It is one of the faster natural
building ways of construction and it doesnít require plaster.
If different colors of soil are used, a marble cake design is
left in the wall. The walls have to be tamped properly and challenges
occur if cross bracing or wires between the forms interfere with
tamping. The higher the wall, the more crucial the engineering
of the forms becomes. The method should be considered if you have
a straight wall but use rammed earth only 4 or so feet high and
top it with adobe, cob, cordwood, or earthsacks. It can be faster
than the others if the forms are low enough to brace to the ground.
Cordwood: Cordwood is the stacking of firewood that has been skinned
of its bark and completely dried for 3 or more years. Some people
use cement as a binder but concrete is non-forgiving so I have
had much better success with a cob mixture as a mortar. Wood is
an insulator to a certain extent but concrete and cob are conductors
with very little insulation value. Cordwood construction is very
good when the shape of the wall is very irregular such as up a
slope and a pitched ceiling. The sidewalls of the Hobbit House
are trapezoids so I used cordwood construction for those walls.
Earth sack: One of the easy and quickest ways of building is with
sacks of dirt. Sacks of sand have been used for many years to
hold back flood waters of rivers. Only recently though has this
technique been used in the construction of homes. Earthsack is
similar to rammed earth construction but it uses sacks instead
of forms to contain the local material. Books on the subject can
be found at http://www.hollowtop.com/cls_html/do-it-yourself/Earthbag_Construction.htm.
There is no up front time for drying and if you can find a dairy
that will give you the sacks, it is almost free of cost. The one
drawback is that it does require plastering since the sacks will
deteriorate in the sun. You can easily make curved walls too.
In the amoeba, I put a plastic grocery sack full of discarded
clothing in the bottom of the sack before I filled it with dirt.
Then I positioned the sack where the end with the clothes was
on the outside of the wall to produce a wall of insulation. Too
much insulation destabilizes the wall. As I excavated for the
room, I filled the bags with the removed soil.
Cob: Cob construction is similar to rammed earth but doesnít need
forms. But it is time consuming since the wall is put up handful
by handful. The wall must be made layer by layer to prevent a
wet wall from slumping and falling. Each layer must dry with finger
holes embedded in it so the next layer can adhere to it. Cob construction
is a favorite for free form artwork. Limited arches can be made
with long, twisted masses of straw covered with the cob mixture.
Straw bale: I had one of the first straw bale workshops in Texas.
Straw has a good insulation value but has no mass. There are two
types of strawbale structures: the Nebraska style where the wall
supports the roof and what I call ďthe chicken styleĒ, the f construction
method for the person who doesnít think that the straw can hold
the roof up. That person usually uses a post and beam construction
method using the straw as a filler. Balers in the field usually
do not set the adjustment on the machine to create very tight
bales, consequently major concerns are developed in building the
house. An energy efficient wall has the insulation on the outside
of the wall and lots of mass on the inside of the wall. Therefore
a sandwich wall with strawbale on the outside and adobe on the
inside would be a great energy efficient wall.
Stud: the conventional stud wall might be appropriate if you have
a lot of lumber from your site. An exterior and interior wall
must be added along with some kind of insulation between the studs.
Heat still escapes through the studs unless you have a double,
offset wall. People usually end up using manufactured products
for the sides, such as sheetrock, cellulose, and plywood. Those
products may come from natural materials but they have high embedded
energy. You can fill the space between the studs with straw clay/slip
- straw coated with liquid clay packed into the spaces. It requires
forms or lathe. Clay/wood chip filling can be used too.
Bamboo: Bamboo is a very important building material. Different
varieties are used for different purposes. The thick construction
bamboo is used for framing and the thin walled bamboo is woven
into mats for the walls. It can also be woven and plastered with
clay to form a waddle and dab wall. I constructed a beautiful
adobe and bamboo house in the Philippines.
Wood Slabs: I used the waste wood from sawing logs to build walls
in my cabin. I stood the slabs upright next to each other and
chinked with clay.
Rock: When in Rome, do as the Romans. When in rocky country, build
with rocks. I built a barn with rock walls that had no mortar.
If you make it wide enough and always have the force of each rock
leaning into the wall, it is not a difficult task except for the
lifting of the rocks. If you dare cover the outside, cover it
with insulation like strawbales.
Earth: Back in the late seventies, I developed what I coined,
ďthe vertical crawl space system for earth sheltered homesĒ. It
enabled me to build into the earth without the need for massive
concrete, concrete blocks, or waterproofing. The system was published
in a Mother Earth News Shelter Special, Earth Sheltered Digest,
two conference proceedings and other publications. I used the
system for the Hobbit House. The concept cooperates with the earth
by protecting the cut bank with an insulated roof from freezing,
rain, and wind. The house wall visually protecting occupants from
the sight of the earth can be made of canvass, paper, or any material.
In the Amoeba, I put glass over the space to create an underground
greenhouse that 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.
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.
Sawdust/clay sub-floor; I made the floor by laying tree slabs
on poles with every other one upside down. The floor was still
not level so I dumped and walked on a 6 inch dry mixture of sawdust
and clay (50%-50%). It made a great sub-floor.
Wood floors: Wooden floors canít be beat for dancing. Wood floors
need to be on floor joists above the ground unless you make osage
orange or black locust tile and lay them in a bed of sand. A osage
orange floor tile company located in Durant Oklahoma finally went
out business around the middle of last century.
Paper Clay-che: I am testing paper clay-che as a floor in the
Amoeba. It is dumped and smoothed over a plastic vapor barrier.
It seems to be a very promising durable floor. It is much easier
on the feet than concrete too. I am also testing it as a light
weight roofing system that can be earthquake and hurricane resistant.
Round wood tile: In my entranceway I put a vapor barrier covered
with a 50-50% sawdust/clay mixture (no water). I then applied
a cob mixture and pounded inch thick cordwood into the cob to
form a cordwood looking floor. The abrasive action of walking
is on the wood, not the cob, therefore there is less dust created
than on a stabilized earth floor. It can be sealed with boiled
Living roof: EPDM has revolutionized the flat roofing business
since it is a longer lasting roofing system than built up roofing.
If it is covered with earth, it may last as long as the structure
does. To keep from having problems though, no penetrations or
outside corners should be designed to compromise the efficiency
of the system. A common complaint by environmentalist about subdivisions
is that they take agriculture space from the area. If all roofs
were living roofs and yards were gardens, less agriculture areas
would be taken away for living. Neighborhood farmers could manage
the crops on the roofs and in the yards. How much food could be
grown on a super Walmart? Instead of having huge parking lots
we could have parking garages with living roofs. Fresher food
could be found in NYC if the tops of the buildings could be farmed.
A living roof cools in three ways: sunís energy being absorbed
by the plant, transpiration of the plant producing an evaporative
cooling effect, and the shading of the roof. A grape arbor installed
over a house in Dallas, Texas reduced the air conditioning load
Pole roof/ceiling: Many straight poles of 5-8 inches in diameter
are cut for firewood or discarded. I put them side by side spanning
eight feet to form the roof structure. On top of the logs I put
cardboard to level the surface before putting EPM and soil on
Metal roofs: Although metal roofs have high embedded energy, they
are often used in alternative building in order to harvest rain
water for domestic use.
Electrical systems: It is far cheaper to pay more for energy
efficient appliances and lights than it is to expand alternative
energy systems. For about $2,000 in materials, a conventional
home can have a back-up system consisting of a 120 watt panel,
controller, batteries, boxes, wires, LED lights and a Sundanzer
refrigerator. The wire to a lighting circuit is removed from the
existing electrical box and inserted in the DC box and the lights
on that circuit are replaced with LED or compact florescent lights.
A family will never be left in the dark again or have to discard
rotten food due to a power outage.
Solar: Solar photovoltaic panels are the common direct conversion
of the energy of the sun to electricity. A system requires the
panels, a controller, deep cycle batteries, junction boxes of
various types, and wire. I highly recommend having basic necessities
like lights and refrigeration be on DC current, not through an
inverter. My experience is that inverters are far from being reliable,
especially during storms. Photovoltaic panels are more expensive
per energy received than wind or water generations. But most places
do not have the advantage of having situations favorable to using
wind and water as a source of energy.
Wind energy: If you have consistent winds, a wind energy system
is recommended. Consistent winds are better than higher winds.
A combination with solar energy can produce more constant energy
since often the sun shines at different times than when the wind
Lights: I have installed LED lights that take a fraction of the
energy other lighting systems use. You need more lights but the
system will save investment funds due to reduced electrical generation
system costs. Wiring systems for LED lights can use small wires
since they use less amperage.
Refrigeration: The Sundanzer by Electrolux is by far the most
energy efficient refrigerator or freezer I have found. It can
initially save the cost of four more solar panel, a cost of twice
that of the refrigerator.
Music: The jam boxes that take 8 c batteries can be easily converted
to a cord soldered to the jam box and connected to the 12 volt
system with a plug. A car stereo can easily be connected to a
12 volt house system.
Computer: An adapter can be bought so a laptop computer can run
directly off a 12 volt system. A laptop computer takes a fraction
of the power that a desktop unit takes.
Water Catchment systems: It is highly desirable to catch water
off roofs and hard surfaces for two reasons, one is to provide
domestic and irrigation water and the other is to prevent water
from leaving the land. Often large tanks used to transport liquids
like coke can be purchased at reasonable prices. If you need a
very large storage tank, a ferro-cement constructed tank can be
cheaper than a plastic one if you can do the labor. Another way
of constructing a large tank is to form a circle of welded wire,
line the inside with used carpeting, and insert a made to fit
tank liner obtained over the internet.
Spring Water System: My house is supplied with water from a spring
located much higher than my house, thus producing good water pressure
through the black pipe.
Passive hot water system: On a shelf at the back of the skylight,
a glass enclosed tank provides solar heated water for the kitchen.
An insulated door on top of the skylight directs the sun to the
water heater. A passive solar hot water heater is the most efficient
of all heaters. It is made with a tank from a discarded water
heater. The tank is enclosed in an insulated box with one side
glazed and facing the sun. It has to be protected or drained during
Heating/Cooling System: My priority is not to use non-renewable
energy sources such as propane or power from the electrical grid
Passive solar gain: There are many books on designing passive
solar homes. In a nutshell, you let heat from the sun enter into
an insulated place to heat up mass. Movable insulation over the
entrance will hinder the heat from leaving when the sun is not
working for you.
Insulation: The conventional way of measuring insulation effectiveness
is by using the ďRĒ factor. The ďRĒ factor does not provide the
total and true way of thermal comfort. Mass in the walls and in
the house can have tremendous effect on the comfort level of occupants.
Cathedrals in the tropics have no insulation but are always cool
inside since the walls have so much mass that the heat cannot
pass through during the daytime and is sucked out at night. Also
in action is radiant heat. If walls are hot during the summer,
the desired ambient temperature needs to be lower whereby in the
winter, a cold wall requires an ambient temperature much higher.
Moveable insulation: Heat gained into the house though solar gain
through the windows will quickly leave on a cold night. Therefore
moveable insulation for the windows is necessary to complete the
passive solar system.
Ventilation: Designing for adequate ventilation is a must since
ventilation will help control humidity, radon, and heat buildup
in a home. A tall chimney that is heated by the sun can produce
a flow of air from the inside of the house equal to a whole house
fan. Bring the air in from near the ground. The exit area should
be greater than the air intake area unless a thermosyphoning effect
Earthís thermal flywheel: A home built into the earth will tend
to stay close to the temperature of the earth, thus keeping the
house from freezing during cold weather and keeping it cool during
the summer. If the earth is not isolated from the earth by a vertical
crawl space, then additional heat is needed to heat the earth
up to a comfortable temperature. The wearing of sweaters during
the winter will reduce the requirement for more heat.
Kitchen locations: An outdoor kitchen in use during warm weather
will keep heat out of the house. The use of an indoor kitchen
during the winter will help heat the home. A cooking range in
a ventilated closet in the kitchen will keep the heat out of the
Lighting Systems A skylight can provide light and heat to the
back part of the house. My skylight is well placed over the kitchen
so it will provide daylight for cooking and growing herbs in the
kitchen. It is better not to penetrate EPDM roofing with a skylight
but design the structure where it is just outside of the living
roof. On one structure, I designed a tire retaining wall into
the mountainside to be used to retain the earth, establish an
underground greenhouse, recycle tires, and with a glass wall between
the greenhouse and the bedroom, created indirect lighting to the
Windows: Most windows should be facing in a southerly direction
for maximum solar gain. Glass should be placed in a frame so the
glass can expand, otherwise it could break due to expanding in
a tight cob mixture.
Mirrors: Mirrors on the ceiling above lighting sources will dissipate
the light that would normally be absorbed by the ceiling.
LED lighting system: I have about 200 watts of solar photovoltaic
panels and when I was building I thought that I would need to
expand the system or try to get some hydropower. But instead I
designed my system with conservation in mind. I purchased some
LED lights and found that I had to design and build my own fixtures.
The books say that LED lights for homes are 10 years in the future.
I took a 1 ½ X 3 inch board I had cut from the forest and
drilled 3/8Ē holes about a foot apart. I painted it black and
installed automobile bayonet sockets over each hole with the wires
running through the hole to the top side of the board. I connected
the wires and installed LED lights and had a home made track lighting
system, each light taking one watt to burn. I light my whole house
with about 35 watts! So with my 150 watt/hour refrigerator (Sundanzer
by Electrolux) and my lights, I need only one hour of sun a day
to keep my basic electrical needs met. The rest of the electricity
from my system can go for music, power tools, etc.
Use of recycled material
Windows and doors: There seems to be an abundance of used doors
and windows. People are remodeling and tearing down homes and
Cement: There were many bags of cement mix that was old and hard.
Since they contain mainly sand and gravel, I broke them up, added
a shovel full of fresh Portland cement and water and mixed it
and used it.
Clothing: Clothing can be used as insulation. I bagged clothes
in the plastic bags I bring food home and put it in earthsacks
or where it will be sealed with cob. You can add borax to make
it fire resistant.
Carpeting: Carpeting can be used to roll down over the windows
of the greenhouse. The padding can be used incorporated into window
coverings and insulation. It can be used to line ponds or tanks.
Loreno Stove : While living in the Philippines as a Peace Corps
volunteer, we built a one pot earth stove that worked great using
only small trigs as fuel. A small container of ashes located next
to the stove provided our quick cleaning system.
Wood cook stove: I always thought that it was stupid to create
heat and humidity in an enclosed house and then spend a lot of
energy and money trying to get rid of it. In one home I built,
I put in the kitchen a ventilated closet that had a full glass
door that housed the cooking range. In the summer I kept the door
closed while I was cooking. The Hobbit House has an outdoor kitchen
that has an old wood stove I found in the junk yard. So both the
cooking and the washing are removed from the house. My bath tub
is in the greenhouse.
Unique physical features: The round door was cut from
a sheet of iron. Three hinges were welded on a square tubular
post and bolted onto the door. A wire and paper machete earth
is attached to the outside and painted like the earth as seen
Stain glass window: Jim Powell created a beautiful stain
glass window from scraps of stain glass, bamboo, and cement.
Greenhouse: A greenhouse has functions other than growing
food in cold weather. In heavy rainfall areas or areas of acid
rain, one can regulate the amount and type of water the plants
receive. I raised rabbits in the greenhouse during cold weather
to lengthen their productivity and to provide excellent fertilizer
for the plants. A fish tank in a greenhouse can keep tropical
fish during the wintertime. In the Philippines I made a tiny one
from adobe and plastic to keep the humidity high enough to germinate
seeds. A greenhouse can function also as a bathroom area or living
area. One can also be used to collect heat for funneling into
the house during cold weather. So when you stack functions, a
greenhouse can be a very economical addition to a homestead. I
dug into the south facing side of a mountain leaving the cut of
the earth exposed in the greenhouse. I used tires for the foundation,
continuous logs for the roof structure so I could have a living
roof, and discarded glass from glass sliding doors for the glazing.
Sure, some of the thermal pane glass was smoky but that didnít
interfere with the functions of the greenhouse. During deep freezes,
I would implement my wood stove located in the greenhouse.
Integrated Agriculture: An integrated agriculture system
requiring a minimum amount of inputs and investments is my goal.
I am not a proponent of the compost system since it takes a lot
of movement of materials, it is a lot of work, and most of thenitrogen
is returned to the air. If an animal, even a worm, eats the material
instead, a high nitrogen fertilizer is made and the animal could
produce work, be eaten, or sold. I consider a biogas digester
an artificial stomach that can produce high nitrogen fertilizer
along with methane gas for domestic or commerical use. So creating
a cycle between animals and plants can capture the sun's energy
though photosynthesis,and then produce fertilizer, organic matter,
and food, The animals also can do physical work and control insects
and unwanted plants. Since i do not use admendments very much,
I use Mother Nature to return the soil to a rich, productive medium.
Initially I plant all types of "weeds" in a freshly
cleared field because I think that each plant, especially opportunest
plants, have deffierent fungui or bacteria on their roots that
collectively are capable of introducing all of the necessary components
for growing plants. In order to reduce possible erosion from freshly
cleared slopes, I rake the leaves but do not disturb the soil
before broadcasting various types of grasses, weeds, and legumes.
An example of a rotational system using animals and plants could
go like this: Poke holes in the higher portion of a slope and
insert corn. Hogs will dig for the corn and level the terrace.
Next, using heritage hogs like the Chocta, have a continuous stream
of water fall onto the center of the terrace and let the hogs
wallow out a pond. They will seal and fertilize the pond as they
wallow. Next, relocate them in order to create another pond while
planting rice in the first one. If your winters are mild, you
can raise Talapia during the summer and wintering them in tanks
in the greenhouse during winter. Hog and bird fertilizers can
produce a bloom of algae and phytoplankton that the fish eat,
thereby eliminating the need to buy food for the fish. Collect
the small fry and feed them to the ducks and hogs. After you harvesting
the fish, plant rice in the pond. Once the rice is large enough,
drain the water for irrigation water and later harvest it. Then
let the ducks eat the remaining rice and bugs and plant our vegetable
garden their.. The next step is to plant your garden in the same
Use of animals: People often think of physical work when
they think of using animals on a farmstead. The most important
function of animals is to convert vegetation into food and fertilizer.
In some countries, the dung is dried and used as a fuel. Of course
they can also be used as draft animals, sheep dogs, and other
physical work. Instead of building and working a compost pile
that requires a lot of work and produces low nitrogen fertilizer,
feeding the vegetation and scraps to animals can produce high
nitrogen fertilizer plus food and possibly gas for cooking. Animals
are a vital component in the ecological cycle of the farmstead.
They can enrich the soil, control insects, provide food, convert
vegetation into fertilizer, and protect crops and other animals.
Rotational practices: All functions of life possess functions
that can be detrimental to the ecological system if the functions
persist over a period of time. Manure can pile up and pollute,
overgrazing can occur, nutrients can be depleted, and disease
and insects can become a problem. Therefore a system of rotation
between animals, fish, plants, and cover crops can prevent many
problems and provide more food and healthier soils. One nice thing
about inserting fish into the system is that both fish and aquatic
life grow together and produce not only food but high nitrogen
fertilizer in a small space. If hogs are used to dig and fertilize
fishponds, then the labor to dig the ponds is reduced and therefore
the ponds can be recycled into rice paddies and then into vegetable
Fish: If you like to eat fish, raise the type of fish
that satisfies factors including the eating qualities, climate,
and the availability, oxygen level, and temperature of the water,
Trout need high oxygenated water to grow. Catfish need two years
of growth to gain a pound. Talapia can attain a pound within one
season but die if the temperature drops below 50 degrees. Since
Talapia have extremely high reproductive rates, a combination
of Catfish and Talapia can help regulate the population of the
Enrichment of the soil : The Agriculture Committee in
Earthaven worked for a year in formulating an agriculture policy.
Some wanted to use tractors, some people wanted to ban them. The
end result was not to dictate how a person farms but to insure
that the results of farming were sustainable. The results of farming
could not produce any kind of erosion and the health of the soil
must increase each year. An organic, rotational system can be
the easiest system to produce these positive results.