The Hobbit House Farmstead

Natural Building & Sustainable Mountainside Agriculture

by Rod Rylander

 

Located at Earthaven Ecovillage near Black Mountain, NC

 

Hobbit House- 1

Hobbit House- 2

Perfect Walls

Rod Rylander

Earthaven

Mountainside Farming

Carfree

Unconventional Hodge Podge

 

 

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

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.

Sack Building

Books about building with earthbags are available here.

THE HOBBIT HOUSE
My background
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 homestead.

Mission
I want to provide an alternative way for some people of limited means in Appalachia to satisfy their basic needs within their capabilities.

Objective
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

Simple living
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 expenses, etc.

Location
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.

Terrain
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 mudslide problems.

Solar gain
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.

Erosion Control
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 native grasses.
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 vegetables
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.
Dirt work
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 space.
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 winds.
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.

Floor systems
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 linseed oil.

Roof systems
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 by 40%!
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 the roof.
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 blows.
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 Systems
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 freezing weather.

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 is created.
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 kitchen.

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 bedroom.
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 buildings continuously.
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.

Cooking
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 from space.

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 spot.


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 gardens.

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 Talapia.

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.