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Welcome back for Part 9!

There are many things that have to be figured out ahead of time if you work with concrete. Once concrete sets up, putting holes in the concrete or adjusting concrete is very difficult and time consuming. One of the many things that had to be determined before we could shotcrete the earth shelter domes was ventilation and where those ventilation tubes would come out of each of the five earth shelter domes and various connector tunnels. I decided that we would run the ventilation for bathrooms, cooking vents, dryer vents, and air exchanger vents out the sides of the domes. Luckily the founder of the earth shelter dome company was watching our weekly videos on this project and noticed the episode where we were running the tubes out the sides of the domes. He emailed me and told me that all ventilation has to come out the front wall or the top of the domes near the ridge of the dome structure. He told me that the way we had the ventilation pipes was not right and that as the earth settled around the domes, anything coming straight out of the sides of the domes would be broken off from the pressure of the settling earth. Because of this email, we delayed shotcreting so that we could reposition our ventilation ports to the top of the domes.

This picture is from the online video that the earth shelter dome founder watched. The tubes coming straight out of the domes would have broken off as the earth settled around the domes.

I studied a great deal about earth tubes and passive ventilation for this project because the homeowner and I felt that non mechanical ventilation would be a good fit for this project. The more I studied about the earth tube ventilation idea, the more I found that there was a very distinct line right down the center of the people who believed the earth tubes worked and those who didn’t think that the earth tubes would work. Briefly, earth tubes are a passive ventilation system which includes pipes of a specific diameter run underground for certain distances with the idea that the ground would pre-condition the air as it comes into a building. I questioned if this system would remove the high humidity that Michigan gets in the summer time, and I wondered how introducing humid air into a structure which is constantly battling humidity would work. I created what I thought was a good solution and we will cover that in a future installment of this series. We will also discuss the low voltage Panasonic Whisper Green bathroom fans which we used on the project in a future installment of this series.

Me on the side of a dome removing the ventilation pipe to move to the top of the dome.

We spent the time to rerun the ventilation pipes in each of the five domes. We made the pipes coming out of the top of the domes just long enough to shotcrete around without the pipes hindering our need to walk around on top of the domes to shotcrete. The plan was to connect the pipes during the backfilling of the domes which would occur several months from the time the domes were shotcreted.

Around this time, our friend Pam from out west emailed me to let me know that the burlap on her earth shelter domes had been exposed to the sun for less time than what the burlap material on our project had been exposed to the sun and they found that her burlap was deteriorating from the exposure to the sun. The next day after that email, I went to random spots on each of the five earth shelter domes on our project and checked for deterioration of the burlap. In some spots, the burlap was very weak and in the areas that were covered with the tarps all winter, the burlap was in great shape still. I emailed Pam back and asked her how they dealt with the bad areas of the burlap when they shotcreted her domes and her response was that they used cardboard as a backer in the areas that had deteriorated burlap. The burlap is what stopped the shotcrete from passing through the rebar and wire mesh. She offered another piece of advice and that was that the spray from the shotcrete left an incredible mess all over her concrete floors and the clean up was very difficult. Pam recommended moving tarps around as we sprayed the shotcrete, which we did and I still thank her til this day for that piece of advice.

Tarps on the floor of the earth shelter for shotcreting, the wood you see if the bracing inside of that dome.

The value of videoing our project and putting it online was paying off. If I didn’t receive the emails I mentioned above, the shotcreting of the domes and the cleanup following the shotcreting would have been a real game changer on the project. Filming the project and putting up a video every week on Vimeo allowed many people to follow along and those people often caught something that I missed or suggested a course change as we neared pivotal points on the project.

The burlap material was the backer for the shotcrete. This picture from the videos we shot onsite shows the inside of the burlap and us on the outside of the dome spraying shotcrete against the burlap and rebar.

With the emails and my gut instinct, I created a list of duties for each person who would be working on our crew during shotcreting. I figured that we could shotcrete the domes in six days and that would allow us to work normal length days that would not only keep our crew fresh but also avoid any overtime charges from the pump company or the concrete company. Skeptics of this system of shotcreting for an underground structure often mention the fact that ‘cold joints’ were the biggest issue in multi-day concrete pours. Cold joints are basically the point where concrete meets when poured at separate times, for instance, pouring concrete on a Monday and then finishing the pouring of more concrete the following day.

The cold joint concern came to me in an email from some random person who was watching the weekly videos. This cold joint concern got me thinking, so I contacted the founder of the earth shelter dome company and told him what I was thinking. My idea was to stop the shotcreting each day in non impacting areas, such as the center of connector tunnels and not stopping on the sides or parts of the domes. He agreed that the best way to avoid cold joint problems was to stop and start the concrete pours in the areas with the less force against them and/or in areas that didn’t create a breach in strength in any one of the domes. Can you imagine what would have happened if I didn’t get those emails? Thank you everyone who was back seat building while watching the videos, you all helped save me a lot of grief!

Now that we had a very clear path of what we needed to do to successfully shotcrete the largest underground and off the grid farm on the planet, the next issue was getting Mother Nature to cooperate. The weather was warming up and we finally were able to schedule the pump truck and the concrete and get our game faces on for a week of shotcreting.

In Part 10, you will get to see what it took to spray nearly 900,000 pounds of concrete onto the earth shelter domes in just under a weeks time! This photo is from the video shot on site and shows Crasy Joe and I shotcreting from above the domes on a lift.

Stay tuned for Part 10 and ride along as the small crew sprays nearly 900,000 pounds of concrete in a week to create the outer shell of the largest underground and off-the-grid farm ever built!

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


As an outdoors lover, you may hate the idea of being cooped up indoors — especially in the summertime. But since you can’t realistically spend all of your time outside, why not work to bring the outdoors into your home? It’s simple enough to mimic the aesthetic of the great outdoors by bringing in little natural details, from seashells and rocks to wood branches and pine cones. Follow these tips to help your interiors feel as welcoming and refreshing as your favorite outdoor destination.


Bring the sound of ocean waves into your living room.

The last time you visited the beach, you spent hours collecting shells, and now they’re just sitting in a plastic bag in your closet. Instead of hiding them away, why not display them? Sea shells, colorful sea glass, and driftwood are all common finds that will add a beachy element to your space while reminding you of your relaxing vacation. Find a vase, recycled bottle, or your favorite vintage glass bowl and artfully arrange your finds for a beautiful coastal addition to your coffee table. If you have plenty of space for other collections, try using apothecary jars or hurricane lamps in varying sizes and heights to display your shells. If you’re feeling extra crafty, you can even create candles using shells—this works especially well for smaller shells and fragments.


Create a lantern shadow box for favorite finds.

Traditional shadow boxes are gorgeous to hang on your wall as art, but I love to get a bit more creative with the concept, using a large lantern to display a few favorite natural items. I placed my favorite conch shell, some pinecones and river rocks together inside of this lantern on a side table. I love that the objects can be easily swapped out with new discoveries from my outdoor adventures. This is a great little project for kids, too. They’ll be excited to add and subtract from the collection, and they’ll be thrilled to see when you add something new and unexpected.


Freshen up with fruits and vegetables.

I love keeping fruits and vegetables around the house to encourage healthy eating, but these foods also double as organic decorations! Whether placed in a pretty bowl or scattered casually on a tray, these edible arrangements lend color, texture, and sometimes even fragrance to a space. I like to keep it simple by spreading the fruit out in a random pattern, along with a few clippings of shrubbery from the yard. For a more formal arrangement, consider using sterling silver or crystal bowls to hold the food, and arange it symmetrically down the center of the dining table or along the backside of a buffet table.

Unifying your green outdoor lifestyle with your interiors is easier than you may think. If you’re not sure where to start, simply head outside and you may be surprised at how much inspiration you’ll find.

Ronique Gibson, a LEED AP certified architect and home design expert, writes on sustainability topics for Her eco-friendly decorating ideas are inspired by the wall design options available on the Shutterfly website.

Photo Credit: Stagetecture

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


If you are new to this series, please start with Part 1,Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7 so that you get caught up to speed.

Welcome back to Part 8!

green house bracing

Bracing inside of the greenhouse dome.

By now, the winter was starting to end and the large piles of ice and snow that encompassed the earth shelter domes were melting from the warm spring breezes. The majority of the interior framing had been completed and we started to prepare to shotcrete the exterior of the earth shelter domes. Shotcrete is basically concrete that is sprayed through a hose at high pressure.

small dome bracing

Bracing inside of the small dome.

To prepare for the shotcrete, we needed to start bracing the dome structures from the inside of the domes. I had never even heard of shotcrete before this project, so I wanted to make sure that the things that we could control, such as the bracing of the domes and the smoothness of the terrain around the domes were as good as they could be. We had to walk on top of the burlap covered domes with a concrete hose that weighed forty pounds per foot, so the bracing had to be installed properly. The generic owner’s manual showed minimal detail for bracing, so we invented our own system which was what many people would call ‘over kill’. The homeowner had access to rough sawn wood of different sizes and lengths, so we used that to brace the domes.  The framing that we had done on the inside of the domes helped to minimize the amount of bracing lumber that we needed.

barn top

Sun tunnels for the barn that were installed later in the project, notice the flashing kit and plastic domes of the Velux Sun Tunnels.

During this time, we invented our own way to make the sun tunnels work with the structural system of the earth shelter. The sun tunnels would direct natural light into each of the domes and help to light the naturally dark areas inside of the domes. I consulted with the founder of the earth shelter company that the homeowner bought the domed earth shelter kit from to make sure that what we wanted to do with the four foot long tunnels would work and not compromise any part of the earth shelter structure. We used sauna tubes which are normally used as a form for pouring concrete into, but for us, we would use the tube to house the reflective inner tube of the sun tunnel and apply the shotcrete to the outside of the tubes. A specific question that I asked the founder of the earth shelter company was how and when to cut the holes through the rebar and burlap material so that we didn’t compromise the strength of the earth shelter domes. His answer was that we should wait at least twenty eight days after the shotcrete was applied to the earth shelter domes before we cut any holes in the rebar or concrete of the earth shelter domes. The rule of thumb is that it takes twenty eight days for concrete to reach its specified hardness, although the concrete continues to harden slowly for the entire life of the concrete.

sun tunnel prototype

A sun tunnel assembly that we created on site.


Sun tunnel assemblies tied into the rebar of the domes.

We used rebar to wrap around the sauna tubes and to create a way for the sun tunnel assembly to tie into the rebar of the earth shelter domes. To my knowledge, no one had ever tried to adapt a sun tunnel to an earth shelter dome in this way, but attempts have been made to perfect penetrations in the concrete shell for chimneys and ventilation stacks. I decided to use chicken wire that was tied to the re-bar on each of the sun tunnel assemblies. The earth shelter founder watched our weekly videos that are on and he emailed me to tell me that shotcrete would not stick to the chicken wire because the holes were too small. I wished I would have listened to him about the chicken wire, but we’ll get to that in a future installment of this series.

lots of sun tunnels

Sun tunnel and chimney assemblies being installed pre-shotcrete.

sun tunnel top

(Locally fabricated top for our sun tunnel and chimney assemblies)

The sun tunnel assemblies were getting close to being completed and installed. The sun tunnels that we wanted to use on the project had their own flashing kits for each sun tunnel. I thought up a way to get the flashing kits to work with our sun tunnel assemblies. We approached a local steel fabrication shop and had them make us steel caps for each of the thirty three sun tunnel assemblies that were installed on the earth shelter domes. We also had these same tops made for the different chimneys that would be on the separate domes. To make everything connected and strong, we welded the custom made tops to the rebar that was tied around the sun tunnel assemblies and tied into the rebar of the earth shelter domes.

The spring weather was starting to warm up but the nights were still getting below freezing which could have jeopardized the shotcrete. Concrete will only be as strong as it was when it freezes, so we could not take a chance on shotcreting the domes to early in the spring. We continued to prepare to shotcrete the domes by tieing in our sun tunnel assemblies and also putting metal lathe on the inside of the ICF walls so that the shotcrete would stick to the dome side of the wall making all the parts become one once shotcreted. We covered up all of the sun tunnel assemblies with contractor trash bags to prevent the cardboard from deteriorating in the spring rains.

earth tubes

We used contractor trash bags to cover up the assemblies.


Metal lathe being installed on the inside of the ICF walls.

As the days went by, the weather started to warm up and the evenings were beginning to be above freezing. We were very confident that we could shotcrete the domes at any time as long as the weather held out. I always try to start something like shotcreting the domes on a Monday so that we can spend each day of the week applying concrete, then have the following weekend free so that the concrete can set up without any people around. I learned this scheduling from my extensive experience working with ICFs. We started to make phone calls to line up the things that we needed to shotcrete the domes. The homeowner started to meet with insulators and waterproofers to get pricing on those parts of the earth shelter project. She asked me for my input on who she should choose and I suggested the local company that had a waterproofing product that actually had a warranty. She disagreed with me and decided to go with the company from out of town whose quote was considerably less than the local company. The homeowner also asked me to figure out the thinnest that the spray foam insulation could be and still have a positive impact on insulating the domes. We decided on two inches of closed cell spray foam instead of the four inches recommended by the earth shelter company. We will get into the process of insulating and water proofing the domes in a later installment of this series.

The documentary of this project is available on Amazon

Stay tuned for Part 9 as we get ready to shotcrete the largest underground and off-the-grid earth shelter on the planet!

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



If you want to have a positive impact on the environment, but are in need of a different home, your first step was likely to either purchase a fixer-upper or to simply renovate the home you already have. Because an existing structure already has many of the materials in place, you will naturally save the environment by remodeling versus building new.

According to Natural Life Magazine, buildings make up about 40 percent of the energy and material used in the world. Because of this, there are many other choices you can make while in the middle of a renovation project that will help you have a positive impact on the environment.

Recycled Products

One way you can positively impact the environment is by using recycled products while renovating. If you are replacing heating and cooling systems, this might mean adding geothermal heating, solar panels or green roofs.

If you are looking to purchase recycled or green products to place in your home, look for labels that state they are either Energy Star compliant or that they are specifically certified as being made from recycled materials.

Paint Disposal

A big part of most renovation projects is choosing new designs and paint colors. However, what do you do with the leftover paint and empty paint cans? It’s important that you not wash these items into your waste disposal where it might leak into local streams or pollute ponds.

In fact, old paint is considered hazardous waste and should be very carefully disposed of. To properly dispose of paint with your trash, you must first turn it into solid waste. You can leave it open in the air to harden or mix in agents such as cat litter to speed up the drying process. You should notify your trash pickup service that you are disposing of solid waste paint.

Reduce Project Waste

The Environmental Protection Agency took on a project to reduce waste in construction and demolition. They found that in 1996, the United States alone created about 136 million tons of debris related to building and remodeling. While that number dropped during the real estate slowdown, it is starting rise again.

You can help combat this trend by choosing a contractor who has the same green lifestyle philosophy that you do. The two of you can then work together to reuse any salvage materials to create other items. For example, if you have leftover pieces of lumber, can that be used to make raised bed gardens in your backyard?

Reuse Materials From Other Building Sites

Another idea is to talk to other homeowners who are either building new or renovating and utilize their leftover items they would normally throw out. For example, if a house down the street replaces an old claw-foot bathtub with a more modern, tiled shower, you can have the bathtub reglazed and it will look almost new.

Not only will you keep that claw-foot tub from further adding to the local landfill, but you’ll also save a fortune over the cost of paying professionals to tile your own bathroom and create a shower for you.

Donate What’s Left

Are there items you simply can’t stand to put back into your remodeled home? Perhaps there is a row of cabinets from the master bathroom that you hate. Instead of throwing them out, consider donating them to an organization such as Habitat for Humanity, or reuse those cabinets in your garage where you don’t mind how they look.

There are many creative ways to not only remodel your home so it uses less energy and is better for the environment, but also to make sure the project itself has the least possible negative impact on the environment.

How do you minimize your environmental impact when working on your home? Tell me in the comments section below!

Image by Life of Pix

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.




Do you love a hot shower after a long day? Most people do. However, do you have any idea how much that shower is costing you? A hot water heater, which is responsible for that relaxing shower you take after work, is typically the second largest energy expense in your home, accounting for 14 to 18 percent of your utility bills!

What Do You Know About Your Water Heater?

If you’re a hot shower addict and you’ve noticed that your utility bills are unusually high, it might be time to learn more about your water heater.

Here are five questions to ask to help determine if it’s the best fit for the needs of your household — or if it’s time to upgrade.

What’s the brand and Energy Star rating of your water heater? Start simply by looking at the brand of your current water heater and its average operating expense. Look for the sticker that says “Energy Guide,” which will tell you the average operating expense of the unit. Don’t see a sticker? Check the manufacturer’s website or calculate your costs at gov. Also look for the Energy Star rating — the higher the rating, the more money you’ll save in the long run.

How old is your water heater? Most water heaters last 10 to 15 years. If yours is older, there’s a good chance that it’s not as energy efficient as more modern models. If your water heater is more than a decade old and you’ve noticed leaking, cracking or popping sounds, it’s time to have a local plumber do an inspection — and it may be time to replace it.

Pro Tip:  As of April 2015, all new water heaters must comply with the Department of Energy’s new efficiency standards. The most common water heaters will get a modest boost in efficiency, while larger models (55 gallons and up) will shift to new technologies that allow owners to save up to 50 percent on their energy bills.

What size water heater do you have? Many people don’t realize that water heaters are not one-size-fits-all appliances. A smaller storage tank (30 to 40 gallons) is usually sufficient for two to three people. A 50-gallon tank works well for a family of four, while a larger family will require a larger tank (80-plus). If the tank is too small for your family, you’re likely to find yourself running out of hot water in the mornings, putting the system at risk for overheating when water supply is low — thus causing higher utility bills.

Pro Tip: Choose a water heater that fits your family size to save energy. Be sure to consider the growth of your family and think long-term. For an easy guide on choosing the capacity size for your family, The Home Depot has a helpful infographic.

What type of fuel does your water heater use?  Natural gas, electric, propane or solar? If you have an electric water heater and your electric bill is high, there’s a reason: It costs three times more to run an electric water heater than a gas water heater! This alone might make you consider a new system for long-term savings.

What type of water heater is your unit? There are many different types of water heaters, including electric heat pump models, gas and electric tankless (heat on-demand) options. Figure out which type you have and learn about its pros and cons. You might not have the most appropriate unit for your home.

Is it Time to Shop for a New Water Heater?

After assessing your water heater, you may decide that it’s time for a replacement. There are just two more things to do before moving forward with your purchase:

• Consider the upfront cost of installing a water heater. The more energy-efficient your water heater, the more it will cost upfront. This is because it’s built to last longer and will offer huge cost savings in the long run. If you have different fuel types in your area, it’s a good idea to find out the cost saving value of each.
• Know the size of your water heater closet. The new, more efficient water heaters contain more insulation, which adds a few inches to the height and width. Be sure to measure the space you have in the area where you store your water heater to ensure the new one will fit.
• Check for rebates and tax credits
. For example, there’s currently a huge tax incentive for installing solar water heaters, valid through December 2016. Ask the salesman what rebates or credits are available when making your decision.

Upgrading your home’s water heater can not only reduce your family’s carbon footprint, but can save money on your bills each month. Most importantly, those hot showers will feel a lot more relaxing when you realize how much money you’re saving.

Sommer Poquette, the Green and Clean Mom, writes energy-efficiency tips for the home for The Home Depot. Sommer's water heater advice is geared to providing homeowners with options to make informed decisions. To view water heaters available at Home Depot, you can click here. 

Image created at

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



New environmental construction materials in the world of home and residential construction are poised to save the world from dangerous greenhouse gas emissions, and smart consumers are scrambling for them.

These three major developments in the green building materials are bound to change lives and climates all over the world.

Carbon NEGATIVE Cement Alternative

Meet Ferrock™, a new, environmentally-friendly cement alternative that’s green from its manufacturing process to its implementation in construction projects. It actually soaks up greenhouse gasses from the environment like a sponge!

Commercial and residential housing accounts for nearly 8 percent of Carbon Dioxide emissions in the U.S. according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and a large portion of that is due to the manufacture and use of cement. Cement is the primary ingredient in concrete and concrete is the second most consumed substance on Earth after water, according to the Earth Institute.

Cement and concrete aggregates are used in the foundations and footings of nearly every commercial and residential building erected in the last century and account for nearly 5 percent of CO2 emissions worldwide.  Cement leaves a huge carbon footprint due to its manufacturing process requiring the heating of limestone to over 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit.  Ferrock™ is made without heat and uses recycled materials from other industries, such as silica from ground glass and steel dust.  Everything about it is green and it has been found to be about five times stronger than conventional Portland cement concrete.

Ecologically Friendly Insulation

Wood foam insulation material is much greener than standard insulation foams now in use. Fraunhofer Wood Foam, developed by German scientists, is made from ground, recycled wood, pumped with gas.  

Insulation is critical to the building of a home and accounts for nearly 50 percent of a home’s energy consumptionInsulation can prevent air leaks around windows and doors that lead to heat loss. Proper insulation will save you money and reduce your energy consumption substantially!

Standard home insulation materials generally are made from petroleum products, which contribute to a home’s carbon footprint. Wood foam insulation is not made using petroleuem. Wood foam is made from 100 percent eco-friendly ingredients and have scored high in thermos-insulating and mechanical properties according to researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research in Germany.

Recycled Floor Covering 

Intended to be used in place of hard surfaces like vinyl tile, recycled flooring is developed using post-consumer recycled materials, mostly water and soda bottles.  The material itself is recyclable making it almost 100% green and perfect for use in modern home construction.

Kinetix® textile composite flooring from J+J Flooring group was named one of the Top Ten green building products for 2014 by BuildingGreen Inc., publisher of GreenSpec and Environmental Building News. 

The specter of environmental change and global disaster looms large in the 21st century. Increased ecological concern has spurred much needed research and development in affordable, quality products that reduce our individual carbon footprint.  No longer costly and inconvenient, green products are the wave of the future and the key to reducing the carbon emissions caused by home construction. The least we can do is use them.

A Good Place to Start

1. Ask your builder or contractor about using green materials and techniques before beginning renovations.

2. Investigate a product’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating at the S. Green Building Council’s website before using in construction. If a product is rated poorly, use an alternative material.

3. Remember that each small step towards reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emission counts! In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Small steps lead to big changes!

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 


If you are new to this series, please start with Part 1,Part 2Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6 so that you get caught up to speed. Here we go! 

When I toured different earth shelters around the country, I noticed that every domed earth shelter that I toured had plaster on the interior of the domes. I remember thinking that I liked the look but I wondered if the rusting rebar tie wire would bleed through the plaster coating at some point. I started to think about if we could curve drywall to the contour of the domed earth shelter and I have always been a big fan of domed ceilings like the ones that you see in cathedrals and capital buildings. Because of this, I started to research how to bend drywall to the curved walls and ceilings inside the earth shelter.


Me cutting radius board with a circular saw.

When I was younger, my carpenter mentor taught me how to cut curved boards with a circular saw. As I researched bending drywall, the idea of drywalling the earth shelter evolved the more that I learned and that is when we created our own curved treated lumber boards so that we had something that we could screw our drywall too. We took a 2x10 treated board and held it up against the curved metal structure piece and traced the curve onto the board. I then cut the board on the curved line with a circular saw which gave us a perfect drywall nailer, which was curved. We screwed these curved boards to the curved steel of the earth shelter domes.


Crazy Joe and The Howard City Madman framing in the earth shelter.

We got a really good jump start on the interior framing while we had the man power there. Once our crew size dwindled down to the workers that I selected, then the project became more milestone based. We would try to finish areas of the earth shelter project before moving onto other areas. The more we framed the interior of the earth shelter, the more it seemed like having interior walls and floors would help us brace the outer shell of the domes for spraying on the concrete shell.


Some walls were really tall!

One great thing about the ‘New Deal’ on the earth shelter project, was that I got to have creative control of the project. The homeowner would find antiques, remnants, re-used or repurposed items, and in some instances, rotted junk that we got to refurbish and turn into everything imaginable around the project. Because of this barn full of ‘treasure’ as she called the stuff she was gathering, we had to be very forward thinking when we framed in each area of the earth shelter project. We had to build in certain ‘pieces’ into walls and we were going to build our own kitchen, so we had to figure for that as well. I would some up the framing of the interiors of the domes as a mix between remodeling a turn of the century home and building a new custom home from scratch. The skill set required to build to a high standard using basically yard sale items was not as easy of a task as I thought it might be.

me on the levels

Building straight walls next to curved walls.

I really enjoyed building straight walls into the curved structure of the earth shelter; it was not only neat looking when it was done, but it made my mind wander. I would look at the level to make sure everything was plumb and even though it was, my mind would tell me it wasn’t. It may seem odd, but in a way, it was really a great brain teaser. Because of the straight lines being meshed with the curved lines, storage areas began to develop and we started to think about home much room the earth shelter domes really had.

framing a radiuos wall

Framing round top walls inside of connector tunnel.

Our Monday night meetings continued, and as each week progressed, we began to discuss what we needed well in advance of when we needed it. A big concern for the project was how to house animals in the underground barn safely and for any length of time. We first started talking about what kinds of animals were going to be in the barn. This was a really interesting thing for me to study, as I did not grow up on a farm but my mom always told us that it was her lifelong dream to live on a farm, so I did have a general interest in how farms worked. Part of the reason that I decided to stay on at the earth shelter project was because I was told that I would be sent to different events like the Acres Conference to learn about bio-dynamics, rotational grazing, and housing animals underground, among many other things. This part of the deal was working out and I found myself really resonating with the healthy outcome of that kind of farming.

barn framing

We used roughs sawn white-oak posts where the stalls would be.

Before we could frame the barn area of the project, we had to determine how large to make the stalls and out of what materials. The earth shelter company did a great job with their building prints, they were even close with the stall sizes, but we changed things around to make sure that we could house the animals if there was ever a need. Animals were picked based on their hardiness, nutritional value, and overall contribution to the sustainability of the farm and its inhabitants.

After the general basic list of ‘contributors’ was selected, we started to look at what materials would be safest and strongest to use in the seventy-two foot long underground barn. At this point in my life, I was just starting to hone my natural health lifestyle, so when I was told that no treated lumber would be allowed in the barn, it took me a minute to wonder why. The homeowner did not want the animals to chew on the treated wood and become sick. Because of this, we selected rough cut white oak for all support members in the barn. The sides of the stalls would be made of wood and beams that came from a barn that had fell down and was salvaged.

“Do you think you can make this work?” became one of my favorite questions that was asked of me on that project. Although we were building a new barn, the idea was to make it look as if it always existed, or at least was there for many generations. The homeowner wanted us to create the illusion that we were holding up certain sections of the barn with a chord wood foundation. We took that into consideration as we were rough framing the barn.

As we rough framed the barn, the thought of how to introduce natural light into the barn was on the top of our list. In my research of animals living underground or in caves, the same point kept coming up, animals would become uneasy when entering dark areas because their eyes adjusted like human eyes adjust, thus momentarily blinding them as they walked from the light outside into the dark inside. I needed to find more information about lighting the barn with natural light and the Velux Sun Tunnel came to mind. I was very familiar with the Velux Sun Tunnel from previous projects and I spent my research time trying to figure out if the Sun Tunnel would work and also how to get the tunnels to ‘marry’ with the outer shell of the earth shelter.

Stay tuned for part 8  and read about our attempts to get ready to shot-crete the exterior of the domes! Also you will see how we created our own system to make the Velux Sun Tunnels work.

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