An Eco-Friendly Home

This couple drew on existing materials, technologies, and principles to build an eco-friendly home in southern Illinois.

| November/December 1980

066 eco friendly home - main view

By digging the north side of their eco-friendly home into a hillside and covering the south side with glass, the Yamberts have cut their need for commercial power sources.


When Carla and Paul Yambert moved into their solar- and wood-heated, earth-bermed eco-friendly home in mid-1979, they regarded the event as yet another part of a lifestyle that has — through the years — increasingly translated the couple's eco-philosophy into actual living in accord with nature.

The Yamberts have always been lovers of the outdoors (Paul's an environmental studies professor at Southern Illinois University), and they raised their family in the woodsy setting of Shawnee National Forest, which runs across Illinois's southern tip. Though the couple found the locale to be ideal, their original dwelling was fairly conventional ... so — when the youngest child left home — the senior Yamberts began building the smaller, tighter, more ecologically sound, and more self-sufficient nest they'd been planning for years.

Perhaps the most fascinating (and instructive) feature of the Yamberts' new home is the manner in which it combines a variety of existing technologies and materials to provide both efficiency and comfort. Nestled into a south-facing hillside for natural insulation, the house also makes good use of passive solar techniques, relying — for storage — upon the thermal mass supplied by a huge stone fireplace that's heated on the outside by the sun and on the inside by wood.

The extensive insulation, a solar greenhouse, two heat-lock vestibules, and — of course — the earth sheltering help the sun-wood combination provide all the building's space heating. And other systems — including a cistern and a composting toilet — allow the couple to further reduce the burden they place upon nature.

Now that the house and its occupants have completed a year-long "shakedown cruise", Paul and I — I'm a university colleague with a long-term solar infatuation of my own — both feel compelled to share the story of this success with MOTHER EARTH NEWS' readers. What's more, since we can take advantage of 20/20 hindsight, we'll pass on a few suggestions and cautions to help other folks who might embark upon similar projects.

Quality Construction

The rectangular house — which has a shed-style roof — is a sturdy structure containing 1,360 square feet of floor space including the loft. Its quality of construction far exceeds that of today's average frame building: Consider, for example, that the exterior walls were built from 2 X 6 lumber on 16-inch centers . . . or that the main floor is slate (a material which doubles as a second heat sink) . . . and that rough-sawed cedar siding is used extensively inside and out.

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