Are You Interested in Natural Building Techniques?

| 6/9/2009 3:38:58 PM

Tags: natural building, straw bale, earth building, cordwood, adobe, timber frame, log cabins, question to readers,

For people interested in low-cost, hands-on building, there are many natural building methods to explore.

To name a few: You might consider building a straw bale home, a log cabin, or a timber frame or cordwood house. You might also look at earth-building techniques, including adobe and earth bag construction.

We’d like to know what you think about these types of natural building and about any hands-on experiences you might have had. Have you ever attended a straw bale plastering party? A cordwood-building workshop? Are you interested in learning more about building with adobe?

Share your thoughts and experiences by posting a comment below.

6/19/2009 11:10:45 AM

I am building a compound on five acres in the Southwest USA. In the final phase, there will be a three buildings; a cook room, bathroom and sleeping room. All are under 200 sq ft. which is the minimum requirement for building without a permit. I share the five acres with the aim for 100% self sufficiency and sustainability. Recently the infrastucture was completed which is entirely solar powered. Two huts are recycled and have been restucco-ed with a lime plaster. A book I referenced heavily and recommend is Building Green by Clark Snell. He and co-author Tim Callahan build a guest house with a living roof. Each wall is constructed using cob, strawbale and cordwood techniques. He details the process and living roof construction well.

6/15/2009 12:36:45 AM

My husband and I are really interested in learning more about bouilding with cob.This seems to be as natural as it gets.I need to know more about roofing a cob home.We'd like to do a living roof if possible.

6/14/2009 1:03:33 AM

Impartial information and comparison is sorely needed about building techniques and materials and other relevant matters regarding "alternative bldg techniques and materials"

log lover lady
6/13/2009 7:47:03 PM

After living in one passive solar home and three log homes, the logs win hands down. From Northern New England, northern [on the Canadian Border] New York State to West Virginia our log homes have outperformed the solar in all respects. Easy to heat, easy to cool, and remarkably easy to maintain. The solar was easy to heat, but getting rid of the humidity in the summer was another story. I also never felt comfortable in a house with 12 foot ceilings and huge windows. The solar was an envelope design and occasionally caused problems in routing ducts and wiring. I guess I'm old-fashioned and need traditional architecture to make me happy.

joe _2
6/12/2009 11:16:54 PM

I am a firm believer in the KIS principal; KEEP IT SIMPLE. Using natural building materials is great, but you also need to keep performance in mind. Using a natural material in the wrong way, or for the wrong application is no better than using an oil based plastic product. For example, I see lots of shows on TV where someone has supposidly built a passive solar home. They use sustainable timber, cork floors, low VOC paints, low E windows, etc. The problem with this is that you can not build an effective passive solar home using these materials. To have an effective passive solar home you need to have a lot of thermal mass, proper insulation, let the sun's heat in during the Winter, and keep the sun's heat out during the Summer; a very SIMPLE concept. Now what is the simplest and efficient way to do this? Answer - Concrete walls and floors (natural product), exterior hard board foam insulation (not a natural product), South facing windows that let the sun's heat in, and proper overhangs for Summer shading. By going simple, and using the appropriate materials, you end up with a home that needs very little or no mechanical heating and cooling. Which means, you use less energy without sacrificing any comfort. Which in the long run, makes the home more GREEN than the home that used all natural products; but did so incorrectly. Conservation is not the key to being green, EFFICIENCY is the key to truely being green.

ernesto trostinetzky_2
6/12/2009 9:59:35 PM

Yes, I'm very interested in natural construction, specially wood and adobe bricks, non fired type. I wrote several pieces of literature about adobe bricks and its advantages in all senses. I usually follow all that type of information. You can count on me.

6/12/2009 9:32:40 PM

My wife and I are very interested in learning more about cordwood and earth-sheltered building. I am also interested in the living roofs but she is coming around to the idea.

storm rise
6/12/2009 11:41:16 AM

A couple of years ago- just before we moved here from Australia, we had a block of land that we were about to build on, and we'd chosen a 2 story octagonal plan that was going to be Earth Rendered Strawbale. Loved the design, it was completely off the grid with solar power/ greywater recycling/ rainwater salvage/ composting toilets/ bamboo floors/ thermally passive etc. And best of all, it was right in the middle of the suburbs on a 1/4 acre block, so close to work and after an intense workshop- something I could build myself! Amazing what you can do with strawbales and a 'Whipper Snipper'! Hmmm.... $650K for pre-made toxic house, or $200K for homemade non-toxic home? Not a hard choice *grin* I was pretty upset that we couldn't follow through with that- and here in Seattle, the rainfall is just too high to do a decent Earth Render (without the yearly upkeep, and I'm not a fan of concrete rendering) so we resorted to buying an existing home instead. Given the opportunity though- I'd be building strawbale again in a heartbeat!

criss kraus
6/12/2009 11:30:09 AM

I am planning my retirement and have been researching alternative, natural building materials since the 60's. Since the land I have been looking at is in "big snow" country, I settled on a combination of strawbale with a 8" framed rammed earth inner wall for thermal mass. There are pro's and con's to every type of building material, natural or otherwise. My choice of building material has changed over the years in direct relation to the area I was planning on living in. Geography and the weather patterns of the selected area will help to narrow the choices of building options down. Example: When I was thinking of building in Tornado Alley, I was looking at underground and earth sheltered building methods. But I wanted the insulation and load bearing capabilities of strawbale, as well as, some kind of thermal mass for radiant heating and cooling. I lived in a 200 year old Adobe for 18 months and the thermal mass does make a noticable difference. Strawbale takes the weight and provides insulation. It is not as labor intensive as say "tire pounding" rammed earth or even foam formed poured concrete. Strawbale however has very little if any thermal mass, same with the foam formed poured concrete. Hence the inner framed rammed earth wall. Since this inner wall is not load bearing and is not the primary insulator, it need only be 8" instead of 12-18". Frammed rammed earth is also less labor intensive than regular rammed earth. One thing people need to remember with any thermal mass building material, is that the first month you heat or cool the inside of the home, is the most expansive and fuel consuming month of the season. This is where you are heating or cooling the thermal mass to the desired temperature. After that you will find the HVAC system working less and saving you fuel and money. With the type of home construction I am planning you still need some kind of structure around

6/12/2009 10:58:49 AM

We'll soon be building our homestead a few miles south of the Arctic Circle. With sustained winter temps of -20F and lower, and recorded lows down to -70F (not including windchill), we know we need high insulation values and a really tight envelope. After much research, we've decided to build a post & beam skeleton from the trees on our property and then wrap it with straw bales from a nearby farm. While conventional buildings dictate using vapor and weather barriers in our area, we fully intend to use earthen plaster with lime plaster skim coats on our bales to allow any water vapor that gets into the walls to transpire naturally. I just don't feel good about air quality living inside a plastic bag with a wood burning stove! We intend to use as much onsite materials as possible, and to locally source as much of the remaining materials as we can. To top it all off, we'll be putting up a green roof on the cabin, with a rain catchment system in case there is any run off (doubtful in our climate, but always good to plan ahead). For our sheds, we're planning to build with cordwood masonry since we have plenty of trees on the property and can use the off-cuts from the cabin's timber frame. We plan to use the double mortar method and fill the gaps with borax-soaked sawdust and pine needles for insulation. We think this will be an excellent building method for a space that needs to stay "warm" but not "toasty". We suspect that the insulation value of cordwood walls will be slightly less than straw bale wrap since the wood creates a thermal bridge and natural aging causes the cordwood to shrink allowing some air infiltration. But this is only a concern for us because we live in such drastic cold winters, I'm sure it would be plenty warm in other northern locations. The mode of the location is (horizontal) log homes. I've been in them and they do seem to be warm enough if they are built from large diameter timber.

joan from saskatchewan
6/11/2009 8:31:44 PM

I live roughly an hour north of Yorkton, Saskatchewan in Canada. This last winter was especially harsh, with temps around -40 (not counting windchill) for weeks at a time. My family and I want to build something economical and earth-friendly using renewable resources that would stand up to the rigorous temperature extremes between summer(very hot!) and winter and not make the local building inspectors have to many conniptions. I am most especially interested in Cordwood home construction. I'd especially like to know how any cord wood homes that were already built endured this past winter! Would the owners make any changes now that we have had the harshest winter in generations? If so, what? Is there something better than cordwood and still very economical and "green"? This past winter would have been the litmus test year for every type of eco-home out there. Which style came out the winner? Our current solar minimum may give us a few more rough winters before our sun begins to ramp up it's energy output again, and I'd like to build something that will withstand the elements. A story covering this would be great!

jack stephens
6/11/2009 5:46:32 PM

The Natural Building Network is an international non-profit that is a rich resource of workshops, events, practitioners and fans of natural building. This group was founded by natural builders and teachers from around the world including many who have contributed to Mother Earth News over the years. Some of our members include Rob Roy, Chris McClellan, Ianto Evans, Catherine Wanek, Elke Cole, Michael G. Smith, Lloyd Kahn, Joe Jenkins, Brad Lancaster and many other luminaries and quiet earth-shifters.

hippygirl in the country
6/10/2009 1:18:22 PM

I am really interested in straw bale building because it looks so beautiful. However, now we live in the country and are surrounded by timber. So it seems that it would make more sense to use wood to build since it will be local. You can't get much more local than your own backyard!

pat miketinac
6/9/2009 8:35:43 PM

I attended a cordwood masonry workshop at the Mother Earth News Eco-Village back in the 1980's. It's a concept with many applications. Rob Roy at is a master. The heavy timber design for my earth shelter roof came from his Earth Sheltered Houses book. It has 10x10 posts & beams, 4x8 rafters and 2x6 planks, all roughsawn on my Belsaw. Wood has a beauty matched by few other building materials. The bare wood is still beautiful 21 years later.

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