Alternative Housing

A Visit with Alex Sumerall from This Cob House!

During my whirlwind trip last month, I had the opportunity to meet Alex Sumerall at one of his work sites. Alex is a cob home builder. I have been very interested in alternative home designs for quite some time, and specifically straw bale and cob homes. About six months ago, I came across Alex’s site, and we started talking a bit. When I found out I was going to be in Tennessee in March, I contacted Alex to see if we could meet him. As it turns out, he was going to be at a building site not too far from where I was going to be.

The Winter was still winding down, and the project had only just gotten started when I arrived at the building site. After reading about cob building for so long, it was great to see an actual cob home under construction, even if only the foundation was partly completed. I’ll share the photos I took, and I strongly encourage you to check our Alex’s site: This Cob House

Alex and I at the building site.

Alex and I at the building site.

This site had plenty of clay, so much in fact, that Alex was going to need to bring in some sand to make a good consistency cob.

This site had plenty of clay, so much in fact, that Alex was going to need to bring in some sand to make a good consistency cob.

Bathroom corner of the home. Note the drainage ditch that will keep rain and ground water from pooling at the foundation.

Bathroom corner of the home. Note the drainage ditch that will keep rain and ground water from pooling at the foundation.

Showing how the piping traverses the foundation.

Showing how the piping traverses the foundation.

I'm excited to see how the finished home turns out... here is an example of one cob home in the Pacific Northwest.

I’m excited to see how the finished home turns out… here is an example of one cob home in the Pacific Northwest.

 

 

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Photo References:

 

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    Utilizing The Unlimited Geothermal Energy Of The Earth For Sustainable Heating And Cooling

Utilizing The Unlimited Geothermal Energy Of The Earth For Sustainable Heating And Cooling

Today, I am sharing a guest article by Patrick Gibson, a Biotechnology Engineer in Australia. 

The earth is literally welling over with energy that we can tap into. While some of it we can directly experience such as the wind, sunlight and wave energy, there is another kind that is not so visible but has plenty of potential for supplying our large-scale and household energy needs: this is geothermal.

Heat that is trapped underground can be used to heat (and cool) nearly any building over ground. The advantage of underground heat is that it remains nearly constant throughout the year. And you don’t even have to go too deep to be able to reach this great energy source. Just a few feet beneath the surface, temperatures remain a constant 5.56° to 26.67° Celsius.

An Excellent Renewable Source Of Energy
Lately, a number of energy providers have been designing heat exchange systems that can use heat pumps to indirectly tap into the heat wells underground. Sustainable homes and businesses are taking advantage of these systems to cut down their energy costs and feel great about using renewable sources that cause the least environmental impact.

If you use a geothermal heating system, you can say goodbye to energy-guzzling air conditioners and gas, oil or LPG run heaters that have high running costs and need regular maintenance. Geo-exchange systems can work as both heating systems in the coldest of winters and cooling systems in the summer.

Geothermal heating systems are incredibly effective as coolers. When it’s a torrid 45 degrees C outside, you can enjoy a balmy 24 degrees C indoors. This is possible by simply reversing the heating system, taking warm air from the building and transferring it to the cooler underground.

In the winter, the temperatures below ground are warmer than those at the surface. This enables the heat pump to draw heat from under the ground and circulate it through the building through a system of ducts.

How Geothermal Systems Work
Geothermal heating systems don’t directly draw heat from the ground. A network of pipes is laid below the ground near the building, and fluids like water or a mixture of water and anti-freeze passes through them. This fluid carries the heat between the ground and the heat pump. The heat pump then circulates the cooled or heated air through the ducts or radiant floor heating methods. When you combine the energy system with good indoor insulation, you get the best out of it.

Many permaculturists are also advocating the heating of greenhouses with geothermal systems. The ground surrounding your greenhouse and glass structures can become a giant battery of sorts, and maintain the most optimal temperatures no matter the season.

The Costs Involved
The initial costs of installing your geothermal system can vary from place to place. Costs depend on how easily the underground pipes can be laid near your building, the elevation and composition of the soil etc. In some areas, pipes can access underground heat wells within 6 feet, while in other areas the pipe network may have to go deeper. You will have to consult an engineer and service provider to find out the costs of laying down a heating and cooling system for your home.

At the same time, the efficiency of geothermal systems far exceeds any other kind of system, including air-source systems. A typical gas furnace may have an energy efficiency of 94 percent, compared to that a geothermal system offers as much as 400 percent of energy efficiency. This means that for every 1 unit of electrical energy consumed, it delivers 4 units of energy. If placed in a well-insulated building, it can lower running costs by as much as 70 percent.

The cost of maintenance is also significantly lowered because of the longer life cycle of these units. While your typical gas furnace will last about 7 to 10 years with regular maintenance, a geothermal system can last over 15 years. The ground pipe loop is even longer lasting; they usually come with a warranty of a whopping 50 years. This means that once you’ve laid down the pipes, not only you but even your children or the subsequent building owners will be able to enjoy its benefits. Like many other sustainable home fittings, this can increase the resale value of your home significantly.

Add to that the fact the these systems are as quiet as a mouse and there are no fears of carbon monoxide poisoning involved, there is no reason for homeowners to not take advantage of this excellent source of clean, renewable energy!

 

Patrick

Patrick is an Engineer of Biotechnology, he studied at Victoria University, Melbourne. Patrick works for a leading certification company as a quality control inspector, and his vast field experience has taught him to make use of almost everything land has to offer.

 

 

 

Reference and Credit:

 

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An Overview of Alternative Home Designs: Part 4

If you read my article on building an intentional community, you’ll see that I am strongly recommending bypassing the traditional mortgage path and promoting build-it-yourself, alternative housing. I have shared a few posts in the past on some of the alternative housing options, but I thought it would be fun to give a brief overview of the more common (of the overall uncommon) alternative housing options that are available today.

Obviously, the photos in this article are just a sampling of what exists and what is possible. These photos are meant to give a general sense of what a building style looks like.

As I started to put this article together, I realized it was going to be photo intensive. I decided to break it up into a few parts:

Tooday, we will cover Small Houses, Modular Homes, and Hybrid Homes…

Small House: This is more of a concept than a specific building design. These homes are typically less than 1,000 square feet (92 sq meters), and often significantly less, but the goal remains the same: maimize good design and minimize wasted space and cost. One big advantage to these homes is that they are often mobile!

Small homes can be permanent...

Small homes can be permanent…

...or mobile!

…or mobile!

Small homes are all about efficiency.

Small homes are all about efficiency.

Small home

Small home

Small home

Small home

Small home

Small home

Small home

Small home

Small home (same house as above, just a different view)

Small home

Small home

Small home

Small home

Small home

Small home

Small home

Small home

Small home

Small home

Small home

 

Modular Home: This is another concept instead of a specific building design. These are prefabricated homes consisting of multiple sections (modules). The modules are designed and built off-site, delivered to the site, and assembled on-site. I am only showing these homes to be complete in my listings of alternative home designs. Almost any style of home can be modular. These are quick to build and are usually cheaper than traditional site-built homes, but they are not necessarily better for the environment or the inhabitants.

Modular Home

Modular Home

Modular Home

Modular Home

Modular Log Home

Modular Log Home

 

Hybrid Home: There are no rules for what constitutes a hybrid home. Any design that incorporates more than one method of construction qualifies. Here are just a few examples…

One of the well-known hybrid homes (cob, wood, straw-bale).

The Hobbit House – a well-known hybrid home (cob, wood, straw-bale) in Wales, UK.
This home became rather famous, but its owners no longer live in it.
Some reports state that there were a few design flaws that caused water damage.

The same family (Simon and Jasmine Dale) went on to build, and now reside in, another hybrid home as part of the Lammas Project in Wales, UK.

The same family (Simon and Jasmine Dale) went on to build, and now reside in, another hybrid home as part of the Lammas Project in Wales, UK.

Simon and Jasmine Dale’s website

Cob and straw-bale home

Cob and straw-bale home

Cob and straw-bale home

Cob and straw-bale home

THi

This is a 400 year old clay-lump and wattle and daub thatched cottage – beautiful!

Ben Law’s home in the UK… wood, straw-bale, and cob

Another view of Ben Law's handbuilt home.

Another view of Ben Law’s handbuilt home.

Interior of Ben Law's home.

Interior view of Ben Law’s home.

Here is an amazing video (television show) on how Ben Law built his home in the woods…

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.thetinylife.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Texas-Victorian-Tiny-House-bedroom.jpg
  • http://tinyhouselistings.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/tumbleweed-tiny-house-company.jpg
  • http://www.motherearthnews.com/~/media/Images/MEN/Editorial/Articles/Magazine%20Articles/2012/08-01/Mortgage-Free%20Living%20in%20a%20Hand-Built%20Tiny%20Home/Tiny_Homes-3.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-LWW9QtfquLY/T4ZzIFT-zaI/AAAAAAAAABU/n9xWJR1Fo9Q/s1600/IMG_0025.JPG
  • http://tinyhouseblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/tinyhouse.jpg
  • http://static3.businessinsider.com/image/50ede2b36bb3f7f850000010/20-surprisingly-beautiful-tiny-homes.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-VyVjjx9apUY/UkWVi3vvQyI/AAAAAAAAB2A/VcneYN1wxZA/s1600/Tiny+House+interior.jpg
  • http://clotheslinetinyhomes.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/dsc01900.jpg
  • http://lookhomedesign.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Tiny-House-Interior-Design-2.png
  • http://www.designboom.com/contemporary/tiny_houses/10.jpg
  • http://www.thetinylife.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/tiny-house-inside.jpg
  • http://buildipedia.com/images/masterformat/Channels/At_Home/2011.12.07_small_houses/images/3_small_house_%7C_credit_-_Tumbleweed_Tiny_House.jpg
  • http://www.redesignrevolution.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/EPU-House.png
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-R1Hq9AiVWBs/UF273F1BNhI/AAAAAAAABGM/vFG8VhN0zFQ/s1600/Tumbleweed+Traveling+011.JPG
  • http://simondale.net/
  • http://www.cobcourses.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/CPRE-White-Cottage-cob-bale-extension-1.jpeg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-7CB9Sa-YtSI/Trw-lzaWCmI/AAAAAAAAA5U/RfTAkheQ7NA/s1600/Hybrid+011.jpg
  • http://i1.ytimg.com/vi/GbM2In5Hfx4/maxresdefault.jpg
  • http://www.motherearthnews.com/~/media/Images/MEN/Editorial/Articles/Online%20Articles/2010/09-01/Straw%20Bale%20House%20on%20the%20Prairie/hybridhouse8.jpg
  • http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2008/12/29/article-1102663-02DB9FE6000005DC-880_468x293.jpg
  • http://inlanding.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/benlaw.jpg
  • http://homefaerie.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/sussex-finished-house-side-lg1.jpg
  • http://earthbagbuilding.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/withyfield-cottage-interior-by-ben-law.jpg
  • http://info.greaterbostonmodulars.com/Portals/200887/images/dsc00811.jpg
  • http://www.pchomesmo.com/wp-content/uploads/copy-Wohletz-24-e1370997691287.jpg
  • http://api.ning.com/files/bSxxdg2UqxoYU3DMfsrxTSBOoR5KZFWWcxlQlx0-QZnbWq9dzRCxVFUMtep20miFQu8FRd32OQHIeUd8iaVYDXCVg20kLs6P/Construction1.jpg

 

An Overview of Alternative Housing Designs: Part Three

If you read my article on building an intentional community, you’ll see that I am strongly recommending bypassing the traditional mortgage path and promoting build-it-yourself, alternative housing. I have shared a few posts in the past on some of the alternative housing options, but I thought it would be fun to give a brief overview of the more common (of the overall uncommon) alternative housing options that are available today.

Obviously, the photos in this article are just a sampling of what exists and what is possible. These photos are meant to give a general sense of what a building style looks like.

As I started to put this article together, I realized it was going to be photo intensive. I decided to break it up into a few parts:

Tooday, we will cover Geodesic Domes, Wood Pallet Homes, Shipping Container Homes, Yurts, and Hexayurts.

Geodesic Dome Home: A spherical structure composed of triangular elements, developed by Buckminster Fuller. Once popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s, it has since become significantly less popular. While very strong, and still popular with some, it is typically considered to have too many disadvantages.

Geodesic Dome exterior

Geodesic Dome exterior

Geodesic Dome interior

 

Wood Pallet Home: Using 80 pallets (of the 150 million taken to landfills each year), a person could build a house 10×20 feet (3×9 meters), not including windows, doors, or utility elements. Still experimental, but it has a lot of potential.

Wood Pallet Home exterior

Wood Pallet Home exterior

Wood Pallet Home exterior

Wood Pallet Home exterior

Wood Pallet Home exterior

Wood Pallet Home exterior

Here is a link to a great article on a Wood Pallet Home with a video:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2242244/The-homes-discarded-pallets-house-world.html

 

Shipping Container Home: The steel shipping containers used on cargo ships, trains, and trucks are used as the main structural element for these homes. They are inexpensive, strong, durable, modular, and widely available. They require some ingenuity and metal working/welding skills to make habitable, but they are a reasonalbe and unique home option. I have to say, I was most surprised with how amazing these homes can be.

Shipping Container Home under construction

Shipping Container Home under construction

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home

Shipping Container Home interior

Shipping Container Home interior

Shipping Container Home interior

Yurt: A round, semi-permanent tent originating in Central Asia. Modern materials can make a yurt a very reasonable, inexpensive, temporary home. Some people choose to make a yurt more permanent and invest quite a bit of money into its construction.

Yurt construction

Yurt construction

Yurt exterior

Yurt exterior

Yurt exterior

Yurt exterior

Yurt exterior

Yurt exterior

Yurt interior

Yurt interior

Yurt interior

Yurt interior

Yurt interior

Yurt interior

Yurt interior

Yurt interior – modernized!

Yurt interior

Yurt interior

 

Hexayurt: Initially designed as an emergency temporary relief shelter, the hexayurt is a now gaining popularity as a temporary home. It is built using standard 4×8 foot panels (OSB, plywood, foam/hexacomb cardboard) and tape or brackets. These are very simple and very cheap.

Hexayurt basic design

Hexayurt basic design

Hexayurt design variations

Hexayurt construction

Hexayurt construction

Hexayurt double design

Hexayurt

Hexayurt

Hexayurt

 Stay tuned… An Overview of Alternative Housing Designs: Part 4 coming soon!

 

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Photo References:

  • http://ww1.prweb.com/prfiles/2007/06/28/536639/09.JPG
  • http://www.domehome.com/images/400.jpg
  • http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2362/2359772763_22b71b5af1_o.jpg
  • http://www.viahouse.com/2010/10/pallets-house-a-sustainable-home-design-from-recycled-wood-pallets/pallets-house-a-sustainable-home-design-from-recycled-wood-pallets-2/
  • http://thatslikewhoa.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/pallet-house4.jpg
  • http://assets.dornob.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/cargo-container-pallet-home1.jpg
  • http://assets.inhabitat.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2010/08/emergency-shelter.jpg
  • http://www.mnn.com/sites/default/files/styles/node-gallery-display/public/gal_housenight.jpg
  • http://www.mnn.com/sites/default/files/styles/node-gallery-display/public/RedondoBeachHouse.jpg
  • http://www.mnn.com/sites/default/files/styles/node-gallery-display/public/gal_housesub.jpg
  • http://o.homedsgn.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Shipping-Container-Guest-House-02.jpg
  • http://www.inspirationgreen.com/assets/images/Blog-Building/Container%20Bldgs/container%20home%2034.JPG
  • http://o.homedsgn.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Shipping-Container-House-03.jpg
  • http://g.virbcdn.com/_f/cdn_images/resize_1024x1365/3b/ContentImage-9151-163187-Container23.png
  • http://dz8s0oagnjand.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Six-Oaks-Felton-Container-House.jpg
  • http://dz8s0oagnjand.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Shipping-Container-House-Studio-HT-solar.jpeg
  • http://o.homedsgn.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Shipping-Container-Guest-House-01.jpg
  • http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3105/3331616200_1009f3f5a0_o.jpg
  • http://www.jetsongreen.com/images/old/6a00d8341c67ce53ef0115708966db970c-500wi.png
  • http://3.design-milk.com/images/2013/05/roundup-container-homes-adam-kalkin-califon-nj-600×375.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1d/Hexayurt-construction.png
  • http://vinay.howtolivewiki.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/new-all-hexayurts-web-dimensions-incl-big-stretchs-1.jpg
  • http://files.howtolivewiki.com/hexayurt.com/grass_roots_united__haiti_1.jpg
  • http://asset3.cbsistatic.com/cnwk.1d/i/tim/2011/12/05/Square-Hexayurt_620x410.jpg
  • http://jumplogic.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/DSC00338-copy.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-tyJnYuRKRbw/T2zeDOoPMaI/AAAAAAAAAFc/Xhz6WGrlQP0/s1600/IMG_2443.JPG
  • http://www.treebonesresort.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/inside-yurt1.jpeg
  • http://www.highroad.org/ranch%20images/yurt/yurt-wallouter.jpg
  • http://www.earthheartyoga.com/uploads/images/16the_yurt_takes_form_2.jpg
  • http://blog.yurts.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Sky-Ridge-Sleeping.jpg
  • http://s3.amazonaws.com/cdnmedia.bookt.com/2255/7402fbc9-00ad-4c1d-90b5-9fd074924d57.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_xfQExOtN5gg/TLPGv1yXbWI/AAAAAAAAA5I/sjGjEK92ZSg/s1600/BlueRidge+YurtPhoto2.jpg
  • http://blog.yurts.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Rosa-Interior-2.jpg
  • http://www.coloradoyurt.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/interior.jpg
  • http://ehoah.weebly.com/uploads/6/8/8/0/6880192/924157681_orig.jpg

 

An Overview of Alternative Housing Designs: Part 2

If you read my article on building an intentional community, you’ll see that I am strongly recommending bypassing the traditional mortgage path and promoting build-it-yourself, alternative housing. I have shared a few posts in the past on some of the alternative housing options, but I thought it would be fun to give a brief overview of the more common (of the overall uncommon) alternative housing options that are available today.

Obviously, the photos in this article are just a sampling of what exists and what is possible. These photos are meant to give a general sense of what a building style looks like.

As I started to put this article together, I realized it was going to be photo intensive. I decided to break it up into a few parts.

Here is part two, covering Straw-Bale, Earthship, Earth-Sheltered, and Cordwood Homes.

Straw-Bale: Traditional bales of straw (oats, rice, rye, wheat, etc.) are used to act as insulation (in-fill) and/or structural support for walls. Straw-bale construction is resistant to fire and has high insulation value, but may be susceptible to rot if not properly prepared/cared for.

Straw-Bale Home under construction

Straw-Bale Home under construction

Straw-Bale Home almost completed

Straw-Bale Home almost completed

Strawbale07

Straw-Bale Home

Strawbale04

Straw-Bale interior (passive solar design)

Straw-Bale interior

Straw-Bale interior

Straw-Bale interior

Straw-Bale interior

Straw-Bale interior

Straw-Bale interior

Strawbale08

Straw-Bale interior

Click here for more photos of Straw-Bale homes

 

Earthship: A design which typically uses recycled materials as major building components, often old tires filled with earth. It incorporates passive-solar design, thermal mass temperature regulation, and well-designed ventilation systems.

Earthship exterior

Earthship exterior

Earthship exterior

Earthship exterior

Earthship exterior

Earthship exterior

Earthship exterior

Earthship exterior

Earthship interior

Earthship interior

Earthship interior

Earthship interior

Earthship interior

Earthship interior

Earthship interior

Earthship interior

 

Earth-Sheltered Home: These are houses which use earth (soil) to moderate temperatures inside the structure. These can be only on the roof (“earth-covered”) and may incorporated plantings to be a living roof, although not all living roofs provide temperature moderation. These can be houses where one or more walls are covered in earth to provide moderation of temperature (“earth-bunded”). Or these can be homes where all walls and roof are covered in earth (“subterranean”, a.k.a. an underground home).

Earth-Sheltered Home

Earth-Sheltered Home

Earth-Sheltered Home exterior

Earth-Sheltered Home exterior

EarthSheltered02

Earth-Sheltered Home exterior

EarthSheltered03

Earth-Sheltered Home exterior

EarthSheltered05

Earth-Sheltered Home exterior

Earth-Sheltered Home exterior

Earth-Sheltered Home exterior

Earth-Sheltered Interior

Earth-Sheltered Interior

Earth-Sheltered Interior

Earth-Sheltered Interior

Earth-Sheltered Interior

Earth-Sheltered Interior

 

Cordwood Home: Short pieces of debarked tree trunks and branches (cordwood) are stacked up, with masonry or cob, in between to build a wall. These are simple and quick to build, but require well-aged wood.

Cordwood03

Cordwood Home construction

Cordwood Home exterior

Cordwood Home exterior

Cordwood02

Cordwood Home exterior

Cordwood Home exterior

Cordwood Home exterior

Cordwood07

Cordwood Home exterior

Cordwood08

Cordwood Home exterior

Cordwood04

Cordwood Home exterior

Cordwood Home interior

Cordwood Home interior

Cordwood Home interior

Cordwood Home interior

Cordwood Home Interior

Cordwood Home Interior

 

 

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Photo References:

  • http://stmedia.startribune.com/images/ows_137668665252297.jpg
  • http://stmedia.startribune.com/images/ows_137668664932220.jpg
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  • http://tasmanecovillage.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Earthship_2.jpg
  • http://www.dreamgreenhomes.com/plans/images/earthship4.jpg
  • http://www.dreamgreenhomes.com/plans/images/earthshipE.jpg
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  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/93/Earthship_inside_greenhouse.JPG
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  • http://naturalhomes.org/house/cordwood/usa/harrisville9.jpg
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  • http://cordwoodconstruction.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/steve-peters-copper-harbor-michigan-north-shore-construction1.jpg?w=500&h=339
  • http://housecrazy.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/cordwood-house-interior.jpg
  • http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/236x/3d/55/fd/3d55fddaa7257195ea457d382d653fb8.jpg

 

An Overview of Alternative Housing Designs: Part 1

If you read my article on building an intentional community, you’ll see that I am strongly recommending bypassing the traditional mortgage path and promoting build-it-yourself, alternative housing. I have shared a few posts on some of the alternative housing options, but I thought it would be fun to give a brief overview of the more common (of the overall uncommon) alternative housing options that are available today.

Obviously, the photos in this article are just a sampling of what exists and what is possible. These photos are meant to give a general sense of what a building style looks like.

As I started to put this article together, I realized it was going to be photo intensive. I decided to break it up into a few parts.

I will start with Adobe, Earthbag, Superadobe, Cob, and Rammed Earth housing.

Adobe: Sand, clay, an organic component (straw, sticks, and/or manure, etc.) are mixed with water, then placed in a form to produce bricks or blocks which are then sun-dried and then used as a building material. One of the oldest building techniques. Very resistant to fire damage and wind. Susceptible to earthquakes.

Adobe01

Adobe blocks drying in the sun.

Adobe exterior.

Adobe exterior

Adobe exterior

Adobe bedroom

Adobe kitchen

Adobe kitchen

 

Earthbag: A sack filled with earth is stacked like bricks. Barbed wire and/or rebar is often used to increase between bag friction and stability. The structure is finished with plaster, stucco, or adobe.

Earthbag construction

Earthbag construction

Earthbag exterior (pictured here with a natural roof)

Earthbag03

Earthbag interior

 

Superadobe: This is a variation of earthbag construction. It uses long tubes filled with adobe and layered as in other earthbag construction.

Superadobe construction

Superadobe construction

Superadobe home

 

Cob: Very similar to adobe. Instead of making bricks, the mixture (sand, clay, straw, and water) is set in place to form walls. Kind of like building a house out of potter’s clay. Very resistant to fire damage, wind, and earthquakes. Only sitting water is an issue, as these structures were/are common in the wet, British and Pacific Northwest climates.

Cob Home exterior

Cob Home exterior

Cob10

Cob Home exterior

Cob08

Cob Home exterior

Cob11

Cob Home kitchen

Cob05

Cob Home kitchen

Cob02

Cob Home interior

Cob01

Cob Home interior

Cob04

Cob Home interior under construction

Rammed Earth: A form for a wall is built and wet earth, chalk, lime, gravel, and/or cement or other materials are added inside the form. The wall is tamped (or rammed) down, layer by layer, until a wall is built. Walls are very strong and fire resistant.

RammedEarth04

How to build a Rammed Earth wall

Rammed Earth exterior

Rammed Earth exterior (with wooden second story)

Rammed Earth exterior (with wooden second story)

RammedEarth02

Rammed Earth interior

RammedEarth01

Rammed Earth interior

RammedEarth05

Rammed Earth bedroom

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/75/Milyanfan-adobe-bricks-8038.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/20/Santa_Fe_adobe.jpg
  • http://backstrapweaving.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/downtown-adobe-santa-fe1.jpg
  • http://ferrebeekeeper.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/innerstate-domes-158.jpg
  • http://ferrebeekeeper.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/576.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_79hlRPKC4Wg/TBFQXGPPArI/AAAAAAAAAFY/27qHWVd8rR8/s1600/earthbag+dome+in+sussex+england.jpg
  • http://www.naturalbuildingblog.com/cover-shot-chosen-for-new-earthbag-book/
  • http://muddome.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/img_6056.jpg
  • http://www.motherearthnews.com/~/media/Images/MEN/Editorial/Articles/Magazine%20Articles/2012/08-01/Building%20Earthen%20Homes%20Using%20the%20Original%20DIY%20Material/Earth_Building-3.jpg
  • http://sandiegometro.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/beardsleyCorner.jpg
  • http://0101.nccdn.net/1_5/06a/230/378/7256_1337917589_667_7256.jpg
  • http://buildipedia.com/images/masterformat/Channels/At_Home/2011.06.29_house_of_the_month/ettinger_residence_archaeo_architects/ettinger_res_interior_03.jpg
  • http://tinyhouseblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/cob1.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_SFFub39nbfg/TNgDg7AABrI/AAAAAAAAADY/UbBuIw0LvGw/s1600/DSC_0314.JPG
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_SFFub39nbfg/TNgDTUVrVDI/AAAAAAAAADI/qfgfFkgjK3Y/s1600/DSC_0060.JPG
  • http://inspirationalvillage.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/p1010071_1.jpg
  • http://inspirationalvillage.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/p1010003.jpg
  • http://www.dancingrabbit.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/gobcob-exterior01.jpg
  • http://www.dancingrabbit.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/gobcob-panorama02.jpg
  • http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5281/5264325909_b40dcb4942_b.jpg
  • http://www.marinsonoma.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Cob-home.png
  • https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-vq0Q379gVYI/Ro1WII44R8I/AAAAAAAAANY/TzBvrFPQuOs/DSCN0601.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/33/Home_at_Hollyhock.jpg
  • http://tinyhouselistings.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/5-cob-house-kitchen.jpg
  • http://www.sabmagazine.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/ram04.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_fjw7ZHkA4FQ/TS35EAP2oiI/AAAAAAAAAfQ/E97bi0k-wN8/s1600/c-vanh04.jpg
  • http://becgreen.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Aercura-rammed-earth-house-058.jpg
  • http://engeyedesignteam.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/rammedearth1.jpg
  • http://www.examiner.com/images/blog/EXID20412/images/Rammed_Earth-lguestbedroom.jpg
  • http://www.adobemachine.com/huston_rammed_earth.jpg

 

My Plan for an Intentional Community

“No one has to sell us about the pleasures of a small town. We know them well, if not from reality, then from the old Andy Griffith Show, or It’s a Wonderful Life. But the small town we all know best is the one deep in our heart, with its elm-shaded streets, little clapboard houses and picket fences, and gnarled fruit trees and run-amok vegetable gardens, where doors are never locked, and where shopkeepers stand in front of their shops and greet you, and the cop greets you, all by name, and you stop and chat with them because what else is life for, and when the bells toll at noon the shops all close up, and you all go home for lunch, a nap, then out to hoe the melons or to do a little fishing; and everyone you liked in fourth grade is still your friend, and it’s a swell place to be a kid and perfect to be a family, and it’s a humane place to grow old, and, when you have to go, it’s a good place to die.

If such a town doesn’t exist, the big question is “Why?” If we all dream about it, if we all long for it – and recent surveys found seven out of ten of us would love to live there if we could – then where in damnation is it? When all it takes is a few good-natured people; a few to teach school, a few to own the stores, a few to farm the land, some to mend the sick and a bar to tend the healthy, then why isn’t there such a town behind every tree? I mean only a few of us dream of having missiles, tanks, and bombers, and rockets to the moon, yet the world is littered with them; hardly anyone dreams of pesticides and freeways, yet they’re chocking us to death; no one dreams of junk mail, yet we’re drowning in the stuff; no one I know of dreams of stripmalls and fast food chains, yet there are a hundred to a mile! How the hell did it happen that the things hardly any of us want are burying us all, while the simple town we all dream of we can hardly find? What is all this? – Really!”

– Ferenc Máté

 

So, how do we create this town, this community? Over the past few weeks, as I spent a lot of time with my family and some old friends, I have been struck, obsessed maybe, with the idea of creating a community.

I have been doing a lot of research about intentional communities. There are websites devoted to the subject. I have been struck by a few things. First, many of these intentional communities are, well, just odd. It may be interesting to visit a nudist commune for a while, but there is no way I am raising a family there (no offense to any commune-living nudists… live how you want!). I don’t want to start my own religion. I don’t want to worship the goddess Earth. I don’t want to play with crystals. I don’t want to create an empire or a feudal kingdom. I don’t want to try and pretend to be a hippie from fifty years ago. And I don’t want to be shackled with debt to live a good life.

I just want to live a reasonable life with friends and family in a peaceful community where my kids are safe and nurtured. I want to live in a place like Ferenc Máté described above. Unfortunately, I can’t find a city or town that really fits the description above. The existing intentional communities are either full of odd folks or people with a rather extreme religious bent, or they are way too expensive to buy into. As Geoff Lawton says, what started as an eco-village is now an ego-village, since only the wealthy can afford to live there.

The second thing I have seen while researching intentional communities is that most of these communities do not last more than a few years. Most fall apart. There are a number of reasons for this: low numbers of people and in-fighting are the most common reasons I can find.

The third big issue with intentional communities is that if the community does last longer than a few years, it takes a decade or more for them to start doing anything substantial. This may also contribute to my second observation above; the group falls apart because nothing is happening. I think a big reason for this is that most of these groups have very convoluted decision making processes. It takes weeks or months to make simple decisions.

So, I’ll ask again, how do we create a reasonable community that is not composed of people on the fringe, that stands the test of time, and can build itself in a reasonable amount of time? I do not think I have the only answer, but I think I have one answer. I would love to take credit for this, but we are all standing on the shoulders of giants. My plan is built largely on a very similar project starting out in Texas and run by Jack Spirko. I have been reading a lot about other active and successful intentional communities from around the world, and Xavier Hawk in North Carolina has developed a key component for success which I will discuss below. I have also been reading a lot about the Transition Town projects around the world, and my plan was assisted from this. Finally, there is a wealth of good information in the Permaculture Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison. So, my plan is not all of my own creation. I am trying to take what makes sense and what has been shown to work in the real world.

 

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose site of the shore for a very long time.”

– Andre Gide

 

I have spoken with a few friends and family members about this. I have received enthusiastic support and skeptical questions, both of which were, and continue to be, appreciated. I will be very honest though… I don’t care what 99.9% of the world thinks. I just need a fraction of 1% of the visionaries of the world to take action with me.

 

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

– King Solomon

 

Goal: Create a sustainable, resilient, liberty-minded, ecologically-aware community that provides its members access to clean water and air, space to build an appropriate, low to no-debt home, land to raise healthy food, and a place where our children are safe to play, learn, and grow with their families and nature.

Initial Plan:

  • Create a corporation or land-trust entity.
  • Find investors to fund the purchase of 200-500 acres. I am currently searching in central to eastern Tennessee.
  • Using Permaculture principles, design major water harvesting/storage features and access (i.e. roads, trails, etc.).
  • Allot 100-200 single-acre plots which will be available to lease.
  • Allot common spaces for resident use.
  • Allot a “Main Street” area for commercial activity.
  • Allot 100-200 acres for farming activity.
  • Reserve a portion of the land for wilderness (Zone 5 for those familiar with Permaculture Zones).

Lease
*note that all dollar amounts are subject to change based on land purchase price… but this is close to what I think it will take.
I first heard of the lease concept for an intentional community from Xavier Hawk. The management of a community in a benevolent business plan solves much of the funding issues. It makes the community much more affordable to the residents, and it provides an ongoing cash flow for steady community improvement and maintenance. I think this is the key to making an intentional community a reality for many of us. Some of the people I have spoken with expressed skepticism about the lease fee, yet they pay more than that to belong to a homeowners association. The property tax alone in many developed areas is often well above $200/month.
For more on leasing land read my article on what I call the Myth of Land Ownership.

  • 1-Acre plots are leased for 99 years
  • Lease is renewable, transferable, heritable, or able to be sold at market value
  • One time buy-in for $2,000
  • Monthly lease fee for $200/month (this can only be increased if property taxes increase)

Where does the money go?

  • The buy-in fee will go to initial infrastructure development.
  • A portion (to be determined) of the monthly lease fees will go to the investors who enabled the purchase of the land in the first place.
  • At the beginning (first 48-72 months depending on occupancy) the monthly lease fees will be used to quickly pay off the land debt.
  • Monthly lease fees will be used to pay for a community manager.
  • Monthly lease fees will be used to partially pay for a farm manager (remainder of farm manager salary will come from CSA – Community Supported Agriculture system).
  • After the debt is paid off, the lease fees will be used for continued community development and ongoing costs.
  • Ongoing costs will cover property taxes, insurance, legal fees, and ongoing land and infrastructure maintenance (i.e. roads, utilities, etc.)

Rules

  • Rules will be very minimal, but they will all be based on the Permaculture Prime Directive and Ethics:
    • Prime Directive: The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children.
    • Ethics: Care of the Earth, Care of People, and Return of the Surplus.
  • The intention is to build a very free, liberty-minded community. If you are not harming another person or breaking the law, then you can do what you want.
  • There will be a “no complaint will be investigated until you go TALK to the person about it” clause… Jack Spirko has a great plan for this which we will be emulating.

One-Acre Plots

  • There will be as many 1-acre plots as possible on the land. This will be determined by the landscape itself, as we are building a sustainable community.
  • A person may be able to hold lease two plots, but likely no more than that. Our goal is to build a community. We can not do that if, for instance, five people lease all the plots.
  • A leasee can do what they want to on their land, so long as they do not violate the Prime Directive, the Ethics, or the lease holder agreement.
  • Water harvesting and food production will be encouraged on the plots. Permaculture consultation will be available to leasees (this may be free or may be at greatly reduced costs) to help those that have little to no experience.

Housing

  • A leasee can have any home they wish on their plot of land. If they want to live in a tent or build a 10,000 square foot mansion, it is up to them. However, I believe this community will not attract the mansion builders. There are “community garden lots” in Europe that are leased by individuals for 99 years, and the leasees build vacation and permanent homes there.
  • My goal is to provide a place where a family can build a home without going into debt for the 30 best years of their lives.
  • The intention is to focus on natural and appropriate home design and building, and I imagine that many straw-bale, cob, earth-bank, and earth-ship style homes will be built. I also think there will be many yurts and tiny-homes as well. RVs and mobile homes will also be welcomed.
  • One goal is to provide some small rental homes (tiny-homes?) which a leasee can rent while they are building their own home.
  • Many people may only use their land as a vacation spot and will build nothing or just a minimal place to spend a few weeks a year.
  • Options for housing are almost endless, but we will offer alternative home building workshops on a regular basis.
  • All housing will have to be legal according to the state and county code. This is possible even with alternative designs. The community will help a person navigate their way through this.

Utilities

  • We will install utility mains (water and electric) to be available for the one-acre plots. Many will use them, but some leasees will chose to go entirely off-grid.
  • We will install high-speed internet at the site. This is a must as many of the initial community members will be telecommuters.
  • Waste will be managed as mandated by the county – this may be septic, but people will likely have the option for composting toilets as well.
  • As time goes on, we may be able to produce our own energy with wind, solar, hydro, or even geothermal depending on where we are located.

Community Development

  • Ponds, dams, swales, and other water collection and storage features.
  • Roads
  • Trails
  • Perimeter fences if needed
  • Common-use buildings (canning and preserving kitchens, tool loan shop, workshops, hacker/makerspaces, laundry mat, library, pavilions, etc.)
  • Teaching/Education Center (see below)
  • Shuttles to nearby cities/airports
  • Hopefully much more as time goes on

Community Supported Agriculture

  • The monthly fees will go, in part, to pay the salary of a farm manager. The remaining portion of the farm manager’s salary will come from farm production sales.
  • The farm manager will utilize the 100-200 acres allotted to food production.
  • The farm manager will ideally be a person who has experience running pastured livestock.
  • The farm manager will also manage a large market garden and main crop plots.
  • Leasees will have first right of refusal to buy CSA shares at cost – this price will be determined when we can
  • The goal will be to produce a minimum of four CSA shares per leased lot. Likely the land will provide more than that, and the excess shares will be sold at market price to people outside the community.
  • Figure an average of 4 people per lot, and there will be 100-200 lots, so that means 400-800 people. There are those that will say 100-200 acres is not enough land to feed a whole community. Well, that depends. It is all on how the land is managed. The Dervaes family in southern California is producing 3 tons of food on a fifth of an acre. This is a very intensively managed lot, but it shows what is possible with good design.
  • Finally, remember that the goal here is to be sustainable and resilient, not isolationist.

Commercial Enterprises

  • Indoor Market
  • Farmers Market area
  • Coffee Shop
  • Cafe/Restaurant – size will grow as needed
  • Brewery/Winery
  • Likely much more…

Teaching/Education Center

  • Permaculture courses
    • Full Permaculture Design Certificate courses
    • Topic specific courses (Earthworks, Urban Design, etc.)
    • Full-Time and Weekend only courses
  • Permaculture Internships
  • Gardening courses
  • Livestock courses
  • Alternative housing courses
  • Many more…

Local Community
It is very important for us to be part of the local community. This is not going to be an isolationist endeavor. We will go out of our way to connect with the local community, government, and education centers. We need to be working on research projects with the local or nearby universities. We will invite professors and teachers from local schools and leaders of local organizations to visit and possibly teach in our Education Center. We need to be a benefit and an asset to the local area in as many areas as we can.

Bioregional Community
We will help to assess and catalog the specifics of the bioregion in which we live. This is brilliantly outlines in Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison. In brief, we need to define and provide information on native and domesticated plants and animals suited to our bioregion, how to raise it, manage it, harvest/process it, and market it. We need to provide the similar information on appropriate building and energy technology suited to our bioregion. This documentation continues to include manufacturing, informatics, security and future trends/threats, social outlets, health services, transportation, and more. Some of this information may be available in whole or part and maintained by local organizations and education centers; however, there is still much to learn and document. As our community grows and learns, we need to share our knowledge for everyone’s benefit.

Religion
Religion and spirituality are vital parts of who we are as human beings. Personally, I am a very devout and rather conservative protestant Christian. Much of what I do is filtered through this worldview. I have stated before that I have very strong reasons for believing what I do, and I will gladly share it with you if you are interested. However, you do not have to believe what I do to be part of this community. Again, this will be a liberty-minded community. I am very good friends with Catholics, Muslims, Agnostics, and Universalists. I can agree to disagree with your spirituality and still live and work beside you as a fellow human being. This is my mindset as we begin this endeavor.

Politics
I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I am liberty and constitutionally minded. I will strongly encourage you to understand what and why you are voting, but I don’t care who you vote for.

Non-Profit Arm
As one way for the corporation to protect itself from excess taxation, and because it is just a quality thing to do, we will likely create a non-profit, Permaculture mission organization. I am still trying to organize my thoughts on this, but a small percentage of the monthly lease fees will be contributed to this non-profit organization whose goal is to help teach and implement Permaculture in developing countries. All leasees will be invited to participate in this organization and its trips to other parts of the world. I will share more information on this as I can.

Management
I am still working on this. I can tell you that strict democracies in these communities are what often bring the whole project to a screeching halt. The management has to be lean and able to make quick and final decisions. There will be a CEO-type person (initially, this will likely be myself) who will work closely with a small board of directors composed of investors and elected members of the community. I do not want to build my own little empire. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. I want a rich and reasonable life for myself and my children and my children’s children. I want this community to stand the test of time. I want this community to be alive and vibrant for my great-great-grandchildren and beyond. So, while I may be here to help start this community, I am planning for it to be resilient and sustaining when I am long gone. I am designing myself out of this community at the very beginning. Now I just have to work out the details.

 

So, there it is. This is my initial overview of how I plan to build an intentional community. I have tried to lay out my vision of how it could be. I have such a passion for this, and I hope I have shared that today. I hope you will consider joining me on this journey.

 

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

– Mary Oliver