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Danielle Favor
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If we're honest with ourselves, most of us will never live in a WOFATI, or even (forgive the heresy, Paul) a cob cottage, a straw bale mud hut, or an all-inclusive earthship. Most of us will end up in rather non-descript homes that are not particularly amenable to the sustainable lifestyle. And if truth be told, the GREENist house is one that is already built. So . . . has anyone out there bought a fifties ranch or a modern-day monstrosity and transformed it into something both beautiful and more sustainable? Has anyone taken society's cast off 'junk' and recycled it into unique, practical home goods a la Dan Phillips? Has anyone added cob or stonework to an existing home or changed a roof into a living envelope? Has anyone built a rocket mass heater in a cookie cutter house in the suburbs?

Looking for inspiration and hoping for hope . . .
 
Tyler Ludens
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I am very interested in this topic. I have a cheap frame house and have no plans to move or to tear it down and build something else. So any information folks can provide about how to make a cheap frame house more appropriate, would be very useful.

 
Jami McBride
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I plan on doing all of this but I'm still looking for what to buy.

I don't imagine the house will be big enough, so I've got my eye out for land with barns, and other pole buildings.

I believe retrofitting is a better fit than building from the ground up for most.

Here is a hopeful article http://www.naturallifemagazine.com/0910/i_wrapped_my_house_in_straw.htm

Having said that, there is a lot of links to helpful how to info around here. You may have to dig a bit, use the
search tool link.

 
C.J. Murray
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GaiasDaughter, I think you make an excellent point. How can we change existing housing into something more eco friendly? I have thought on this to some extent. My first question was why would we want to put a lot of work into an older structure? Beyond doing what can be done to make them less energy intensive I think there is a more important reason. People need to see us change our way of living to a better model. They need examples they can point to and say "I want that for me." We need more examples in more places. Obviously we won't be tearing out all of the existing homes.

The link Jaimee provided to the existing home wrapped in straw is an excellent example and is one I have been cogitating on in certain ways. It seems to me that adding to the outside of many homes makes a huge amount of sense. I don't mean just to expand the envelope a little to include straw but to actually build new rooms on so that thermal mass can be added if needed but also so that were aren't just limited to what the structure of the southern side of the home is currently. Maybe it can be widened to allow more sunlight in to more rooms. Maybe it can go up? Perhaps the justification for more rooms is to be able to rent part of the home or for multigenerational families.

look at what else the guy who wrapped his home in straw is doing:
http://www.pajaconstruction.com/projects.htm
http://www.pajaconstruction.com/galleries/retrofits.htm
http://www.pajaconstruction.com/061201-RetrofittingNMBW.pdf

How cool is that? Just with straw there seems to be a lot of options for existing homes.
 
Leila Rich
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My house is over 100 years old and very historically protected. There's all sorts of conditions, financial aestheic and bureaucratic on any renovations/modifications.
I'm too broke right now to bother finding out what 'they'll' let me do, since I'd pay big money whether my plans were accepted or not.
When I submit my plans, I want them to be accepted and anything to aestheically out-there won't be.
I'm in the suburbs and doing major non-permited stuff would more than likely get me in big trouble, so despite my dislike of 'the system', I'll generally be legit.
In the meantime, there's a lot of pelmets, good curtains, draught seals and bubblewrap around the place
 
Danielle Favor
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Jami and CJ -- some great links -- just the kind of thing I was looking for! And Ludi, I think a lot of us are in your situation -- so how to make the best of what we have? Leila -- good point. There are no 'one size fits all' solutions -- we need a variety of options that can be adapted to local materials, conditions, and legal requirements.

I've done a bit more digging and found more websites that might be of help:

http://vbc.cityrepair.org/ is the home site for Village Building Convergence, a Portland, OR based organization whose goal is: "We will come together to create benches, community kiosks, gardens, street paintings, tile mosaics, and more! Come join your neighbors as they bring to life the natural building, permaculture, and public art projects that they’ve been planning. Learn valuable skills for urban sustainability and social regeneration while celebrating the creativity and diversity of our wonderful city!" They are involved in a straw clay retrofit
http://www.firespeaking.com/category/portfolio/natural-building/

I'm thinking that earthbags might be a good retrofit option but I was not able to find anyone actually doing it.
 
Atom Dari
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i acctually got my undergraduate degree in historic preservation with a focus in adaptive rehab, and i've been studying green retrofit technologies for the past 4 years, i'm working to incorporate it all into a book about revitalizing suburbia right now. if anyone would like to ever ask me for info on any specific style of building i'd be happy to do what i can.
 
John Polk
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I have often considered that the typical framed house generally has a crawl space under it. Let's say the outside temperature is 20° F, the crawl space is probably 30-40° F. Now suppose that you discharged your "room temperature" RMH exhaust through the floor, instead of the wall, you would bring the crawl space to room temperature. Think how much heat gain your house would acquire by heating your crawl space 40-50°.

A side benefit would be the CO2 asphyxiation of any rats, snakes, ants, termites, etc. The caveat would be that it would need to be well ventilated before any humans needed to go under there. It would also need to be well sealed to keep the CO2 from seeping back into the house.
 
Brian Knight
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The biggest portion of a homes environmental costs are a result of its ongoing monthly, energy costs. Retrofitting for energy efficiency is smart both fiscally and socially responsibly. Its usually not as cost effective to achieve dramatically reduced monthly energy bills though existing homes as it is building new.

The saying the "greenest home is the one already built" is not necessarily true at all.

Its much more affordable to build a net-zero home from scratch as it is to retrofit an existing one to be net-zero. The most common and affordable method of retrofitting existing homes is with exterior insulated sheathing and LOTS of air sealing. Many, ok MOST in this forum frown on foam sheathing. It certainly has environmental costs but compared to the long term monthly energy costs it saves, its considered by most in the green building community to be a wise environmental investment. If new, plastic foam is not ok with you, seek out commercially salvaged roof foam or look into mineral wool. With retrofit, as with most construction. R-value per inch is a very desirable attribute. The most cost effective retrofit strategy though, starts with air sealing.
 
Danielle Favor
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Springtime Homes wrote:The saying the "greenest home is the one already built" is not necessarily true at all.


You are right, of course, and I know better than to make absolute statements (not that it ever stops me!). I wasn't thinking so much in terms of energy efficiency as in terms of materials and the costs (carbon and otherwise) of transporting those materials. An existing home does not require additional trees to be cut down or cement to be mixed or land to be cleared -- unless one is making changes and then it depends . . . I am currently looking to relocate and I am looking for something in a small town within walking distance of the places I would be most likely to visit. My husband and I are in our sixties and have zero experience with permaculture and animal husbandry and not likely to grow smarter, more skilled brains overnight. So I'm looking for something affordable on maybe a half to full acre of land -- and what is both affordable and walkable is usually a depressing cookie cutter house with leaky windows and an over-reliance on fossil fuels to make the place livable. I'm trying to imagine these places transformed into something energy and water efficient and wondering how that might be achieved. I am also thinking that there are sooooo many existing homes that could be upgraded and that it would be 'greener' to retrofit than to bulldoze whole cities and start over. I find that people often plan for their perfect someday house while most of us will end up doing the best with what we have. But where does one begin?

Just wondering.
 
Jami McBride
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I don't believe we are talking about net-zero or new builds, just what can be done to bend things more in our favor starting where we are at.

Toward that end...

A Checklist for Retrofitting

1. Increased wall insulation. Taking care of the envelope is a must. You can do a million things inside, but if you sacrifice the insulation envelope, then you have limited the efficiency of the room in a way that cannot be easily updated later.

2. Consider your roof. Adding natural insulation and/or re-roofing with natural/clean green materials can go a long way toward cutting your heating and cooling bills.

3. Natural Flooring. Use the most natural materials you can find that fit the requirement of resilience as necessary to handle the potential of ware or water. Some options include cork, bamboo, recycled wood, natural tile, and cob. Be sure that the flooring can be sealed with a natural product high water areas as kids getting out of a bathtub tend to drag a large part of the tub’s water with them.

4. Wall Finish. If you plan to use paint on your walls, be sure it is a low VOC paint. Other options include natural plaster, lime wash, casein paint and oil finishes on wood.

5. Keep it simple. Anywhere you can replace a large piece of equipment such as a central heating unit, you'll save in repair, maintenance and replacement. Consider low tech options whenever possible.

6. Water. Use flow reducing fixtures to lower your water usage. Obviously, there are massive amounts of water used in a home each year and reducing the water used in the bathrooms is the best place to curtail that usage.
Don’t buy the multiple head showers. Instead, reach for simplicity.

7. Natural cabinets. Most cabinet boxes are full of formaldehyde and other nasty glues. Purchase cabinets that are made with natural materials and that don’t use nasty glues in the construction. Consider using simple wood shelves with solid wood doors as replacements for bathrooms and such.

8. Vented room. Use timer switches on the bathroom vents. This allows you to turn them on and leave them on after you have left the room. Keep in mind that the steam from your shower will linger in the room long after you leave if you don’t have the ventilation fan on. At the same time, leaving a fan on for the day after you have left for work doesn’t make sense either. The timer gives you the best of both options.

9. Filtered water. Use a whole house filter if you can afford one. This will filter all the water in the entire home, not just the bathroom. Most people think about drinking filtered water and have no problems showering in their unfiltered water. That doesn’t make much sense actually because your skin is your largest organ. It absorbs massive amounts of chemicals like chlorine from the water the moment you step into the shower. Filter all the water in your home if you can., or better use your own source for water bypassing city water altogether.

10. Use alternatives to flush toilets. compost toilets, low flush using grey water, etc.

11. Be sure to use natural cleaners and materials in your home. No point in creating a healthy space only to fill it with chemicals.


 
Tyler Ludens
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Jami McBride wrote:

5. Keep it simple. Anywhere you can replace a large piece of equipment such as a central heating unit, you'll save in repair, maintenance and replacement. Consider low tech options whenever possible.



This is what we did. We had a wood stove installed and stopped using the central heating (electric forced air) about ten years ago for a huge quality of life increase. I intend to remove the central heating unit and use the space for a ventilation shaft, eventually.

 
Jami McBride
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I'd like to hear about that ventilation shaft, I always pictured blocking off the vents in the floor..... so I'd like to hear why keep 'em

And I would like to hear people's thoughts on insulation for the floor, with and without a crawl space. It seems to me that retrofitting the floors are the biggest hurtle, roof second and walls third in order of complication.


What other natural building ideas do we see as applying nicely to retrofitting?
I think some of the obvious ones are water collection, filtering and purifying. I have an idea of creating a 2x4 form the same size of stud spacing and filling it with a thick straw/clay slip. Allowing this to dry in the sun like adobe bricks, and then popping it in between the rafters in the attic like standard insulation, or down in a floor between the studs before it is covered over. I know it is better than air, but I suspect it would need more added to it in order to achieve maximum insulation. It meets the criteria of using natural materials, found on or near site, processed by hand not machine, by single individuals not construction crews, and completed as time, weather and money allow (perfect for retrofitting).

Any other ideas..... ?
 
C.J. Murray
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Springtime,
In making the decision that new construction is more cost effective than retrofitting an existing home is the existing home’s value (which is destroyed when the existing home is demolished) included as one of the costs of new construction or is it assumed one will sell the existing home and build elsewhere? It seems to me that if it is included as a cost the recovery time of the new construction costs is increased by years. At the same time it seems like a sale of the existing home is passing a “zero net value” home along to someone else so they can lose their money instead.

Permaculture tells us to search for the “surplus” and put it to use. As “designers” it is our job to find that surplus and figure out how to use it. In this instance the retrofit all of a sudden becomes cost effective if the cost of the retrofit goes down. As designers then, we need to figure out how to make the cost less. That search is the magic of these forums.

In all of your studies on the subject do you have a good feel for what the downsides are to installing the superinsulation on the interior of the home are? This could be done utilizing a Larsen truss. It would also decrease the living space which is what the more efficient home designs seem to be advocating. This would also allow for strawbale insulation as a natural alternative since it would knock down the living area significantly.

I found this after the initial posting: http://www.greenbuilding.com/knowledge-base/interior-versus-exterior-insulation

Here are some links to the Thousand Home Challenge. The case studies explain very well what they are trying to achieve and why and how they do it.

http://www.affordablecomfort.org/images/Uploads/bindley_thc_case_study.pdf

http://www.affordablecomfort.org/initiatives.php?PageID=16
 
Peter DeJay
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The statement quoted by the OP is more truth then not. Naturally, starting from scratch it would be "greener" to build an energy efficient consciously constructed eco house then a conventional cheap house, but retrofitting is one of the best things you can do. There is enough knowledge and technology these days to make it feasable for most any house to be "greenified". New metal roof with built up rigid foam insulation; Larsen truss the stick wall either towards the inside or towards the outside and add infill material, either blown in cellulose or wool, or even straw bale or light clay-straw; redoing the siding and adding some rigid foam there; update lighting, get an HRV/ERV system; adding thermal mass on the inside of the building envelope;

So many options.. And Springtime: we all understand that your big thing is SIPs and sheathed foam panels; you don't need to push it everytime a new topic is brought up. To many a green home does not consist of an airtight box built of formaldehyde and plastic. Just sayin..
 
Brian Knight
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Why Rymes with oranges, I never said the SIPS word in this this thread although I commend CJ for the excellent links which do have a great retrofit project which utilizes them. Most retrofit jobs using foam are in the form of foam sheathing which I feel is a better fit to most retrofit projects than SIPS. Iam sorry to those who dont want me to bring up foam in every thread, but I feel balancing view points are beneficial to anything as complicated as energy efficient construction. Permaculturists should consider conventional methods as much as conventional construction should consider permaculture methods.

I think that many on this forum overestimate the impact of materials on a home's environmental impact. Reducing monthly, dirty energy use should be Priority #1, followed by Water Use and Material Use a distant third. The reason I feel its ok to use plastic foam is because it makes up the most permanent component of a home and has the biggest impact on Priority #1. I will repeat this mantra on many threads to come.

Cj, excellent points and links. I think the existing value of a home angle would be more suited to an investor seeking to maximize value and profit. To me, infill projects make the best use of the existing surplus of infrastructure and the land in cities are very desirable to develop and redevelop. I agree with most of the greenbuilding.com link but it only applies to basements. In cold climates, interior insulation is very risky because the framing and sheathing are left out in the cold which exposes it to condensation issues. I dont know any reasons why it would be better to eliminate interior floor space and its one of the disadvantages I like to point out with any thick wall systems(double stud, strawbale, etc). One of Larsen trusses biggest advantages is that it adds the thick wall space outside the floorspace, usually but not always.

Ludi, your old furnace chimney is probably ventilating like crazy already. I would recommend sealing it off as its probably one of the bigger sources of air leaks and energy loss in your home.

Jami, I love lists and yours is great. Something about lists and prioritizing seems to make complicated issues easier to handle. Here is mine for cost effective DIY retrofits:

1. Air seal your ceiling plane and add more insulation.
2. Air seal wherever possible in your basement or crawlspace. If your crawl is vented, consider sealing and insulating it.
3. Air seal and Add exterior insulation whenever replacing siding or roofing over vaulted ceilings.

Gaisdaugther, I commend you and agree with your line of thinking to live walking distance to a small town. Its often pointed out that NYC residents have some of the greenest lifestyles in the world because of their proximity to existing infrastructure. Most people are restricted to buying existing and theres nothing wrong with that. It sounds like a simple rancher would be great fit to your situation. They are inherently efficient due to their simplicity and size. Depending on the home chosen, it would probably be a wise investment to get some opinions/bids from some home performance contractors in your area.

 
Danielle Favor
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Here is a link to a Mother Earth article on mud plasters for interior finishes: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Do-It-Yourself/2007-10-01/How-to-Make-Earth-Art.aspx According to the article, this can be applied to sheetrock as well as to natural materials -- I'm wondering if the mud plaster would be practical as an insulative layer, or if it is purely esthetic in value. (A lot of work either way) I'm also wondering about working around electric outlets, light switches, etc. Part of the allure, for me, of building a natural home (WOFATI, cob, straw bale, rammed earth, stone, log cabin, etc) is the connection between the human lives that play out inside the shelter and the natural world that provides the shelter -- which is why I'm struggling with the concept of somehow converting that 50's ranch into something that sustains both physically and spiritually.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Jami McBride wrote:I'd like to hear about that ventilation shaft, I always pictured blocking off the vents in the floor..... so I'd like to hear why keep 'em


Our vents are in the ceiling, so theoretically they could be used to pull hot air from all the rooms.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Springtime Homes wrote:

Ludi, your old furnace chimney is probably ventilating like crazy already. I would recommend sealing it off as its probably one of the bigger sources of air leaks and energy loss in your home.


Not ventilating nearly enough! I do intend to replace the present registers with better ones that close, or putting some kind of removable insert in the present ones, to prevent escape of warm air during winter. Our main problem is heat during the summer, not cold during winter, though it can be a tad chilly in the house sometimes on cold nights (mid-50s F).
 
C.J. Murray
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Springtime Homes wrote:Permaculturists should consider conventional methods as much as conventional construction should consider permaculture methods.


Precisely.
I'm not sure exactly what you call it, it's not exactly reverse engineering, but I believe the whole point to achieving the lives we want to live is to find the way nature provides any particular item and compare it to how humans accomplish the same thing. Simple example is plowing the soil. Humans use a metal implement jabbed into the soil and pulled by a human, animal or machine. Permaculture designers must ask themselves how does nature plow the soil and can I find the way to let nature do it AND is it even necessary to plow? Speaking for myself, as I've said before, I'm not against using finite resources to accomplish a particular task. But long before we use up the last of it we should know how to live life without it if we want the same life we had while the party lasted. In other words, I love that technology and oil has given us foam insulation. It's a tool we can use if we choose to. Now we need to ask ourselves "How can we accomplish the same task using permaculture methods?" Personally, my life would be much less rich at this moment without oil and coal allowing me to communicate with all of you. Now I want to find the way to keep up that contact and eliminate the oil and coal use.

gaiasdaughter Hatfield wrote:Part of the allure, for me, of building a natural home (WOFATI, cob, straw bale, rammed earth, stone, log cabin, etc) is the connection between the human lives that play out inside the shelter and the natural world that provides the shelter -- which is why I'm struggling with the concept of somehow converting that 50's ranch into something that sustains both physically and spiritually.


Precisely.
If I am any judge at all the desire to be able to produce for oneself the quality of life one desires by utilizing homegrown, minimally processed/transported materials is a motivation behind many of us posting to these forums. Going to Home Depot to purchase foam or dumpster diving for foam isn't connecting our lives to nature. I'm reminded of a story where a rancher's friend was commenting that the rancher's son was doing was going to be detrimental to the financial productivity of the ranch. The rancher replied that he was a rancher to raise boys not to raise cattle. For some people, getting the house built for shelter is only part of the reason for building it.

I am very interested in identifying methods which allow people to become more personally involved in creating their housing every step of the way. To allow them to trade their labor and time for the materials to build a home rather than trading their labor and time for $ to trade for materials and labor to build a home. As I've said before...we need to learn to live on nothing.

I think Jami is on the right track for certain situations. To be able to build a form and put natural materials in it so it can dry, away from the home, and then be installed later after it dries needs to be worked with and perfected. Coming up with the idea is only part of the challenge. Finding the way to implement it takes effort. It's not a one size fits all solution but it definitely will have applications. An the beauty of it is that it allows us to create something for ourselves rather than the factory worker creating it for us. Somehow...that makes our lives...more rich.

Gaiasdaughter,
I think that everything you asked about in the original post someone, somewhere has done. Even if they aren't up to code. Hahaha.

As I am finding in the projects I am working on it always come down to specifically what is it I'm trying to achieve, what tools/resources do I have available to make it happen and what obstacles do I have to overcome in order to be able to achieve it using the resources I have. So I guess I am asking for some specifics as to what you want to do and specifics on the structure. Earlier you asked about the appropriateness of earth bags in a retrofit situation. Off the top of my head, in the right situation, I think they could do a whopper of a job in creating shaped walls and forms in a basement. I think it would be a killer great project to heavily insulate interior basement walls and floor and then create a cob interior starting with piled up rocks for the base of the cob wall just as in outside cob construction. Even doing this to one room would be lovely. Maybe an earthbag addition could be added to your home for more space. The options are all going to depend on specifics of desire, resources, structure and obstacles.

 
Dale Hodgins
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John mentioned the idea of venting the RMH into the crawlspace. Although technically possible, this should not be done without seriously considering all downsides which include poisonous gas and water vapor accumulating.I think money would be better spent elsewhere.

Concerning Springtime panels, the small amount of petroleum used in their manufacture is quickly offset by energy saving.
 
Dennis Mitchell
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Add south facing windows or better yet a green house. Passive solar. Sky lights.
 
Tyler Ludens
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There's just absolutely no way I can produce materials to build my home for myself. I'm afraid it's Home Depot or the local hardware store for me.
 
Brian Knight
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Aww Ludi, dont sound so sad! You can Air seal yourself and that will make the biggest possible improvement. As for the vents, I would focus on air sealing at or inside the flue/chimney perhaps with an inflatable balloon type device meant for that application. You could take it out to attempt ventilating the hot air in the summer but the ventilation fan would impart a harsh energy penalty. Probably better to open windows on one side of the house with a box fan blowing in the other.

Agree with Lee's south facing windows but not attached greenhouse(on the East coast anyway) and not skylights(non-vertical glazing).
 
Philip Small
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Great book on permaculture-related retrofits: http://www.naturalremodeling.com/.
 
Danielle Favor
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Philip -- looks like a great book. Here's another possibility http://www.amazon.com/Green-Remodeling-Changing-World-Room/dp/0865714983/ref=wl_mb_hu_m_4_dp I don't know any more about the book than the blurb but it does seem to offer some practical advice.

CJ, I was actually thinking of putting the earth bags on the outside of a house -- to give the house more thermal mass, better insulation from both temperatures and sound, more fire-proofing, etc. Now that I think of it, however, I doubt I could convince my husband that the benefits would be worth all the work involved!!

I'm sorry all my questions are so vague but I don't have a specific property in mind right now, just looking at options so that when I go house-hunting I can see potential and not just drawbacks.
 
C.J. Murray
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The retrofitting of existing homes is a fascinating topic. The more I read and think the more it’s clear the retrofit has to be intensely home and desire specific.

I agree with Springtime on the air-sealing 100%. This article points out that air-sealing is not always just the simple stuff as well as pointing out faulty advice: http://www.permies.com/t/11624/green-building/Retrofitting-existing-home

Gaiasdaughter,
Besides all the effort you are looking at convincing your husband of the benefits I think it would not be just as simple as adding the earthbags to the outside of your home. Presuming you would have existing insulation between the thermal mass of the earthbags and the home’s interior wall the benefits of the earth bags for thermal mass may be negligible. You would also need to add insulation outside the earthbags. And if I’m learning anything at all, the interior of the earthbags will be an area where moisture is the most likely to condense. If I’m wrong on this I hope Springtime will straighten me up.

Springtime,
Please elaborate on your comment on non-vertical glazing. I’m assuming you view them as a weakness.
 
Brian Knight
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I think youve got it right CJ. Thermal mass is most useful when its COMPLETELY inside the Building Envelope (airbarrier and insulation). As to whether the earth bags could accumulate moisture is a trickier topic. Iam not very well educated on the properties of earth bags other than knowing that they have a lousy R-value. Follow local codes for minimum R values for a particular climate to avoid moisture accumulation on exterior wall assemblies. Check out this great article for those interested on this topic as it relates to more traditional construction techniques: http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/musings/calculating-minimum-thickness-rigid-foam-sheathing

As for non-vertical glazing, my feelings are its great for greenhouses and cold frames, not so much for homes. The reason is loss of control. For rainy climates, its hard enough to make windows watertight from wind blown rain but compound that by fighting a slope and it gets really difficult. Good passive solar designs perform just fine with vertical glazing. They are much easier to shade with overhangs and design. Non-vertical glazing is at risk of overheating, with skylights being the worst offenders.

I know Earthships used to commonly use non-vertical glazing on their South sides but I get the feeling they are moving away from that practice. Any Earthship proponents care to correct me or elaborate on this?


 
Terry Davenport
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gaiasdaughter Hatfield wrote:If we're honest with ourselves, most of us will never live in a WOFATI, or even (forgive the heresy, Paul) a cob cottage, a straw bale mud hut, or an all-inclusive earthship. Most of us will end up in rather non-descript homes that are not particularly amenable to the sustainable lifestyle. And if truth be told, the GREENist house is one that is already built. So . . . has anyone out there bought a fifties ranch or a modern-day monstrosity and transformed it into something both beautiful and more sustainable? Has anyone taken society's cast off 'junk' and recycled it into unique, practical home goods a la Dan Phillips? Has anyone added cob or stonework to an existing home or changed a roof into a living envelope? Has anyone built a rocket mass heater in a cookie cutter house in the suburbs?

Looking for inspiration and hoping for hope . . .

 
Rusty Bowman
Posts: 134
Location: Idaho
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Hi GaiasDaughter,

When you mentioned Dan Phillips, I knew I had something to share. In case you or others here haven't see the video, here's a link to a great little lecture he did: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVLu99Ja2mA&feature=youtu.be Super speaker on the subject of building with reclaimed materials and the habits people possess. Well worth the 18 minutes!

Also along the lines of what Dan does.... I built an experimental building a few years ago using 60-70% reclaimed materials....most of which I salvaged from dismantling a small home around the corner from my place. I wanted to see how little I could build this structure for using a mix of new and commonly discarded materials. Point being, in the context of this thread, is that it could have easily been a small charming home heated and cooled primarily from passive means...a home with a composting toilet, greywater system, earthen plasters, etc, etc for under $11,000 (as built, I have $5400 into it). Someone with basic carpentry skills could build along the same lines and be mortgage free! While I'm 100% in favor of building with cob, straw, tires, wood chips, etc....I'm every bit as enthusiastic in salvaging old buildings to build new. It's sickening how many perfectly sound structures are demolished and either burned or hauled to the landfill. Plus, a lot more people have basic carpentry skills than natural building skills/knowledge...and natural building takes money/time to learn and is far more physically taxing and slower going. Either style though, wood frame or natural, the key is keeping it small....in my humble opinion. Less materials, easier/less$ to heat, less $, smaller footprint, quicker to build, less embodied energy, etc.

At any rate, if you'd like to see photos and further explanation of the building, visit my Facebook page here (click on each photo): https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1473569391865.2058896.1012586515&type=1

Also, I don't recall seeing it mentioned but a "laundry to landscape" greywater system is the easiest and least expensive greywater system retrofit there is...outside of the labor intensive bucketing of course. You can view one such system here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1337547271397.2044674.1012586515

Lastly, re your other post about "mud plasters" being applied over sheet rock, they sure can...and it's easy! Check out my photos on the "experimental building" above. In that instance, I applied an adhesion coat consisting of wheat paste and sand. Had it not been for the flour for the wheat paste, the plaster would not have cost me a nickle. As it was though, it was only a couple cents per square foot. A clay paint can be made even more easily for the same cost....or a tad more if you buy pigments.

Hope you're able to get an idea or two out of that....or some inspiration...or both.

rusty
PS. If you or anyone else here is on Facebook and would like to be notified of similar projects, click "like" on the Earthen Exposure Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Earthen-Exposure/132453330160066?sk=wall
 
Danielle Favor
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Rusty -- thanks for the many helpful links-- I had already seen the Dan Phillips TED talk -- love the guy's sense of humor as well as his creative genius!

I'm currently working my way through the book Natural Remodeling for the Not-So-Green House by Venolia and Lerner. There's a lot of good stuff in the book -- most of it is not detailed enough to qualify as a how-to, but it does give one an idea of what's possible. I really think remodelling for greater energy and water efficiency, natural heating and air conditioning, etc., is an idea whose time has come (or will soon!).

Danielle (aka Gaiasdaughter)
 
Rusty Bowman
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Location: Idaho
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Danielle Favor wrote: I really think remodelling for greater energy and water efficiency, natural heating and air conditioning, etc., is an idea whose time has come (or will soon!).

Danielle (aka Gaiasdaughter)


I agree....particularly as people realize the practicality of it....and especially so in difficult economic times.
 
Angela Cox
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My husband and I are currently "retrofitting" an older farmhouse. Some of the improvements we're making include lots and lots of insulation in the walls. We've also purchased an exterior wood burning furnace and are installing radiant floor heating using the PEX system. The majority of floors needed replacing, so we are using engineered "click lock" hardwood flooring. For any walls that need rebuilding/replacing, we are re-using the existing lumber when possible. For wall covering (once drywall is removed) we've opted for pine carsiding that we are getting from our local amish miller. A couple of beams needed replacing through the length of the house since they were beginning to sag -- so we've contracted the amish miller to replace these with whole logs (they build log homes and pole barns so they are experts at installing these, I am not sure that is something my husband and I could have done on our own). We will leave the logs exposed for aestetics. We are also contracting cabinetry from the amish as well. Some of the walls that were removed had wood paneling -- which we've saved for use in the barns and outbuildings. We also installed metal roofing rather than a shingle roof. The michigan basement will eventually be dried out a bit so we can accomodate a root cellar, we've read a bit about how to do this, but haven't tackled it yet. It's been a lot of work -- and there is still a lot left to do -- but as much as we are committed to renewable energy and going "green" we feel that we should leave as much of the house intact as we can. We'll eventually install solar panels, but that will be one of the last projects. Last year we missed out on some pretty big tax credits -- but we're hopeful the prices might come down a bit. It's definitely an adventure...I can see it coming together and I just wish it would happen sooner. Unfortunately, we both work so this is what we do with our spare time -- it is slow going! So rewarding, though. We will be buying our first chickens in a couple of weeks...! =)
 
Walter Jeffries
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Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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We built our cottage for about $7,000. The big windows are all recycled from an old office building. The structure is about 100,000 lbs of masonry with a ferro-cement barrel vault roof. Most of the stone came from the waste piles of the local granite quarries and stone cutters or from our land plus bricks that we recovered. Fridge and stove are salvage. It is so energy efficient that even in our cold northern mountain climate in Vermont we use less than three quarters cord of wood a year. Without any heat it floats in the 45°F range through the winter even though it gets down to -25°F regularly outside. Maintenance is easy and it will last.

See:

http://SugarMtnFarm.com/cottage

We have an old farm house down the mountain. Retrofitting that would have cost over $100,000 and it would never have been as good as our new cottage. We saved $93,000 by not retrofitting the old house. In the cottage we we save about $3,000 in repairs and $2,000 in heating every year. I would rather throw away the old house than attempt to retrofit it. Waste of money, time and effort plus it will simply never be as good. It was designed over 200 years ago when the understanding of how to build was not as good.
 
Charli Wilson
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Location: Derbyshire, UK
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I always read all the threads about straw houses and rocket mass stoves and feel somewhat jealous, as self-build and diy is severely discouraged in this country and will probably be forever out of my reach. We bought a 120 year old brick house, primarily for the land- and that land is 0.1acres. But it was the most we could afford! You can't buy land anywhere and build a house on it here, planning is really hard to get. The house was in a state, with solid brick walls and a massive damp problem caused by decades of bad (but professionally done!) building work. We've done the renovation work entirely ourselves- and it isn't exactly legal as we're not paying building control to come and check what we're doing (paying the inspector would cost more than the renovation!). We've ripped out the old dry-lining (which didn't have a vapour barrier or insulation and just hid the damp problem), dug drains round the entire house (where the outside ground level has been raised by copious layers of concrete until its higher than the inside ground level), put in insulation (PIR foam stuff but I didn't have enough space for anything else, and anything hemp or lime based wasn't diy-able and therefore really expensive), gone on a massive draft-sealing mission (there were gaps around the windows that you could fit your arm through), all new wiring (my Other Half trained to be an electrician for 2 years to get the paperwork for this bit- this was cheaper than hiring an electrician). Seeing all the stuff we've torn out and thrown away doesn't make me feel very green... but our heating bill has halved (and we've not even finished insulating yet), the house is no longer damp and mouldy and I can grow some of our food (small amounts at the moment as I'm focusing on the house, but I hope to ramp it up a lot more even if we're constrained with the amount of land).

So as far as the renovation is concerned, I've mainly been being 'permie' with my design of the house and my acquiring of furniture (we've not had to buy anything new! Vast majority of the kitchen was second hand, every single appliance was second hand or being sold off as 'seconds quality'- we got a £900 oven for free because the external panel at the bottom of the oven was dented- thats the bit you can't see once the oven is fitted!). All the timber we've used were offcuts from other construction projects in the area- even all the skirting boards. The second-hand wood stove goes in in Nov as secondary heating, with which we hope to use the gas boiler a lot less. So whilst its not a wofati I feel that I've extended the lifespan of this house by making it livable again, I've turned the garden into slightly more than a rubbish pile and lawn, and for a first-time hous-ebuyer and renovator I don't feel I've done too badly. Also, by doing all this work ourselves we've saved a lot of money- by buying this hosue instead of one in better condition we've saved a lot of money (15% of the mortgage has been paid off in one year- in 7 years I could possibly have paid for the house.. at which point I could start saving and maybe buy that land and get a straw bale house one day after all....)
 
Betty Clarke
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I'd like to hear about retrofitting existing kitchen. Recently my neighbour did renovations in her kitchen. They chose Brooke Avenue transitional kitchen design model of Davisville Kitchens, Toronto. I need an expert advice whether I can incorporate transition kitchen design along with retrofitting my existing home.
 
Bill Bradbury
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Location: Richmond, Utah
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Betty Clarke wrote:I'd like to hear about retrofitting existing kitchen. Recently my neighbour did renovations in her kitchen. They chose Brooke Avenue transitional kitchen design model of Davisville Kitchens, Toronto. I need an expert advice whether I can incorporate transition kitchen design along with retrofitting my existing home.


Hi Betty,

I own a little restoration company that specializes in updating historic homes with modern amenities while using natural and traditional materials and methods.

To be honest, I don't really like those latex painted fiberboard kitchens with lots of modern glues, resins and finishes outgassing for another 25 years. If you would like to remodel your home naturally, please post more photos and information so that myself and others may assist you in this noble endeavor.

There is a link on my signature so you can check out some of our work.

All Blessings,
Bill
 
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