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Practicality of an earthship in a Gulf climate with high humidity and hurricanes?

Jason Beezley
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I live within a mile of the Gulf of Mexico very intrested in an earthship however I do not believe that it would be practical for my area. We just survived hurricane Michael one of the largest category 5 hurricane in US history. I'm very curious how a ram dearth house would hold up to hurricane force winds.? I'm also intrested to know how the high humidity . How wouldcooling tubes would work mildew are a huge concern. Any alternatives other than plugging in a humidifier to take the humidity out of the air using cooling tube?  I'm intrested in any other ideas for my area that might work
Jack Edmondson
Posts: 249
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast so have looked at different structures for high wind areas.  Short answer is they should do very well, if done correctly.  If a stick frame can withstand the forces, and they do under the new codes, then a high mass structure is a piece of cake.  That being said, building along the coast, especially since Andrew and Katrina, the building codes have become so limited and strict it may be extremely difficult to get one approved.  

Assuming that you can get it approved, what is your elevation?  A mile inland may still put you at risk of tidal surge, which is a structures worst enemy.  High wind is nothing compared to the surf suddenly pounding on your front door.  Building a mound foundation considering the weight of your walls would be a good option, but will have to be bulwark-ed to keep it stable.  If you can stay above the surge, your biggest worries are resolved.  The next would be stablizing the soil around your walls and roof.  You mentioned rammed earth.  I am assuming the traditional earthship with rammed earth tires stacked and backfilled with dirt, correct?  As long as a decent root structure is established in your retaining walls the high wind will not strip the soil and expose your walls to the wind.  The roof will also need to be secured well with hurricane straps, but that is the same with any construction now.  Lastely, leave plenty of wood in your frames for the window/greenhouse wall to screw plywood into when shuttering for a storm.  

I don't have any experience with cooling tubes and humidity.  My first thought is smooth wall plastic or metal pipe could be cleaned with bleach or ammonia periodically to combat mold.  A hepa filter small enough to capture mold spores at the exhaust end would be a good precaution.  that is something you could test before building by running your lines underground and into a closed container/space for a summer to see what happens.

Good luck.  and be careful of expansive clay.  That much weight on 'gumbo soil' will be a challenge to keep level.  However, without sheet rock you may never notice settling!

Leah Sulony
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I have been seeing some posts of earthship building in Puert Rico that they are trying out. I am following their progress also to see how things pan out. #southerngirl
denise ra
Posts: 144
Location: Western OK, avg rain 23" hazards: drought, tornado, wildfire
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My concern about Earthships and hurricanes or the resultant tornadoes and their missiles is all the glass. Yes, you can put up plywood, but plywood will not stop a tornado-borne missile. I am trying to figure this out for myself also.
Glenn Herbert
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Location: Upstate NY, zone 5
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The classic earthship with its sloped full greenhouse south wall is optimized for cooler desert-like climates. It would be a bake-oven in the coastal South, where solar gain is a bad thing most of the year.

I would think a similar design with vertical glass sheltered by an overhang, and the massive structure around it, would be practical. I think you need to consider cross-ventilation for the living spaces, and be prepared to cut off any earth cooling tubes if you can't eliminate mold issues.

I think you could build in folding shutter panels, perhaps as bifold panels that stow up under the south overhang, for storm protection. Another possibility would be bifold (or more) door-like panels mounted on a solid bit of wall between two large window panels. A 4' section of wall could hold shuttering for two 8' sections of window.
Chris Kott
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Location: Toronto, Ontario
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I think if it essentially occupied the top of a height of land decently above even exaggerated storm-surge predictions, that might take care of the storm surge issues.

I think that as long as that is taken care of, a low-profile, earth-integrated structure like that, with rammed-earth walls, whether or not they also contain tires, might do very well. Rammed earth, stabilised with 5-10% portland cement, will not be affected by wind, except in the long term. I would want some kind of outer facing to protect against mechanical damage and water, at least, where the rammed earth wasn't backfilled with earth and topped with growing things.

I like the idea of integrated storm shutters. With all the space available between the backfill and the rammed earth, why not have sliding storm shutters on tracks, top and bottom, that store like pocket doors to either side of the windows? Actually, as long as a storage cupboard was installed in the appropriate place on either side of the windows, one could build panels on casters, for a trackless system, that would be rolled into place and then lowered into position. I would have holes sunk for pins corresponding to the panels, like hitch pins, secured by colter pins on their ends, so as to secure them to the frame, and the structure as a whole.

As to the design of the panels, I wonder if there would be a point in sandwiching something like gypsum board or drywall between sheets of plywood (my original idea was loose sand poured into a two-inch-thick plywood box). The point would be to try and distribute the energy of impacts across the entire panel. The ultimate measure, of course, should it be possible to design a panel to distribute impact energy out of readily-available materials, would be to not only weather-seal the panels, but also to add a mechanically-superior outer cladding, and design the window framework to properly distribute impact forces through the frame to the house structure and into the earth itself.

I think there are worse choices. But the crux of the matter is that earthships don't move, so if the water decides to go higher than you had originally planned your plans might be a washout. Against that, though, I think the only thing we can do is design buildings like large boats, designed to be buoyant and stable, that sit in socket foundations. When the water rises, so does the building, perhaps tethered in place to keep from being swept somewhere it could be knocked over.

Humidity is an issue, but it would be an issue in any structure in a high-humidity environment, which is what you're building for. I think that you could moderate the humidity and temperature levels of the air entering the structure if there were air intake ducts on the north side of the structure, down low and passing under the wall, underground, such that the forced cooling of the air condenses the water out in the duct, which would have to angle slightly upward leading into the house. I think this effect could be enhanced, and the condensor stage moved outside, if the intake to the air duct terminated in the middle of a stacked stone airwell, preferably shaded, itself, such that humid air condenses out in the inner layers of the stack, and also cooling the stack as it evaporates, should it prove breezy enough a day. Open upper-level windows could increase draught at need, or it might be possible to get the type of temperature-controlled vents employed by greenhouses, such that if the temperature rose above a comfortable point, the vent window would open, increasing draught, and pulling cold air out of the air tubes and into the structure.

This might not apply to areas that aren't turning into the new floodplains, but honestly, I think that the oft-flooded cities need to take a look at Venice. It's not really crazy. People move buildings all the time.

We'd start in areas that are either already abandoned, but have structures with historical or cultural significance that could be saved. The foundations could be excavated, wrapped with structural reinforcement and shot-creted, and prepared for a buoyant sub-structure. There they'd wait, until water levels were high enough to breach levees where applicable, and a new, floating community would rise. The idea of glass-bottom historical tourism could be incorporated into the community itself at first, and any applicable area would need to be converted to reed system and sand and biomass fungal filter beds/booms.

I am thinking of post-Katrina abandoned neighbourhoods, but honestly, it could apply to a variety of places, most of them coastal. This type of thinking, I think, could ease transitions for inundated communities.

Imagine a tourism industry built around the idea of popularising climate adaptation and remediation of anthropogenic ills, rebuilding ecosystems, and eventually enough system surplus to feed people again.

Imagine new mangrove swamps and salt marshes where now you see abandoned, oft-flooded neighbourhoods, and perhaps beds of sea grasses encouraged where the salinity is appropriate.

Can you imagine a floating Miami or Big Easy? I could.

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