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Natural building plans without plastic - alternatives in Michigan

 
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First off hope everyone is having a great day! New here, and just found this online community.
Secondly Michigan is my home, to give you an idea of climate, its hot in the summer, rains, humid, and cold in the winter with snow.
There are so many options when it comes to building using the land. Noticing though even with the "natural building" headline
there ended up being so many uses of plastic in each method.

One example is earth bag building, polypropylene bags in my mind are a no go, since why would one do all this work to build away the
city ect to only bury a ton of plastic where they're am going to be living?
Does anyone have an alternative material for bags where they would be safe from moisture and humidity?

Another is the exterior poly shell that is used for roofs on earth homes or for siding when earth is piled against the home.
Again does anyone have alternatives to replacing these poly sheets?

I do not have any experience in building naturally, but have been working carpentry for sometime and have seen what goes into that
and is strictly what I am trying to get away from.

Earth homes and pit house have always drawn me in but is there any way to wick away moisture besides some type of aggregate back fill,
such as stones, or crushed rocks ect?

Lumber is not the problem, its purely keeping moisture away from the home without using these plastics and poly.
Repurposing very much gets me going and I have plenty of options around me, such as tires, they're everywhere but once again they're
created from mostly oil, which in my mind burying 1000 tires for a wall doesn't sound that good to me.

So I am asking this "natural building" community to share any alternatives to non plastic waterproofing, non poly earthbags, or repurposed items,
that would be safe for wet weather and likely not have chances to create health hazardous' such as mold.
Links or comments would be wonderful,
or maybe you have a way to ease my mind about burying 1000 tires and having a garden near by ahahaha.
Hope to eventually share my experience, creation and findings with y'all.


Once again be have a great day, be safe, spread knowledge and love each other.
-MR



 
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A thought that occurred to me after reading your question was another question.  What were people doing in the area for housing prior to the era of plastics?  You could look to what Native Americans in the Great Lakes region traditionally did for housing.  That thought reminded me of Colonial Michilimackinac, a park/museum up in Mackinaw City right by the bridge.  I stop there occasionally during my camping trips to the UP.  It's a pretty cool place where they've been excavating the site of the old fort and then eventually rebuilding the structures in their former locations once the archaeological dig is completed.  I don't know for sure if they rebuild 100% in the traditional fashion or if they sneak in some plastics and such you can't see, but regardless the staff seem very knowledgeable and eager to share what they know.  I'd be surprised if someone there doesn't know a lot about the building techniques used on the structures.
 
David Huang
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I just happened to run into a few photos I took at the fort I mentioned above and thought I'd share them for what it's worth.

DSC02992sm.JPG
Fort Michilimackinac Building
Fort Michilimackinac Building
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Fort Michilimackinac Building
Fort Michilimackinac Building
DSC02997sm.JPG
Fort Michilimackinac Building
Fort Michilimackinac Building
 
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Welcome to Permies. I'm in SW MI, between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. My wife and I are building a timberframe home with strawbale infill on our forested 20 acres. Vapor barriers that aren't plastic are a pretty serious challenge. I can't say I'm aware of any, but while I have put lots of effort into researching vapor barrier options, I have not been focused on avoiding plastic. I think you'll find that meeting building code is going to be hard to do without using some plastic vapor barrier.
What's your reason for wanting to avoid using gravel? It's pretty much the best possible material for creating a capillary wicking barrier and for draining water away from a foundation site.

To find out what has been done prior to the advent of plastics, I would suggest looking into traditional building methods of the 18th century and earlier in places like England. I don't think there were many indigenous people in what is now Michigan that were building structures meant to be lived in for decades, whereas Devonshire in England has at least one cob home that's been continuously lived in for five hundred years. Might be helpful to know what the builders of that house used for a "vapor barrier" ;)
 
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I believe that I've read that traditional English cob doesn't have a vapor barrier, but relies on the ability of cob to suck up moisture when it's humid and give it off when it's not, to replace the need for a barrier. However, they also tended to have a fire in every room, and very little furniture to block the movement of air. Good air movement can be important for preventing mold from what I've read also, and fireplaces tend to draw air. Proper fireplaces were much more efficient than typical ones I've seen in modern houses, and of course the houses were much smaller.

The Wofati builds done at Wheaton Labs do seem to use a plastic layer for their "umbrella" but it is separated from the "home" area by the wood walls and a layer of dirt and they tend to re-use bill-board tarps which is more environmentally sound than new material. Buried like that, it will last a very long time also. However, I got the impression that they were having some humidity issues in their "Allerton Abbey" building, so you could read there to see how they solved the issues. Humans directly and indirectly create a lot of humidity.

EDPM is a "rubber" material which doesn't seem to harm the ponds it is used to line, and it would make an excellent roof membrane. I wouldn't call it a "plastic".
 
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Avoiding plastic is a super honorable goal.  But it needs to be balanced against alternatives - for instance earthbags do use poly plastic but they enable you to build a structure without carbon intensive concrete, icky tires, etc.

My sense is that there are lots of above-ground options for building without plastic or synthetic materials of any sort.  With a good roof, foundation and heat source you can easily prevent moisture problems and have a comfortable building.   Going below grade really changes that and introduces all sort of new challenges.  I think its easy to design a waterproof shell with appropriately placed layers of gravel and clay - it hard to design a structure that can carry all that weight!  Thus plastic.

There's another conversation on the forums about concrete and if its evil or not.  The thing is - it can last a LONG time so in appropriate places it can be the best choice.  Poly for earthbags is plastic, but its hardly "disposable" and an earth sheltered home will overall have a much lower impact than a "modern" home.

so the question back to you ... if you are avoiding plastic to be as pure as possible (that's cool) or avoid possible internal environmental air quality then I'll say you need to consider above ground structures.  If you're trying to minimize the environmental footprint then some investment in plastic can allow you to use cheaper local materials, have a more comfortable building, etc.
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