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Underground housing  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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cdevidal wrote:
I believe someone in this thread mentioned earth bags. Perhaps in a dome shape?

Warnings about experimentation understood. Plus you'd lose that cool log cabin look.

Nonetheless, Mike also was an experimenter, and because of that you now have a great cabin 



Mike mentioned that other wall options were doable - even rocks if that is what you have - in a phone conversation years ago if I recall correctly.  You could use his posts per design the use wall fill of any kind you want as the posts meet the design criteria.

I also experimented with Mike's designs and have some changes that worked out well for me, although I did not pay an engineer to say they were OK as Mike did.  I work with big buildings so am familiar with things that will work nd many engineering practices.

Yes - thanks to Mike for the best low cost underground house building system ever invented.
 
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Paul asked on another forum why this subject was so popular with permies and so I thought I would post my reply to this new interesting forum which I would love to read voraciously right now, but I must get back to "working for the man"!(slang in the U.S.)
    For those of us who live in hot climates, the underground housing is very interesting because of the attribute of the temperature staying neutral in a building imbedded in a hill, that is why it is so interesting to me personally. For those in cold climates this is a very attractive feature also, decreasing the winter fuel needs. Humidity would be a factor in some areas seasonally and in some areas year round. Then flooding is a whole other issue. I have read many books over the years on underground buildings and as an amateur I would say it is a daunting task and must have four times the detail done on paper unless you are prepared for leaks within one year of building, just my opinion
What is really great I think but I have no personal experience with this, is that you could have a computer generated home and figure out all the potential flaws ahead of time, I am sure for instance that you must take land shifting into consideration. My piece of land had a grotto like area with huge sandstones and granite on the hillside, I was told to wait out four seasons and then look at the land again to decide where to build, I was amazed, the land changes so much in just one year, the grotto was unrecognizable, anyway I never built, I decided instead to incorporate any permaculture stuff into my present housing situation to the best of my ability and  have fun staying in the city and someone else can have fun on the hill I have to sell.
One other group should really look seriously at this here in the U.S. , those who live in tornado alleys
Trudie Redding
trrredding@gmail.com
Austin, tx
 
Glenn Kangiser
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Hi Trudie,

I never had a plan for any of my place until someone asked me to make a floor plan so they could understand it.  I did the floor plan after most of it was complete.

http://countryplans.com/smf/index.php?topic=151.0

I find plans to be unbending and limiting creativity and ability to change as obstacles are encountered.  Changes for new ideas, changes or add ons are easier with no plan.  A simple rough sketch to consider functionality is usually sufficient for me.  Forethought on what you want can improve the outcome whether it is meat plans (in your head) or paper plans for those who need them though, I have to admit.  I always had a general goal for what I wanted and knew what I wanted as the last room of the shell throughout the process.

If I had a plan then it was simply Mikes generic rule of thumb engineering tables in the back of his book, and I fit the modular design along with my changes into whatever way nature and soil conditions would accept it, keeping in mind Mikes basic rules from his book.

On a hillside getting rid of water is not too much of a problem especially if French drains are incorporated.  I always recommend them now.  I am currently assisting several people in making underground cabins, houses and root cellars.

On the flat ground I would recommend doing as Mike has suggested and earth sheltering above ground with means for sufficient drainage. 
 
                        
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Trudie Redding wrote:

One other group should really look seriously at this here in the U.S. , those who live in tornado alleys



This hits the nail on the head for me.  I've talked to so many alternative building folks (monolithic domes and tiny houses, to name some), where I ask about basements.  Their first response invariably is, "Oh!  You don't need a basement!  If you think you need a basement you either need to build bigger or build outbuildings!"

[RANT:on]
WRONG!!!  I don't CARE what YOUR building philosophies are!  I don't CARE that your monolithic dome is tornado-resistant and can stand up to hurricanes!  (That may be true, but I'm not 100% convinced the windows will stand up to whatever the winds can throw at them.)  I don't CARE that it's going to cost a lot more to dig a foundation.  (Well, maybe I care, but I have to wonder how much of your concern is based on the costs to dig a foundation and how much concern is the extra effort you'll have to expend in designing the foundation.)  When the sky turns olive green and the wind starts hitting 70 mph and increasing, I want to grab my kids and scurry down to the basement.  Preferably into the safe room we built in the basement to withstand tornadoes.
[RANT:off]

 
pollinator
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If I lived in Tornado Alley, I would build underground for just that reason.  Always make an alternative exit for your safe room, though, in case the house collapses on top of you.

I think another reason that underground housing, especially Mike Oehler's method, is so appealing is that you have that three feet of dirt on the roof to grow stuff on.  ('Living' roofs aren't so great for that.)  It would almost be possible to make your house completely disappear!  And especially if you have a small amount of land, this way you aren't wasting any growing space.  That might not be so important if you have acreage.  Also, if you live where you need to collect rain water from a roof, you might need to use a standard roof. 

Kathleen
 
                              
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I am building underground for many of the reason that Trudie cites. Where I am it gets both very hot in the summer and cold in winter, and I want to live on as little money as is possible, so underground makes the most sense.  I also like the idea of the freedom which underground grants you with regard to privacy. Most folks won't have any idea that there is a structure there, much less a wonderful home. Where I am building is an area that the DEA and military fly over very regularly, and though I am doing nothing which should interest them in any way, I still like knowing that the house is going to blend into the hill.

Kathleen it is funny you'd mention about the roof as growing area, as I just yesterday changed my mind and decided that I would opt for bringing in some good soil (the soil where I am is terrible) for the roof and then incorporate it into my entire garden plan. Before then I was just going to let it go wild.

BTW I am just about done with excavation on my site. Maybe an hour's worth of work left to do, then I start in building!
 
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We're eyeballing 1/3rd acre, so yep we'd want that green roof for growing as much self-sufficient as we can.

Trudie, check out this when you get a chance; it's an article about building underground houses smarter, not harder, and it's written by Paul Wheaton, admin of this site. Pretty groovy. There's no need to fear leaks.
 
Christopher de Vidal
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Found a possible earth- and wallet-friendly replacement for new EPDM pond liner: Used billboard tarps.

True, they're 20 mil so they're less than half than 45 mil pond liner. But they were destined for a landfill, and at the prices I've seen you could double it up and still come out ahead.

Given that Mike's original spec was much thinner (6 mil?), even a single layer should work just fine. A massive 48x96 tarp, enough to umbrella at least 1500 square feet with lots left over for thermal mass, is just $565 plus freight shipping. Bargain!

Though the freight shipping might make it higher. I understand you can meet the truck at their station and save a bunch.

If you layer pieces you can get 14 x 48 pieces for $50. They'll ship it standard shipping, so that seems like a better deal.

Thoughts?
 
Glenn Kangiser
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Looks like a bargain to me.  Not as much stretch as EPDM, but looks plenty tough.

Under earth these would never deteriorate.  I will be trying some of them I think.

This type of vinyl is used for shower pans and is an alternative pond liner.  With the mesh in it it looks like it would be even better.

Thanks for the link.
 
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Storm ,

Do you have any pictures or a blog or something? 
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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The billboard tarps are extremely heavy (my step-father has one covering a leaky shipping container that they use for storage), so be sure you have some help getting it moved and in place.

Kathleen
 
Christopher de Vidal
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Glenn Kangiser wrote:
Looks like a bargain to me.  Not as much stretch as EPDM, but looks plenty tough.

Under earth these would never deteriorate.  I will be trying some of them I think.

This type of vinyl is used for shower pans and is an alternative pond liner.  With the mesh in it it looks like it would be even better.

Thanks for the link.



U know Mike pretty good, share this with him before he buys another brand-new piece of petroleum 
 
                              
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Speedfunk, thanks for asking as it motivated me to get the new photos up on the blog..

Here is the url: http://rationalreality.blogspot.com/
 
Glenn Kangiser
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cdevidal wrote:
U know Mike pretty good, share this with him before he buys another brand-new piece of petroleum 



I will mention it to him next time I talk to him. 

As long as it is not burning, PVC (the tarp material) is a pretty safe plastic so I don't think Mike would have any issues with it.  Tons of things we use everyday are made of PVC.
 
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LoonyK wrote:
actually being on a hilltop prevents more and earlier frosts because the cold settles in the valley.



This is amazingly effective. We live up on the side of the hill. The frost flows down past us to the valley where our neighbors get the first frosts of the fall but we get missed. This morning the ponds by our house were ice free but the once down in the hollow of the valley where the cold settled were covered in ice.

On the negative, we keep our snows longer in the spring due to our extra altitude. I ash the fields to gain an extra month. Adjust the reflectivity.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
 
Jeffrey Lando
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thanks I just checked it out.  Congrats on finally breaking ground.  Is it going to be a one story or two?

I like your blog btw..

 
                              
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Thanks SF,

It will be one story, though it will have a loft area for guests that has a low ceiling (4-5 feet I think). It is a bit large to be considered a tiny house, as it should come in at about 950 total footprint, with a bit less of that amount as usable square footage. It will be huge for just me, and give me plenty of room for preserving food!

BTW another update today, though no photos or blog entry yet. While the backhoe was still nearby I had him come back to lower the entry which was close to a foot higher than the rest of the house and then dig a trench for the french drain. That trench ended up being more than two feet deep so I've got plenty of room to remove all of the water that could ever threaten this house!

Tomorrow I start figuring out what lumber I need for concrete forms and braces for the posts..
 
Walter Jeffries
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cdevidal wrote:
Found a possible earth- and wallet-friendly replacement for new EPDM pond liner: Used billboard tarps ...
Thoughts?



We have used three of the billboard tarps from that source. We're pleased with them but we've only had them for a summer so far. They are very heavy and tough. Cutting them dulls a knife (razor) quickly. Probably the fibers. We have one on the roof of our tiny cottage and the other two are animal shelters.

I'm not happy with the shipping, it is almost as much as the tarps, but even with the overly expensive shipping (they insisted on FedEx) it was still a good deal.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont

Read about our tiny cottage at: http://flashweb.com/blog/tag/tiny-cottage

Read about our on-farm butcher shop project: http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop

 
Glenn Kangiser
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Thanks for the info, Walter. 

I noted that the shipping was almost the same also - UPS ground was quoted on mine, but it still works out to less than half price of the local stores.
 
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This is a very interesting thread.  I noticed it goes way back in time.

Well, I am very much interested in underground homes, and particularly on my property.  I haven't built yet. Just acquired the land actually.  Been thinking about many different ideas.  But I keep going back to a couple of concepts that just seem perfect.  Now, let's see if anyone can make swiss cheese out of this. 

Where my land is located in in the middle of an ancient sea bed.  It's very flat.  The area I'm in is not located in an actual flood zone but there is a poor drainage. The ground water is brackish.  The soil is alkaline and has a heavy concentration of sodium carbonate ("soda" as in soda-lime-glass).  I want to eat veggies grown on the site, that is part of my permaculture ideal.  So for me that means I need raised bed gardens and hauling water.  I know this is starting to sound like a lot of work, and yes it is, but I cannot afford anything nicer than this without a loan.  I'm dedicated to endure the process of improving the land and getting it capable of sustaining human life.  If that takes me 5 years, 10 years, then so be it.  Back to the land.  The weather is hot in summer, and cold in winter. It's one of the 4 season areas of California.  So I need to consider at least 3 seasons are going to be harsh in some way.  Autumn, Winter and Summer.  Spring is like heaven there.  I'm not worried about spring at all.  I need to get the house cooled in summer and warmed in winter. I also need raised bed gardens. I also need to keep the building above ground because I cannot count on draining water away from the building once there is any degree of standing water in the area (and there is a lot of it actually).  So my idea is to build a house above ground, even higher than the highest spot on the property, have lots of gravel underneath the floor with piping laid out to drain any water that might get in under the dirt.  I've been thinking primarily of using Rammed Earth construction, mostly because I have very good dirt for that on site (free), I'll be excavating a huge area for an underground greenhouse 5 to 6 feet below grade for protection against 60-80 mph winter storm winds so I can grow some staple fresh veggies 9 months of the year like lettuce in hydroponics, and by going underground with that (roof is a standard greenhouse roof) I can enjoy prime growing conditions without any heating or cooling.  Since I'll have all that free dirt, Rammed Earth makes sense to me.  It is like instant rock, well, rock in 2 weeks instead of millions of years.  I figure I ought to be able to slap dirt right up against Rammed Earth structure without even a vapor barrier, but maybe I'm wrong on that minor detail.

The dirt on top of the home would then be used for gardening a seasonal organic garden.  It wouldn't look like a dirt covered home, rather it would be a gentle mound in shape.  There'd be no giveaway to let you know that a home was underneath it except for the "Hobbit Hole" entrance.

I don't know if this achievable by a single guy like myself.  I tend to dream big and then aspire but this may be too big just for me and I may need to find me a partner.  Anyway, this is my general idea.
 
                              
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Well I am not in your situation exactly, but maybe my experience so far can offer some help..

I am single building an underground home in a method very similar to Mike Oehler's, for some of the same reasons a you with regard to utility and comfort. My site however is in one of the oldest mountain ranges in North America, so the trouble on my site is lack of soil combined with digging into a slope which is all rock.

With that in mind, other than hiring out the primary excavation, I am doing it all by myself and on a budget of less than $5000 for a turn key home. Though I have only just completed the excavation, I am confident I can complete this by myself (though obviously help would be nice to have).

Just my experience so far.
 
Glenn Kangiser
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Just take it one step at a time and you'll git 'er done...

Mike had above ground designs mentioned similar to his underground stuff too - don't remember if it was in the book or CDs.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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In your planning, keep in mind that you can probably collect at least some of your water needs on site.  That way you won't have to haul so much. 

Also, look into aquaponics rather than hydroponics.

Kathleen
 
Glenn Kangiser
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OK - got my billboard tarps in and while possibly usable I don't find them to be ideal.  For more foolproof I think we would want to stick to the EPDM if we have the money.

Here is a link to my full findings.

http://countryplans.com/smf/index.php?topic=151.msg126445#msg126445
 
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Hello All
Im curious as to the sizes of the buildings you all are doing or are planing to do anyone care to speak up.?
 
Walter Jeffries
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In addition to some animal sheds and a mega-cool dog house we've made we built our:

1. Finished: Cottage which is still above ground but will be bermed - ~20'x14' footprint, ~100,000 lbs of thermal mass, ferro-cement barrel vault roof, kids loft in front and attic storage space in the back. Cost of a tad over $7,000. See:
http://flashweb.com/blog/2009/10/first-snow-2009.html
http://flashweb.com/blog/tag/tiny-cottage
http://flashweb.com/blog/2009/09/cottage-sunflowers.html

2. In process: Slaughterhouse, Butcher Shop & Commercial Smokehouse which will be partially bermed and is built into the hill - ~40'x40' footprint, ~1,000,000 lbs of thermal mass, super insulated slab, super insulated walls, multiple ferro-cement barrel vaults. About two thirds of it is refrigerated for carcass chiller, aging room, cutting room, commercial kitchen, brine room, reefer and deep freezer. Spent so far: $33,000. Estimated final cost: $150,000. See:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
 
Glenn Kangiser
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My underground cabin - kind of a t shape measuring roughly 60x60 and around 2200 sq ft not counting the uphill patio, greenhouse and shop. 

Dug out for a 30 x 25 for a friend today with a possible popout or two and decent sized lofts.

Did an 8x32 root cellar for a friend, have a 10 x 16 coming up for a neighbor.

Doing a L shaped 16 x 26 appx for a customer - lets say its a root cellar.

Offset rooms give excellent options for getting light into different areas of the house.

 
Cyric Mayweather
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Cool, ive finally settled on 24x24 for a start my self, seemed simplest to do for me
 
Glenn Kangiser
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A good size to start - it can be an organic build (a living growing thing) where you can change things as you go along if you like - just follow Mike's basic safe engineering tables.. or you can stick strictly with your plan to keep it simple.
 
Christopher de Vidal
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Glenn Kangiser wrote:
OK - got my billboard tarps in and while possibly usable I don't find them to be ideal.  For more foolproof I think we would want to stick to the EPDM if we have the money.

Here is a link to my full findings.

http://countryplans.com/smf/index.php?topic=151.msg126445#msg126445



WOW Glenn you actually tried it 

"If we have the money" is the key phrase for me. Gorilla tape on worn places, plus EPDM at key points may be the way to go. Impressive that a mere 6 mil in Mike's original houses are still going strong, so I have faith in the 20 mil billboard tarps.
 
Walter Jeffries
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My experience over the last couple of decades with materials like this is that those which are exposed to sun and wind degrade fairly quickly, anything from 6 months to 4 years. Tying, tensioning and best of all, covering with dirt, make them last. Then mice are the next problem.
 
Christopher de Vidal
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Been thinking about underground houses and the light-permitting sides, which are typically covered with large panes of glass.

As an alternative to lots and lots of glass, which might be hard to get used and is expensive to buy new, how about large walls made of a sandwich of two 6 mil clear poly sheets, with concrete wire mesh in the middle?

This would give you large, waterproof, translucent double-paned walls, which would have some insulative properties, and would be able to handle a football thrown against it  Easy to repair (use clear tape) or replace. Would let in a lot of light and, of course, would be far less expensive than large panes of glass. You could even add a third layer for even more insulation. Perhaps chicken wire between the second and third layers of plastic.

This would have several advantages over a wall of just glass. You would still use real glass windows in selective places, and you could color the plastic for a stained-glass effect if you wanted.

Would just staple tightly and seal the first layer to a wood frame, then use wire staples for the mesh, then staple tightly and seal another layer on top. One wall, done in a few hours.

Total cost for 300 square feet of wall would be about $200.

A possible downside is it'd flap in the breeze, unless it's quite tight, and if exposed to direct sunlight would degrade in a few years. If simple to repair, you'd just redo the outer layer and be done. 50 bucks every 3 years or so, which is *far* less than a suburban paint job.

Maybe could cover the outer layer with some material that resists UV, but then you'd lose light transmission, and it'd cost more. This would probably be best suited for walls where there's lots of roof overhang, or on the north walls (south in southern hemisphere).

May also look cheap/redneck. That matters to some people, but will matter less as America dips into third world conditions, as I suspect we will.

Thoughts?
 
Walter Jeffries
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I like the twin and triple wall polycarbonate sheets. The only trouble with them is view but other than that I like them.

For our tiny cottage we have big windows that I salvaged from an office building. They are single pane but what we did was use two together for each window leaving a two inch gap between them. I paid $5 for the windows and got over 60 of them. The aluminum frames alone are worth more than that by an order of magnitude. We haven't done it yet but we intend to put two layers of stretch film between them. This will make a super window. I built two that we had for 15 years in our old farm house - they are great.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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If you were building a temporary structure, it would be a pretty fair idea.  But I don't think that we can count on stuff still being available a few years down the line to replace things that wear out now, such as plastic sheeting.  Or, if it is available, it will probably be way too expensive for us peons to afford. 

Kathleen
 
                        
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cdevidal wrote:

May also look cheap/redneck. That matters to some people, but will matter less as America dips into third world conditions, as I suspect we will.

Thoughts?



Two words:

Water Vapor.
 
Walter Jeffries
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:I don't think that we can count on stuff still being available a few years down the line to replace things that wear out now, such as plastic sheeting.  Or, if it is available, it will probably be way too expensive for us peons to afford.



That is the beauty of salvaging materials.
 
                              
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Big pieces of glass are not necessarily that hard to come by, as long as you are creative.. My own plan incorporates used sliding glass doors hung individually horizontally. Where I need them to open they will be hinged on top allowing the bottom to be pushed out to allow airflow. These things are always being tossed out in renovations and they can be difficult to get rid of, so if you put the word out to local remodelling contractors you may well end up with as many as you could possibly use.

Just a thought.
 
Glenn Kangiser
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I was given about 3 pickup loads of dual pane takeouts - cut apart with the razor blade - clean the moisture out and they make big tempered glass for lots of things. 

Walls being non bearing are able to accommodate many types of windows easily - many are given to me or at low cost from remodels.

Clear poly - the 6 mil translucent type seems to deteriorate in less than a year in UV or slightly longer if not in direct sun.

There is a crystal clear vinyl that is much better and I have had some of it up for about 6 years.  Hardware stores carry it - a bit more expensive but almost clear as glass.  No reinforcing required but careful stretching makes in look best.  I stretch and staple it every few inches.
 
Christopher de Vidal
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Muzhik wrote:
Two words:

Water Vapor.



Two words:

Venti Lation



Besides, large, fixed walls of glass panes don't breathe. I'm saying this would replace the kind that don't open.
 
Christopher de Vidal
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Glenn Kangiser wrote:Clear poly - the 6 mil translucent type seems to deteriorate in less than a year in UV or slightly longer if not in direct sun.



Ahh, didn't know.


Glenn Kangiser wrote:There is a crystal clear vinyl that is much better and I have had some of it up for about 6 years.  Hardware stores carry it - a bit more expensive but almost clear as glass.  No reinforcing required but careful stretching makes in look best.  I stretch and staple it every few inches.



Cool!

By the way, the reason I considered concrete wire mesh is strength and relatively better criminal resistance. It's not as though a thief can't break a pane of glass, but cutting plastic is pretty quiet.
 
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