John Elliott wrote:An underground house would be hideous in our climate. My house is built into a rise, so I have a "crawl" space that has an 8' ceiling at one end. It gives me a good feeling for what an underground house would be like and it is miserably damp. And that's even after I put a French drain around the foundation to take some of the water away. The only thing it has going for it is that it is fairly cool in the summer, having a kind of natural air conditioning.
I think the above ground earthbag house with a wrap-around porch is an excellent idea. Or a bungalow made out of cob. It really depends on what are cheap and easy building materials in your area. It also depends on your county building department. If you are in a county with a small population, (i.e. not in metro Birmingham), they should be fairly easy going with owner-builders. Have you checked with the Earthship people if any of their designs would be something you can use? They have done a lot of the pioneering work that is important to keep the building department from making your life miserable.
You may want to check into portable sawmills or look on YouTube for people that have developed their chainsaw skills to the point that they use the chainsaw as a sawmill. It wouldn't take too many pine trees to get the lumber you need to do a roof on a small house like you are thinking of.
Is this going to be an off-grid, rainwater harvesting, natural earth floor, rocket mass heated, alternative sewage system type of affair? Or what kind of modern conveniences can't you do without?
John Elliott wrote:I think I speak for the rest of the Permies when I say we are glad to help you figure this out.
Alder tells a story that has a lot of guidance in it:
-- Since you have a single-wide, you don't have to live in a tent. But you do kind of have to keep patching it until the other building becomes habitable.
-- You don't really need to buy anything. In your other thread, you ask "what do I need to buy?" Instead, Alder's approach was "what do I have, and how can I use it?"
-- Natural building, while cheap on materials uses lots of labor. Do you have people you can ask to pitch in on an old fashioned barn-raising type project?
-- Where are the good places to salvage building materials near you? You've found a source for bags, what else can you find? Lots of usable stuff gets trucked to the landfill every day.
I would say the first step to figure out is where you want to put this new natural building. Scrape away the pine straw and draw the outline of it in the dirt. Once you like the outline and orientation, hammer some stakes in the ground so the outline won't wash away in the first heavy rain. Every day that you look out at those stakes in the ground, ideas will float through your mind. How does the sun travel across the form? Which way does the prevailing wind hit it? Where is the rain going to collect? Maybe you find someone who wants some concrete block hauled off. You take them (or better yet, have him pay you to do the hauling) and then you dry stack them as a foundation perimeter. Now the ideas are becoming even more concrete (pun intended). Can you set these blocks into a footer and make it part of the foundation?
There are even different ways of assembling the building. A lot of places, the walls go up and later the roof is put on. But sometimes it starts out as a covered patio, and then the walls are filled in.
The last thing to note about Alder's story is that he is politely telling you it is going to take longer than the 6 months you are hoping for. But don't let that discourage you. Becoming a builder is a learning experience -- a learn-by-doing experience. Get out there today with a rake and a stick and scratch out the outline. And ribbon test your dirt.
John Elliott wrote:There's not going to be much to salvage from local stores, as you are finding out. However, it sounds like you are close enough to Birmingham that you could visit construction sites at new housing subdivisions. The amount of "waste" these guys generate is incredible. They fill up one, maybe two 20-yard roll-off containers for each house they build. Lots more salvageable lumber than at a local hardware store. Also drywall, brick, OSB, buckets (which sell for $4 at the store), strips of nails that are too short to save for the next job, half a bucket of joint compound that was extra, the excess of the roll of carpet padding, you get the idea. Ask the builder if he needs someone to clean up his job site. Give him the idea he can save money renting a roll-off container and you will haul off all that stuff. That's how you put that white pickup truck to good use.
What you want to do is intercept it before it gets to the landfill. We've talked about that in other threads here, how landfills tend to shoo off people looking for recyclables.
Felicia Daniels wrote:do I just drive around Bham and look?
John Elliott wrote:
Felicia Daniels wrote:do I just drive around Bham and look?
Pretty much. If there are work crews there, ask for the foreman and ask him if you can haul stuff off. I've never had one say "no, go away, you bother me". Sometimes the freebie real estate magazines that are at the entrance to supermarkets will have ads for new subdivisions. That way you have some places to target when you go driving around. I'm way on the outskirts of Augusta, so there is a lot of new building going on as I head into town. I make it a point to check and see what kind of freebies are available. I imagine it must be the same where you are.
As far as your list, that's pretty much how to build a structure, so you know what you are in for. If you plan and build a small structure, call it a shed, a workshop, a one-car garage, that will bring you a good way up the learning curve. Then if your "tiny house" is too tiny, you can always build a second one (using all the experience you got doing the first one) and maybe connect them with some covered walkway. The modern name for that is being "modular", but the concept dates back to pre-literate civilizations.
As far as doors and windows, it's less a matter of "attaching the frame to the bags" as it is having the openings in the walls firmly attached to the bond beam that goes around the top of the walls with the proper headers. This reference has some good advice on how to build sturdy buildings with walls that won't fall down. The advice also applies to earthbags, because they are essentially very large bricks with rounded edges.
Felicia Daniels wrote:Thank you! I'll check out the other link. What do you think about my soil test?
Felicia Daniels wrote: I kept coming across stuff about using 1" chicken wire to apply the cob/plaster to. Is using the wire better than not using it?
Kevin EarthSoul wrote:I'm not so sure that a high thermal mass house is the best option for a hot-humid climate. Adobe-like housing is great for the desert, where you're using the mass as a thermal flywheel to balance out the day/night swing in temps.
But in Alabama, which is sub-tropical, you get three months of the year (Jun - August) where the high can be 100F, and the low 90F, because the relative humidity is >90%. High thermal mass walls will just absorb all that heat, and stay there, making it unbearable, particularly at night, when it's just too hot and sticky to sleep. I would recommend:
-- Partial below-grade for passive geothermal cooling,
-- deep eaves (wrap-around porch), and lots of shade-trees and/or a living roof;
-- for above grade walls, high insulation against the air temps-- NOT massive walls. You could do a little of both, but I'd heavily favor insulation.
When it's really hot, I'd button up the house and run a geothermal heat pump for cooling/dehumidification.
When it's more tolerable on cooler Summer days and in Spring and Fall, I would keep things cool and comfortable by having plenty of ventilation, including screen doors and windows and a roof exhaust fan, as well as plenty of ceiling fans.
In Winter, there are about 2 months where a little passive solar through windows under the eaves (when the sun is in its low Winter angle) can help add just enough gain to make things comfortable, or run the heat-pump for heating. If your shade trees are deciduous trees that lose their leaves in Winter (in your area), that can also allow more solar gain.
Kevin EarthSoul wrote:Geothermal heatpumps rely on burying a coil in the earth to pump the heat into. If you're excavating for a partial sub-grade home anyway, it's not that big a deal.
If you do a "home on wheels", you're not building below grade, and likely not doing any excavation whatsoever. This would not lend itself to a geo-thermal heat-pump. There are atmospheric heat-pumps, but they aren't as efficient.
I'm not sure what sort of budget you're looking at. If you have land with small trees, you can probably do post/beam with roundwood poles without too much expense. You can probably get straw bales locally. Use that high clay soil for earthen plaster walls (if there's not too much silt). For added insulation, you could run a layer of rice-hulls inside the wall. Rice-hulls might also be good for the roof insulation.
Building a 300 sq.ft. cottage with roundwood poles and strawbale in-fill won't be terribly expensive. You could do a round-house (more likely hexagonal) or a square/rectangular house with a wrap-around porch on 3 sides. The last side could be earth-bermed (but don't use strawbale on that wall, scoria/pumice earth-bags are better below-grade). You could make an earthen floor on the cheap, but do it right, with graduated levels of gravel and a moisture barrier.
Here is a design that I would be looking at:
It's a bit bigger than your original specification, but with all the people and animals you're wanting to house, I don't think 300 sq.ft. will be sufficient. I wouldn't put more than 2 people (a couple) and 2 animals in 300 sq. ft. This is 440 sq.ft. strawbale cabin with two bedrooms, and a common room with kitchen/living combined in an open floor plan. I would extend the roof over the front and sides to make that wrap-around porch. The small room on the NorthWest side could have a door going out the West wall, instead of North, an be used as a laundry/mud room.
If you have your heart set on doing EarthBags, here's a design that was made for Haiti:
Kevin EarthSoul wrote:If there's a chance you'll be moving, I wouldn't invest in any heavy work that you can't take with you. The only reason why you MAY want to do that, is if you thought you could sell the work when you left, but you're not looking at building to code, so it would likely have to be pulled down when you leave.
It doesn't really sound like now is the time to be looking into building projects. If you want to make a tiny home in a trailer, be my guest, but I don't think it'll be enough space for you all.
Becky Keith wrote:Hey Felicia,
My name is Becky. I was in Alabama about 10 years ago and what I remember most was the red clay that stained everything and became a sticky mess when it rained. Here in coastal NC all we have is sand but we do have the same humidity and heat problem. I also have been looking into the sand bag structures for building cheap out building for animal housing. If you were closer i would be happy to give you sand in exchange for some clay. I feel you on the tight budget. When I lost my job our income dropped by about 5,000 a month. Even with my husband working 2 jobs money is tight. What I found is that those poly bags are cheap at the home depot stores. about 50 cents a bag. I would go with smaller bags since they are easier to handle than the large ones. You-tube has some great videos showing both ways. One way to get free building materials is to offer to do site clean up on construction sites. Craig's list also has lots of freebies if you go pick it up. Another option is the prefab storage buildings. Lowe's sells one that is 2 story's high. It looks like a little house. You would have to finish it yourself inside. They will set it up for you as well included in the price. You can get a credit line to pay for it on installment, or you can look for a local builder of these little houses and often rent to own them. The beauty of them is you can transport them on a flat bed and carry it with you. Since you already have power at your site it would be easy to have it wired for electricity. I would place it back in the trees for shade and install a ceiling fan. you can get a cheap one. Its all in how labor intensive and if you have any strong helpers. I have 2 big boys that help me since I am unable to lift much weight. Sand and gravel are pretty cheap if you have it delivered by the dump truck load. Gravel would be adequate for the storage building idea as a foundation. The advantage of the storage building is that you don't need a permit for one. I have 2 here on my property that cost around 2500 each. They are one room with a Murphy bed or futon it would be any easy living in a one room cabin. There is a woman named Becky who built her own log home. I will share the link.http://beckyshomestead.com/ She did it by herself.
As far as your laundry situation goes. You can get a wringer from Lehman's and attach it to a tub. It works well. It will cost you a few hundred but that and a clothes line and you would be set. Make sure and get the laundry plunger thing for the tub. My boys like to get in bare foot and mash the laundry with their feet.
I hope this helps.
Becky Keith wrote:Hi,
How old is the pine? Is it big? If so you could sell it. We have a timber company here now thinning out our land. We are so overgrown. They are paying us around 5 000 to harvest the trees. They are just taking the really big pines. leaving everything else.
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