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Some general questions about natural building in the high tropics  RSS feed

 
Greg Amos
Posts: 40
Location: Colombia
2
solar trees woodworking
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Hi Chris and Linda, nice to have you here, we (my girlfriend and I) plan to build a natural house near Bogota, Colombia. It's in the tropics, but it's not hot: 14°C average, at 2600m above sea level, 900 mm precipitation quite well distributed during the year. Nights are usually cool year-round (5°C) and days warm (25°C). It's like a permanent central-european spring (or autumn). We want to heat the house somehow, in order to enjoy the evening reading books or playing, and to use the sun seems difficult, as we are close to the equator, and the midday sun is often vertical above the house. By the way, we have a design of the house in the cob section. So, here are the questions:

1) which natural material do you recommend, considering that we have clay and wood easily available? we strongly consider building a cob house.

2) if we build a cob house, and use a rocket mass heater to heat it, do you recommend to insulate to walls outside?

3) what kind of roof do you recommend? we strongly consider green roof.

4) is it ok to build a green roof with a 2° slope? the front wall would be 2.5 m high, the back wall would be 2 m high.

5) what is the insulation capability of a green roof? do you recommend, in our context, adding extra insulation?

6) do you think the exterior walls would support the roof alone, or should we build strong walls inside the house too? (please, have a look there: http://www.permies.com/t/44551/cob/Cob-house-Colombian-highlands#353417 )

7) what is the best way to make the exterior plaster waterproof (against rain) as well as the walls where the shover is.

Is our context, would it be more easy to make a earth floor, or a wooden floor?

9) we would like to build a small storage cellar inside a hill, just outside the kitchen, any idea how deep it should be, and the best way to avoid rodents eating our food? How to prevent any moisture/water infiltration?


Wow, so many questions! don't worry if you can't answer them all thanks a lot for you help!

I wish you all the best

greg




 
Christopher Borton
Posts: 6
Location: Whitehall, MT
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Hi Greg,

It sounds like a cool project you are planning. Sage Mountain Center is at a similar elevation but we are at 47 degrees latitude so our issues are all about heating. For cooling climates the focus is somewhat reversed. I'll try to address your numbered question below.

1. For "natural" building I would recommend using indigenous material that are onsite or easily accessible. See what the locals use. I like to assess all the materials nearby: rock, earth, wood, straw, water, air (wind), and sun and let the house "grow" or design itself out of these materials. In your case, cooling, shading, and thermal mass will be crucial. Orientation and catching prevailing breezes should also play a major role. You want to shoot for a balance that maintains temperatures within the human comfort zone, with minimal mechanic (outside) input.

2.I would insulated the shell or outside walls so you do have some control over the interior temperature. Cob provide more thermal mass over insuation. Ventilation is very important as well.

3, 4, 5. Roof recommendations could be a green roof and the 2 degree slope is fine but I would recommend bending the "natural" rules a little and going with a rubber/pvc membrane underneath the green roof. Sheet plastics, used tarps, tar paper, etc. will only give you problems down the line. You do not want leaks on a built up green roof.....this is crucial.....nothing is worse than trying to repair an earth roof. Also, the insulation value is not that great for a green roof and that is why you see foam board used many times as a substrate for earth roofs (also as a barrior between the membrane and any rocks/sticks that could puncture the membrane). Also factor in the weight element during design and construction. I also like metal roofs but with your design this could be tricky.

6. For your shape of house I would recommend that the interior walls be strong enough to be load-bearing, especially if you are considering a heavy earthen roof.

7. For water-proofing natural walls, there are lots of variables: soil/clay composition, hardener (concrete) options, straw/fiber binders, etc. First and formost for your location, you want big overhangs on the roof so that horizontal rain is minimized. Second, I like gutters to direct the run-off to specific areas and not have it splash against the walls. But the shape of your house could be a challenge for gutters. Linseed oil is a fairly natural water proofer.

8. Earthen floors are nice but stabilize them with a hardener or when you spill you tea you'll have a muddy pot hole. Also, don't wear your stilletto heals in the house.

9. An underground food storage is important. 6' deep with an insulated or heavy earthed roof is good. If there is a slope to the land use it to get good drainage around the storage. The same water barriors that you use on the roof can be used around the cellar. Pay attention to detail at all roof/wall/earth interfaces to be sure that rodents can't get in. The whole time you are building, imagine youself being a deserate little mouse ....what would you do to get at that food?

Whew, I think a got most your questions!

Chris Borton


 
Greg Amos
Posts: 40
Location: Colombia
2
solar trees woodworking
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Hi Chris,

wow, awesome! thanks a lot for taking the time and answering all questions. Now many doubts have been cleared.

Wish you all the best, and happy building

greg
 
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