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Best style of natural building for my location.  RSS feed

 
Fianou Oanyi
Posts: 24
Location: Australia
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I have been reading and researching different natural building styles and I am struggling to hit upon a style of build that would suit where I am. My main requirement being that the building style is NATURAL ie. no concrete, no steel beams or huge reliance on metal, no plastic membranes, no toxic chemicals and off gassing/VOCs. I want a natural home that is as green as possible. Actually the issue is more one of energy, connection to the earth and nature and minimising interference from the materials of the home. My soul aches living in dead soul-less homes. I am not sure if that is something you can understand.
I am struggling to find the right approach, because I like vernacular architecture styles, but because I live in Australia there just is NOT a single vernacular architecture style that can be turned to. There has not been centuries of building and perfecting the right approach. Housing in australia is of a very low standard and historically all the houses built were completely inadequate and innappropriate to the climate and exigencies of the location. People who adopt western design approaches tend to find the houses don't cope well in the summer. Many have turned to asian styles imported from Bali and find they don't work so well in the winter. Also because many approaches in Asia expect regular upkeep and flexibility and government requirements want approaches that are completely permanent.
So depending on the house you are likely to be too cold in winter or too hot in summer. Most houses employ far too much concrete and paving and hardscapes that reflect heat and really make the oppressive heat of the harsh australian sun unbearable. There is a history of patching on new ideas to try and rectify the old problems and it just goes on and on. Houses are literally in need of remodelling every 5-10 years and that is not good enough in my opinion. I grew up in a mudbrick house built by my parents, but it had issues too. The heavy rain fall occasionally caused big damage despite good design and the termites still got in and needed poisoning. The mud floor needed removing eventually I believe.... Most of the so called eco homes in the area I am from were built in the late 70s early 80s and honestly they are mostly in terrible states of disrepair. (Only basing this on what I see in the real estate pages) Otherwise many just don't live up to my idea of 'green' or 'natural'. Lots of concrete and steel.
So where do I start? Is importing an architectural style possible? I am yet to find an approach that really stacks up and will suit the humid area I will be building. I am not a builder and have no experience at all.... but I don't see any wisdom in repeating the mistakes of the past and following down a bad path, just because the right one isn't available. I also figure we have no skills in particular so any and every approach is totally viable. I have read up on cob, but I think perhaps it is not a good approach.
We don't have the land or sight chosen out yet, but i want to do as much pre-reading and thinking and research as I can. So sorry I can't say what materials will be handy. But I can say, the block should have some trees some of which can be used for building and milled. There are also local mills that use selective harvesting of trees. Straw is actually hard to get and valuable.
The climate I am building in swings between mild temperate dry winters ( like a european spring) and subtropical summers. Summers can be hot and hit 40 celsius, and winters have cold evenings that need heating/fireplaces, but days that are sunny and a jumper will suffice. Late summer is wet and often floods, spring is hail season. There are occasional fierce storms. The air is moist and mould is a housing issue. Also of importance is the issue of termites, which is a big problem here. The common methods employ poison or barrier approaches. Barriers include metal meshes, metal or plastic capping on foundations and constant vigilance. The soils are rich chocolate loamy volcanic basalt.
So where should I be looking to for a starting point and inspiration? Any ideas you wonderful clever people?
 
Kris Johnson
Posts: 81
Location: Pahrump NV
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Most of the so called eco homes in the area I am from were built in the late 70s early 80s and honestly they are mostly in terrible states of disrepair


Most doesn't mean ALL, so surely some of them got it "right". I would look to the ones that got it "right" and figure out what they did.


So where do I start?


We'll need more info about your exact location to help you out more, annual rainfall, temps, seismic activity, elevation ect ect.


If you haven't read this post yet http://www.permies.com/t/36478/natural-building/Raised-Earth-Foundations, its a good place to start. Read it until you FULLY comprehend the system and ask questions.


I would also look at what other climates that are similar to yours have done traditionally to mitigate the pitfalls that homes in your area fall victim to. Possibly look at areas that are the inverse of your latitude and see what they have done?


I like vernacular architecture styles


These "styles" only came about because they followed function and the limits of materials at hand. I don't think in any traditional context people did something because it "looked good" it always served a purpose and was at the limits of what the material could do and the purpose the construction was meant to serve. Architecture should always be functional.


But barring additional location information, I'd build anything higher than 100 year flood levels and a very large overhanging roof, that's just a generic recommendation.


Do you have land? What are your resources?


Keep reading and learning!


 
Fianou Oanyi
Posts: 24
Location: Australia
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"I like vernacular architecture styles"

These "styles" only came about because they followed function and the limits of materials at hand. I don't think in any traditional context people did something because it "looked good" it always served a purpose and was at the limits of what the material could do and the purpose the construction was meant to serve. Architecture should always be functional.


I should clarify that I mean i like vernacular styles for the way they function, and work to the local conditions, not for the aesthetics. I just mean i would love to look to traditional styles and age-old approaches. There are a myriad of vernacular styles and designs....


Do you have land? What are your resources?

Like I said above, we haven't got that yet. But we know the area we are looking at.

Also, seismic activity isn't an issue. Australia is pretty calm on that front.
 
Fianou Oanyi
Posts: 24
Location: Australia
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At first I thought cob would be a good idea, but having read many different handbooks etc... I am starting to think it might be quite problematic. There seems to be a lot of misinformation and misleading advice and I don't feel confident negotiating my way through that. I think it appealed to me because the carpentry skills didn't seem so complex, but I think one way or another carpentry and framing will be needed. I was also put off by the amount of earth disturbance that would be required to build the foundations and source the clay etc... strawbale looks good, but is quite difficult to source and can be costly. I then wondered if perhaps a natural timber house would be better, because the foundations can sit of plinths and it will sit more lightly on the earth.
yah i don't know....
I realise its a bit of a ridiculous question, but I thought perhaps someone would have some left of field ideas and be able to point me in a direction I would never consider on my own... like "hey have you heard of -----?"
 
Kris Johnson
Posts: 81
Location: Pahrump NV
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"hey have you heard of -----?"


Earthship, wattle and daub and all its other various names, earthbag construction, rammed earth, CEB (compressed earth brick), fired clay brick (just a suggestion) ((I know you've heard of it)) .


I was also put off by the amount of earth disturbance that would be required to build the foundations and source the clay etc


The positive about earthen construction is that at the end of its life span it "melts" back into the landscape. The disturbance is temporary and really not very invasive comparatively.


There seems to be a lot of misinformation and misleading advice


What specifically? People have been building homes out of earth for thousands, literally, of years.

It seems termites and mold are a big issue where you live. That's a no problem for earthen construction as neither one likes feed on earth.


As for humidity earthen constructions handle it quite well. As for high rainfall and flood events, large overhanging roofs, with the home build high up out of the 100 year flood zone with good foundation drainage (read JC's "Raised earth foundations" thread)


As for heating and cooling, earthen construction handles those very well AS LONG AS, the home has proper solar orientation and proper window area to home area ratio's.


Also take into account ALL available resources and their life spans and the pro's and con's of each one. Doing this might help you hone in on your eventual building modality. Like the pro's of building with timber in your area are its local and cheap to get milled ect, the con is I may have to replace some of the timber in 20 years due to termite damage ect. Then if you are comfortable with the cons and potential short comings of the material then go with that one. I don't really think that there is one smoking gun building modality that wont have some sort of issue at some point in its life span, its just how does this compare to that and can I live with it.



 
S Bengi
Posts: 1359
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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EarthBag, filled with pumice for insulation, or rice hull, or sand or dirt.
For the winter cold, insulation in the form of pumice or rice hull or just brute force it with thermal mass and burn wood at night.
As for the summer heat, think about wrap around porch, grape/kiwi/vine harbor, windows for cross ventilation, isolating the kitchen heat. Using LED light bulb/TV, induction cooktop, laptop vs desktop, etc to cut down on heat generation and then using windows orientation and fan to get it out as soon as possible.
 
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