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Maintaining a "modern" home with natural building?

 
gardener
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Hi everyone,

I have a question and I'm looking for resources and general advice.

My land came with a house built around 1921. It's been kept in pretty decent shape overall, and this year I'm putting a new roof on it. I'm very new to construction and maintenance of any kind. But having a comfortable, safe shelter to live in is important to me. Looking forward, I'm finding that a lot of modern building and maintenance seem beyond me, either because of skill or money. I think that as time goes on (and even now) homeowners are having a hard time maintaining their homes conventionally. As energy prices rise the price of these inputs will continue to rise also. I've seen a lot of really awesome examples of people building their houses out of natural materials, and obviously, my life is full of examples of people living in conventional homes repairing (or paying to have repaired) their homes in conventional ways.

Now that that's been introduced and described, here's my question. Are there examples or media of people maintaining their conventionally built homes using natural techniques? Does anyone have experience with this sort of transition? I think that, theoretically, it should be possible for me to phase in natural building over time. For example, thatching a roof when it needs replaced instead of using shingles, or replacing walls as they need to be replaced with natural filling and insulation.

Thank you!
 
master steward
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You bring up a good question that I think is hard to answer.  Or it's easy to answer with "It depends".

First off, I do a lot of home remodeling and building and learned it all myself or with friends.  You'd be surprised at what you can learn to do with a few videos and watching some educational tv.  Doing the work yourself saves a ton of money.

Now to the thrust of your question.  Whatever type of "maintenance" the house needs would likely dictate if there's a natural option to change over to.  

Need new shingles?  Replacing them is a big job but you can do it yourself.  Upgrading to metal roofing is a big job that I'd pay to have done.  I believe changing over to natural thatching would be pretty hard to do correctly with a high risk of leaks.  I saw a BBC show on thatching and it was a neat process but one you had to learn from an experienced person.  Unless you live in Europe I bet you'll have trouble finding an experienced mentor.

Siding is falling off?  Replacing is a long job but you can do it yourself.  Upgrading to a natural and similar material (cedar shingles) is a longer job and probably more expensive with more skill needed.  But very doable.  Upgrading to a cheap and natural solution (plaster/cob/who-knows-what) could be very cheap and just as easy/hard as doing shingles.  But it could change the way the wall works (vapor transmission, waterproofing, etc) and you'd want to be sure it isn't affecting the rest of the building unintentionally.

Need new water heater?  Replacing it is pretty doable.  Upgrading to high efficiency is a bigger job but probably doable.  Switching to a permie-ish solar system is a bigger yet job but probably doable.  

When remodeling, we implement some natural methods in our construction.  We disassemble pallets and use the wood as interior paneling.  We did a paper bag floor in the laundry room.  So far, finished surfaces were the easiest way we found to use natural methods.
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Pallet paneling
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Paper bag floor
 
master pollinator
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I just want to mention that I think this is a really great topic!  Most people live in conventional homes and I don't think it would make sense to abandon those homes with their embodied energy in order to build new, natural homes.  Transitioning to more natural, less destructive maintenance techniques is very important, in my opinion.

 
pollinator
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I've done A LOT and you could say I've done most of it with recycled materials. Pallets make up my kitchen wall cladding. Metal sheeting that's been on our property forever is our fireplace surround, etc.

We've also paid to have things done. We had all our windows and doors replaced and we paid for that. Since then I've replaced every door we paid to have done. They were done so poorly. At this point we've decided if we are going to be disappointed in the work we might as well do it ourselves.

I think use recycled stuff when you can but I didn't skimp on the framework. I bought 2x4's for that.
 
master steward
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We have a manufactured home, that came with out property. When the asphat shingle roof needed to be replaced, we opted for a metal roof: long lifespan, easy maintenance, and we can use the water run off to water out plants. When I had the money to replace our extremely cheap, largely plastic bathroom fixtures (towel racks and toilet paper holder), I replaced them with ones we made out of steal and brass pipes.

I wish that we had used milk-based paints instead of latex paints when we repainted, but honestly, the unnaturalness and toxicity of latex paint wasn't something that occurred to me 6 years ago. I also wish that we had chosen a more eco-friendly floor when we replaced the flooring. But, once again, it hadn't occurred to us--we just used laminate flooring (the kind that looks like wood and snaps together).

I know that, when we need to replace the carpets, we'll be choosing wool carpets, and when we have to replace the cabinets, we'll be going for solid wood, unstained ones made locally. But, these things aren't broken yet. To toss them out and replace them with natural options would be bad for the environment. (1) We'd be adding things unnecessarily to the landfills, and (2) We be using up natural resources unnecessarily. Now, of course, if we had health issues that required us to get rid of the toxic materials, than I think the renovations would be warranted. But, as it is, it makes more sense to just change things to natural options as they break.

I'm going to brainstorm a list things to "upgrade" to natural options when/if they break:

  • Conventional paints to milk-based paints
  • "hardy-board"/cement fiber board siding to cedar siding
  • Plastic bathtub to a metal or porcelain tub
  • Conventional Flame-retardant carpets to wool carpets
  • Laminate flooring to hardwood flooring
  • Metal gutters, not plastic ones (ours are metal, but I think they make plastic ones...)
  • Install a woodstove or--better yet--a rocket mass heater
  • Glass windows, rather than vinyl
  • Solid wood molding and doors, stained/lacquered molding and fake-wood doors


  • And, just because I'm thinking of it, here's things for the home decor:
  • Towel racks to ones made from unpainted metal
  • Soap dispensers from plastic ones to ones made from mason jars, metal or stone (we've got soapstone ones in our bathroom!))
  • Tephlon pans to stainless steal/ceramic/cast iron
  • Memory foam/toxic/flame-retardant matress to a latex or cotton or wool mattress. We bought our kids nice, natural mattresses for their crib and then beds. But, we still sleep on our memory foam that we purchased 10 years ago.
  • Our laminate desk into a solid wood desk that is unfinished/shelaqued/milk-painted
  • Replace fluorescents with incandescents or LED (we've done this with all but two of our lights)
  • Install a clothesline! (We did this early on, but it's a good reminder for those that haven't thought about "solar drying")



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    Michael Jay, I would be interested to get more information on your paper bag floor
     
    Posts: 50
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    I really enjoyed your comments Nicole.

    It got me thinking about the most recent upgrade we did on our house, the countertops. We ended up with granite. Fortunately living in NH (the granite state) it was quarried somewhat locally, but I really didn’t even think to research the environmental impact of that choice. I’m thinking it’s probanly better than the fiberboard/laminate option, but I’m wondering how it compares to say concrete or butcher block? I’d love to hear some input on this from people.

    As for siding we have grooved red cedar shingles. We had to re-shingle the south side of the house last year and the red cedar shingles are crazy expensive. Fortunately our house is small and the south side has a lot of windows so the total area wasn’t large, but we could not have afforded changing over our entire house to cedar shingles.

    It does seem like a lot of the “natural” materials are more expensive. Cedar shingles, granite counters, solid wood doors instead of the hollow laminate doors... you get the point. But that said most of these options also have a much longer life. So the investment could be worth it financially speaking.

    It really is amazing what you can learn to do by watching a few videos. We have done nearly every project ourselves. This is our first home so we had little to now experience before hand, and yet we have now done floor installs, retaining walls buildt with wood, stone or prefab blocks, wiring, painting interior and exterior, building and finishing new walls, patching holes in walls, replaced light fixtures, replaced faucets, re-shingling exterior walls, and removed old counters.  The only things we have hired for was the window replacements and the new counter install both of which were required by the manufacturing company for quality assurance. If you just have some patience, attention to detail, and some faith in yourself, you can do more than you may think. Doing the labor yourself has the added benefit of freeing up more funds to spend on quality materials. Certainly a worthwhile benefit in my book.
     
    Posts: 12
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    Hey John!  
    I had the same question about the paper bag floor.  This is the link I found when I googled it:  http://www.instructables.com/id/Paper-Bag-Floors/

    This site has good pictures to go along with the instructions.

    Enjoy!
    SueJean
     
    Mike Haasl
    master steward
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    That Instructables link is similar to what we did.  I found a bunch of information online when we researched it.  One complication (according to online sources) is that mine is on cement.  

    I generally followed Ruby Bloom's directions with varnish suggestions from Domestic Imperfection.  Read her newest varnish updates if you want to get more uncertain about your choices

    We used actual paper bags which the missus liked but I wouldn't do again.  If you do that, go with bags without writing on them.  Tearing the written-on parts off was a pain and led to some repeating paterns.  If you don't remove the writing you may see Piggly Wiggly on your floors forever.  The seemingly identical paper bags we got ended up being three different colors once wet.  Luckily they ended up pretty random so it was ok.

    We just balled up the paper, dunked it in the water/glue mix, spread it out on the floor and used a brush to get more glue in dry spots.  Flipped it over and verified glue on that side and stuck it down.  They say to have good overlaps.  I didn't see any shrinkage but we did have spots not glue down and when we sanded them or cut them off we were happy to have paper underneath.  Once it was all glued down we fixed bumps, folds and bubbles by sanding, sanding and slicing/gluing (respectively).  The paper seems to swell up as the glue dries so a little folded edge will feel 4x as thick after the glue dries.

    Then we used the BONA varnish and put two coats on.  No stain in our case.

    Hope this helps
     
    gardener
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    Word to the wise about mixing natural materials with conventional, particularly milk paints:

    Even finish materials have functions.  For home interiors, drywall is 'expecting' a coat of latex paint, to complete its function as the interior vapor barrier/vapor retarder.  
    We did most of our bathroom ceiling in gypsum instead of green board (an iffy choice), and did not initially install a vent fan (recommended).
    Then, we used milk paint instead of latex on most of it.  
    Now that we are using the bathroom more for physical therapy/soaks and long showers, we have a major mold problem in the ceiling, that will be a pain in the butt to fix.

    Options for improving it:
    1- Toxic gick retreatment: Bleach to kill mold, then latex paint, to see if the original drywall would have been fine if we'd finished it 'properly.'
    2- Conventional upgrade: Mask up, tear out the moldy drywall, replace with green board (a water-resistant and mold-resistant sheet material, similar to drywall or cement board), then paint with a vapor-retarder paint.  (Could go to linseed oil instead of latex at this last step, if we want a more costly / more natural finish layer in our space with us.)
    3- Old-school upgrade: Replace or treat and cover the moldy drywall with tile backer, and tile the bathroom with ceramic tile.  Could try a lime grout instead of plastic goop, but would want to research that option thoroughly so we don't end up with mold again.
    4- Casbah natural upgrade: Replace the moldy drywall with cement board, or lime plaster-and-lath (both water-resistant, and firm).  Plaster with lime, finish with burnished lime 'tadelakt' made with local dolomite and type S lime, and natural soap.

    (0) - do nothing.... mold is 'natural,' right?

    Decision criteria:
    Time & money: We have already purchased the vent fan, which was about $100, and the wiring and switches to install it.  Awaiting a final decision about ceiling replacement to proceed with the whole project.
    1) looks like about 1 day's work, 1 person.  Maybe $50 in supplies.  
    2) looks like about 3 days' work for 2 people, maybe $500 in supplies?
    3) Looks like about a week's work for 1-2 people, depending on skill, and maybe $2000 in supplies?
    4) Looks like a week or two of work for 2 people, high skill level to accomplish crack-resistant and water-resistant detailing; maybe $1500 in supplies?  (plaster & lath is more time & skill vs. cement board which is more conventional coatings)

    Budgets are very approximate.  Things usually take longer, and cost more, than you think.

    Natural materials that will handle the levels of humidity produced by warm indoor showers, without growing mold, are a bit of a technical specialty.  
    Let alone how to handle flexing (which happens with heat, moisture, & building movement) without cracking, peeling, or delaminating.

    When looking at returning to 'natural' finishes and materials, it's worth looking at the traditional lifestyles that accompanied them.

    Most pre-industrial areas did not have anything like our warm showers.  Bathing (if it was regularly practiced at all) might be by washcloth and rinse, or by sit bath, or by a full-immersion pool.  
    Some cultures (medieval Europe) believed bathing was unhealthy; possibly due to disease transmission in public baths.  Some cultures (various native American, middle Eastern) believed in daily bathing, which might be anything from a dip in the river to a scented indoor wash.  a "japanese bath" is a tiled area where you sit or squat to bath, pouring water over yourself with a dipper; variations on this method have been used in many areas including Moroccan village-style 'hammam', American pioneers with washtubs by the fire, and re-invented by campers and RVers wherever the main source of warm water does not come through a tap but through a fire or stovetop.
    Separate buildings or areas for bathing were and are common in many parts of the world (sauna, sweat lodge, hammam, 'Turkish' baths, Roman hypocaust baths, mineral hot springs, etc.).  In some cases, this separation was known to alleviate concerns about fire, steam, hot water, etc. which might be expensive or dangerous to handle for ordinary homes.  A bath attendant and/or maintenance specialist could assist in making sure both bathers and building had their needs met.


    For our purposes, to maintain a walk-in shower that allows a 6'6" Ernie to stretch his injured leg under warm running water, we will probably be fitting out most of the bathroom in mold-resistant materials, one way or another.
    Because the bathroom has suspended floors over drainage, as an addition, we will also need to pay good attention to frost protection for the crawl space plumbing, repair/replacement access for when attention falls short, and detailing corners and joints so that any flexing of the wood-framed building does not crack brittle finishes, allowing water to enter the walls and condense against colder surfaces.

    Similar issues arise in greenhouses, especially those connected to living spaces.  And, to a somewhat lesser degree, in kitchens where cooking and washing produces a lot of steam.

    The older and more experienced I get with buildings, and their building issues, the more I respect the skills and knowledge embodied in a traditional trades apprenticeship (3 to 7 years, in Europe), and the value of experts' time and attention.  
    Sure, you can spend less money at a time to alter things yourself, but you might cause permanent damage/degradation, and dramatically reduce the lifespan of the building.  

    According to "001 The Perfect Wall," the priorties for any shelter are:
    1) Control water - Keep out rain and snow, control drainage and groundwater exposures
    2) Control air - Keep wind out or allow cross-breeze, manage ventilation, separate indoor air from structure ventilation (wall, attic, crawl space).  This step also implies controlling critters: mice, spiders, bats, etc.
    3) Control vapors - they move water and other stuff into/through your walls; all walls need at least 1 way to dry out, preferably 2 ways.
    4) Control thermal transfer.  If you don't  have all 3 of the above handled, insulation won't do much for you, and may become an attractive nuisance/trap for condensation, mold, & critters.

    The roof and foundations are your primary tools for #1.
    The walls, ceiling (sealing!), trim, and finishing materials can all be important for #2.
    The finish materials, including plasters, paints, drywall and its finishing, contribute to #3. (Unfinished wood may warp or crack, causing it to be useless as a wind/vapor barrier; so finishes to wood are also functional at this stage)
    Thermal materials generally means insulation (foams, fiber, board or batt, straw-clay, or blown materials such as cellulose or chaff); but the construction and thickness of walls, ceiling, roof, and foundations can also play a role in final results.  

    Any given building material has a function - for example 'siding' generally is a weather- and UV-resisting layer, with good ventilation, that goes over the rest of the wall.  So swapping an oil-painted wood siding for vinyl can work out fine.
    Plasters are generally a wind and vapor barrier; they require fairly dry conditions for good performance, and if plastering both sides of a wall, you want to be sure you know how any trapped vapors are going to escape.   You also need a decent roof overhang to protect most types of exterior plaster, if it's the kind that can dry outwards it can also suffer from excessive weather trying to penetrate inwards.  (If it's not the kind that allows water to dry outwards, a new, impermeable exterior plaster can cause major damp problems inside of cold-climate walls.)
    So replacing siding with plaster might be asking for trouble, unless it's the perfect match where their different functions are not critical to building performance.

    Roofing materials have specific types of slopes, weights, and support systems.  
    Replacing a lighter roof with heavier (slate, tile) or with something that holds onto snow and moisture more (living roof), you'd need to give some consideration to the roof and building structural/load bearing capacity.
    Steepest to shallowest, I'd guess the order is something like thatch, wood shake/shingle, slate/tile, metal (wide range), asphalt shingle, membrane /living roofs.  
    There's a lot of overlap, but if you try to put thatch on a flat-roofed building you will have a non-functional mess, or you'd have to build a new, steeper roof over the old one.

    There is at least one good thatching training program in the US, Deanne Bednar at Strawbale Studio in Michigan hosts workshops and internships where folks can learn a lot about these methods (and help keep invasive Phragmites reeds in check).


    As my own house shows, there are significant gaps in my understanding and workmanship.  
    I'm not claiming to know better than anyone else - just learning from the pitfalls of my own former optimism.

    Houses are expensive.
    One other thing that people used to do differently, was to have more adults sharing a home.  That would in theory also provide more hands, and/or more income, to share the burden of housekeeping, maintenance, and repairs for a given house.  
    Being the 'head of the household" was a position of added responsibility and status.  
    I find the cost of repairing/remodeling daunting in both time and materials, but it's hard to convince Ernie (or any of our other relatives who also feel the pinch) to combine households.  
    Culturally, that seems to imply some sort of social failure.  "I'm not 20 anymore."  

    But by living alone through our most productive years, and only rooming together when we are very young or old - is our reluctance to live together a sort of social failure in itself?

    Shared bath-houses had a lot of social functions, as well as the basic function of keeping people clean and healthy.

    Food for thought, anyway.  


    -Erica
     
    James Landreth
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    Tyler Ludens wrote:I just want to mention that I think this is a really great topic!  Most people live in conventional homes and I don't think it would make sense to abandon those homes with their embodied energy in order to build new, natural homes.  Transitioning to more natural, less destructive maintenance techniques is very important, in my opinion.



    Thank you :) This is a good way of summarizing some of what I was trying to convey. Reusing is at least as important as recycling, and in a way we're just reusing these structures that are already here
     
    Posts: 861
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    Have you thought about a metal roof and then capture the water off it.
    If you install insulation directly under the roof, fibreglass wool and silver lined paper, you will improve the insulation on the house.
    Maybe you can practise learning building skills by helping somebody else and then have them help you.
    Building is not hard, just knowing the tachnquies is the trick and it can be learned by reading or doing.
    Good luck
     
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    I know nothing about building, but I have dealt with mold a lot...I do not think it is possible to truly remediate mold with bleach.  You can lighten the look of the mold, maybe slow or stop the top layer, but the unseen mold inside/underneath continues to grow, and can cause considerable health issues. Most companies that remodel or renew homes will not bleach and cover, and insurance companies (I know not an issue here) are very amenable to complete replacement of any water damaged materials, especially in Florida. I have had 2 homes with water damage that had to be properly addressed, and am thankful that insurance covered the repair.  

    I am so glad to see all the folks willing to learn to do their own repairs, and even help on habitat projects and friend builds to learn, so much can be done with a bit of mentoring, reading, watching.  But mold can be pretty sneaky and pretty virulent, causing a wide array of health problems, hard to detect, doctors never look at your environment, they just push symptom pills, which just adds to your body's toxic load.  So just my grammotherly, old nurse advice, please take time to learn the correct way to get rid of mold!

    Happy homesteading to all : )

     
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    Hello,

    This is my first post on the forum, so bare with me on mistakes or strange markup.

    We bought an old house (<1900) in Belgium with the intention of renovating it to modern standards using as honest materials possible, without going crazy. Keeping in mind it has to stay sell-able within the current market.

    So far we:
    -stripped all the walls by hand to discover 20+ layers of stuff.
    -replaced the entire floor between the first and the attic by new wood beams, strong enough to have a small party on the attic
    -insulated our roof with sheeps-wool from Dosscha (dutch, great stuff)
    -used Fermacell drywall-ish panels (very strong, but would not recommend. Hard to handle, uses a lot of glue I don't think is very nature friendly) don't know any alternative at the moment though.
    -Finished the drywalls with Tierrafino loam/clay Finish (ecofriendly material, but hard to master. Gives a Crepi like finish and a lot of sand dust falls off of it. We didn't close the windows properly once and the rain damaged parts of it. So careful there near water sensitive areas)
    -Had some OSB floor boards that came with the house, so used those on top of the new wood beams.
    -Steico underfloor insulation against contact-noise. A woodfiber panel easily cut to size.
    -semi wooden floors. 4mm Oak glued on top of cross laminated pine. Uses less scarse woods and has better shrink factor. Also easier to place, and cheaper! No need for glue or nails.
    -hired a company to replace windows. Durable non treated Padouk from controlled  foresting. Maybe oak is a more eco firiendly wood from nearby, but needs to be replaced twice as fast. Not sure what the best option was there.
    -behind the house theres an extra building with a flat roof, we had to compromise on firestone epdm roofing for warranty reasons and simply not finding a decent alternative. Also outsourced and learned from them how to do it myself next time. Because the roof had to be walkable, we used conventional hardfoam insulation, sadly.
    -Loam for the walls, finished with tierrafino loam/clay finish. (colour tip: dover white is way more sandy and dirty than ayers rock.)

    It's a game of give and take, trying to make a change as much as comfortably possible, by using less powertools and finding the balance between eco building methods and conventional ones. The first time is always the hardest and longest time, I am sure this will get better in time.

    I knew I wanted to rebuild a house, so took some lessons beforehand, which came in really handy, except for the fact you only learn how to use the most recent materials, more often not the healthiest materials.

    I encourage other people to have similar adventures, it has helpen me develop in so many ways.

    Good vibes to all the other adventurers out there!


     
    master pollinator
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    I've got a retrofitting idea that I might start doing in one room this summer. Our daughter is housebound with CF/ME and spends most of her days in her "happy place" doing artwork in her bedroom. We want to make the space as friendly as possible, while at the same time increasing its warmth and dryness in the winter (it's at the cold south end of the house and NZ building standards with regard to insulation and thermal bridging are Absolute Shite). Rather than tearing into wall and ceiling cavities to add insulation, I want to increase the thermal mass on the interior surfaces and my plan is to use some light earth panels fixed to the existing structure.

    So, the big idea is to get coir matting, such as that used on roading cuts to prevent erosion, cut it into manageable pieces of a square meter or so, and coat it with clay slip. When it's dry, I'll screw the panels to the existing studs (find them first), then skim coat with earthen or lime plaster. This will create a bit more insulation, but more importantly will add a fair bit of mass on the occupied side, and possibly help with moisture management to a degree. It's that last bit that I'm not completely comfy with: since the normal modern stick-framed house depends on the interior paint as part of the moisture barrier, will an earthen interior be effectively stranded from its function of humidity control? Should I strip off all latex paint first? This puts a huge work increase into the project and I'm already time poor.
     
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    Please, if you want to do a natural building method, attend a workshop and build a house. But transitioning one style into another will be a colossal waste of money. I have 40 years of construction experience but I can give you the advice of the best carpenter I know "put new wine in new bottles".
     
    James Landreth
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    Hi G Mofatt,
    Can you give some specific examples? I'm interested to hear what you have to say. I think that maybe you're right in that it's wise to be strategic about what changes you implement in particular, but natural building has a pretty wide range of practices. Some of the posters above put in some examples of renovations they've done using natural or semi-natural methods
     
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    The house we bought was pretty much a metal shell with a hardwood floor, so we were able to use some natural building ideas early on:

    Floor coating was 2 coats of 50% pure tung oil and 50% pure orange solvent mixed together. This made our house smell like tasty oranges for quite a while. We probably didn't cure it for long enough, or do enough coats of it in some areas, but it worked really well in the bedrooms. Other areas that got wet early on it hasn't been so good for, but I think now it's cured for longer it can handle water a bit better. I'd like to do more coats of this some day.

    For the plasterboard walls we used a natural clay paint from a German company called Volvox. This looks and feels really nice and doesn't stink. I think it has some toxin/EMF absorbing properties too.

    Natural tiles in the bathroom and laundry. The laundry doubles as a food storage room, and the tiles act as thermal mass to keep everything a bit colder than the rest of the house.

    Natural unfinished timber in the kitchen.

    Clothesline outside. I got a hill's hoist-style one and put it on the slope of a hill, so that my little helpers can reach the clothesline on one side, and then spin it around and hang things out on all sides of it.

    Wood cooking stove, composting toilet, greywater system.
     
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    Tyler Ludens wrote:I just want to mention that I think this is a really great topic!  Most people live in conventional homes and I don't think it would make sense to abandon those homes with their embodied energy in order to build new, natural homes.  Transitioning to more natural, less destructive maintenance techniques is very important, in my opinion.



    Tyler, you mentioned the magic word... maintenance.

    Although it's not purist "natural", we built a conventional wood frame house with a tile roof and a stucco exterior. Clay tiles and cement are chemically inert as well as being highly fire resistant. They are also zero maintenance. The colored cement coat never needs to be painted and looks exactly like when it was new even 19 years later.



     
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    Kate Downham wrote:Floor coating was 2 coats of 50% pure tung oil and 50% pure orange solvent mixed together.



    When you say orange solvent, what is that? Can I make it or something similar, myself, out if oranges...? Or oranges and...?

    Thanks!
     
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    I have done quite a bit of this in my place.  
    Things like a low slope roof that was roll roofing when it needed to be reroofed a large beam added underneath, edges added, roofed with EPDM and to make into a living roof (while I ended up taking it out 20 years later it could work well in another location) ;  

    cob addition/expansion to a room, so this is a cob halfcircle that connects to standard stick framing, this worked fantastic and has been here for more than 15 years, the wall that was taken out had materials saved and used elsewhere;  

    shed turned into an office, this was a stick frame with plywood siding on outside, no inner wall surface, we added wiring to it, a couple windows, left the plywood siding and insulated with light straw clay then earth plastered, lime wash, then color wash, havent noticed any problems it has been over 15 years, it was converted from office to extra guest bedroom years ago and I stayed there myself for 3 months, lovely space to sleep in;  

    the rest of the large studio room that has the cob addition was garage space, so had no inside walls or insulation, this also was insulated with light straw clay with earth plaster inside and a clay alis;  

    a downstairs hallway when I needed to repaint I tried out the fancy store bought clay plaster finish, it was lovely to work with, I do not remember the brand, nice shade of green and I added mica, this is a small hallway and now and then when someone from the building trades goes thru, they notice and comment, I wish I had the energy to do more of this inside the main house.  I stirred sand into regular low VOC primer, you have to stir it all the time as it settles, and put this on the drywall to prime so there was some teeth for the earth finish to stick to.  

    there was a screen porch off the kitchen side of the house and the wall there I took out the screening and put in a window and light straw clay insulation, there is no siding on the outside of this, and I have been low on time and energy so the wall there has had no plaster inside or out yet, and it is holding up well, I will post on a thread a few pictures of light straw clay retrofit sometime now that I have access to a laptop again.  Walls are doing great 8 years or more no plaster, 110 inches of rain last year.  The other wall in this space is conventional, and the third wall is window to the greenhouse

    Greenhouse is the south part of what was the screen porch, it is a retrofit of mine, small but sufficient.  Plants get started there for the garden but it also is a major source of passive heat gain in the winter for the rest of the house, I just open the door to the house on sunny cold winter days.  roof for this is polycarbonate panels, clear, corragated.  The rest of that previous porch roof is shingles and I was able to do a good transition that doesnt leak.

    Most interior walls in this house are tongue and groove wood siding already, it was built that way, cabin feel.  Unfinished fir, and there is no problems to the stick frame wall system with this so you could do this somewhere else, but as said elsewhere to mind the intentions with your wall systems and moisture.  It is 2x4 walls, outside is tar paper with a thin plywood siding, T1-11, whole sheets. Insufficient cavity insulation, fiberglass that is foil backed, the foil backed side is on the inside walls side so is stapled  from the inside -- this is nominally the vapor barrier on the interior of the house, except where they forgot to install it at all....but it is in the majority of places, then interior walls for all bedrooms is the tongue and groove fir siding.  

    Ideas I havent done that would be appropriate in a regular house:

    Convert the back wall between the great room and a bedroom to Cob, leave the stick frame supports in.  Just take the drywall off and put nails into the 2x4's to give teeth to hold to the cob.  One section bottle wall as that bedroom needs more light, the rest just the cob as more mass is needed to hold heat in this house in general and this room could use more winter heat, the wood stove is on the other side of the great room from this proposed wall.  I intend to get to this someday. We will see.

    convert bottom portion of wall between the great room and the greenhouse to stone or cob this would give some slow heat transfer between the two spaces, again leave 2x4's in place.  Less likely that I will do this, but someone else might.

    I have seen in a book and onlince a standard house wrapped with straw bales and plastered.

    Some houses could get earth bermed on the north side, depends on the house and location, my garage that got the living roof could have been earth sheltered on teh north side, but I am not going to

    other thoughts are to mind shear needed when changing exterior walls to natural building.  That new straw bale book shows that new CA building code allows the exterior plaster to be used for shear strength if it is reinforced and thick enough and sits on the foundation, so in retrofit this is not likely to have foundation wide enough, so maybe dont have entire house or the structural walls go light straw clay with plaster on both sides if you need the shear unless you reinforce and watch the detailing to the foundation if in earthquake or high storm wind ( hurricane ? ) areas

    Of course there are more standard type materials to use when replacing and remodeling such as mindful floor coverings, real wood shelfs and cabinets, wood windows, tile and not plastic shower surrounds, etc....

    We got rid of air conditioners and added better ventalation and shading,  operable skylights and a trellis on the south side with grape vines.  I made sure when the south side sliding doors where replaced to get them NOT with low E coating as I need that passive heat gain in the winter

    I have seen a house up here with a rocket stove added.  There is a wood miller here who sells locally cut and milled madrone wood flooring, in Oregon you can get myrtle wood local grown and milled for flooring.  





     
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    first of the threads I will post with pictures intergrating natural building into an existing standard structure   https://permies.com/t/116295/Remodel-retrofit-natural-building#946117
     
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