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Kelly Hart

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since May 22, 2018
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Kelly Hart is a pioneering earthbag builder, author, filmmaker and webmaster. The building of his multi-dome earthbag Colorado residence is chronicled in the video Building with Bags: How We Made Our Experimental Earthbag / Papercrete House . Kelly also founded and hosts the widely visited natural and green building websites www.greenhomebuilding.com, devoted to all aspects of sustainable architecture and natural building, www.dreamgreenhomes.com, which features a wide range of ecological home plans for sale by various architects and designers, and www.earthbagbuilding.com which explores in depth the many possibilities for building with earthbags. Kelly’s other publications include Rolling Shelter: Vehicles We Have Called Home, Remodel Green: Make Your Home Serve Your Life, Earthbag Architecture: Build Your Dream with Bags and Essential Earthbag Construction.
Silver City, NM USA
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Recent posts by Kelly Hart

I moved to the fairly arid and warm Southwest about four years ago, with great ambitions for developing a large garden in my back yard. I laid out and dug a lovely branching Permaculture garden with swales to collect rainwater. Then I set about improving the poor soil by mulching with commercial straw, leaves and wood chips, and adding local goat manure, bio-char charged with activated microbes, and even some alfalfa pellets to the soil. Each successive year I seemed to be getting better veggie production, until last year when practically nothing wanted to grow. Many plants that had flourished other years barely grew; it was very disappointing.

Then one of the members of our local permaculture group mentioned that he had a very similar problem, and he attributed it to the accumulation of glysophate from straw he had purchased! I think that this might be my problem also, especially when I realized that the goat manure was likely contaminated with glysophate-laced hay fed to the goats, and even the commercial alfalfa pellets could have been contaminated. How discouraging to poison your garden when you are doing the best you can to enhance it! Now I am focusing on converting the garden to primarily a food forest with as many hardy perennials as will grow, given the conditions.

Janeen Reavis wrote:Question: I have a "conventional" home in Cary NC where it is extremely humid in the summer and snow in winter. My house has a sloped crawlspace (where water heater, dehumidifier and furnace/a/c and furnace vents , plumbing are located. It is a concrete block foundation and brick exterior on the main level, then siding on the 2nd story. Timber framing. I want to remodel my home one room at a time by removing the sheet rock and insulation and mixing just hemp hurds with clay (not lime) and water to form the walls/insulation and then put clay plaster as the finish. Is this doable? Is it ok to put the clay/hemp right up against the exterior brick and timber framing? Is there any moisture issues with doing that? Eventually I want to remove the flooring and fill the crawlspace with rock, sand and earth and top with hemp/clay ?? for a finished breathable earthen floor and relocate the water heater and hopefully remove the dehumidifier. Since I have timber framing for the structural aspect of it and I understand hemp is not structural (although the clay should be sturdier than lime) would this be ok??? Is it possible to do this from the inside out? Since it is winter now, I would like to do the interior walls and save any exterior projects for the summer. Thoughts???


For your walls what you propose is probably doable, but I question whether you would ultimately benefit from doing it. Hempcrete is not any more insulating than the existing fiberglass, and you could keep the drywall in place and apply an earthen plaster over it to achieve the same effect with considerably less work and expense. If you prepare the wall with a gritty surface it will hold the earthen plaster.
The reason that lime is used with the hemp hurd is that there is a chemical reaction that happens and the result is quite stable; I am not sure if clay would work as well. Hempcrete can be used in wall cavities, though, so this approach is possible.
As for your idea of replacing the crawl space with fill and creating an earthen floor, I suppose that this is also possible, but you would likely be compromising access to the plumbing and other utilities located there. Floors do not generally need to be breathable. If you wanted the earthen floor for its thermal mass, you could also achieve this by the use of tile or brick laid on the floor... as long as the sub-floor was made sturdy enough.
6 months ago
cob

Tom Connolly wrote:Thanks for your post, and the helpful replies.  Someone mentioned insulation.  How does it work to add insulation to the earthbags, on the inside with the soil?  I have read of people adding scoria, rice hulls, even styrofoam peanuts.  Are these helpful?  Do they detract from the strength of the bag?  What happens after several years when the rice hulls degrade?  Will the empty space they leave still serve as insulation?


Adding insulation with the soil is generally counter-productive; it looses most of the insulation value and may detract from the soil forming a firm block. Scoria, rice hulls or styrofoam can be used as fill in their own right, and would provide excellent insulation, although you have to be careful because only the scoria would be weight bearing. To insulate earth-filled bags it is best to add a separate layer on the outside, which could be commercial foam, papercrete, light straw/clay or even strawbales or more bags filled with insulation.
6 months ago
cob
What you describe sounds quite doable and would result in a very comfortable and sustainable natural home in most any climate. Strawbale walls often do have wooden plates at the top to connect the roof to.
6 months ago
cob
Adobe is a thermal mass material and provides little insulation. It evens out the temperature swings and provides great comfort, especially if it is provided with an insulating layer on the outside. I live in an old adobe house that I provided with 1 1/2 inches of foam insulation on the exterior covered with stucco. This house is very comfortable and economical to live in.
6 months ago
cob
I always do the roasting outside so the fumes don't overtake the house.
6 months ago
I have been buying green organic coffee beans and roasting them at home for several decades. I have lately been buying the beans at www.deansbeans.com but there are other online outlets as well. The green beans will keep well for many years, so I stock up and only buy them every few years.

For roasting I use an old rotary popcorn maker that I bought years ago at a yard sale; it still works well. I like a fairly light roast, so I can monitor this easily. I roast about half a cup at a time, and will roast one cup of beans for the next phase of my process. Then I make a medium grind using my Vitamix blender with the dry blade (that I also use to make whole wheat flour).

Then I pour the entire batch of ground coffee (about 1 pound) into a large container (at least two quarts). Into this container I add nearly two quarts of filtered cold water, stir the whole affair well, and set it on the counter to steep over night, or for at least 8 hours. It should be stirred again before the next phase.

The next phase is to drain off the cold processed coffee extract into another large container, using a funnel fitted with a standard paper coffee filter. At first the extract drains quickly, but soon it slows to just a drip as the filter gets clogged with coffee fines. The result is the essence of fine brewed coffee that has never been heated beyond the initial roasting.

Cold processed coffee extract can be immediately frozen (which I do with most of mine) or kept in the refrigerator for use whenever you want a fine cup of coffee. A standard, fairly strong cup of coffee takes about one ounce of extract, but I like a fairly light brew, so I usually only use about half an ounce per cup. The beauty of this is that you can easily make the coffee as strong or weak as you like just by metering the amount of extract used.

Another aspect of this approach to making coffee is that it eliminates the typical bitterness that most coffee possesses, so the taste is extremely smooth. You still get the the full kick of caffeine though. The reason for this is that the extract does not contain the oils that harbor the bitterness because it is heating the grounds with hot water that transports the oils, and you initially only use cold water. This coffee is so smooth that it can often be consumed by people who have trouble with coffee upsetting their stomach.

I don't think that there is a more economical way to prepare coffee. I drink one cup a day and one pound of coffee will last me at least two months. And the brew always tastes fresh and aromatic. Furthermore, I can store several years worth of green beans as a hedge against the unknown future. I could even trade coffee for other goods, if it came to that.
6 months ago
I asked Catherine Wanek, the author of several books about strawbale houses, about your problem with the enduring smell and she wrote:

"Smelling straw is not the same as smelling rotting straw.  The moisture level readings he took are all reasonably good, within very acceptable tolerances.  Smelling straw indicates to me that there are gaps in the plaster somewhere, probably at the bottom or top of the wall.  Somewhere it's open and allowing the smell to escape, which is not necessarily mean the bales are wet.  I'd also recommend that he takes more moisture readings, specifically at the bottom of the walls, north, south, east and west. If there is condensation or excessive moisture, that is where it often concentrates.  If there are moisture readings above 20% relative humidity, that could be a problem.  It might mean there is capillary wicking from the ground, or condensation. If he finds gaps in the plaster, best to close those gaps. Hope this is helpful..."
9 months ago
My wife has a blog where she recently posted about how to deal with smoke and air pollution in the home. In it she advocates the use of small portable air filters. We have one of these and I am impressed with how well it clarifies the air and how quiet it is. See http://simplegreenliving.com/3791/using-air-filter-distant-forest-fire-smoke/?wphyperspeed=1533917087
10 months ago

Mark Tudor wrote:I think the answer depends on the root stock of the trees, and how you will prune or manage them, if at all. Some species will grow a lot larger than others depending on root stock. Do you plan to have companion plantings around each fruit tree, and use that tree as the anchor for various shrubs and ground covers?



Yes, I do plan to have a fairly dense understory associated with the trees.
10 months ago