by Brendan Thompson, Pacific Grove California
In Portland, Oregon I had the pleasure of helping Scott Howard and his capable crew build an earth bag house. Scott has been a creative builder for most of his life, and is dedicated to bringing more ecological and affordable housing into existence. In 2002 he founded Earthen Hand Natural Building to educate people through hands-on construction workshops. Over the past decade the Earthen Hand team has traveled to Thailand, Jamaica, Mali, and Puerto Rico, teaching and learning from the locals.
Scott's latest project is the Regenerative House, a modular open-source design that is extremely cost effective, easy to build and environmentally friendly. The philosophy behind the Regenerative House aligns with that of the Living Building Challenge, a competition which recently won the Buckminster Fuller Challenge “...the highest possible level of environmental performance, envisioning a built environment that is fully integrated with its ecosystem. It pushes the building industry to re-imagine business as usual, and it transforms building occupants from passive consumers into active stewards of increasingly scarce resources.”
The Earthen hand team held a building workshop July 14-31, to create a prototype of this groundbreaking blend of ancient and modern technique. The building will be sited at the Wirikutu Peace Fellowship in southern Colorado, future site of a Shambala Buddhist retreat and ecovillage.
The home achieves its remarkable self-sufficiency through a variety of technologies. Here are some of the most innovative: Hiperadobe: A plastic mesh bag, rather than a traditional closed-weave sack, encases small earthbags. This method uses less plastic and allows individual bags to pack together more tightly without the aid of barbed wire.
Ancient Nubian vault shape roofing: A curved roof structure follows the inverted shape of a chain hanging from each end (similar to a parabola). This technique allows for incredibly strong structural support without using much wood or any temporary formwork. First used in ancient Egypt, the technique was revitalized by the 20th-century Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy.
Earth berm around house: Depending on climate and soil types, the grading that slopes up to cradle the sides and rear of the building may have slightly different contours, but the overall effect is a passive heating and cooling mass that keeps the building warm in cool weather and cool in warm weather. In the 'urban' version of the designs, buttresses can be used instead of soil.
Myco-insulation and mycofiltration: Grown insulation comes in the form of mycelium (the 'root' structure for mushrooms) mixed with agricultural byproducts, then formed into any shape. These materials can be returned to nature after use, and careful drying during the formation process ensures that moisture and mold never become an issue. A mycelium mat and bucket system is also used to filter rainwater and reduce bacteria.
Vertical gardens and edible landscaping: Making the most of compact spacing for vegetation, many food needs can be addressed with just a few steps outside instead of a trip to the supermarket. Solar heat storage using vegetable oil: In addition to the solar electricity and energy-efficient LED lights, solar heat can be passively stored in a tank of vegetable oil in the home. The sun energy is captured by small capillary tubes just inside the windows that only block harmful rays. These tubes all lead to the central storage tank.
Earthen Hand is currently raising funds for construction of the Regenerative House and will be keeping video and photo records in order to create a documentary of the process. They currently have a time-lapse video of construction on an earlier version of the Regenerative House on their funding proposal page. For more information, to see the video or to donate, please click here.