House of our future

Finally, a post about building a green home. I admit I haven’t thought about our future home much over the summer and spring. Now that it is autumn and the oats will soon be taken care of, it will be time to explore our property some more and look for that south-facing hill that will serve as a building site. I am sure that our future home will be many years in the making, as we plan to do much of the work ourselves. Since the kids are still little (shhh don’t tell them they are little) it would be very difficult to start building. So right now we are in the planning stage, where we are thinking about materials, foundations, layout, and building sites.

One thing I have been able to build is a Lego house. I built Version 1.0 (and Version 2.0 after discussing things with Tom) and I wanted to post a bunch of pictures, but I think that I need to give some background before I rush into the pictures. Some of my readers are probably very familiar with alternative or “green” building ideas, but some might not be. If anyone is interested in an introduction, I recommend The Good House Book. This book has chapters on foundations, walls, roofs and shows traditional, modern, and alternative materials to use, as well as explaining what a good foundation or roof should do. As far as websites, I recommend Green Home Building as a place to start (this link is in the sidebar to the right, by the way).

I first learned about green house building after a friend, Heather, posted a link to pictures of her mother’s earthship. I had no idea what an earthship was. I remember looking at the pictures and not understanding what I was looking at as it mostly looked like a regular house, but a very cool one. So my next step, of course, was to ask Heather what the hell an earthship was. That, and Google, of course. Those two things sparked my interest and I read and learned a ton about earthships and other alternative building methods, including cordwood, straw bale, earthbags, cob, etc. Before hearing of earthships, I had an inkling in the back of my head that houses throughout the world were not all built the way modern houses in the US are built. I had heard of houses built out of straw bales, but didn’t know much other than the fact that you can build out of straw.

I’m not sure I am up for building an earthship as it seems like a ton of work, but I like the idea a lot. They are not just houses built of out old tires filled with rammed earth, but are supposed to be self-sufficient, zero waste systems. So it’s not a house, but a system. People who build earthships often live off-grid, which means they are not tied to power lines (or water or public sewage treatment or anything like that). The houses have solar and/or wind power, rain catchment and treatment, and greywater systems (the greywater is used to water the indoor plants and to flush toilets, assuming the toilets are not compostable). Blackwater, or water with fecal matter, is piped outdoors into landscaped areas. This way the landscaping gets watered while the water gets filtered through the plants.

If you want to learn more, here are a couple of videos you can watch:

Anyway, you can see how these ideas are really interesting and how building an earthship is really a lifestyle choice, not just a building choice. Anyone can build a log home or a straw bale home that is just like a regular home, with a furnace and air conditioning, public water and sewage or septic tank, and is tied to the power grid. You can build an earthship that way, too (and in some areas building code require a septic tank). You can build a straw bale house that is more like an earthship, too. So since I am not really into using a sledgehammer to ram earth into old tires, I figured straw bale is our best bet (though I’m not sure that is the best option since we are surrounded by woods!), but I want a lot of the same features as an earthship.

Some of our goals for our future home are:

  • to use solar and wind energy, and possibly micro-hydroelectric and be off-grid, if possible
  • to have a home that does not require a furnace or air conditioning
  • to reduce our energy use overall so that living off-grid doesn’t cost a fortune in solar panels and batteries or become a hardship
  • to use well water, but to also capture and store rainwater for gardening and landscaping and maybe to eventually use well water as backup from filtered rainwater
  • to not have a septic tank, but instead use graywater and blackwater for landscaping
  • use recycled, reclaimed, and natural materials to build the house, such as straw, dirt, aluminum cans and mortar for interior walls
  • to use materials that are local and abundant, as much as possible
  • to build into a south-facing hillside to take advantage of the thermal mass of the earth
  • to use passive solar building methods
  • to have a masonry oven heater

Now, we do live in a cold climate, so the idea of no heating might sound crazy. However, that is the reason we want to

  1. build into a south-facing hill, to take advantage of the thermal mass of the earth on the north side of the house
  2. have flooring that absorbs heat and lets it out later (another thermal mass), such as wood or tile,
  3. have a masonry oven heater
  4. have super insulation in the form of earthbags or straw bales, and
  5. design with passive solar methods, such as south facing windows to catch winter sun, which will in turn warm the earth to the north side of the house and warm the flooring and northern walls of the house, as well.

In cold northern climates, rooms should not be too deep, otherwise the northern side can get cold. Of course, it seems that if the northern side is also bermed by the earth this will be less of a problem. The straw bale walls also serve to keep heat in the house during the winter, and heat outside during summer.

A masonry oven heater is usually totally indoors and is made of materials that absorb heat and release it slowly (thermal mass again!). It has a chimney of course, but it looks like this on the inside. I really like the look of this one as well as the fact that it is in the middle of a great room. That is exactly what I want, a great room with a masonry oven heater in it.

So, here is one picture of the house I built out of Lego. I’ll post more pictures next time, as well as explaining why this was Version 1.0 and why I had to scrap it to make Version 2.0, which looks more like the Long House on the Prairie that was part of what inspired me to started the blog in the first place.

Version 1.0 layout (south is to the left)

Version 1.0 layout (south is to the left)

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7 Responses to “House of our future”

  1. Moon Over Martinborough Says:

    Thanks for introducing me to Earthships. Fascinating stuff.

    • hippygirl Says:

      I love earthships! The ideas are great. There are three books that Michael Reynolds wrote, too. They are a bit dated at this point, but are also revolutionary. I don’t actually own those, but I do have Comfort in Any Climate.

      I will be writing more about this soon! 🙂

  2. Hot Belly Mama Says:

    I love your blog so much! Just sat down and read the last few entries. Man, I miss having the time to do this.

    • hippygirl Says:

      I feel the same way about your blog. 🙂 I do sometimes have the time to read a bunch of blogs, but not always. Sometimes I’m happier when I don’t have a lot of computer time, if that makes sense.

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