Green Home Building and Sustainable Architecture

Sustainable architecture is an exciting and important field, with many people reviving traditional methods of building and others creating innovations to established practices. Kelly Hart, webmaster of the popular website www.greenhomebuilding.com, posts text and photos featuring what he discovers from around the world.

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Location: Crestone, Colorado, United States

Kelly Hart has been involved with green building concepts for much of his life. He has also worked in various fields of communication media, including still photography, cinematography, animation, video production and now website development. Kelly has lived in an earthbag/papercrete home that he built and consults about sustainable building design.

December 28, 2004

Architecture for Humanity

In searching the net for information about the disastrous quake and tidal wave that just struck Southeast Asia, I came upon this website (www.architectureforhumanity.org) that I recommend browsing.

They describe themselves as
a nonprofit organization, founded in 1999 to promote architectural and design solutions to global, social, and humanitarian crises. Through competitions, workshops, educational forums, partnerships with aid organizations, and other activities, Architecture for Humanity creates opportunities for architects and designers from around the world to help communities in need. We believe that where resources and expertise are scarce, innovative, sustainable and collaborative design can make a difference."

You can view many of the winning designs, which are truly innovative and practical, while often employing concepts and materials that are appropriate for the given region.

December 24, 2004

Amazing Rice Hulls

I have recently become familiar with the use of rice hulls as a material to build with. These unasumming little bits of of debris that are often discarded have found new value as insulation in wood-framed houses and as filler for earthbag projects. They are a durable and renewable material that will not easily burn or decay. They are reported to be about R-3 per inch as insulation, and will not harbor mold or fungus because they don't retain enough moisture to do so. All of this is without any added chemicals...a totally natural product that is often given away. The states where rice mills accumulate hulls include Lousiana, Texas, Arkansa, Missouri, Mississippi, Florida, and California. The hulls only weigh about 9 pounds per cubic foot, so weight is not much of issue in transporting them. They pack into a stable shape when mildly compressed; once they settle into a wall cavity or are packed into an earthbag, they are not shape-shifters.

Don Stephens has been experimenting with rice hulls in bags. He says, "I thought you might find this photo of interest...it's the bag-walled studio I'm mentoring/assisting the owners in building here in Spokane. The bags are just filled with packed, dry rice hulls and they are load-bearing, holding up the insulated bondbeam at the top and the poured-in-ricehull-insulated roof, which will end up planted, over its salvaged-carpet covered Mel-Rol waterproofing. There's been no settlement since construction and it feels SOLID, walking on the roof. The exterior will be stuccoed with slightly-stabilized cob and the interior will be earth plastered. The subfloor is of ricehull-liteclay, for insulation, and will be topped with cob-adobe.... : ) "

December 23, 2004

Thoughts on a Texas Energy Conference

I attended the Emissions Reduction & Leadership Summit held in San Antonio, Texas in mid December, since I had accepted an invitation to be a guest speaker on the topic of “Natural Building.” This event was primarily geared toward local agencies and companies, so I gained some perspective on what some of the local issues and concerns are. The city of Austin, Texas has been a leader in promoting sustainable architecture for over a decade, and the circle of their influence has been widening to other cities, such as San Antonio.

There is a real attempt to combine green architecture with affordable housing, so that people are attracted to be involved from both standpoints. It is a fact that even though an energy-efficient home might cost more initially, the savings in energy costs over time will quickly offset the initial cost of the home, often within just a few years of operation. It was pointed out that a small $80,000 home might only cost $2,000 to $3,000 more initially with greener options, such as better insulation and tighter ducting.

The representative from Austin’s green building program expressed the desire to eventually reach a balance of “zero net energy usage,” meaning that the home would produce as much energy as it consumed. To accomplish this the home would have to be equipped with renewable energy devices (such as solar electric or water heating panels) to offset other energy inputs. He indicated that this goal had not been met yet (at least as an affordable option), and I have my doubts as to whether it can be met, given the way houses are conventionally built.

In my presentation I emphasized the need to employ strategies for sustainable architecture that vastly diminish the use of milled lumber for framing houses and also ways to buffer the extremes of climate, such as with earth sheltering. In southern Texas, the greatest energy drain is during the summer when temperatures rise and air conditioning units are switched on. The sensible way of dealing with these conditions is to build into the ground and let the cooler temperature down there help make the home comfortable. When I mentioned this to a local Texan, he said he didn’t think folks were ready to abandon traditional house designs.

The main advice from various presenters at the conference focused on using fewer studs for framing, stuffing the walls with better, tighter insulation, and sealing air ducts so that smaller HVAC units can be used. While these measures will contribute to energy savings, the net effect would not approach the savings available from simple earth sheltering.

December 22, 2004

Commencing a Web Log

I have decided to replace the old Green Home Building E-zine, established in the spring of 2002 and continuing until the fall of 2004, with this Web Log. An archive of the old E-zines can be found on the http://www.greenhomebuilding.com/news_miscellany.htm page. There are two reason for moving to a web log rather than continuing with the E-zine: managing the E-zine subscription list has become cumbersome (there are about 1,000 subscribers) and a web log is much more interactive. You can (and are encouraged to) post your comments about any of the entries, and these will also get posted. It does mean that my E-zine subscribers will no longer be notified of new material being posted, so they will have to take a more active role in visiting the Web Log to find out what is new. I encourage you to bookmark this page to make this process easy.