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, 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.

May 10, 2005

Mexican Remodel Complete

As we are preparing to return to the U.S. for awhile, I want to show you how the completed remodelling project turned out on the little house we rented in Bernal, Mexico. In my last post I described how I created a roof over the open patio/courtyard. Since then I have totally enclosed the space by adding an end-wall created primarily with a huge steel window/door frame that the landlord had in his back yard. This window unit had been sitting in the weather for quite some time and was completely rusty, so it took quite a bit of restoration to make it useable. I wire brushed the whole thing, oiled all of the moving parts (two high ventilation windows, a sliding window and the door,) and painted it with a good metal primer. I even managed to get a mis-matched skeleton key to operate the door lock.

One problem with using this door and window arrangement was that once it were in place, the door is too small to allow larger objects to pass through. The "patio de servicio" is in the back yard, through this door, so if we ever want to have a clothes washing machine in there, this would be a problem. My solution to this was to mount the entire steel unit as if it were a large gate, hinged on one side and installed in such a way that if we ever want to open the entire end-wall, it would be relatively easy to do. This means that we could open up the mid-section of the house to the back yard for a party for instance, or for gardening activities.

Around this time I removed part of a concrete block wall to open up a view from our upper deck and I used some of the rubble from this to fill in areas around the window/door frame, leaving a little space at ground level for a cat door. Now that the room is enclosed it is possible to control the temperature in there to a much greater extent. There is a large screened-in vent on one side near the top of the roof, and with the openable windows and door the ventilation is pretty good. The shaded fiberglass roofing allows plenty of light to enter the room, without too much solar heat gain. We purchased one of the local hand-woven woolen bed spreads to use as a curtain across the whole end-wall, so that on sunny days we can block the sun from entering the room. In the winter we will be able to heat the space by allowing more solar gain.

The final transformation that has occurred is painting the entire exterior with tinted whitewash. This is a very inexpensive and lovely way to paint walls, especially masonry. The local approach is to mix the hydrated lime with liquid latex and water to a consistency of thin paint, and then add cement colorants for tints. The resulting paint has a wonderfully varigated and subtle pastel apprearance. Five gallons of this can be mixed for less than ten dollars.

You might compare the picture near the beginning of my last post of what this house looked like when we first rented it, with how it looks now. The difference in feeling and function is enourmous! All of this was done for under $500, and I consider it well worth the time and money.


Anonymous John said...

Wow! What a difference.

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Canadian Guy said...

In the summer you naturally want to block as much sunlight as possible but doing that cuts out a lot of light. What about extending the roof so it becomes an awning? You would have no direct sunlight yet lots of reflected light. The areas where the sun is reflecting off could be white if you need it brighter.

The palms are great and have a soothing appearance but to remove them on a cool, cloudy day for more light is not practical. I wonder if there is any type of cover that one could control from inside (no electrical motors for maximum simplicity and reliability). Sort of like a horizontal equivalent of exterior blinds of some sort. Try as we like, man cannot replicate the total effect of natural light. Perhaps that is partly the reason for the popularity of sunrooms nowadays though in northern climates they are often used to heat the house on sunny days in non-summer seasons. Its just amazing how so many builders can put up a house with not the slightest consideration as to where the sun is shining or where winter winds usually blow - then proceed to successfully market such a thoughtless creation! People like you are waking up both designers and consumers and the results will be more satisfying structures and far more efficient and economically maintained ones as well. When I was in Cabo San Lucas I first realized how wonderfully some building materials worked as our place was cool in the heat of the day (at least the morning) and warm at night as the structure both stored and released heat. Sort of like a cement capacitor!

4:47 PM  

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