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root cellar -> home -> no need for heat?

paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20271
    ∞

I recently had an opportunity to study a bit of permaculture under the genius Sepp Holzer.

There was a site where he was "doing his thing" and one of the interesting structures was a root cellar:



It's still under construction, but you kinda get the idea.

Here's another pic from one that he built somewhere else:



The important thing is, that with a track-hoe around, he can build the log one in a day.

He uses these shelters for root cellars or for animal shelters.

A root cellar requires a bit more ventilation and a door out front.

Total cost for the roofing is about $1000 (two layers of felt and one layer of pond liner) plus the cost of the track-hoe.

Lots more pictures and info here.

And ... now to really throw another whammy in here ... there is a theory that if you extended rubber lining and added insulation, a few windows and a front door, you would have a home that no longer needed heat ...



more details at http://www.norishouse.com/PAHS/UmbrellaHouse.html

And so I start to get these ideas that if you have a few acres of land with lots of trees and a bit of slope, you can build something really fast. And it's cheap because you can get a lot of the materials from the land - instead of trucking it in.

So you might start to think it could be like living in a basement - so I present:





More at http://www.simondale.net/house/index.htm

So back to the roofing ... what about replacing the felt and pond liner with newspaper and polyethylene? The felt is to keep rocks and sticks from poking holes in the pond liner. I think a quarter inch thick (or more) layer will probably do that and do some of the job of the pond liner.

And as for insulation, what about replacing that with sawdust/straw/pine-straw? The trouble with it is moisture/rot and flamability. But there will be 8 inches of dry soil between the home and the sawdust/straw.

So, I'm thinking that the layers would be

12 inches wet soil
newspaper
poly
newspaper
straw/sawdust
newspaper
8 inches of dry soil
newspaper
poly
newspaper
wood

So instead of double layers of pond liner/felt/insulation that is trucked in and costs about $8000, the total cost might be about $200.

Will it work? Am I brilliant? Or am I gonna die under eight tons of dirt?


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Cameron Wallace McKenzie
author and cow tipper
Saloon Keeper

Joined: Aug 26, 2006
Posts: 4968

Not paying for heat doesn't impress me.

Figure out how I can get free high-speed Internet and a good monthly calling plan with no roaming charges and then I don't mind shelling out a few bucks for a back hoe. To be honest, I'm totally down with the hoes.

-Cameron McKenzie
Paul Clapham
Bartender

Joined: Oct 14, 2005
Posts: 18115
    
    8

No, you aren't crazy. (Okay, you didn't ask that, not exactly...)

Grass roofs are an established technology in (e.g.) Norway, here's a link I dredged up:

http://environmentsolutions.wordpress.com/2007/08/10/grass-roofs-in-norway/

I notice the article says "Special skills and materials are required to prepare the roof for the turf topping" but it doesn't go into details. I wouldn't be surprised if there are standards in the Norwegian building codes for grass roofs now.
paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20271
    ∞

Ooops! I left a pic out:



Yes, green roofs have been around a while.

And the "umbrella" architecture has been around a while too.

The idea of building a structure like this in one day from almost entirely materials found on the land is a bit new to me.

Mashing all of the ideas together and making for less purchased materials is my idea.

W. Joe Smith
Ranch Hand

Joined: Feb 10, 2009
Posts: 710
I believe I've seen this somewhere....

Ah yes, the Shire! I believe that Baggins fellow had something like this....but don't tell those Black Riders. They are not kind folk.


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When I die, I want people to look at me and say "Yeah, he might have been crazy, but that was one zarkin frood that knew where his towel was."
Bear Bibeault
Author and ninkuma
Marshal

Joined: Jan 10, 2002
Posts: 60046
    
  65

Cameron Wallace McKenzie wrote:Not paying for heat doesn't impress me.

Not paying for A/C would impress me!

Here in Central TX, my summer electric bill is rather on the outrageous side.


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Ernest Friedman-Hill
author and iconoclast
Marshal

Joined: Jul 08, 2003
Posts: 24166
    
  30

So speaking of building codes -- you can't build something to live in, in one day, and get all the inspections mandated by essentially all jurisdictions in the US. Even if you took the time to get the inspections, I think it would be quite a challenge to pass them. When you build something that's so outside of established norms, how do you get the authorities to sign off?


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paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20271
    ∞

Bear Bibeault wrote:
Cameron Wallace McKenzie wrote:Not paying for heat doesn't impress me.

Not paying for A/C would impress me!

Here in Central TX, my summer electric bill is rather on the outrageous side.


I forgot to mention - you don't pay for A/C either.

In fact, these systems tend closer to "too cold" than "too warm". And as the years pass, it gets closer and closer to "ideal temp".



paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20271
    ∞

Build it where there are no building codes.

There are designs that would pass inspection, but this idea probably would not.

But I'm trying to explore the space of whether it would work first. And then maybe put it together someplace that has no building codes.

Cameron Wallace McKenzie
author and cow tipper
Saloon Keeper

Joined: Aug 26, 2006
Posts: 4968

There are designs that would pass inspection, but this idea probably would not.


So, you buy the land, you build the house, and it doesn't pass the inspection codes. So, I guess you've got a house you can't sell, but it's on your property, so you can still live in it.

But, I like the idea that if it doesn't pass inspection, it's got a value of zero dollars as a house. What would the tax bill be on a house worth nothing? Can you multiply by zero?

This almost beats getting a good long distance rate.

I've changed my mind. I'm think I'm going to spend the evening looking at hoes!

-Cameron McKenzie
paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20271
    ∞

Well, the building usually has value as an "outbuilding" - like for farm animals to live in.

This one designer, Mike Oehler, who has lots of designs along these lines, said that at one place the tax man came by and couldn't find the house. So they left saying it was bare property.

Andrew Monkhouse
author and jackaroo
Marshal Commander

Joined: Mar 28, 2003
Posts: 11278
    
  59

There's a town of underground homes at Cooper Pedy in Australia.


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Katrina Owen
Sheriff

Joined: Nov 03, 2006
Posts: 1344
    
  12
I'm half Norwegian, and I was born in a tiny village where roofs like this used to be common. My dad used to build them. He also builds traditional Norwegian log cabins, if he's asked to. And saunas. And stuff... I think he's in Alaska now, but he could probably be convinced to come help you build it if you feed him while he's there
paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20271
    ∞

Mike Oehler is really adamant about how nearly all underground homes are terrible. Except his design, of course.

I think the hobbit-like pics do a good job of showing what this could be like - not underground at all.

Chris Baron
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 21, 2003
Posts: 1049
So you are looking for a low priced, well insulated house with geothermal heating/cooling?
I dont like the idea of creating a complex system and "bury" it.
That would make the house less maintainable and extendable.

Have you considered yet to build a strawbale house and just bury a flexible tube for geothermal heating?
The simplest way to build a strawbale house is to just lay the bales like brickstones and blaster with clay.
For the heating i've seen constructions where the tube is wrapped around a basket-like structure. The advantage of this is that you only need a hole like for a well and you can use machines for well drilling.

cb

paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20271
    ∞

I've studied straw bale designs for about 15 years. In fact, I was designing something with straw bale when I encountered this.

The funny thing with straw bale is that it generally takes a lot more time to build than a conventional home. In fact, I have heard it described as "building the house twice." - once for the support structure and once for the straw. You might argue that you can build load bearing walls out of straw - but that opens up a whole lot of other problems, including getting specially packed straw bales that are packed so tight that they have lost a fair amount of their insulation gain. The R-value per inch of straw isn't very good to begin with (it is actually the thickness of straw bale that gives it most of its insulation value) but when you compress it that tight, you lose a lot of the air spaces that gave it such great insulation.

Further, the price of straw has become rather high.

Further still, now you need to come up with a roofing system. Metal, perhaps? And insulation. And a vapor barrier. And .... layers on layers on layers ... not cheap!

So you end up with a house costing about 30% more than a conventional stick home.

With this "soil home" idea, the cost is about 70% less than a conventional stick home. Nearly all of that expense is going to be plumbing, wiring and inner walls.



Chris Baron
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 21, 2003
Posts: 1049
Ok,
but i think that it is like a lottery to keep your investment (money and labor) safe from watercoursess and mold if you bury it into the ground.
One would situate such a house most likely at the foot of a hill but this is also the most likely place where water finds it way to.
If you have any issues with watertightness you've got to apply new layers of insulation material at places most complicated to reach.
The costs you spare now you'd have to spend x-times more in the future.
I'd never do it. To be down to earth is ok but not further

Do you know the ideas and the work of Nader Khalili ?
Heating was not his main focus though and i don't like the plastic bags very much. But he literally build homes from "dirt".

And i like this micro village style. My dream home was a set of small strawbale buildings with load bearing walls (without upper floors) around a little "village square". With flat roofs for the installation of solar panels. An architecture like this ancient village in Mesa Verde or in Greece. But these are dreams and i'd have to emigrate to a warmer country first where rain is something precious.
http://joergredl.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/img_2779.jpg

If i'd build a strawbale house here i'd cover the top of the box the same way like the walls. With straw bales. And put a single pitch roof on top.
cb
paul wheaton
Trailboss

Joined: Dec 14, 1998
Posts: 20271
    ∞

Ack!

Chris that image is way too big for me. You must have some sort of super, 9 screen display.

watercourses: EXCELLNT point! Oehler's designs address that exceptionally well.

mold: another excellent point! (assuming you mean that the inside of the structure stays soooooo cool in the summer and summer air tends to be loaded with water which can condense inside the house) I think the umbrella designs address that exceptionally well since the walls then don't get "too cold".

hill placement: I would think mid-hill would be optimal.

Chris Baron
Ranch Hand

Joined: Mar 21, 2003
Posts: 1049
I was surprised myself how big this image is and changed it to a link.
 
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