HAPPY EARTH DAY!!
You’ve no doubt heard about all the ways to “green” your home – energy audits, the correct light bulbs for the particular purpose, programmable thermostats, etc., but have you thought about what a brand-new green home might look like? Straw bale homes? Earth-sheltered? Concrete?
Are you ready to be Chthonic? The definition of chthonic (thon’ik) is: “of or relating to the deities, spirits, and other beings dwelling under the earth.” You might not be a deity or spirit, (or a Hobbit) but you could be living under the earth!!
So, why would you want to live underground? Earth-sheltered homes are much more energy efficient than traditional homes. They are less expensive to heat and cool because thermal mass helps the earth store heat and because there is an almost universally constant temperature of the earth below the frost line. They have fewer outside walls, so less dust gets in – really! An earth-sheltered home has built-in protection from fires, storms, and sound. Since it is safer, insurance rates are often lower. Other savings include maintenance. The traditional home needs to be re-shingled every 10-20 years. An earth-sheltered home only needs be mowed…
What are the disadvantages? Often it is difficult to get a mortgage, and there can be resale problems. The house also must be constructed properly to insure there is no water seepage, and to control pests, mold and mildew problems. Radon gas can also be a problem since radon is a toxic, oderless, tasteless gas that is found underground. Underground homes also have problems with egress, which may make it difficult to meet codes. However, if the house is designed and built properly these disadvantages don’t need to be insurmountable.
Remember the Three Little Pigs and how the 1st little piggie built his house of straw? The wolf huffed and puffed and blew it down?
Straw bale homes are much more stable than the little piggies house! In More Straw Bale Building, the authors state that walls “… that were tested withstood the maximum static air pressure that was applied, representing a significant wind of over 134 mph.” And, perhaps counter-intuitively, they are more fire-resistant than a standard wood framed home. The compact nature of a bale doesn’t trap enough air to support combustion. The amount of air that is trapped, along with the thickness of the bales makes a straw home very energy efficient, also. It is also easier to erect yourself, saving the cost of hiring professional builders. The walls are highly adaptable and may be finished to suit your own tastes – lumpy and old-world, or straight and modern. A straw home is also a quiet home – the nature of the walls causes sound and light to behave differently than a space that has been dry-walled. Disadvantages include water and humidity – not all areas of the country would be suitable for a straw bale home. Along with climate, building codes and permit ordinances can also be a problem.
Thomas Edison was ahead of his time when, early in the 20th century, he envisioned building concrete homes. Currently, Insulating Concrete From (ICF) homes are becoming more common. They are built with a “sandwich” wall – one layer of construction-grade foam on each face and reinforced concrete in the middle. ICF homes are more energy efficient, stronger, safer in fires, and more resistant to wind and natural disasters than a wood-frame home. The temperature within the home remains at a more consistent temperature and there are generally fewer drafts. They also tend to be more quiet than wood-frame homes. The disadvantages include water seepage if the home is built in an area with a high water table. The cost of building a cement home can be higher and if the builder isn’t experienced with ICF homes there could be problems with poor installation and aesthetics.
If you are thinking of building a new home, be sure to explore our resources to see which is the best green home for you. And, if you aren’t currently in the market to build, check all our resources on what you can do to make your current living space more energy efficient.
Happy Earth Day!!
Earth Day – April 22. 2016. Earth Day Network.
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Magwood, Chris. More straw bale building : a complete guide to designing and building with straw. 2005. Gabriola Island, BC : New Society Publishers. Engineering Library TH4818 .S77 M33 2005
VanderWerf, Pieter A. 2007. The concrete house : building solid, safe, and efficient with insulating concrete forms. Christchurch, new Zealand : Stonefield Pub. Engineering Library TH4818 .R4 V36 2007.
Building Houses with Concrete Block: Pros and Cons. Doityourself.com Date accessed April 18, 2016
Do Concrete Homes Cost More? ConcreteNetwork.com. Date accessed April 18, 2016
Straw Bale Construction: Pros and Cons. June 23, 2015. Survivopedia
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Shariff, Jamil. 2009. 50 green projects for the evil genius. New York : McGraw-Hill. Engineering Library GE195 .S47 2009
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DeGunther, Rik. Energy efficient homes for dummies. 2008. Hoboken, N.J. : Wiley : Chichester : John Wiley distributor. Engineering Library TJ163.5 .D86 2008
Ecocapsule is the egg-shaped tiny home that can go off-grid and off-pipe. May 21, 2015. treehugger.
Green Magic Homes kit lets you assemble your own house – and then bury it. by Ben Coxworth. November 24, 2015. Gizmag
The Pros and cons of Straw Bale Wall Construction in Green Building. 2015. Building with Awareness.