Cob, electric cars, and wind energy

July 21, 2007

The Green Adventures of an Urban Ladybug is a blog by a woman in Austin, Texas. She has some great content! Her recent post on Cob building lured me in, but I also was fascinated by the post on electric vehicles.

I have heard someone has done some Cob building here on Dominica. I would love to see it! If you know the person who built with Cob, would you please have them contact me? I think earth is the most amazing building material. When we lived up North I was keen on straw bale construction, but I have since been converted to earth.

I wonder if any of the electric cars could manage the steep mountain roads here and carry a large cargo load (me plus shopping)? I have been telling Mr. Wizard he could build us one, but he says he cannot build a house and build a car at the same time. (the man does seem to be developing some resistance to my constant stream of “things we could do”.)

Here is a beautiful wind turbine:

And who is being harmed by this home???

July 20, 2007


Hobbit-home’ demolition fears

Jul 19 2007


by Steffan Rhys, Western Mail


THE owners of a Hobbit-style wood and earth home threatened with demolition for years failed in another bid to save it yesterday.

The ecologically friendly, solar-powered Round House at Brithdir Mawr near Newport, Pembrokeshire, has been the subject of legal wrangling since it was built without planning permission 10 years ago for £3,000.

Pembrokeshire Council had taken court action to secure its removal but this was halted so that its retention could be re-examined against the framework of a recently adopted low impact development policy.

Over the years, owners Tony Wrench and his partner Jane Faith have applied for retrospective planning permission, been fined and been warned they face imprisonment. The Round House now appears to face demolition once again after members of the authority’s national park development management committee said it could not be saved under the low impact development policy.


Here is another link about this permaculture community in Wales.

Building More Classrooms At Half the Cost

July 16, 2007

By Lou Janssen Dangzalan in Surigao City    Tuesday, 17 July 2007

When a country has a huge shortage of classrooms—like the Philippines lacking 74,115—the obvious solution would be the construction of more classrooms. In areas where resources are hard to come by, however, that solution is easier said than done.

Some stakeholders in this city chose to do something about the problem, leading to the inauguration last Friday of the six cost-efficient classrooms in Barangay Day-Asan. Using the Earthbag Technology System, which utilizes mostly sacks of earth held together by cement and minimal wood and steel, the project effectively doubled the number of classrooms in Day-Asan National High School, therefore serving more students, at half the cost.

It started when the World Bank organized a competition called “Panibagong Paraan” (New Ways) to be a marketplace for ideas in development work. An NGO called Akayin ang Bukluran ng Kabataan sa Daigdig (Abakada) submitted the proposal for “Ibang Klase: Earthbag Classrooms” (One-of-A-Kind: Earthbag Classrooms) that will use the technology described earlier.

Abakada’s proposal won a P1 million grant from the Japanese embassy.

The NGO approached several congressmen to get the project rolling, but only then Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers (now newly elected governor) made solid follow-throughs for the project. He went as far as donating to the project the proceeds of the golf tournament that he organizes annually. In time, the Surigao City government helped as well by loaning out heavy equipment for the construction of the classrooms.

Abakada tapped social entrepreneur Illac Diaz of My Shelter Foundation to do the structural design of the classrooms. Diaz said that from the standard cost of constructing a classroom, which ranged from P400,000 to P500,000, the earthbag system cut down the cost to about P200,000 per classroom.

Before, classrooms in Day-Asan National High School were made mainly of nipa. Students had to struggle with the noise from classes being held at the nearby barangay multi-purpose hall. With the completion of the Abakada project, the school now has 10 classrooms and a library that can cater to the needs of 360 students.

This convinced Abakada executive director Crisel Cudiamat that there is a “need to be open to other modes of construction.”

Diaz was the one who tapped cement giant La Farge Semento to provide technical assistance in the construction of the classrooms. La Farge supplied the cement for holding the structures together.

However, the cement manufacturer’s involvement in public school construction won’t end with the Day-Asan project. La Farge’s technical team will be doing research on waste recovery in the area. Agricultural waste in Surigao City usually consist of coconut husks, rice husks, and wood, and La Farge is looking into the possibility of mixing these by-products with cement to produce school furniture and fixtures.

Cudiamat said that if La Farge’s experiment succeeds, it will provide a better alternative to the standard wooden or monobloc desks that public schools normally purchase but aren’t durable enough to lasts a school year.

Cudiamat said Abakada is working with La Farge on potential earthbag classroom projects in other areas.

Living Roofs

July 14, 2007

This is another bee in my eco bonnet. I want a living roof.

Here are the environmental benefits:

Urban Heat Island Mitigation
The urban heat island effect is the temperature difference between urban areas and their rural surroundings. The temperature differential causes air currents and dust, and even contributes to violent weather events within urban settings.

Green roof vegetation helps by cooling the air, slowing air movement and acting as a substrate for pollution to settle out and detoxify. A green roof will insulate a building from extreme temperatures, mainly by keeping the building interior cool.

(I wonder how the additions of green roofs would improve Roseau. I have heard in earlier days there were many more trees and green spaces in town, and the temperature was much more pleasant.)

Noise Reduction
Plants, soil, and air trapped in the soil are great acoustic insulators. Tests indicate that green roofs can reduce indoor sound by as much as 40 decibels, which is of great benefit to occupants of buildings affected by airports, industry, trains and traffic.

Fire Prevention
Succulent green roof plants help reduce the risk of fire.

Water Conservation/Reduction of Storm Water Runoff
The soil in green roof systems acts like a sponge and absorbs excess rain water. Research has shown that extensive green roof systems can reduce runoff by up to 95% following a 1” rain.

Green roofs reduce the impact of each new building on the municipal storm drainage system and surrounding watershed. They reduce flooding, erosion and artificial heating of water which helps preserve fisheries and other aquatic life.

Green roofs reduce the need for on-site storm water management systems. When combined with an effective rain garden (bioswale), green roofs can make it possible to have zero discharge of rainwater from the site, therefore saving money by not having to connect to the storm sewer system.

Green roofs filter water prior to returning it to the aquifer. They buffer acid rain and remove nitrate pollution as water slowly percolates through the soil.

What runoff remains will usually occur hours after peak flows, providing additional time for sewer systems to handle the runoff burden from impervious surfaces.

Here is what the US Environmental Protection Agency says about Green Roofs.

What Are Some Green Roof Examples?

  • The Gap Headquarters in San Bruno, CA installed a 69,000 square foot extensive green roof in 1997.
  • Ford Motor Company has installed green roofs on its corporate headquarters.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah installed a 348,480 square foot extensive and intensive green roof in 2000.
  • Contractors recently completed a 30,000 square foot extensive green roof project on the Montgomery Park Business Center in Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of waterfowl, included two green roofs totaling 28,190 square feet on its national headquarters.
  • Private and public interests in the City of Chicago and the City of Portland have installed or are planning to install over 43 and 42 green roof projects, respectively.

Bag pricing complete, and the winner is…

July 12, 2007

Drum roll….

Here is the lowest cost we found. For 10,000 18X30 polypropylene bags, $3104, or 31 cents per bag, including shipping to the island we live on. Donald Davis Bags in Spartanburg, South Carolina gave us the lowest price with shipping. This, of course, does not include duty and VAT that we have to pay on our island.

Our house will take 3600 bags, making our walls cost around $1116. Not bad.

The rest of the bags will build retaining walls and a garage.

Composting toilets in Toronto business building

July 11, 2007

Read about it here:  Green business congress hopes eco-toilets will bowl over delegates

July 10, 2007

I am plotting and planning today. I want to build an earthen oven up on our land. Isn’t Greg’s oven beautiful? Didn’t he find a neat hat for his oven?

I also found a site called Katipo in New Zealand where some women who look like me built an earth oven. It does my heart good.

So here is my idea. We build the oven, and then while we build the house we have pizza and bread and casseroles on site. How cool would that be?

Here is another oven from Make a backyard mud oven

Here is another look at a homemade earth oven.

Kiko Denzer teaches the fine art of earth oven construction, and she sculpts in earth. Take a look at her art.

Today I bought a composting toilet

July 9, 2007

The picture is NOT Mr Wizard. compactprod.jpg

Mr Wizard and I have been reading and comparing various models, but today I actually shelled out over $1300 to Lehman’s. We plan to use this as we start construction and should know pretty quickly if this is a reasonable sewage alternative, or if we actually need to go with a septic system.

Wouldn’t it be nice not to use masses of water to manage sewage? Not to bury yards and yards of concrete just to contain a little poo? I am hoping this is aesthetic enough that we can use this system and avoid septic. But it has to be odor free and easy if we are to embrace this long term. I’m too old and cranky for an outhouse smell indoors, (or outdoors for that matter).

Earth and stone call to me

July 9, 2007

For years I have been fascinated with alternative green building techniques. I’ll bet I own the only set of video tapes on straw bale construction on my island! When we lived in the states I had really wanted to build with straw bales, but alas, no straw is baled on this tropical island. So what is a woman craving green building to do? Stone and Earth.

I have been reading a series of interesting books about stone work and earth architecture. According to the various authors, even someone with limited building skills like Mr. Wizard and I should be able to manage some sort of rudimentary structure. It helps a great deal that this climate does not require the complex attributes of a North American building. No insulation, no heat or central A/C. It is a simple place and buildings can be simple here also.

Stone, cob, earth bag. I learned today that over 1/3 of the earth’s population live in earthen homes. Some very old multistory earth houses are still in use after centuries in Britain. Why, then, do we more commonly build soulless houses of plastic and toxic materials? Home building has been taken away from the owners of homes and given to professionals who tell us what we should want: an enormous house on land stripped of trees, quickly erected of material designed for making a series of boxes. Not lovely to my eyes.

I love the curves and hollows of organic material. Nothing pleases me more than the curve of a finely wrought stone wall. This is a sharp contrast to the concrete box houses more commonly built. I wonder why people build with concrete blocks when there is so much available stone. And people can build amazing houses with earth, like the cob house above. Within reach of the poorest land owner is a home which should last centuries and be beautiful as well.

There is a green architectural movement afoot empowering the poor to build sturdy, sustainable homes of low or no cost materials. I dream that perhaps my poor island may pick up the banner of sustainable architecture and lead the way in the green building revolution. I can imagine the people here all living in charming houses built of earth, at very little cost, instead of waiting until they can buy a few more blocks and bags of cement.

Building with earthbags

July 9, 2007

Earthbag home in Utah

This home was built by the owner using polypropylene bags filled with compressed earth and sand. This technique was pioneered by an architect in California, Nader Khalili at Cal-Earth.

These homes outperform traditional construction for earthquake and hurricane conditions.

This is a construction picture of an earthbag home built in Costa Rica.

It is now a vacation rental. The finish details are lovely, aren’t they?

This earthbag house is really a sandbag house, built in the Bahamas. They built with what they had at hand: crushed coral sand. It worked great!

The completed home has gone through several hurricanes without a problem. Aren’t the arches lovely? No boring rectangular doors in this house!

The people at OK OK OK Productions wrote the bible on this building technique. They call their method FQSS: Fun, Quick, Simple and Solid.

They also call their FAQ: Smart-Ass Answers. So, you know I loved their book, Earthbag Building, by Kaki Hunter and Donald Kiffmeyer.

Sweet, sweet earth.