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GSBN:SB in India

John Glassford has been posting about the appropriateness of using SB in a
hot, humid climate and in areas of flood.  Here is a recent report from
India.....   regards,  Catherine

>From: "Andr? de Bouter" droef@...
>To: blackrange@...
>Cc: Wbhwbhwbh@...
>Subject: Too much text from India
>Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2000 21:32:21 PST
>Dear sb-enthusiasts,
>Last year I too got bitten by the SB virus. After following a workshop by 
>the SB women close to Amsterdam, The Netherlands and one by Pascal Thepaut 
>in Bretagne, France I was hooked.
>Then Coralie, my wife, and I decided to go to  India for some time so I took 
>my slides and some documentation with me 'just in case'. After a week in 
>Auroville (a community based on the ideas of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother) 
>we felt this was for us a good place to stay and learn about many different 
>things. Auroville, like the rest of the world, is struggling with a housing 
>problem. There is not enough money to house all who want to come to live 
>here using conventional methods and materials.
>So we organized a slide show showing how to built Nebraska style structures. 
>Many were enthousiastic and wanted to know when we were doing a workshop in 
>Now we are two full moons later and the house is standing, mud plastered and 
>all. Although the rain season is two months behind us it is raining a lot 
>yesterday and today and the overhang we provided seems to do its job.
>We built a very small (8m2 inside) Nebraska-style building on an existing 
>foundation I 'found' while chasing out the cows. The house has a keetu roof 
>(palm leaves on a wooden structure),a 16m2 loft to create extra living 
>space, and a 8m2 balcony so the occupants can sleep under the stars during 
>the hot summer months. No water or electricity, candle light and a solar 
>lamp will do. We could avoid the cost of toilet and kitchen since these 
>facilities are communal. The whole house, including labour for the roof, 
>came to about $500 US.
>Two major challenges were to be taken into account:
>Termites and the total unavailability of bales.
>For termites we noticed that they do not seem to eat the dry (rice) straw 
>when it is stacked in the fields, the rain water runs off. When the straw is 
>wet, the termites are feasting on it by the hundreds. Since any house here 
>in Auroville needs a foundation that stops the  termites we figured that 
>straw, like any material, can be used once a safe foundation is in place.
>Strategies against termites used in Auroville are:
>* placing the house on concrete or granite pillars so the termite action can 
>be followed and measures taken if needed
>* Salt around the foundation and urinating on fresh termite activity also 
>seems to have some effect.
>* Sand arround the foundation discourages the tunnel making by the termites 
>for which they need clay
>* Metal termite sheaths or a concrete foundation that comes out. Termites 
>don't like making their tunnels upside down.
>* Poison, and even kerosine are sometimes used
>Solving the bale issue was much more fun. We just made them ourselves.
>A strong wooden 'box' (130*40*50 inside space) placed vertically with the 
>top and one side open. Two half doors can close up the side. Place two 
>stirrups in the box and put some straw over them. Close the bottom door, and 
>someone climbs into the box on top of the straw compressing the straw by 
>feet mostly taking care of the edges and corners (middle always takes care 
>of itself). A second person adds straw while first stays in the press and 
>walks the straw down. (smooth long socks prevent itching legs when wearing 
>shorts). When halfway, close second door and proceed. When at desired length 
>(full, half or custom size) take out the doors. Bring the stirrups arround 
>close them with a winch and only then does the 'compressor' come of the 
>bale. Pull out the bale and place it. We made the 'mistake' of walking on 
>the bales during construction which make now results in a very organic 
>looking house because they bulge at the pressure of the feet.
>Bales weighed between 20 and 23 kg at a size of  110*50*40cm. We were 
>impressed at the compressing achieved but the rice stems are nowhere near as 
>rigid as wheat stems. For the bevelled windows we found it was stronger and 
>more exact to make them bevelled by starting with a diagonal floor piece in 
>the press then by cutting the bale.
>The roof was not placed on the walls because the traditional roof design 
>puts most of its load on the corners. So we took the (very cheap) pillars to 
>support the roof which also allowed more overhang and a bigger loft. I did 
>not have enough knowledge on roofing nor were there any funds available to 
>come up with an alternative to the strength of the sb walls. I must say, it 
>was quite a challenge communicating with the Indian contractor who did not 
>work with drawings. Faith was necessary and rewarded.
>Many people are enthusiast, but many architects (and there are quite a few) 
>are as sceptical as in the west. But I must admit, now that the house is 
>there (extremely cute as it is) we are getting more and more positive 
>response from them also.
>We also went to Trichirapalli , where prof. S.S. Immanuel  from the Bishop 
>Heber Collge, already took the initiative of building India's first two 
>sb-houses. One filled in walls from welded mesh, mud and then cement 
>plastered with wooden poles for extra support in walls and roof. An other 
>with hand made small bales with chicken mesh and rebar on two sides of the 
>wall with connections between the steel with a hook. Cement pillars and 
>cement plastered.
>The roof is cement with 20 cm thick straw flakes for insulation, rebar and 
>steel between the flakes. Tests did not show a great insulation of the 
>second house. My guess is that is because the high cement content of the 
>One thing was extremely interesting about the houses. They resisted a 1 
>meter high flood for 1.5 days and seemed to have dried out without a 
>problem. This could mean a lot in India where the traditional mud houses 
>fail in a flood and big parts of the country have a risk of flooding.
>Other reasons for building with straw in India are:
>Low level of expertise needed.
>Cheapness of the material
>Solid walls absorb heat during the day (month after month) and radiate it 
>during the nights. These nights are hot enough as they are and do not 
>require any extra heating. A ceiling fan is often used to deal with that 
>extra heat, burning coal to provide that energy.
>Straw is burned in North India also I'm told.
>North Indian houses require a lot of wood for heating during the winter 
>since they are poorly insulated.
>India is such a huge country that we cannot generalise. Many different 
>climates make many different materials appropriate. Straw can definitely be 
>one of those materials since mostly all corners of India grow grains of some 
>The country has 40 million homeless. Hudco (a government organisation that 
>builds about 2 million houses a year) claims that for every 8$ that needs to 
>be spent only 1$ is available. So thy have come up with so called Building 
>centers to get the appropriate building technology to the people. So far 
>building with straw has not been implemented by them. Most of the people 
>from those building centers that I showed my pictures while at their 
>conference in Delhi were very surprised and liked the idea very much.
>I think there is great scope for sb-building in India.
>I have learned a lot and I'm happy I took the advice to build something 
>small as a first sb project.
>Small housing is indeed the most important lesson here in Auroville. I have 
>lived small for many years and have always enjoyed the (financial) freedom 
>that came with it, as well as the social interactions that came from sharing 
>living spaces. It is because of having a very small mortgage Coralie and I 
>were able to go to India, learn from this place and its people and share our 
>feelings and knowledge.
>I too dream of building my sb dream house. But now I realise that even if 
>the land in where we want to go is cheap and so is building with bales we 
>will build compact where possible. It is simply better for us
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