Thatch-covered Enterprise Centre may be the world’s greenest building

Prefab thatch wall panels (built indoors during the off season) and materials palette which the Treehugger writer calls ‘almost edible’.

“John French, CEO of the university’s Adapt Low Carbon Group and project director, … was eager that the next generation of buildings at UEA should move away from high thermal mass and a dependence on carbon-intensive concrete, towards natural and locally sourced materials.”

ThatchedPassiveHousePlus

“The building also features a wide array of other sustainable materials including recycled timber finishes, wood wool acoustic boards, spray-on cellulose, and wall coverings made from hemp, nettle fabric and reeds”

More at:

http://www.treehugger.com/green-architecture/thatch-covered-enterprise-centre-may-be-worlds-greenest-building.html

http://passivehouseplus.ie/magazine/new-build/is-this-the-uk-s-greenest-building.html

A 3D Printer that builds homes

Unlike earlier 3D printed houses which used plastic, this one uses clay.  Very cool!

The World’s Advanced Saving Project, or WASP, has just unveiled a giant 3D printer that – rather like a real wasp – can build a house out of the stuff.

The 3D printer, called BigDelta, works much like any other you may have seen – layering up a material into a pre-determined structure. The difference is that it stands 12 meters (40 feet) tall and claims to be the world’s biggest.

It was unveiled this weekend at the three-day “Reality of Dream” rally in Italy, where BigDelta was made. In a statement, WASP proposes that its technology could help meet the rising demand for housing, citing a UN calculation that over the next 15 years there will be an average daily demand for 100,000 new housing units.

It is thought the technology would be of most use in disaster or war zones, where the speed of production could help those who have become displaced. The use of natural materials could also benefit the environment by reducing cement – a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions.

You can watch the journey of BigDelta from desktop prototype to field-dwelling giant here.

The project site:  http://www.wasproject.it/

Original article:  http://www.iflscience.com/3d-printer-so-big-it-can-print-houses

Spread the word about Straw Bale Construction to Romania

UPDATE: The Indiegogo campaign has ended, and we heard today that our new Romanian friends managed to raise 1,266 – not all that they’d hoped for, but hopefully enough to do a lot of what they’ve planned.  I’ll update this post more as I hear news.

We recently got word of some people attempting to spread the word about strawbale construction and other natural building techniques in Romania.  They’re doing an Indiegogo fundraiser to get the funds together to attend and exhibit at the largest construction expo in the country.

They only have until midnight on Feb 14th to raise the needed money, so let’s show them some love!

In their words:

Last year we started a project called Earth Safe Design, aimed at building straw bale houses in Romania and raising awareness about straw bale building and natural building in general.

In April 2014 we want to attend Construct Expo, the largest construction fair in Bucharest. This event gathers 17000 visitors over a period of three days and gets coverage all over the mass media.

We are sure that this event would be a big step on the way to establishing straw bale building as an acknowledged building technique, one that will be embraced by more and more Romanians in the years to come.

Unfortunately, we cannot afford the fee for taking part in this fair, nor the other expenses involved in printing and buying building materials. Below you will find a detailed list of our expenses.

We are addressing our appeal to straw bale builders, straw bale house owner, and straw bale enthusiast who know and understand the benefits and the delight of living in a natural house.

We encourage you to donate to their campaign.  We have.

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-us-spread-the-word-about-straw-bale-building-in-romania

Straw Bale Construction Building Code (2013 IRC Approval)

On October 3, 2013 the International Code Council (ICC) approved final action RB473-13 as a new Appendix R in the upcoming 2015 version of the International Residential Code (IRC).

The approval marks the latest advance of straw bale construction in the building codes and permitting process.  It is the highest approval to be granted for the construction method and will be adopted by thousands of jurisdictions around the United States in and after 2015.

The process of creating the IRC appendix was spearheaded by Martin Hammer of Builders Without Borders representing the California Straw Building Association, the Colorado Straw Bale Association, the Straw Bale Construction Association –New Mexico, the Ontario Straw Bale Building Coalition, the Development Center for Appropriate Technology and the Ecological Building Network.

Thousands of hours of work have been donated by Martin and various individuals within the straw bale construction community to make this milestone a reality.  We thank all of them for their hard work and look forward to even more widespread acceptance of straw bale building in the construction trades.

For details and a link to a copy of the appendix, visit TheLastStraw.org. A huge thanks to the hard-working bale heads that spent years making this happen!

International Straw Bale Conference in Colorado, September 2012

Did you know that the early registration deadline for the 2012 International Straw Builders’ Conference is only a few days away! The conference itself runs from Sept 16-22, 2012.

It’s not too late for EARLY registration for the 2012 International Straw Bale Building Conference in Estes Park, Colorado. EARLY registration ends July 16th July 31st so get hopping and sign up!

If you have never attended an International Conference you are missing a great opportunity to meet some of the professionals from around the world and to experience an event which will boost your energy and confidence in building with Straw.

And if you have never been to Estes Park, I’m told it is one of the world’s most scenic venues – adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park, the mountains and wildlife are to die for. The YMCA conference site is excellent, and the facilities food and accomodations are super according to friends who have been there.

By the way, a conference like this is NOT just about straw. It’s about plasters, earthen floors, building for cold (or hot) climates, compressed earth blocks and more.

SO – get busy and register today!

I’ll see you there!

–Bill Christensen
Founder, Sustainable Sources

Straw Bale in International Building Code?

For a long time, straw bale builders have wanted to legitimize their favorite construction method by getting building codes passed specifically allowing plastered straw bale construction.   A lot of headway has been made, starting with the Pima County code for load-bearing straw bale construction back in the 90s, followed by a fair number of local and even some state (California) straw bale building codes.

But it takes a lot of work to get something like straw bale construction passed in each jurisdiction, and it seems that nearly each new construction project has to reinvent the wheel, educate the local code officials, etc.

To remedy this problem, a group of dedicated baleheads have been working over the past several years to get straw bale construction accepted into the Big Daddy of all codes, the International Building Code (IBC).

International Code Council will hold hearings in Dallas on either Monday, April 30 or Tuesday, May 1 regarding the Fire Resistance of straw bale construction, and a week later on structural considerations.  These hearings are just part of the many important steps needed.

Sustainable Sources founder Bill Christensen will be joining longtime code advocate David Eisenberg (Development Center for Appropriate Technology), builder/architect Ben Obregon (Sustainable Design Center), and architect Gayle Borst (Stewardship Architecture and Design~Build~Live) in Dallas for the Fire Resistance section of the hearings.  Bill, David, and Ben participated in the 2006 fire tests which gained plastered straw bale construction ASTM 1- and 2-hour burn ratings (earthen plastered and cement plastered, respectively).  See the video.

The hearings are free and open to the public, though you are required to register.  They’re also being streamed, in the event you can’t make it but are interested in the proceedings.

To see all the supporting documentation including the proposed Straw Bale Construction chapter, and testing reports regarding moisture, structural, seismic “shake table”, fire, and of course thermal tests, see EcoBuildNetwork.

David and architect Martin Hammer will return the following week for Structural hearings.

To learn about building with straw, see our straw bale construction overview, or see one of the many books on bale construction, or visit The Last Straw Journal, the definitive quarterly journal on bale construction.

Finally, to see an actual straw bale home near you, check our Straw Bale Building Registry.

A Different Kind of HVAC Contractor – And the Book He Wrote

Trish Holder of GreenspirationHome.com Interviews Joe Gorman, Contractor and Author of From Contractor to Consumer

Joe Gorman From Contractor to Consumer

The book you’ve got to read (or at least skim) before choosing an HVAC contractor!

Not long ago I ran across a book on the internet entitled, “From Contractor to Consumer:  The Truth about Heating, Air Conditioning, and Home Comfort Systems”. HVAC nerd that I am, I had to investigate.  After all, this was pretty out of the ordinary for a HVAC contractor to write a book – much less one that is actually geared toward educating consumers.  Frankly, I think a lot of them would like to keep us stupid.  So, I asked Joe to send me a copy of his book and he did.  I was so impressed with this easy-to-read little book (and Joe’s initiative to write it) that I decided to interview this rare contractor who happens to agree with me that what a homeowner doesn’t know about their HVAC system really can hurt.

Read the rest…

Site Selection and Analysis

Choosing a site on which to locate a new home is not a simple task. Countless factors – natural, man-made, social and economic – must be examined. Where we choose to build and how we build on a site have an impact on the local and global environments, ongoing costs (utility bills, maintenance) and our physical and psychological well-being. With today’s rapid growth, dwindling resources and increasing pollution threats, concern for human and environmental health are causing us to take a closer look at our building practices, starting with the building site. Whether selecting a site or working with an existing site, and whether the site is urban, suburban or rural, there are many aspects that can be examined with respect to how “green”, that is how healthy for people and the planet, the home on that site can potentially be.

Location, Location, Location

Selecting a building site close to work, schools, shopping, etc. will minimize travel distances and time. Short distances, sidewalks, bike paths and bus stops will allow for healthier modes of transportation and the avoidance of excessive costly, polluting automobile trips. A lot in an established neighborhood located close to town is a particularly good choice for many people. This land has already been dedicated to residential development, so more natural land does not have to be destroyed and the costly roads and utilities are already in place.

Avoiding environmentally sensitive areas helps protect some of the features that makes many areas so special – our creeks, lakes, aquifer, tree-covered hills, wildlife, native wildflowers & plants.  Flat to moderately sloped sites are preferable to steeply sloped lots, as soil erosion, loss of hillside vegetation and damage to waterways are more difficult to avoid when building on steep slopes.

“Site Repair” is a special approach to selection of a building site that can have economic and aesthetic benefits for the prospective homeowner while restoring the local environment rather than burdening it. This involves choosing a site that has been abused (stripped of vegetation, eroded, invaded by exotic (non-native) vegetation, etc.) for the location of the home. Placement of the new home on the “scarred” area often leaves the more beautiful areas to be looked out upon and enjoyed.

Design For The Climate, Flora, Fauna & Soils

The chosen building site can greatly affect the comfort and energy efficiency of the home built upon it. A south-facing slope or good southern exposure on a lot which allows for the long sides of the building to face north and south will facilitate the utilization of our prevailing summer breezes and desirable winter solar heat gain. A hot, bare site will require a greater investment in wide overhangs, shading devices such as awnings or trellises, and shade trees to keep utility bills down and comfort levels up.

Examination of a particular site’s unique characteristics is important. The top of a hill may be too windy, drying and exposed to the hot sun. A valley may be too damp, windless, foggy or subject to flooding. Location and type of trees should be evaluated for summer shading assistance, summer breeze channeling or blocking, winter wind blocking, and winter solar heat gain penetration.

A lot that allows for placement of the house on a relatively flat area and in a natural clearing will minimize disruption of the natural vegetation. This will avoid erosion, discourage growth of invasive exotic vegetation, and be less expensive than massive reconstruction. Minimizing disruption of natural drainage patterns is generally less expensive up front and avoids costly maintenance of elaborate constructed drainage systems. When native trees and vegetation must be removed, they can often be replanted elsewhere on or off the site. Respecting existing wildlife trails and habitat will enhance wildlife observation enjoyment.

Minimization of Raw Materials

One of the best ways to minimize the use of raw materials is to select a site that already has a home on it, and remodel as necessary. At times it makes sense to move an existing home to a new site. Some sites may offer sources of usable building materials such as wood, stone, clay and sand which, if carefully and thoughtfully considered, can be a sound alternative to importation.

One of the best ways to minimize the amount (and cost) of building materials required is to keep the size of the home reasonable. With thoughtful design a small home can be very comfortable, functional and respectful of privacy. Smaller, more affordable lots should not be overlooked.

Social/Psychological/Functional

How the site “feels” – inviting or forbidding, hot or cool, open or intimate – may affect how much the new homeowners take advantage of outdoor living spaces. Maximum use of patios, decks, natural clearings, or other outdoor rooms can result in the need for less indoor square footage that needs to be constructed then heated and cooled, not to mention the psychological and physical benefits of being outdoors. A prospective building site should be examined for existing tree groupings, landforms or structures that will aid in creating pleasant, usable outdoor spaces. Off site conditions which may affect outdoor livability or indoor living with open windows (such as traffic noise, odors or pollution) should be considered before selecting a site.

Many site selection and home design decisions that are good for the environment also have direct positive benefits on the occupants’ health, well-being and budget. Helping to preserve our environment through more thoughtful site selection and home design is one very important step toward a continued high quality of life.

This article first appeared in the Austin American Statesman.

New Free LEED for Homes Scoring Tool

Word on the street is it’s pretty well done: http://www.leedforhomes.org/OST/homepage.aspx

Did it work well for you?

Update: I got a chance to give this a spin. The “quick score” is straightforward and works well (the dream building I entered came in about half way between Gold and Platinum). The more detailed scoring gets into a few areas where making one choice takes several others off the table, but other than that and the time it takes to go through all the myriad details, it also works well. Give it a try.

Plant a Tree This Winter For a Green Spring

By Dick Peterson

Winter is one of the best times to plant a tree. Many excellent varieties are available at your local nursery, with some of the best trees available in the winter. Your new tree will use the winter dormant season to establish new roots. When spring arrives, your tree will be on its way to providing shade for generations to come. While it may seen obvious that planting a tree is a good thing, here are some reasons which may not have not occurred to you. Well-placed trees can save you money on your utility bills. In the summer trees shade your roof and windows and also cool the air around your house as they breathe. In the winter, evergreens can block cold north winds. By using less electricity you help cut down on emissions from power plants that contribute to the “green house effect.” Trees of course clean the air by creating oxygen, and they also keep our cities cooler by reducing the “heat island” effect. This is caused by concrete and asphalt storing and reflecting heat, making urban areas hotter.

Choosing a Tree

Ask your nursery professional to recommend a tree that is native or adapted to this area. Don’t ask for the fastest growing tree such as an Arizona ash, cottonwood, Chinese tallow or poplar. Their fast growth results in weak, brittle wood. They are also prone to freeze and insect damage, leaving you with the expense of tree removal just when you expect to be receiving shade. Excellent deciduous trees for this area include Chinese pistache, cedar elm, Drake elm, pecan, Texas ash, and bald cypress. These trees will lose their leaves in the winter and provide access to the winter sun to warm your home. Two of the best choices in this category are the burr and chinquapin oaks. Recommended evergreen selections include live oak, Afghan pine, deodar cedar, and cherry laurel.

Choosing a site

Survey your site and decide the best location for your tree. Choose the variety based on mature size compared to the space you have available. Most planting mistakes are made by placing a tree that will become very large in the wrong place; under a power line or too close to the house, driveway, or walkway. Don’t place the tree near water, gas, cable TV, telephone or sewer lines. In Austin, phone One Call (they’re listed in the Phone book); they will locate and mark all underground utility lines in the digging area. In other locations, call your utility or service supplier. Now dig a test hole. Be sure your location is not one large limestone boulder with a thin layer of soil over it. If you hit a large rock, move over a bit and try again. When you are sure you can dig an adequate hole, then purchase the tree. When you know the size of the hole you can dig, your original plan for a large balled and burlaped tree may change to a five gallon size. The smaller size is easier to plant, less expensive, and may grow more rapidly than the larger tree.

Planting the Tree

Dig your hole three to five times as wide as the container or root ball. The hole should be no deeper than the container. If you disturb the native soil below the root ball, the tree may settle and sink too low. The sides of the hole should not be smooth. Dig an ugly, ragged hole or even a square hole. Use a pick or shovel to break up the vertical soil surface. This gives the roots a chance to grow into the native soil. Carefully remove the tree from its container and place it in the hole. Large trees may require the aid of several helpers to avoid damaging the roots. If the roots have begun to circle inside the container, straighten them out from the root ball as you refill the hole. Most times a newly planted tree will stand on its own. If necessary, drive a sturdy stake at the edge of the root ball. Use an old nylon stocking to loop a loose figure eight around the tree and the stake. Fill the hole with the removed soil, not peat moss, compost, or bagged soil. It’s best to get the tree immediately accustomed to the soil in which it will be growing. Otherwise the roots tend to stay in the amended soil and never grow into the surrounding native soil. As you fill, compress the soil with your foot several times to prevent air pockets. Use the extra soil to build a dam around the edge of the hole. Water thoroughly and deeply. A liquid root stimulator may be used, but is usually not necessary. Cover the area inside the dam with 3-4 inches of organic mulch. In the absence of rain, a good soaking every two weeks is sufficient during the winter.

This article first appeared in the Austin American Statesman. At the time of publication, Dick Peterson was City of Austin Xeriscape Coordinator.