Monday, June 22, 2009

Build-design off the grid

Hey there. So I wanted to bring a new topic to the table here at Decorazzi. I have been discussing home building with my dad, who's an architect by education and trade. I passed an article to him from the Willamette Weekly (a local Portland, OR paper).

The article was focusing on renewable energies and green building.

My dad's response was very thought-provoking, and I thought all of you savvy readers would find it interesting as well. Here's his response to the article about heating a home with a hair dryer:

"I had the chance to read that article called "Futurehaus" in the Willamette Weekly that Pat referenced me.

It's a good article, but the basic method that the young architects are promoting consists of a double-walled enclosure, with an energy efficient exterior shell insulating and weather-protecting a conventional inner shell of standard wood frame construction; double the shell and double the expenses as a result. Cost will soon put the damper on this method, in spite of any perceived or real government and/or industry incentives or tax breaks.These guys are working within standards and codes now prevailing and are apparently doing a good job of it.

The problem is, the standards and codes they have to deal with are based on conventional and long-standing construction techniques that building officials and engineers are accustomed to dealing with; there is no standard existing nor engineering method established for the use of alternative construction methods, used elsewhere all over the world, now for thousands of years...that method, among others is routinely referred to as "adobe".

Mother nature has provided for us very well; our problem is, we ignore her too much and do it our own way too often.

The use of adobe was the first and still remains the most common way of providing housing all over the world. However, the U.S. Testing agencies, like the ASTM (American Society of Testing Materials), have never commissioned the analysis or testing of adobe buildings to determine their values for providing for compression and tension resistance using these simple construction methods and for this reason, adobe consruction is not recognized as an acceptable building system in the codes; the why of it is probably immersed in the politics and lobbyists protecting the staus quo of American industry for profitability reasons, pure and simple. The result of this is that local building departments will not accept it since they have no way of monitoring it to standards that don't exist.

Here's why that is a bad idea:

Adobe is an all natural, locally available (as in, on your building site) material that is unsurpassed in providing insulation for warmth in the winter and cooling in the material does this better, and I mean by a long, long ways adobe is self-finishing on the exterior (with an additive commonly found in the country, cow pies!) with a final finish coat that is impervious to weather; reapplication is a snap and is done no more often than one repaints a wood-sided house
adobe is self-finishing on the interior (with a modification of the standard adobe mix, no cow pies!) with a final finish coat that provides a hard interior finish similar to painted plaster or sheetrock adobe is naturally resistive to compressive forces, meaning it can bear substantial weight; tension is another story and it is here where we need tested standards adobe can be constructed with all power, lighting, HVAC and other utilities located within the walls, per standard construction methods there's nothing cheaper than dirt, especially when you already own it, assuming you already own your lot; constituencies in the soil are easily tested on site and any deficiencies in the existing soil can be augmented and brought to the site for achieving the proper mix adobe flooring is among one of the best floor systems available; yes, dirt floors can be made hard and shiny and will take wax finishes and patterns and colors may be incorporated as well. This means that the floors are also insulative.

Adobe is perhaps the easiest of all materials to maintain; if a gouge in a wall or floor should occur, the adobe is simply re-hydrated and patched with...more adobe! Patches done correctly are also invisible, therefore, no waste is incurred due to replacement activities. This applies to either interior or exterior damage/replacement I am sure I am leaving some points out, but for the sake of brevity...So what does all this mean?

It means that adobe is super cheap to build with; the exterior and interior finishes are already included in the material...there's no sheetrock, wallpaper, siding, insulation, structure, framing, building wrap or membranes...the only thing it has in common with current systems is the incorporation of windows and doors. Interior trim and built-ins can be formed with adobe during the wall construction...things like benches, mantles, chair rails, picture rails, shelving, countertops...the list is endless. Adobe can also accommodate standard light fixtures, cabinetwork, appliances and washroom short, anything a standard frame house can accommodate, abdobe can too.

I believe adobe will be U.S. standard in the years to come; the way things are going with cost, it will soon be the only available, affordable option for most Americans. Now you know why I want to build my off-the-grid retirement abode out of adobe...hey, that makes it an adobe-abode!"

**If you have any questions about the ideas or opinions above, please feel free to list them in the comments, directed towards my dad, and I'll pass them along. When I get his responses, I'll create a follow up post, or send them back directly to you.

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