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Green Construction
Like many products on the market today, the average home is built as cheap and fast as possible, and sold for as much as possible. Some homes are built in a single day, and it shows ... maybe not on the outside, but the results of poorly constructed homes are clearly evident to those living in them. The average home or other building today is expensive to heat and cool, and what little insulation there is makes little difference. Why spend more on a poorly constructed home built from non-renewable building materials, when building a high quality green home could cost much less?

Earthen Homes

Earthen homes and other alternative construction methods are certainly not new, only unknown by some and disregarded by others. 'Earthen home' is an umbrella term for green buildings that are built partially or completely underground, using green building materials, such as adobe, cob, dirt, mud bricks, rammed earth, straw bales, mud or stone. People have been building earthen structures for centuries, many of which have stood up to the tests of time. Cob homes built hundreds of years ago still stand today, and even the Great Wall of China, built over two thousand years ago and still standing, is an earthen structure.

Building materials used in earthen structures are typically earth friendly, affordable, readily available, and can be stronger and more durable than those used in traditional home construction. Earthen homes can for example, be just as strong as (or stronger than) steel buildings, if arch, dome, radial or honeycomb shapes are used for weight bearing purposes. If built properly, earthen structures can also be highly resistant to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and earthquakes, especially if built underground. With sufficient drainage, water resistant glazing and firing, earthen homes do not wash away with rain or floods, most have a much higher R value than traditional homes, and they are well suited for passive solar design, grey water systems and other natural building techniques.

Adobe Construction

Adobes are built with bricks made of about 50% sand, 35% clay, and 15% sifted straw, mixed together with water. The bricks are fired, then stacked to form walls, using mortar to hold them in place. Foundations may be constructed from stones and/or grancrete (the natural, waterproof, earth friendly and stronger version of concrete), and roofs are typically made from wood covered with the same building materials as that used for the bricks and mortar. Roofs do not have to incorporate the use of wood at all however, if bricks for the roof are arranged in the shape of an arch or dome.

Ceramic Dome Homes

Ceramic dome homes are constructed using bricks made of about 60% clay, 30% sand, and 10% sifted straw, mixed together with water. The bricks are allowed to dry, then stacked to form walls, using mortar to hold them in place. Foundations may be made of stone and/or grancrete, roofs are usually made of bricks and mortar alone, and are often built in the shape of an arch or dome. Once the entire structure is built, plaster is used to cover the building inside and out, a thin layer of rock salt may be added to the inside and outside of bricks and mortar (to serve as a glaze for additional water proofing), then the entire structure is fired.

Cob Home Construction

Cob homes are built similar to adobes. Like the bricks used for adobes and ceramic dome homes, cob is made of sand, clay and straw, but the straw isn't usually sifted. Cob is formed into walls that are allowed to dry as they are built, rather than using bricks that have already been formed and dried. As with nearly all earthen homes, cob buildings can be constructed with stone or grancrete footers and foundations, wood frame, steel frame, domed or arched roofs (with or without frames).

Straw Bale Building

Like stone, clay, soil and most other earthen building materials, straw bales provide a good deal of insulation to help regulate temperatures and reduce energy costs. Straw bale construction is done by stacking straw bales on top of one another over a raised footing or foundation to form walls. Straw bales are tied together with pins, stakes, wood, rebar or wire mesh, then plaster and stucco is applied inside and out. Straw bale buildings are often built with wood framed roofs, windows and walls for extra load bearing support, though it is not always necessary.

Rammed Earth Building

Rammed earth buildings use wood frames for walls and roofs as stick built homes do but in this case, soil (sand, gravel and clay) is moistened with water and compressed within the walls, then the wood frames are removed and the walls are allowed to dry and harden for several days or more. Footers and foundations can be made of stone and/or grancrete, as with nearly if not all forms of green architecture. Rammed earth buildings can take up to two years to completely dry and harden, but the longer they cure the stronger they become.

Earthship Homes

Earthships are made with tires (usually used tires that would otherwise go to the dump or a landfill), are typically built in the shape of a U, and are mostly or completely underground. Tires are filled with rammed earth and serve as exterior walls, while interior walls are often made from recycled cans and bottles that are held together with concrete or grancrete. The building itself is usually positioned so that the open end of the U shape faces south for passive solar design and general temperature regulation purposes.

Container Architecture And Prefab Homes

Buildings can be constructed using steel frames, culverts, train cars, shipping or cargo containers, or other structurally sound steel frames or containers for the actual load bearing structure. Wire mesh is attached to the steel frame or structure and fillers such as adobe, cob or grancrete are used to cover and fill in the gaps, cover walls, ceilings and floors. Interior walls are then plastered and exterior walls are covered with stucco.

Prefabricated buildings are also available, which may be constructed quickly on site. Unlike 'mobile homes', 'prefab homes' often incorporate green building materials and a modular design.

Natural Plasters, Stuccos And Mortars

Walls, ceilings and floors of earthen homes are often covered with natural plaster or stucco for extra water and fire proofing, and even for aesthetic purposes. Plasters are used on the inside, stuccos are used on the outside, and mortar is placed between bricks to hold it all together. Mortar is usually made from the same building materials as the rest of the structure. Plasters and stuccos are usually made with sand, natural fibers (such as sifted straw, wool or cattail) and clay, cement, grancrete, lime or gypsum. Sand and/or crushed stone may also be added to concrete or grancrete as filler and for additional strength, while rice flour and/or ground oyster shells may be added to clay building materials, mortar, plaster and/or stucco for added strength and water proofing.
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Art gallery and homestead of Sue Robishaw and Steve Schmeck, creating and living a sustainable life in Michigan