Back to Nature: Building Homes from Natural Materials
Homeowners are turning to natural materials when building their dream homes.
Many homeowners are opting for natural, eco-friendly materials when building their homes in an effort to support sustainability. Unhealthy VOC’s and other chemicals that modern building materials off-gas have fallen into disrepute and hastened the move to natural materials. From straw bale homes to Earthships, we take a look at homeowners who are utilizing organic materials to build their dream homes.
One of the most sustainable building models is the Earthship; a unique combination of natural and found materials. Earthships use tires, bottles and cans in the construction of homes which require few tools, little skilled labour and a lot of hard work. Communities of Earthship enthusiasts help to build each other’s homes using a rammed-earth method.
Here used tires are stacked to construct walls and filled with earth which is tamped with garden tools to create an incredibly strong and well-insulated structure. The walls are then coated in clay, sand or plaster.
Adobe homes also utilize earth as a natural building material. Here mud bricks are created and sun-dried. The bricks are assembled into thick wall structures using mud cement. When insulated, these earthen walls provide a thermal mass which is heated by the sun during the day and releases that heat back into the home at night. While adobe structures are labor-intensive, they are able to utilize local materials and require very few tools or energy for the manufacturing process, making them a very attractive option for the environmentally-friendly home builder.
If this is sounding like something the three little pigs would attempt, then think again. No amount of huffing and puffing will blow these houses down! Timber framed homes are created and the wall cavities are stuffed with straw bales. The bales (usually oats, wheat, rice, or rye) are then coated with clay or rendered with plaster to create thick, extremely well-insulated walls.
Straw bale homes have several advantages as they are environmentally friendly, won’t off-gas VOCs, have an insulating value between R-30 and R-35 when constructed properly and have a lower embodied energy.
Green roofs provide a wealth of advantages for the eco-friendly homeowner. A waterproof membrane is placed over the roof and then a growing medium is added. Indigenous plants cover the roof and provide a lush carpet of greenery and flowers. Indigenous plants need less care and provide a welcome reprieve for birds, especially in the city. Green roofs provide an aesthetically pleasing landscape and insulate the building from summer heat and winter cold.
This concept can be extended to the bermed home. A building technique perfected by the Vikings, bermed homes are partially covered by earth. Bermed homes lie beneath the frost line, ensuring a comfortable 13 to 14°C indoor temperature.
The move to natural building materials emerged in response to the revelation that modern building materials contained a number of toxic chemicals that could lead to serious health issues for building occupants. Natural building materials, which are sustainably created, have a smaller embodied carbon footprint and are an eco-living alternative for increasingly environmentally-minded homeowners.
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