Natural renovations

September 10, 2015

As natural building grows as a movement, we hope that eventually we can change the paradigm of building homes: From expensive, toxic, resource intensive boxes, to elegant, affordable, healthy homes that make sense for us and the planet. The pioneers in this field can roughly be divided into two groups: Predominantly wealthier, college-educated people building with straw bale, rammed earth, log cabins, fancy stone work, etc., and, the other group, mostly a younger crowd with no children, building outlaw cottages “at the end of the road”(in the woods, intentional communities, etc). One by one, both these groups (and many others that don’t fit these two categories) put homes on the face of the planet that are different and give us hope for a better world. The question remains: What are we going to do with the other 100,000,000 homes in the USA that have the potential to last another 50+years?

 

So here is my thesis: Buildings seldom fail. What fails is the stuff that we put inside (and on the outside) of them. Within 10 years a modern built home starts falling apart. The cause of this is kitchens built out of particleboard, bathrooms out of fiberglass, walls out of drywall, siding out of compressed sawdust or plastic, roofs out of tar and flooring out of synthetic carpet. All these materials look OK when they are new but they don’t age gracefully. All together they are not materials you want to be close to. What hardly ever fails is the framing, the foundation, the electrical and plumbing or the roof structure. However, when too many building components start to fail, in our economic system it becomes cheaper to tear down the building instead of fixing it up. Other reasons why we’d rather do away with a building is because they are poorly designed and uncomfortable to be in. They feel too cold or too hot, bring you high utility bills and have a floor plan that fits no ones needs.

Here is my case for natural renovation. The next time the drywall looks dented and disgusting, let’s not replace it with drywall. When the tar roof starts to fall apart, let’s not just tack another layer of tar upon it. And when the carpet gets stained and ugly and goes to the dump, let’s see if we can find an alternative.

 

With the help from architects, planners, contractors, real estate agents and government regulations we now find ourselves with most of the 100,000,000 buildings having many of the earlier mentioned problems. So let’s make it right.

 

Here are the areas within which we can do a lot of good:

  1. Design: How to alter existing floor plans so that they will make sense.

  2. Materials: How to renovate with natural materials instead of toxic or synthetic products.

  3. Energy systems: Solar technologies benefiting the earth, your body and your wallet.

Design

  • Create “outdoor rooms” around your house instead of sterile landscaping.

  • Let part of the yard grow wild!

  • Stop parking your car in your house. Instead, walk to your home and mark the walk with special items, rocks, flowers, etc. saying: Special place coming up!

  • Use the main entrance to enter your home, not the garage or some back door. Re-design your main entrance so it’s large and beautiful, with a place to put shoes and coats. You can do part of this outside under an overhang.

  • Inside, create small spaces separated by partial walls. Large living rooms, family rooms and bedrooms don’t give you intimacy.

  • Make sure that the places where you spend time passively (desk, comfortable chair, bed) have no traffic patterns going through them or nearby them. In other words, spaces work best if they are dead-ends. Eliminate interior doors creating traffic through passive spaces.

  • Close off parts of the house you don’t use; stop heating and cooling them.

  • Get rid of the television. It will change your life for the better. Guaranteed!


Materials

  • Don’t buy plastics or composite materials if you can avoid it!

  • Use cob for interior walls, benches, other furniture, mass around wood stoves, out-door fire places and sculpture in and around the house.

  • Use straw coated with clay (light straw-clay) to insulate walls and attics.

  • Almost every building can be retrofitted with straw bales to create beauty and warmth.

  • Earthen plasters are beautiful, cheap, easy and stick to almost everything, including drywall, concrete, plywood etc. Forget about painting, or if you insist, investigate natural paints!

  • Most carpets are extremely toxic and outgas for a long time. Consider earthen floors. They are soft, cleanable, repairable, warm and beautiful. They can last a lifetime. Treat wood flooring with natural oils; avoid hard wood flooring.

  • Use wild pieces of wood and rocks to decorate your home. You can also use them to replace door- and closet handles


Energy systems

  • Work towards passive solar heating through south facing windows, massive insulation, and bringing lots of mass inside your house to absorb the heat coming in through the windows.

  • Focus on natural light. Small skylights (2×2) are very effective at lighting places up, as the source of the light (the sun) is overhead.

  • Use the sun to dry your clothes.

  • In general, all appliances that heat or cool for longer periods of time are very energy intensive. Convert them to propane or natural gas or don’t use them at all. Once you’ve done that, the step to energy independence through solar or wind energy will be painless.

These are just some important steps you can consider when moving towards a more natural home. In the long run, these steps will benefit your health and state of mind, as well as your pocket book and the well being of the planet. These steps will stimulate you to venture out towards new lifestyle patterns that will enrich your life in unexpected ways.

 

If you are serious about this, it is worthwhile to have me or another practitioner of Natural Building consult with you, and or to take a workshop. This not only benefits the immediate project but it will give you life long skills of dealing with houses and making a natural home; the long term savings are immense!

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