Dan Chiras has been involved in natural and alternative building since 1994 and lives in an off-grid passive solar/solar electric home in the foothills of the Rockies. His house is built from straw bales, rammed earth tires, and numerous green building materials and is powered entirely by wind and solar energy. Dan is author of The Natural House: A Complete Guide to Healthy, Energy-Efficient, Environmental Homes, published by Chelsea Green; The Natural Plaster Book: Earthen, Lime, and Gypsum Plasters for Natural Homes (with Cedar Rose Guelberth), published by New Society Publishers; and numerous articles on natural building and sustainable design, which have appeared in Mother Earth News, Natural Home, and The Last Straw. Dan embraces a comprehensive systems approach to building that offers a wide range of benefits to people, the planet, and our economy. He will field general questions on natural building and offers consultation on project design and construction, as well as lectures and workshops on various aspects of natural and sustainable design and construction.
Q and A (Kelly): I am a student at Colorado Mountain College. I was emailing you because I was doing my English Comp II paper on green building. I had just a few questions if you would be so kind as to help me with my research of green building and the controversies surrounding it. My first question is about the history of green building. Why did we change from this ancient way of building to the now current tract homes everywhere?
The development of tract housing has followed on the heals of industrialization in general. When manufactured products for building became available and were promoted, people started to adopt these materials and technologies.
How much estimated damage do tract homes cause or waste compared to a natural home?
There is a wide spectrum of degrees of naturalness to a home, so this is hard to estimate. One major problem with typical tract housing is that it is primarily made with wood, which has led to deforestation, destruction of animal habitat, more CO2 in the atmosphere, leading to global warming, etc. Another problem is that most conventional houses are energy hogs, because they are not designed efficiently with passive solar in mind, and are often are megalithic in scale.
Why haven't these homes became a standard for living since they are so gentle on the environment?
Thinking about conservation has not been prevalent within the U.S.
Are there standards being implemented?
Many states do now have energy conservation codes in effect, and this has helped somewhat.
Why are there only building codes for 5 states?
The process for getting codes passed is a rigorous one, requiring much time and money...and there has to be an incentive to undertake this.
Finally what are the major controversies surrounding it?
There are many prejudices about various forms of natural building, from the idea that it is not MODERN to it is not SAFE. We need to educate people about the benefits.
In other words why isn't everybody taking a look at it, is it just a lack of education about the topic?
Q: I am interesting to have a free chemical hazard home where people can live in a healthy home without causing their health problem. I am living in San Antonio, Tx. I will like to start my own business to let people know about the free chemical hazard home that I will design in Texas. I want to learn of what materials can be using for healthily home.
A: (Kelly) Virtually all of the options outlined here are chemical free, except perhaps some of the ones listed under "Manufactured Systems". These all employ natural, unprocessed materials. Some the methods might use a bit of Portland cement to help bind them (rammed earth, poured earth, papercrete, stonework, and lightweight concrete), but once the cement has set up there are no volatile compounds as far as I know.