With the vast majority of people unable to afford a contractor-built and code-approved home (over 70% in the U.S. ), we must look for alternative solutions to lower the cost of construction. Ideally, these lower-cost solutions also reduce energy costs, cause less harm to the environment and cut long term maintenance.
Here are 10 simple ways to achieve all of these goals:
1. Use locally available, low-impact natural materials: Earth, straw, cellulose insulation, small diameter wood, sand, stone and other materials can often be gathered for free or at very low cost. Try to do this without causing harm. Thinning small diameter wood from crowded forests, for example, can actually improve the health of forests and reduce forest fires.
2. Earthbag foundations: They offer many advantages over reinforced concrete foundations and work well with many types of sustainable buildings. In particular, they are low-cost, fast and easy to build, require no cement (a major expense and cause of global warming) and require no forms or expensive equipment. This is an easy way to save thousands of dollars.
3. Strawbale or earthbag walls: Of the many natural building options, strawbale and earthbag building seem to be the most popular. They are relatively fast and simple, and well-suited to do-it-yourself builders. With thousands of happy homeowners and successful examples to learn from, these building methods are gradually progressing into mainstream use.
4. Earth floors and plaster: Earth creates stunningly beautiful homes, perhaps unrivaled by any other material. Its use in homebuilding is almost limitless, often turning homes into sculptural and livable works of art. The benefits are many. Besides being beautiful, earth plasters prevent mold and control indoor humidity. Earth floors are slightly resilient underfoot and can last many hundreds if not thousands of years. Both create additional thermal mass inside a home, which helps stabilize indoor temperatures and reduce energy costs.
5. Build small and simple -- only what you need: This greatly simplifies and speeds construction, cuts costs, and reduces heating and cooling costs.
6. Passive solar design: Orient the home on an east-west axis (the long side of the home facing south in the northern hemisphere). Proper window placement and correctly-sized roof overhangs will improve energy performance.
7. Carefully consider the building design: Create a sealed, superinsulated design in cold climates. Passive House technology in Germany has shown a furnace is not needed with a well sealed, superinsulated building. With good solar orientation and other design detailing, an air-to-air exchanger is sufficient to keep the home comfortable. In hot climates, create an open design for improved ventilation and use plants for natural cooling.
8. Use low maintenance materials or materials that age well: Consider long term maintenance costs as well as initial costs of construction. Durable metal roofing, for example, (light colored in hot climates) will outlast asphalt shingles, and works great for collecting roofwater.
9. Shop and compare, and use recycled materials whenever possible: You can save about $1,000 on a small house just by shopping around. Another way to save big is to stockpile materials gleaned from yard sales and construction sites. It's amazing what some people throw away. (I helped build a house years ago that used almost 100% recycled materials. We helped demolish an old warehouse and, in payment for our labor, got rock-solid Douglas fir lumber.)
10. DIY owner-builder: Being your own general contractor can save thousands of dollars with careful planning. It's not something to take lightly. Building your own home takes a lot of work and time, but the rewards are significant. The end result will be a personalized home that's perfect for you and yours at significantly lower cost.
Owen Geiger, Director of the Geiger Research Institute of Sustainable Building and Kelly Hart have teamed up to create EarthbagBuilding.com and Earthbag Building Blog at earthbagbuilding.wordpress.com to better focus and keep track of the rapid growth of this novel building method.
This article was first published at ArticleBliss.com.