Dear Owen, I am currently doing research and compiling data in order to draft a proposal here in Canada largely related to solving an epidemic within our First Nations communities in regards to a lack of adequate housing. I could go on for hours and hours about the immense and serious problems in this area, but I’ll keep it as brief as possible.
Many of these areas are in arctic or subarctic conditions and I am curious if there is any data available on the viable use of earthbag building in such areas. I am certain that this should be possible especially given that a majority of families in the most remote areas live in temporary housing with little or no insulation, and thin walls.
My first thought when trying to come up with a solution to this problem was earthbags due to their sustainable nature, low cost and widely available materials. Many of these reservations have absolutely no sources of income or employment and survive entirely on government assistance so cost effective solutions are incredibly important while having to be as close to permanent as possible.
Though I am nothing more than a humble artist, recent events in our country have given me a strong passion to work towards this cause.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration,
Hideo Luc Goyer, Cloudgazer Studios
Owen: The two key issues for you are:
1. Locating a source of affordable insulation. Tamped earth without insulation would be as cold as living in a cave. Maybe you could buy scoria by the truck or train load to get a big discount. Scoria and pumice provide decent insulation and don’t mold, rot, burn, etc. It’s lightweight and easy to work with. Our Earthbag Building Blog covers this subject in detail. (Use the search engine on the blog.) [Update: a later email explained how recycled polystyrene is plentiful in Canada.]
2. You’ll definitely want to create a passive solar design with lots of large, south facing windows to maximize free heat from the sun. Thick, high mass walls and floor will absorb the heat, and a thick layer of insulation around all sides (including under the floor and on the roof) will trap the heat inside. You could even grow bananas or other tropical fruit with this sort of design.
Note to other designers: I’d like to refine this design with input from other design professionals and make all drawings freely available on the Internet. Please email me at strawhouses [at] yahoo.com if you would like to contribute.