Mainstreaming Natural Building


At the recent Natural Building Colloquium in New Mexico, besides all of the workshops and presentations already mentioned in earlier blog posts, there were a number of fairly spontaneous breakout groups or conversations. I participated in a couple these; one was about the future of book publishing, but the most interesting one was looking at how we can bring natural building more into mainstream acceptance. This turned out to be a three day ongoing brainstorm with up to a dozen people at each session.

Janell Kapoor of Kleiwerks International proposed this discussion and it attracted many of the seasoned movers and shakers of the natural building movement. Joe Kennedy became the scribe, keeping 9 pages of notes of comments as they emerged.

Janell suggested doing a SWOT analysis, or looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to accomplishing the goal of advancing natural building to become more commonly accepted practice. Rather than outline all of the collected suggestions, I will give you my opinion about these aspects.

I think that the greatest strength is that the natural building movement directly addresses many of the issues that confront humanity in terms of energy use and pollution, especially as these contribute to global climate change. The biggest weakness is the perception of the general public that natural building is substandard, unsafe, backward, too counter-culture, and even expensive. We have a tremendous opportunity to educate the masses through all forms of media that natural building can be beautiful, practical, durable, energy efficient and affordable. A major threat to realizing this are the entrenched industrial interests that often control how the codes are formulated and promote industrial solutions to housing.

What has recently happened in Nepal regarding earthbag building and how it is suddenly being accepted by both the populace and the government as an appropriate solution to rebuilding that shaken nation is a perfect example of how natural building can come into mainstream focus. This resulted from practical demonstration and media attention. These kinds of events can alter the cultural stories that are told over generations and make real change happen.

Another example of mainstream attention is the tiny house phenomenon; most everybody has been exposed to this building choice within the last few years. I think the popularity of tiny houses comes from two directions: they are adorable and they are relatively affordable. Most people want to own their own homes and a tiny house might be the answer, whereas standard housing is out of the question. When you get right down to basic motivation, economics always runs the show. We need to make natural building affordable or it will not flourish.

I think that in the end natural building will grow in popularity for the very reason that it can be an affordable way to address our housing needs with minimal energy and industrial material consumption.

9 thoughts on “Mainstreaming Natural Building”

  1. I still think the best thing we can do for this is set a teen drama or soap opera in an ecovillage. Don’t make a big, preachy point about it, it’s just part of the characters lives. Then, the information can reach people who aren’t looking at alternative building, and you can show random people that yes, you can afford a beautiful, comfortable home, if you can convince local code enforcers to say yes.

  2. I, for one, feel it is time to take this mainstream. I believe that we can make earthbag and other natural building techniques mainstream and change the face of the real estate market through our efforts. I know very little at this point, and I welcome any and all input into my foray into building this way.

    Part of the beauty of the building technique is that it is so flexible, and it has a low learning curve. I would need to make sure it can meet the public quality standard of housing. It will have to look comparable to what’s already out there. Which might mean not being a purist – working with more straight edges instead of curves, common roof styles instead of domes, etc.

    • Agreed. I toured one of the largest, most successful earthbag housing projects yesterday. They’ve built 25 houses so far. We watched local women and one man lay an earthbag tube on one side of the house (about 14′ long including the buttresses) in about 5 minutes. The 8′ high walls of these tiny houses (about 10’x13′) are built in 7-10 days by the owners. I’ll be blogging about this soon.

  3. To me the only way to get mainstream is TV and more permitted homes. If Natural building can find a way to get the exposure that Tiny Houses have gotten, it would go far to get them into the mainstream. We need a few shows on DIY channels.
    Another point is the need to stop saying…. ” if you can find a region with little code enforcement”. Better to say … ” Find out what the codes are in your area and work to get alternative building methods accepted by the permit office.” As long as people hear that the style can’t meet code, they will not believe it is a safe place for them to live.
    When I talked to the Permit Office in Northwest Louisiana they told me that the state code, like many states, uses International Residential Code 2009. And that book does allow for ‘other’ building material.

    • What you say is a good point: stop saying…. ” if you can find a region with little code enforcement”.

      And yes, there is a section in the code about alternative materials that covers unconventional building methods.

      The reality — what really happens — is what we’ve been saying for years. The building officials often make it so difficult and costly to get code approval with alternative materials that there are no savings.

      One flicker of hope in the US is the slow economy. Many communities are just begging for people to move to their community and build new homes and start new businesses. In these places the code officials would likely be much more amenable to alternative building methods.


    Yes, we have reached critical mass, and the tide is already shifted. This is seen by the sudden acceptance of how Earthbag Building is a good solution in so much of Nepal.

    Yes, we straddle the space between past paradigm and NOW paradigm of life on Earth.

    Let’s hear it for Natural Building and empowering ourselves.!

    • I agree, but Nepal is coming to their senses mostly due to the earthquakes. I wish it didn’t take a crisis to get people to wake up.


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