A growing number of people are disillusioned with conventional housing made of 2x4s and sheetrock (the way most homes in North America are built). These homes are filled with materials such as particleboard, plywood, plastic, linoleum, and synthetic carpet and paint that contain known carcinogens and allergens. These man-made materials offgas toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, and often continue to do so for many years. Occupants of these homes frequently acquire ‘sick house syndrome’ from breathing these noxious fumes.
But many are beginning to see through the charade. Why work a lifetime for an impersonal, mass-produced commodity that endangers lives and the environment, and does not reflect their ethos?
Natural building solves all of these problems by utilizing locally available, low-impact building materials such as straw, stone, earth, bamboo, small diameter wood and recycled materials. Natural building requires more labor, but has many advantages such as being lower cost, more beautiful and environmentally friendly. Natural materials also are owner-builder friendly, because they typically require only basic skills and a few simple tools. In our high-tech, high-stress era, many find solace and personal satisfaction in working with their hands to build their dream home with natural materials.
Although the building methods and materials described in this article are well documented in thousands of websites and hundreds of books, magazines and videos, many people are still unaware of them. The best way to learn about natural building may be to see finished homes and hear them described by their builders. Thanks to the power of the Internet, these homes are now just a click away.
Without further ado, let’s take the natural building tour:
– Ted Owens’ strawbale solar home in Corrales, New Mexico: Author/publisher Building With Awareness – The Construction of a Hybrid Home, recipient of three Telly Awards for excellence, Ted Owens masterfully blends straw bales and adobes in this southwestern style home.
– Robert Laporte and Paula Baker-Laporte, owners EcoNest Design and EcoNest Building, Tesuque, New Mexico: Authors of EcoNest, Creating Sustainable Sanctuaries of Clay, Straw, and Timber, their homes feature timber framing, clay/straw walls, earth plastering and natural, non-toxic finishes.
– Deanne Bednar’s strawbale studio, Oxford, Michigan: Using timeless design principles of curved walls, exposed timbers and stone foundations, this home is a classic example of the beauty of natural materials.
– Alison Kennedy’s earthbag home in Moab, Utah: Many earthbag homes are domes, but this house demonstrates earthbags are equally suitable for structures with vertical walls.
– Ben Law, roundwood timber frame house, author The Woodland House and other books, West Sussex, UK: One of the most sustainably built houses on the planet, this home is built with bowed timbers (rejected by sawmills because they’re not straight) and coppiced wood. There is no photo gallery on this site, but you can see samples of his work.
– The Canelo Project, Bill and Athena Steen, Elgin, Arizona: Authors of numerous books on natural building, Bill and Athena are leaders in their field at combining simple materials such as straw and earth into exquisite, tasteful simple dwellings.
– OM Dome, Koh Phangan, Thailand: Master builder Trevor Lytle oversaw the construction of the world’s largest earthbag dome (27 foot diameter), a spiritual temple for the Pyramid Yoga Center.
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