Saturday, 12 May 2012


There's so many alternative building materials we can use ~ rammed earth, straw bale, cob, adobe... plus traditional wood, stone and brick.  Find out what suits your location and your pocket.  Here's a few ideas and links for starters.

7 March 2013 UpDate:
I've just spotted this wonderful Facebook page...

- by Cordwood Construction   5 March 2013

On these pages we are going to provide you, the owner/builder, with helpful strawbale construction techniques, details, architectural drawings, or anything that might help you with your construction. These articles were written for the US market and are being updated for New Zealand so you will see both inches and metric measurements.

Our first building suggestion is one you will hear over and over again by all strawbale builders and advocates: Keep your straw dry! We know this sounds basic and sometimes stupid but it is very important and can not be overemphasized. Wet straw does not work at all and must be removed - a depressing job - so keep it dry to begin with.

We'll spend more time in the later articles describing how to keep everything from getting wet in detail. Right now we want to show you a drawing of a foundation so you can begin to plan on how to build your home. This foundation is for a thickened concrete slab foundation and has been approved by many of our county building officials.

Straw bale house 



This is one option for your footing (this drawing is for a 22" bale (550mm) and not intended to be submitted to a building official in lieu of your own drawings.) It is usually easier to get this type of foundation approved because it is very conventional in design and uses concrete in the normal manner, the main difference in the footing is the width of your bales (usually about 2' [600mm] wide.) It is important before you design your home or start construction, you must know what size your bales are.

[Stem Wall Footing]

Here is a stem wall foundation that shows what we are currently using as our "standard" foundation for single story buildings. This foundation reduces the amount of concrete by more than 1/3 compared to the first one. All foundations in the colder climates must go down to the "frost line", in the example above that is 24" (600mm) below the finished grade. If you are not familiar with the building requirements for your area, contact your local building department or seek professional services. At Sustainable Building Alliance we offer complete architecture and design services and can provide you with engineered drawings ready to submit to your building department.
You can go directly to the next article and back to previous articles using the links below.



When most people think of solar heating for their home, they imagine huge arrays of solar panels up on the roof and expensive installation costs (tens of thousands of dollars, in fact).  It's actually possible to save a lot of money and build a more eco-friendly home just by designing your house with passive solar heating in mind.

A passive solar home faces south and takes advantage of natural sunlight with large windows and excellent installation.  The most common living areas are on the south side of the house, and even in the winter, the daylight streaming through the windows can go a long ways in lowering your heating bill.

Check out this article on passive solar home design for more information.


              USING SOLAR POWER

You may dream of getting out of the city and living off-the-grid out in the wilderness somewhere in a home full of rain collectors and solar panels, a home where you'll never have to pay energy bills again because nature provides you everything you need.  You may dream about it, but most of us are stuck in the city or the suburbs, where solar power is just some distant wilderness fantasy.
Or is it?

More and more people are outfitting their existing homes with solar panels on the roof.  These panels draw energy from the sun all day and in some cases provide 100% of the energy required for a household's use.  The owners can even come out ahead by siphoning what they don't use back into the city's power grid.  At the worst case, you'll cut down on what you draw from the local power plant a lot.  Of course, the initial outlay is costly, but in some areas there are tax deductions and incentives to make going solar more appealing. 

This book does a wonderful of explaining how you can get started:


If you're looking for a flooring material for your eco-friendly home that doesn't require anything being cut down or destroyed, consider adobe floors.  Their materials come from the earth's floor, and they are simply refashioned to serve human needs.  
Adobe floors can be designed to be dry, durable, and well-insulated.  They absorb heat well and radiate it back through the night, so they can be used in homes with passive solar designs. 
Adobe is warmer and "softer" underfoot than concrete, brick, and other hard flooring materials.  Since these floors are made primarily of soil, they are entirely natural.

For more eco-friendly housing ideas, check out 



One of the nice things about building a home from scratch is you get to pick and choose the materials yourself.  If you want to build an eco-friendly house, you'll probably want to incorporate reclaimed woods or timbers from sustainable sources whenever possible.  So, what are your sources for eco-friendly sustainable wood?


Let's take a look at a few of your options:

River Wood
River wood is retrieved from the bottoms of rivers.  The recovered logs have typically been on the river bottoms for decades or centuries (originally lost by loggers bringing them downriver to the mills).  Also timbers from old pilings and piers are included in this category.

Wood from Managed or Certified Forests
A lot of today's new wood is coming from managed forests, which means new trees are planted to replace the old.  Caretakers make sure to avoid cutting down old-growth trees, and there are standards of sustainability that these forests have to maintain in order to qualify. This often includes the protection of wildlife habitats.

Reclaimed or Salvaged Wood
This is when beams, timbers, etc. are reclaimed from old barns, warehouses, houses, and other buildings that have been dismantled. It's a popular choice with people building eco-friendly homes, since no new trees need to be cut to provide the wood.

Standing Dead Timbers
This last category includes trees that have died due to fires, diseases, or other causes, but are still standing.  They can often be reclaimed for residential construction, and because they've already lost most of their moisture, these trees can be excellent choices for building homes.

Source: Nov/Dec 2007 issue of Smart HomeOwner 


We've talked about building houses with cob before.  It's earth-friendly and you can save money by doing a lot of the work yourself; see Advantages of Building with Cob
If you're looking for books and how-to information, you can check out 

If you just want a little inspiration, these videos [below] can give you some ideas about what can be done with cob.

Image result for plastic bottle house construction

Tomislav Radovanic, a retired Math professor from central Serbia has built a house of waste plastic. "The house is comfortable and it practically cost me nothing," Radovanovic said, adding that the bottles are good insulators. The foundation is concrete but all else is plastic; gutters, windows and furniture are made from recycled bottles. 

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