A Revolution In Green Homes: Systems Thinking Required


Or, Revolutionizing The Leading Edge


Think outside the box – outside ALL boxes, including whatever club or social group we happen to be in.

This short video presentation (below) is the best summary I have seen so far as to the core principles of leading edge green home design and building construction. It still is lacking, however. Asking a home to use 6 KW of energy generation capacity, whether on site or off, or 60% of the home’s energy “needs”, is absurd. That’s Net Zero? That’s leading edge? No, it is not. It is only a beginning.

Why build a home perched on top of a hillside with R-40 insulation walls and a bank of windows facing west, and a staggering 10,000 watts of solar power on the roof that it requires, and call that net zero and leading edge?

Firstly, a big bank of windows facing west will overheat the home, requiring closing the blinds so there IS NO VIEW. Orient south, as per basic passive solar design, with awnings as well, for winter solar gain without overheating, naturally.

But further – and this questions even the new Net Zero concepts and standards:

How about tripling the insulation from R40, to R120, and burying the home in the hillside (facing south, or at least south by south west) – and NOT waste 6,000 watts of power on an on-going basis? 

Take the standards given here in Net Zero design as baseline targets for insulation, and *double or triple them* with super-thick (cheap and affordable, natural, non-toxic, renewable and carbon sequestering) straw bale/plaster construction. Don’t settle for R-20 walls. Don’t settle for R-40 walls, as the Net Zero leading edge calls for. Double or triple it again.

Apply the Passive House standards to the Net Zero concept, along with passive solar design, of course, and instead of needing 6 KW of energy generation to heat and cool the home, you can do it with 1 KW – the equivalent power used by a hair dryer. 

Take the super-insulation principle further, with 60″ thick straw bale / plaster walls; then bury the house on the north, east, west, and north side of the roof (excavate a root cellar and pond, which every home should have, and you have the dirt) into a man-made hill (earth ship or earth home design core principle); and add an attached partitioned solar greenhouse to the entire south wall; and the home will require near zero energy for heating or cooling – because the sun and earth do the heating and cooling naturally. 

We’re talking about a staggering 6 KW of energy being wasted by LEADING EDGE GREEN HOMES. It does not have to be that way. 

We have made great strides. Take it further.

What we have, is a society with radically substandard and grossly unethical, self-destructive and ecologically disastrous standards and norms. The leading edge in the green home design and construction field, as one example, is light years beyond and above our pitiful social standards for what is an acceptable “code compliant” building or home. Yet the leading edge in green home design and building, as is also typical, is highly fragmented into different camps or schools of thought. 

What is a green home, or an eco home? There is pale green, and various shades of green. But the answer in any case depends who you ask.

Passive house, net zero, passive solar, straw bale, natural building, healthy home, earth ship, or earth home – we need to integrate the best all of these modalities, systems, or ways of thinking – not sit in our little camp and presume we have it all figured out. None of these schools of thought have the complete answer. But when you combine these seven broad categories or schools of thought, then you truly have something you can call “leading edge”, and deep green.

The time is now. Start communicating and talking to one another, people. Enough group think and clannishness, I’m sorry to say. We need systems thinkers, and thinkers who can integrate various diverse systems, and systems of thought. And we need it now. 

And it is right within our grasp, sitting in the palm of our hand.

We should be proud of the inovations in green home design to date. Now, go further.


July 28, 2020


2 Responses to “A Revolution In Green Homes: Systems Thinking Required”

  1. jtoddring Says:

    Composting toilets are by far the best, ecologically; home made composting toilets (humanure) are better yet. And the newest Earthship water recycling system may be best of all – or at least equal, ecologically and in terms of building self-reliance and resilience, to composting toilets.

    Standard flush toilets that do not recycle black water need to be banned now, immediately. They are tremendously wasteful of water (low flow models are not remotely good enough); and they are effectively taking nutrients from top soil and farmland and flushing it into waterways. The result is massive systemic soil depletion leading rapidly to a systems crash of agriculture and food production globally; and to increasingly severe water shortages and water wars.

    Stop flushing away our future! Switch now.


  2. jtoddring Says:

    The newest Earthship green home design would seem to be the best performing home design overall, beating typical Net Zero or even Passive House designed homes. However, it would be even better if 50″ or 60″ thick straw bales were used instead of tires and rammed earth for walls.

    Firstly, rammed earth of any kind, including pounded dirt tire walls, require either energy intensive machinery or intensive labour: both add to cost.

    Major considerations for earthship design include: DIY capability, universal adaptability to many environments, excellent environmental standards, use primarily recycled or natural materials, ultra energy efficient, highly if not completely self-reliant in terms of energy, heating, cooling, water and food, and lower cost. So far, the earthship designs, up to an including the latest Encounter design, succeed brilliantly in all criteria, except for cost.

    The still high cost is mainly due to high labour requirements; which must be viewed as a major design weakness, unless you are using entirely volunteer labour, or it is entirely a DIY build, and you like pounding tires.

    Straw bale construction increases insulation ten-fold with a non-toxic, carbon sequestering, natural, recycled agricultural waste product; AND is simple, easy, DIY capable, strong, durable, tested and approved in many regions for building codes; AND lowers costs by lowering dependence on expensive energy-intensive machinery, or LABOUR.

    Why continue to insist on (rammed earth) tire walls? They work. But straw bale increases insulation dramatically while greatly reducing labour and saving on cost.

    Rammed earth, with or without tires, gives a thermal insulation R value of 0.2 per inch of wall thickness. Straw bale gives R-2 per inch, a ten-fold increase, even before berming, which should be done in any case.

    A two foot thick tire wall gives R 0.4. A straw bale wall 50″ thick gives R-98. Do the math. And cost is lower with straw bale due to savings on labour costs. Lower cost plus superior performance means straw bale is the clear undisputed winner.

    Again, compressed straw bales are cheap, carbon sequestering, highly resistant, with plaster, to fire, flood, earthquakes or storms, insects, rodents and pests, and are now largely an agricultural waste product, since factory farming has eliminated its traditional use as animal bedding.

    I am sure we can use recycled tires, bottles and cans in better ways – such as soles for footwear, fabrics made with recycled plastic and rubber, or interior and exterior walls that do not require insulation or thermal resistance.

    Rock wool or fibreglass insulation, spray foam and rigid foam, are either high in energy requirements, fossil fuels or carbon emmissions in production, or toxic to people, animals and the planet, and thus should be eliminated from building codes and norms as utterly unacceptable.

    Alternately, rammed earth, tire walls, and cob, must be viewed as basically non-insulating materials, and to be avoided, or used only when combined with serious insulation of R-50 or better.

    The only remaining options I know of are truly green or straw bale SIPs, and straw bale itself.

    For the main exterior walls and envelope of a new green home, 50-60″ thick straw bale walls, with R 50-120, coated with beautiful natural plaster or adobe, should be considered the new gold standard.

    July 29, 2020


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