Archive for design

Green Homes: The New Gold Standard (Beyond Net Zero & Passive House Design)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2020 by jtoddring

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 PER INCH of wall thickness, or 50- to 100-fold over a 2-3 foot thick tire wall; AND is 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.

No comparison, no contest.

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, mineral wool, blown cellulose (newsprint), 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

A Revolution In Green Homes: Systems Thinking Required

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2020 by jtoddring


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 

Architecture & Home Design: Raising the Bar

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2020 by jtoddring

A short summary of 35 years of research into green home design…

This is my favourite home design so far: small, natural, deep green, curvilinear, passive solar, cozy and charming, and an earth home – all the feautres I love the best. (Video below)

Wherever possible, now that we know, or should know, basic principles of deep green, truly sustainable design, every home and building should be passive solar, as well as net zero in terms of carbon, energy and water; and every home or building should be an Earth Home – meaning, it uses heating and cooling from the sun and the earth, naturally. Anything less is radically substandard, and in light of the environmental emergency we are facing, criminally negligent, and grossly unethical.

50 years ago we might have been excused for not realizing there was an environmental crisis – maybe. 40 years ago we could be excused for not understanding the gravity and urgency of the crisis. 30 years ago, or even 20 or 10 years ago, we might be forgiven for not understanding the core principles of truly sustainable building or architecture, even if building or architecture is our profession. But not now. There are no more excuses.

Pleading ignorance now simply means that we have not bothered to look into what constitutes serious ecological standards and truly sustainable design (as opposed to the pale green that still typically passes for “eco” design); and that is not only unprofessional: it is also simply unconscionable, and unethical.

I would say that this applies generally and widely to our modern 21st century society: we have more knowledge now about many things, including race, gender, xenophobia, class, fascism versus freedom, ecology, and how the systems we use affect ourselves and our world – be they economic, political, energy infrastructure, water and waste systems, food and agriculture systems, transportation systems, engineering and design, manufacturing and resource industries, and housing and construction – that we now face the challenge, and the potentially liberating joy, of raising the bar in many, if not most areas of modern life. We should be excited about that prospect, not chagrined.

A Hobbit house can be charming, comfortable, warm, dry, and beautiful. But that is only one variation or style of earth home. You can choose modernist, hippie chic, technophillic, or whatever style you like. The important point is that it is built into the earth, into a natural or man-made hillside. (Excavate for a large root cellar and dig two ponds – one for animals and fish, one for swimming; which are things every rural home should have – and you will have the earth for a manmade hill.) With that design, the home can stay at least 17 degrees C (+/-64F) all year round, whether it is 30 degrees outside, or minus 30.  (To ensure it, combine straw bale/plaster construction with the passive solar and earth house design; an attached solar greenhouse on the sunny side; proper awnings, shade trees, wind breaks, ponds as well as cisterns, green roofs… and ventilation, of course; and adobe floors for thermal mass – and you have set a new and beautiful standard.) That is simply intelligent, ecological design, 101.

Every carpenter, architect or home builder needs to know: if it’s not passive solar, off grid renewable energy, net zero, water wise, healthy and non-toxic, and an earth home, then it is simply far below acceptable 21st century standards.

These are the realities of our time. And they can mean an improvement in our quality of life, not a diminishment.

I’m excited. I think we all should be!

(Now, to do my masters in sustainable architecture…. But first, I have other projects in mind to attend to.)

July 20, 2020

Hemp Revolution

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2014 by jtoddring


Hemp has enormous potential to help us build an ecologically sound society. It can replace most uses of tree-derived paper products and lumber, thus saving vast amounts of forests. It can eliminate and replace most uses of synthetic fibres, which are used in clothing, furniture, carpets and textiles, and virtually all uses of plastics, both of which are toxic, non-renewable and made from fossil fuels. And that is just the beginning.

And not only are products made from hemp renewable and environmentally sustainable, but they are also non-toxic. According to a recent article from TruthOut, “There are 80,000 chemicals used in commerce in the US, most of which have never been fully tested for long-term health effects. It is unacceptable that the public is being used as a guinea pig, argues Fred Guerin.” “It is time to stop allowing the chemical industry to use us all as uninformed and non-consenting research objects in its 75-year-old experiment.” (The Human Being As Unwitting Research Object For Industrial Chemistry, TruthOut, March 27, 2014)

We are swimming in a sea of toxic, synthetic chemicals, thanks mainly to pesticides, synthetic materials in virtually everything we use, and most of what we eat, and the petro-chemical industry that has foisted this toxic waste on us, calling it, “better living through chemistry.” It is not surprising, therefore, that cancer rates have skyrocketed, along with rates of autism, learning and behavioural disorders, mood disorders and degenerative diseases. We need to shift to non-toxic, safe, sustainable and renewable options, and hemp most definitely needs to be a major component of that shift.

I should say here, in case anyone is wondering, that I don’t smoke pot – just in case some are inclined to think that anyone who advocates for hemp must be chronically stoned. I am strongly in favour of legalization of marijuana, for the simple reason that prohibition doesn’t work – it doesn’t stop the flow of drugs and doesn’t reduce drug use, just as the prohibition of alcohol didn’t stop the flow of booze or reduce alcohol abuse: all prohibition does is to push up street prices, which benefit drug dealers, causing organized crime and gang activity, and the violence that comes from them, to soar. But in any event, anyone possessed of a basic common sense, and being informed of the pertinent facts, should be an advocate and supporter of industrial hemp, regardless of your views on the decriminalization of marijuana. But to continue…

Most of our clothes, our paper, our books and magazines, our furniture, our carpets and flooring, the building materials for our homes, factories, hospitals and schools, even the bodies and interiors of our cars, buses, boats and trains, can be made from hemp, and the difference this would make in terms of our ecological footprint would be monumental, and truly pivotal. And in the process, we will create new green businesses, a true, and truly massive economic stimulus program, and new ecological industry to provide jobs for all – and an enormous new, or newly rediscovered income stream for farmers, to keep family farms alive. Hemp offers a truly win-win situation, all around. And we still haven’t even mentioned many other benefits of hemp, including medical and health benefits – the hemp seeds in particular being an extremely healing, true super-food.

We should be creating a massive shift toward hemp production, hemp farming, and the use of hemp to replace tree-based wood and paper products, and fossil-fuel based synthetic fibres, laminates and plastics.

But of course, that would displease the big oil and petro-chemical companies, so first, we need to kick the corporate elite out of power and out of politics – then we can begin in earnest to make the changes which are needed in order to survive as a species, and to thrive.

Go organic, plant a garden, go off-grid, and grow some hemp. Let’s start industrial hemp grow-ops, along with organic farming co-ops, urban and rural housing co-ops, local green energy co-ops and other co-ops, around the world, and in every village, town, city, state and province, and let’s get this party started!

And dethrone the corporate elite – now!

March 27, 2014