Clubhouse for Hobbit Home Builders
Works in Progress and Their Designers
9/22/02 3:47:33 AM,
I have been bitten by the same bug in the late 70s then back around the
time of the end of the Gulf war... a manufacturer was offering Surplus
underground Metal hangers should have bought it then but I was trying
to pay for the land... My concept was a building 100 feet wide ( the
arch) 20 to 30 feet wide and 3 stories high ( 2 inside the arch with
a basement ) sprayed with a concrete mix called foamcrete very strong
lightweight I've seen a commercial for it where they cut a beam ot it
with a hand saw... Great minds must cogitate the same because I too was
going to use the insulated earth technique...
subsequently got married and I am getting MOANS of living in the DIRT
ETC... My end walls were going to be north south with lots of windows
on the south and massive insulation on the north the whole volume would
have been around 5K to 6K sq. feet the 2K to 3K sq. ft basement for
equipment storage north and south access doors room for gray water tanks
Sterling Cycle based generator system... Still got the land but the
economic down turn of the late 80s and the current misery have played
holy hell with my acquisition of capital...
Organization: Twenty First Century Systems
Sorry to hear about your capital problems... maybe our later research might be useful to you... I've decided to only get a few "rings" of the metal building and use them as forms to support a ferrocement shell which looks to me to be way more economical as well as being less environmentally wasteful and likely just as strong engineering-wise...
Not familiar with the Sterling system.... what makes that your choice? I've been planning on staying connected to the rural electric for larger demands but putting basic vital systems on solar... no wind here except in the winter...
MOANS is not a familiar phrase... glad you still have the land and it sounds like you're still working on perfecting a design for your own resources...
Glad to hear of your Feroconcrete idea!!! the same type of idea on moving the FORM/ARCH had occurred to me... One possible problem to over come is getting the structure unbolted unless you want to spray the inside and try to pick the complete arch up... a big enough crane , bracing the arch, and spray it with a release agent...
What I was thinking of using was a lag style bolt and a rubber or plastic "NUT" that the concrete would keep from turning with the bolt... I was considering using pieces of auto or truck tires, individual pieces per bolt or even better strips to go over many bolts. Admittedly I have not assembled an arch, but the construction plans I purchased called for assembling the arch segments on the ground then swing them up onto place... It also showed a gantry you could construct or recommended to rent a small crane or strong boom truck... Figured to use the pieces or strips to assemble the arch sections into the 10 to 20 foot arch segment spray the complete inside, let it set, remove the lags, move the arch segment...
Also considered it might be easier to remove the arch segments in two or more pieces Depending on how well the metal would release from the concrete... In the "valleys" of the sprayer arch I figured on putting Rerod Frames with heavy metal screen over the outer surface and respray with more feroconcrete...
Have you seen the "Balloon" houses / buildings ??? A large form is inflated, sprayed with feroconcrete, deflated rerod added around the structure and another layer of ferroconcrete added over the top... Take a look at monolithicdomes.com not quite a true arch... looks like they now can make a custom shape form great if your builder building a bunch the same... looks costly for one time use
Been a bit pre-occupied with *politics* for the last couple weeks but I wanted to get back to you on this note... I think the answer to the difficulties you visualize for the slipform can be solved by using the form adjacent to the area you are 'crete-ing' making the metal mesh more like the "open" designs I saw in the boat building books...
the gantry idea sounds intriguing... the fellow I know who built a quonset for his workshop, bribed about 6 guys to muscle each rib up... I figure a couple of ribs weighs a couple hundred pounds so I thought I might be able to get a rib almost upright using my loader, then haul it the rest of the way with a sort of winch... will read up on gantries...
I met a fellow from CA who built one of the early designs using an inflated tyvek form his wife sewed for him... the trick was to spray with lightweight foam, let it solidify into a sturdy form that you can laminate with shotcrete... withstood the big Loma Prieta quake too... while the houses around him were in varying states of ruin...
there was a home on our local alternate energy home tour just this month, that was sort of like the monolithic dome type... lots of metal rebar, then burlap skin to catch the concrete... you can see the pix of Chaz's place at our ae website www.aea1.org/tour2002aea.html
Was reading up on your favored stirling generators and they sound very impressive but it seems the utilities have hijacked their development... every source I tracked is now only interested in megawatt sizes thought they had long ago verified the doability of the little couple kilowatt systems that a homesteader would want... the big bucks players have lured and bought all the research that I saw... do you have an inside track on a personal-size system? maybe you've got more sun for it since the comments I saw hinted that clear sky was important to this technology and Cinci seldom has a lot of clear days... otoh, they may say the same thing about standard PV systems for Cinci, but they work well here if you're energy demands are tailored for such a system...
The original one I was interested in was in Mother Earth about 20 years ago. It used burning biomass or wood to generate heat. The company that was importing them from INDIA still has pic's and info on them on their web site but the unit is not imported by them anymore... They listed a company in KOREA that was currently handling them but they never answered my E-Mail. The original company is into heat exchangers for fresh air exchange in super insulated (sealed up tight) homes to warm incoming fresh air with heated stale air. I'll try to find the site address for you . Also some experimenters are building their own, I have seen some pics on the web on them.
I am interested in underground living.This culvert house is one good idea.I live in northern British Columbia Canada.I would be interested in more info in using that idea up hear.
Thank you, Bryan
Hi Bryan... not quite certain how much research you've done so far but, assuming you're referring to my AEA presentation webpage, I can think of a couple ideas you might find interesting... when I was researching that version of our culvert house design, I met another underground enthusiast, who lives closer to your location, and you might enjoy reading about their solution.... Judi & Jeff Fahrnow live in Montana and the pictures, specs and experiences of building their quonset are at
The current version of our culvert design has incorporated several improvements that we feel have made it more economic, simpler to build, adapted to the glacial till of our site and may have marginally fewer engineering stresses... the floorplan is now sheltered overhead with a single, widespan ferrocement catenary thinshell, supported by interior and endwalls of 2' thick rammed earth.. our greywater system has evolved into two separate components, one linking the greenhouse functions with the spa, and the other linking the bathwater/laundry-water with toilet flushing... the bathrooms even have pet-facilities that are self-cleaning...
we are beginning the process of getting access to the land, stuff like installing driveway culvert, clearing construction areas, and acquisition/testing of equipment... it's exciting and we're savoring each new experience...
The ferrocement potential for buildings is amazing and I'd recommend researching the work of members of the ferrocement.net group where I found incredible resources... you can tap designers, engineers, and experimenters as well as specialists, book recommendations, and questions answered...
I also found rammed earth very comforting to work with though your local soils and terrain may be different.. Australia and California have projects you might find accessible, such as the homes and books of David Easton, the latter of which has an excellent appendix on soil testing that's diy appropriate...
welcome to the troglodytes' and hobbits' world...
I read about Judi and Jeff Fahrnow's culvert house through the e-mail exchange you posted on the web some time ago. I am writing a book about underground buildings, and I am interested in finding out more information about that home. Do you have a current e-mail address or any other contact information for the Fahrnows?
How are your plans progressing for building an underground house yourself?
Thanks for any information you might be able to share.
Hi Loretta... haven't had time to track down Judi's new email addy but their snail-mail addy that I have on file is P.O. Box 501 in Miles City MT 59301
We just "broke ground" sort of... we started the driveway culvert, and the fellow who's going to do our building site clearing is waiting for access... amazing how exciting digging ditches can be... then we'll wait for spring wetness to pass, meanwhile there's a mountain of prep to do....
Dear Mr. Raichyk,
I'm an engineer and am working on a computational thermal model to predict the performance of annualized solar heated houses.
Having read your pages on the web about Culvert House, and wanting to build one myself, I'm wondering if you have an update?
I'd love to know anything you're willing to share.
Have you built it?
Incidentally, you have probably the most informative page on the web about PAHS I have found. It's even better than Hait's own website since he doesn't disclose many details.
In case you're interested I've posted the original Popular Science PAHS article here:
you'll probably have to sign in.
Don Stephens, a friend of mine, hangs out at organic_architecture too. He's the developer of AGS (Annualized Geo Solar), a different type of annualized solar heated house. He uses remote and/or roof-mounted air-heating solar collectors. The hot (up to 160 F) air from the solar collectors goes under the middle of the house's slab foundation. The center of the slab is heavily insulated for about 8' to each side of the heater tubes, which usually run the long way of the house and are under the insulation under the slab. The distance from the heating tubes to the edge of the insulation is calibrated to deliver the heat collected during the summer to the house as perimeter floor heat in winter. Unlike PAHS, his houses use overhangs to protect the house interior from excessive summer heat gain through the windows (with PAHS, the windows are the solar collectors!). AGS houses are typically earth sheltered at least on the north wall, use strawbale for most of the insulation (ceilings too) and wall structure, and have a relatively thin (~6") earth cover over the roof. They use the "umbrella" style insulation all around the foundation to really stop the heat losses from the storage area. They are adaptable to more sites than PAHS and look more like conventional above-ground houses.
Very truly yours,
Joe Anderson, PE
Hi Joe... our progress is finally reaching the stage of hands-on work, pending better weather... we bought land, have been negotiating with the health dept to get our greywater system ready for approval, located and tested a source of recycled packaging material to use for our insulation, did a few soil tests and have made fairly good progress on assembling our tools...
the land we bought is very flat, not the steeply sloped site under consideration at the time Culvert House was written... and although we did some standard CE calcs to establish the gage we'd need for that design, we've been through several significant evolutionary changes in the design... for example, instead of the corrugated metal culvert, we plan to do a combination of ferrocement shell with rammed earth endwalls... however if you're pursuing the quonset approach, we did find another couple in MT who actually built this design... we've posted their story at http://home.earthlink.net/~dectiri/MTQuonst.htm and there are pretty extensive notes on the details...
thanks for the heads-up on the popular science article... very interesting history... amazing how ideas/solutions seem to evolve... Hait gets the credit as the pioneer, and deserves that, since his work to make the ideal real and tested and available for emulation seems to be what kept the idea from effective oblivion... I'd love to find out what direction his two benefactors took... they surely had very capable, creative spirits, if only they've managed to publish...
I've heard of the AGS design though your description explains the floor insulation questions I had about how it worked... still a zoning quandry in AGS, as in PAHS, in getting rooms like baths to be significantly warmer... my other puzzle in the AGS design is the thin earth cover... as I recall the problem is the need for watering vegetation growing in a thin soil if your climate is not sufficiently rainy through the growing seasons... if the thinness because the strawbale structures won't support the weight while looking more conventional? still, it would be marvelous if these designs can get acceptance easily... does Don Stephens have a website?
as for the thermal aspects for our design, I've simply built a spreadsheet to predict the monthly variability in the solar/infiltration picture... spreadsheets are my specialty and provide the backbone along with graphics and hands-on testing for our preparation... with the thermal mass and an open floorplan, the usual hourly models seem superfluous... if you're looking for existing cases to test the validity of your model, let me know and I can send you the latest contact data for the MTQuonset and for a Dakotas PAHS that might prove interesting... also there are two fellows in the Cincinnati area with underground houses, one a dome with radiant floor heating and the other is one of the original Ray Baker designs with a sunroom that vents to a subfloor rockbin storage from the late 70s... each of the Cinci homes has been on local energy efficient home tours and there are pictures and descriptions at the AEA website http://www.aea1.org/tour.html where the names to look for are Joe & Ceil Davis and Chaz Kaiser (2002 Tour)....
best wishes with the model, sounds like fun...
Thanks for the nice reply!
Don S doesn't have a website. Contact him directly
I've become much more interested in strawbale since meeting Don. It appears to me it would have less labor and much better insulation than rammed earth for the end walls if they are not earth contact externally.
I'd love to get some data for thermal model validation. If you'd be willing to send any data, along with enough details to model the dimensions, venting, windows, other thermal features; I'd love to have it. If you are doing PAHS or AGS for your design, I might be willing to analyze those too. Once I get a model built and validated, it will be easy to extrapolate the boundary conditions and dimensions to other designs. The hourly models are only necessary to check on the hottest and coldest design days to check for the worst temperature excursions that could be expected. Lumped averages can probably be used for the daily/weekly models that I would use for the year time frames. I think one of the uses of a model would be to help convince reluctant local authorities of the validity of the earth mass heat storage concepts.
The ferrocement idea could be good, but labor intensive. I've liked the Formworks preformed steel with shotcrete approach a lot, but haven't done a cost or trade study. Just using a steel quonset hut or culvert also seems to make a lot of sense, especially when using an umbrella type insulation.
I've spent some time reading the quonset house site. Too bad they didn't use PAHS or AGS! The thermal performance would have been dramatically improved even if the only thing they did was leave off the internal insulation and install an umbrella.
Getting a warm bathroom floor would be relatively easy with AGS, since there are higher temperatures involved. Just run a heater pipe under it and don't insulate the floor! However, it would be warm all the time, year round. Maybe that's not so bad; I'm just not used to such luxury!
They report the 6" earth cover is indeed desert-like especially in summer. Apparently they've found some sedums that do well there. It's a tradeoff based on Don's preferred wood structure. 36" cover, as for full PAHS, pretty much requires concrete and steel. There is no inherent reason AGS has to use thin earth cover; it's just Don's choice based on wood structural and cost trades. Similarly, PAHS could use a thin cover, but thermal performance would suffer some; and the umbrella would be more vulnerable to roots, rodents and rototillers. PAHS stores the heat at a much lower temperature than AGS, so can't store as much heat; making it more sensitive to heat losses.
Incidentally, the PAHS style vent tubes have been given a bad rap by a number of people who just didn't like the idea and never tried them, and some were based on bad experiences. That just proves one can do anything wrong and there is no universal solution. The vent tubes are reported to work for years without trouble IF properly installed. I would unhesitatingly install them, even with AGS, using Hait's recommendations. It's easy to do during construction; virtually impossible later. The heat savings are considerable. If they are not used, an active heat exchanger system would be needed. Also, under transition conditions there will be times (mainly spring/fall or morning/evening) when there is no temperature differential to drive the natural convection. Some active provisions are really needed, and probably code required too. A secondary effect of the vent tubes is that they help carry the heat (especially from the relatively thin roof area) to the storage mass to the sides of the house. This relatively active transport helps limit over-temperatures during hot afternoons when the solar flux is relatively high.
Hi Joe... will make a note of Don's addy for future reference, though at the moment I'm preoccupied with catching up with our latest design improvement, as well as the dreaded taxtime and other projects... glad to help when I can and there are a couple more ideas I've listed below...
I'm glad you've found a comfort level with strawbale... it's a nice medium... our endwalls are slated for berming, and I worked with a local crew on a strawbale agriculture building and it didn't seem a whole lot less labor intensive than what I've read about rammed earth... we had a big crew of about 20 or so to do a 250 sf processing space for the community agri group, which took about 2 weeks, not counting the yearlong cure before the last coat.... was a pleasant space and working conditions were amiable... the advantage I saw was the absence of much need for any but the roughest of tools, compared to rammed earth...
if you cruise the writeups for the tour page at aea1.org there's usually some performance data as well as pictures and frequently contact data for Joe's and Chaz's place... if you have difficulty reaching them let me know and I'll relay your list of data, but I think you'll get more of what you need from the direct route...
for the other two, I have a phone number for the Dakota site and a mail addy for the MT site... when your list of variables is ready both have been happy to share when I spoke to them last... Judy and Jeff are at PO Box 501 in Miles City MT 59301... and Lin Bleeker of North Dakota is at 605-239-4768, nice retired fellow who used to work for the waterworks...
one of the advantages of rammed earth is the thermal mass which makes the design of the hottest and coldest considerations much simpler... by the time the diurnal temp swings reach the 1 ft depth through the wall, they have averaged out with the previous two weeks history, so your extremes are never reached, only averages, say 20-30 for winter instead of 0 or worse, and 75-80 for summer here instead of 100 or so...
we are pretty lucky in our local building inspector, something I checked before buying the land... his rule is that if a CE puts his stamp on the design, it will fly with him as long as the fire exits are dealt with sensibly... and the health dept is happy with what you're doing with your waste systems...
I briefly looked at doing an active system, running the piping down the interior rammed earth wall adjoining the bath area and then into the slab, but there were a few problems with our climate... we have not uncommon periods of a week at a time, sometimes two, where the winter days are very grey so I seriously doubt that there'd be any contribution to the bath area precisely when it's most needed... I subscribe to the Japanese tradition of the benefits of a nice hot soak in energizing the individuals in the home, rather than striving for a higher air temp in the whole house for winter health, comfort and productivity... it really gets pretty dreary and cold here...
Sedums are nice, will have to look into those... I had figured on doing buffalo grass since it's drought resistant and I think is runner-based instead of the deep roots of zoysia types... I wonder if sedums add to the landscape's fauna support...
Ferrocement for the shell (likely the corrugated culvert too) should help with temp transport but not sure how much that affects the heat exchanger need... our local climate is very humid in summer so Hait says that attention to details like slope and cold fronts inside the tubes is critical... seems a tad chancey compared to the likely need for the heat exchanger anyway... guess your humidity is not quite as troublesome...
it will surely be quite a wonderful time when we've all got our designs built and tested since there should be a considerable array of experience with variations, all of which are lightyears ahead of our current options... it's always nice to see the resulting array of ideas that combine to make different choices work...
looking forward to hearing about your progress, both model and house...
Thanks for the contact information!
I really appreciate your openness to alternatives. So many of the alternative builders are like fundamentalist evangelists... there's only one RIGHT way; and, it's whatever they've decided it is... data and engineers be damned!
Here's a couple of snapshots for the CAD model I started for my house. They are based on the 24 foot Formworks modules. My progress is going to be very slow... several years until construction start at least.
The picture of a PAHS house from the original Popular Science article, also enclosed, looks very attractive too. It was supposedly built by Tom Beaudette, but I haven't contacted him about it. I think this is his website is
but it has nothing about PAHS on it.
Do you have any visuals/plans of what yours will look like?
If you use a hot air solar collector to "supercharge" an underfloor area (AGS) with heat during the summer, it could a provide year-round "hot spot" for a bathroom if you like. It would not "care" about multi-week solar eclipses.
Do consider the vent tubes. If the smooth white PVC pipes recommended by Hait are used, sloped correctly, do not tee or wye, use long radius elbows or curved pipe, and they go to daylight, I think they will be okay even in a humid environment. I'd still want to build in connections for a commercial heat exchanger system, just in case though. I've looked at the inside surface of these pipes at the building supply and they are VERY smooth inside and very easy to handle. If you're reasonable careful with the glue, the joints should be pretty smooth too.
I'm quite sure one could easily clean the vent tubes with a light "pig" that could be run through them with air or water pressure. "Pigs," if you're not familiar with them, are usually bullet shaped, with seals (and maybe scrapers or wipers) on the OD that are pushed through a pipeline to clean it inside; or to separate commodities in a pipeline. The discharge from a vacuum cleaner should be sufficient to pig a 4" vent pipe. They are commonly used to remove rust, paraffin buildup, etc. in the oil industry. I'm guessing, but I'll bet that a yearly cleaning would be sufficient. That generally seems to be good enough for standard AC units and they handle a lot of air too.
Since my Margaret is asthmatic I plan to put a "filter box" on the ends of the vent tubes to provide pollen removal, etc. Due to the very low heads available from convection forces, the face velocities will have to be very low. I also expect filtration to virtually eliminate the cleaning need. Careful attention to drainage with a 1.5" "P" trap from the filter boxes should solve the condensate removal issue.
Don S. is opposed to PVC; but that is because of bad experience with it in the heater tubes of his first AGS project. With AGS, the collector air never goes into the house anyway, but the exit odors at the higher (160 F) temperature were pretty bad. I could never get out of him if it was flexible pipe or the rigid white stuff that Hait correctly recommends. The flexible stuff should never be used for vent tubes because of the internal lubricants in it!! They will outgas "forever" and are probably toxic. The rigid stuff (smooth, white) should be free of them. The lower temps in the vent tubes (say 100F at the entrance to an "in" tube) is low enough that no odor problem should occur, unlike at 160F; which is too hot for any PVC.
I researched the PVC additives a bit. Started at Greenpeace site. Typical contentious, assertion based arguments one finds in a "hatchet job." Little hard data, just conclusions without much backup.
I think they DO have a point about the manufacture of PVC... it uses chlorine, large amounts of energy to make the chlorine, and there are dioxin emsisions as a result. NOT nice, indeed.
However, once made, rigid PVC as pipe, seems to be pretty inert. I went to a number of sites; many had data showing very low leachates/emissions from PVC.
I went to additives manufacturers.
They advertise the following for rigid PVC additives:
acrylic impact modifiers
Other sites report the addition of very small amounts of lead.
chlorinated polyethylene for impact modifier, flame retardancy
RAJASTAB, Based on methyltin and octyltin, for UV stabilization
RAJABRITE, Triphenyl phosphate for a UV co-stabilizer
Acrylic co-polymers for "conversion properties"
(probably extrusion aids)
RAJALUBE, chemical composition not specified, an extrusion lubricant.
Many of the acrylic modifiers are approved for "food contact in any form" so are of little concern. One wouldn't expect acrylics to be a problem anyway. The metals based UV stabilizers and flame retarders would not be an issue for low temp air use. The only things left are the PVC itself, which is very inert, and the extrusion lubricant which is not likely much of an issue either.
I could find no responsible sites that contended outgassing for rigid PVC. There basically isn't much in rigid that has gaseous phases. This is not true of "vinyl" (flexible PVC) which has plasticizer additives.
**** Note to readers... we discovered that our local water company used PVC pipes for their water mains and so we have opted to explore the drilling alternative... it seems this use of PVC is not exactly uncommon and Joe's reliance on gaseous vs rigid would seem weak for liquids, especially since both Toronto and maybe the Kansas Health Dpt have drawn negative conclusions from their research... monitor developments yourself...****
on 2/12/03 11:45 PM,
Darel Henman at email@example.com wrote:
Did you actually build and complete the house you describe at:
I'm specially interested in actual data about the performance and PAHS type systems.
The design has evolved to replace the metal culvert with a ferrocement catenary shell over rammed earth side/end walls... we have acquired land and will begin clearing it soon, meanwhile our inventory of materials and tools is growing, including the mini-earthmoving equipment... lots of mechanicals to study... a friend of mine did a pahs apron around a solar building and ran geothermal pipes under it... he installed all sorts of instruments and computer hardware to log stuff but I know his main problem was to get the owners to co-operate... don't know if he finally got the data but you're welcome to check... he's Randy Sizemore (owns Entropy Unlimited) and does lots of interesting projects... try firstname.lastname@example.org for his usual addy...
PO Box 54050
Cincinnati OH 45245
thanks for the lead and address where I might get some information.
The rammed earth endwalls and sides sound good. How do you plan to
anchor the ferrocement catenary roof to the rammed earth walls?
Also (I assume that you'll insulate on the outside of the ferrorcement
(if so what material) or will build a living roof soil & plants on it?
Traditional bondbeam anchoring for the catenary roof with insulation umbrella and soil with plants of course over the top of the roof...
I read your posting for the Culvert House
and the PAHS possibilities that it has, and am very interested in following up on this.
Have you developed further plans since you posted this? What Culvert resources were you able to locate?
My wife and I are interested in building a PAHS
house that would be low-cost, easy to build. Culverts
would offer a simple shell on which to build(after
implementing the PAHS elements).
Hi Marc... oh yes, we've been unendingly busy refining the design you read about and we are beginning to develop a lot, starting with the driveway culvert...
we have replaced the metal culvert with a ferrocement shell, augmented with rammed earth... part of the reason is that we're building a multigenerational home with home-business/office space as well.. and the metal culverts required were causing logistics/management problems to integrate with PAHS... they were also becoming less attractive economically as we became more familiar with the benefits of ferrocement...
however, we did find another culvert enthusiast who had implemented the original design using a single culvert and strawbales but not PAHS... really a beautiful site out in Montana and the couple of pioneering spirits were very gracious in sharing their story, which we posted at
for our design, I'm just beginning to develop a web presentation, interspersing that task with real hands-on work to balance the remaining engineering calculations... so progress will be slow on the website, though much of the foundation results have been worked on repeatedly as we went through rounds of revisions.... you can see the start pages and some hint of the scope we're planning to present at
how long before you plan to build... it's best not to be in a hurry if you can swing it... in fact the slowness and ultimate satisfaction seem to go hand-in-hand from reports we've heard, as well as in our experience...
rammed earth is a natural to go with PAHS, and ferrocement is its complement and both are intrinsically beautiful, economical and book-learner-doable so I think you'd be pleased with this combination in place of the metal culvert... in fact I estimated that the ferrocement shell to cover 4500 sf of living area would cost about the same as the 18 gage metal culvert to cover 1500 sf... meanwhile you're learning a skill that's valuable for interior work like countertops, spa, watertanks, hydroponic or growing tanks etc...
hope you like research because this is a learning experience unparalleled... best wishes and let us know how you progress...
MJ of the Raichyk Cyber Hobbits...
Thank you for the letter. I checked out your
cyberhobbit pages and am definitely interested...even
if it may be a year or so before we do this. (We have
the land(family property) and we would need to do the
work ourselves to afford the house.
I'll look further into the rammed earth and the
ferrocement. I am very interested in further
information that you develop and any further
information on your web page.
Regarding the ferrocement...would you mix and pour
the cement yourselves? How would you lift the bucket
to the higher elevations?
Good luck in your building project.
Although there is one small sprayer to do a sort of shotcrete, we will be doing the ferrocement ourselves in a manual slipform and pouring process... another approach is lamination as done by Martin Iorn... and the inflatable forms done by Lloyd Turner... depending on your design and your local resources, you may find some variation or other appealing...
Our heights are only 18" and we plan to be creative... one group rigged a sort of ski-lift using buckets and bicycle wheels... I prefer blocks/pulleys and improvisation... one of the delights of this process is the freeform innovation of human-friendly work management since your crew is family and friends, not some exploitive job... enjoy the freedom...
First, thanks for putting your proposal/project on the web. It's
very interesting and very useful for me!
I'm considering something akin to the MT house - only wider, at least
40' wide. I don't know where you are in the planning and engineering
process, but I'd be interested in any progress. I'd be especially
interested in the engineering process and weight load calculations if
you can possibly share such information (it would at least be a start
before actually hiring an engineer).
Thanks and good luck on the culvert!
let's see.. news on progress.. one suggestion from an engineer I know from the local alternate energy association was to consider shotcreting the quonset, which led to studying ferrocement (a composite material consisting of waterproof concrete with a substantial amount of metal mesh or fibers dispersed throughout)... and instead of the strawbale endwalls like MT, we've opted to do rammed earth because it's more or less an extension of the passive annual heat storage concept and the compaction needed to earthberm a quonset...
among the benefits, as I've been developing the calculations, is the economics of this combination, even compared to the quonset... and I'd wager the wider you want to make the quonset, the more favorable the comparison since you'll need to make the quonset's gage heavier and metal is more expensive than the fc/re alternative...
I'm starting to gather my hardware, like loader/backhoe, pneumatic tamper, tiller, compressor and mini-concrete-mixer and begin practicing... have a couple test projects lined up...
on the engineering side, I'm polishing my calculations and sending them to our engineer (you're right, it's a good idea to have those things done and ready to present)... in addition to month-by-month thermal calculations to justify independence from hvac systems, I've done arch calculations to estimate the stresses/loads/thrusts of the earthload on the "roof"... we'll be doing a "tied arch" approach... spreadsheet user? that's what I use for my calculations... Mac/Claris...
I've only gotten as far as putting up the economic info on the design online but as I get further along, I hope to do more aspects online, a list of which is on the page though the links don't connect to further pages... the start is at
our design is to support about 10" of soil on top, over 10" of rammed earth.. your snow load would likely be considerably more than ours here.. our land is flat and our tied-arch vault will be at grade level since the land we'll be building on is flat and has a winter season high water table... any of this fit your location?
will keep your addy in mind as I go through the engineering processes...
We are taking shipment of a Quonset hut this month. It is 45x40x17 feet tall. We are intending to put it underground. It cost us $4,570.00. We have accumulated a supply of second-hand dock styrofoam. We used some to insulate our well house,and it worked great. My in-laws used some to build a makeshift shelter for their dogs and found it stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We are considering laying the styrofoam up the side in strips pinned together with rebar ,then putting a couple of layers of concrete on it stucco-style.
I recently ran across some information on a styrofoam aggregate concrete mix It has to be fairly thick to keep the styrofoam from floating. Having a thick usually means sacrificing some strength. I'm going to experiment on this idea a little to see what I come up with.
We ordered our building from Duro-span Steel Buildings, I told them we were going to use it for a home but I didn't go into details. My price included 2 skylights, a vent adaptor and endwall angles to connect the endwalls, but no end walls as we intend to do those ourselves. We may use cordwood or possibly straw-bales. The cost for the endwalls was high, and a quonset hut is self supporting.
We have a good south-facing hill, but we've found we have to replace our well and possibly the septic system before we can build. We are hoping to put in the foundation next Spring. We don't have a lot of money (and 5 kids) so we can only do as much as we can stretch our tax return and whatever we can save. This is a project we figure will take us a few years. Let me know if you have any information you think we could use, or might find interesting.
Sounds like a bargain on the quonset... I guess the first order of business would be to determine the structural potential for supporting an earthload since you want to put it underground... for the semi-circular quonsets we were looking at, which were only 25' spans, it looked like the 18 gage, with a corrugation that was 7" deep and 2' on center, was enough... the cost on that was double what you paid though it was considerably smaller and that was a couple years ago when prices were lower... anyway, in the interim we switched to doing the shell in ferrocement since an engineer friend suggested using shotcrete over a lighter gage quonset and as we researched the possibilities the switch just became the way to go... what gage did you get...?
I like the sound of doing the endwalls in cordwood or strawbales... I'm wondering which of our websites you've seen... the one on the folks in MT has endwalls that were insulated in strawbales (over the metal)... their story is at http://home.earthlink.net/~dectiri/MTQuonst.htm which you might find interesting...
do you have any experience in earthmoving sorts of operations... one of the major variables in supporting an earthload is getting the earth carefully and solidly packed around your structure.. you may want to research compacting techniques at the library... (any big highway culverts going in near you?)... our endwalls will be rammed earth and that might be a technique you might want to check out since it will lead to soil analysis as well & that will be useful in designing your foundation...
don't know what sort of septic problems you ran into but our ground perks slow and we'll be doing a greywater system that will use bathwater for flushing... if you study your water usage, you might find a way to do something similar and reduce what you're throughputting to the septic so it won't "wear out" as fast... a plumber around here says all the components of his system were off-the-shelf swimming pool stuff and the reduction of water going to the septic totally solved his soggy ground problems...
you might also find some useful info at the ferrocement.net archives (using google, don't use the onsite engine) on the stucco ala styrofoam... we found a source of polyethylene foam that we plan to use but it's in sheets so our plan is different... I know the website owner sells a mini-shotcrete sprayer for about $200 which might be useful for the amount of stucco-over-styrofoam plus stucco-over-strawbales but I can't remember if the fellows were successful using it with styrofoam aggregate... a very low water concrete mix would help take care of the waterproofing, another thing to check out at the archives if you haven't already...
good luck with your project... lots of interesting parts to your design so far... will you be doing a website on aol...? would be a fun site for folks to follow your progress.. let us know how you do...
From: Nolan Scheid
Sent: Feb 26, 2010 5:07 PM
Subject: Wow, time passes quickly!
I stumbled onto one of your web pages and started wondering how you are doing. Have you been building your home yet?
We are doing great. The kids are growing fast and each day is a treasure. I hope life is going as well for you.
When I have thought of you over the years, I have always grinned and known that you would be full speed ahead doing many things. You reaffirmed that idea with your many webpage stories and we are appreciative of the idea of using a doublewide, manufactured home as your starting place.
Manufactured housing is a great choice. It allows a family to get the bulk of their needs met quickly and grow from there. It is neat that you are pulling generations of your family together.
We have been busy with my 95 year old grandparents. They are to the point where they need 24/7 care.
I noticed when I was poking around shotcrete searches that this Builders' Clubhouse Log page comes up:
You might like to hear that the little Tirolessa mortar sprayer is still proving itself in the shotcrete arena for small time operators, just as we had projected back in the early 2000s based on the collected experience of the ferrocement group, and I'd think you might like to add a link to the resources we are accumulating for shotcrete builders as an update on your own page:
We're telling our own contacts that the stucco sprayer does small scale shotcrete at an affordable price, because it has proven itself.
We've added some you-tube demonstrations that people can use to absorb some of our shotcrete group's expertise.
Here are some videos of it working, starting with this one:
Are you thinking about building again?
That would be great. Please feel free to email or call if I can help with anything. Yes, there has been so much progress since you and I got to visit last in the ferrocement group. We especially like to help those owner-builders who want to get into the process of creating their own home and its features with concrete and its artforms.
So far I can not find any better system for
a novice owner/builder than Metrock SCIPs. Lots of info at their Metrock website, The panels have built in screeds for getting the walls straight easily.
I'm certain you'll want to catch up with the gang who were experimenting with some interesting shotcrete's variations in building their own homes and other practical projects.
I've got a photo journal of Lloyd Turner's bubble house in CA up at our MortarSprayer website, and a link or two to other concrete artisans like MX Steve and his organic shapes down in Mexico, and even a small photo of our own home at the bottom of the Tirolessa page.
Mikey is doing good things with papercrete:
Lots to see at his place down in New Mexico.
Doug has posted some great videos, and you can see he's still using his folded remesh as his fundamental unit of construction art, and he's been perfecting his lightweight foaming concrete at ShambhalaVillage.
I'd assume Tio Ed, who built his home from concrete block using nylon mesh and ferrocement mixes to do surface bonded dry-stack block construction, still has his journal in all its week-by-week glorious photos covering over two years of hard labor in the Austin TX sunshine. Beautiful home and amazing insights for novices -- he was a musician, his real life occupation. He used to hang out at homesteadingtoday.com but he's probably back to his real love in music. Try TexasMusicForge. Anyway, that's all from here.
Have a great day,
Yo, Nolan, great to hear from you. Love those videos. And I'm looking forward to maybe getting a chance to work on the concrete projects for our new house berming structures project this summer. We've been so focussed on the infrastructures for this house in a weedy woodsy area that's definitely a wetlands with all the quiet wild beauty that suggests, with the frogs, the owls, the raptors, even a pair of bald eagles cruising, turkeys and deer. Always some surprise. But it's challenging.
So far we've reduced our water usage for the three of us to between 1000gal and 1500gal per month, and in the process eliminated a huge stream of waste in the household, as well as eliminated a diabolically unhealthy but conventionally approved waste stream, meanwhile closing the loop in our environmental habitat. In the process, our landfill load is effectively down to nothing. And the absolute best part is that the cost of doing these systems is so low, even our friend OneBOne -- with his $4/sqft goal and his bucket mixer -- would be impressed.
We keep whittling down our electric bill as we reduce the power capacity we are requiring step by step to minimize the baseload generation we are personally needing, to get rid of any need for nukes and be able to rely on renewables. The doublewide we chose was selected aiming for energy efficiency and structural performance, not glitzy showy "upgrades". Then we got rid of the rugs and, installed a radiant floor that runs on the waste heat in water heater, all winter long. In the summer it can even reduce the heat in the house by sweeping the floor's heat into the water heater to reduce the water heating needed. After that we began to survey what we'd need for a blackout system and discovered lots of ways to keep that blackout comfort concept built into daily living and keep it thoroughly economical. We can get by for the whole winter without exceeding a 22KW demand load total which would mean we have cut the usual 200Amp grid load in half even though we're an all electric household. And if we really needed to get through a blackout we could run on less than 600w and be comfortable.
It's all in knowing what wattage each electrical item uses and what it actually accomplishes in creating comfort and productivity for your own family. Then thinking ahead. You can create a wonderful, healthy meal in a 140watt crockpot by *thinking ahead* or you can rush around using electric at scorching temperatures to do the cookbook thing, relying on processed foods and eating a raft of questionable chemicals as well as wasting energy and damaging the nutrients in most foods. You know what I mean?
In practice we end up mixing the cyber computer and gaming world with the low tech hobbit world -- see some here -- and doing it without running the risks of the financially disastrous borrowing world, avoiding which was one of Tio Ed's strong guiding lights. I don't see his wonderful journal of construction stories and photos any more at his TexasMusicForge website. But I did find his accomplishiment stats at the homesteading website where I found his own typical advice:
"I have approximately 2,200 sf (plus another 800 sf in the central courtyard) of house with high ceilings and a large barrel vaulted ceiling and, because of the courtyard, what amounts to two sets of exterior walls. For $5,500 I was able to purchase enough cinder blocks to put up the walls, build many of the interior walls, use a bunch for retaining walls or landscaping and *still* have 3 pallets left over. Try getting that much bang for your $5K with any other building method. Go on, just try.
Not counting what we paid for our acreage, we have spent approximately $60K spread out over the last 3 years on the kind of spacious Mediterranean-style villa we've always wanted as a retirement home. Once we pay ourselves back for the loan we took out from our 401(k) in another year, we'll own it outright and will have done so without paying a dime to the bloodsuckers, uhhh, excuse me, I meant to say mortgage bankers. We couldn't have done that if we'd gone with ICFs.
I'm a lifelong musician married to an actress with a Classical Lit degree and neither of us had a shred of significant construction experience prior to starting this project, which is why I always say if *we* can manage to do this, so can almost anyone who wants it and has the discipline to follow through."
Definitely Tio Ed! Thanks for the lead.
Glad to hear from you. Say hi to all the others.