If you are building a new home or adding to an existing one, using natural building methods makes a big difference. Natural building materials lower the cost of construction, and, as you might guess, because the materials are natural, they are non-toxic and sustainable. One of the keys of natural building methods is to build a home that is appropriate for your geographical area -- a hot, humid climate has much different needs than a dry, cold climate.
Natural building methods are healthier, too. Most homes today are built with fiberboard, vinyl siding, sheetrock, synthetic carpet, particleboard cabinets, and plastics. These materials all give off toxic particles into the air within your home for decades.
Natural building methods are much cheaper than traditional methods. A lot of your supplies, like clay and straw bales, can be found in nearby streams (no kidding) or from a local farmer nearby. In fact, if you build an earthbag home, you can do it for as little as $5,000.
Earthbag building is a newly popular natural building method. Surprisingly, earthbag building was developed by the military for bullet and blast-resistant structures. Earthbags are, well, bags filled with natural stuff. These backs are then stacked to build your home. Machines aren’t needed when building an earthbag home and you’re not confined to the square box of traditional homes. You could make it any shape and size you want. One earthbag home even features a hallway that zig-zags.
Earthbag homes begin with bags filled with gravel. The walls are made of earthbags filled with soil and rocks. A strand of barbed wire holds the bags together and in place. Cover all of the bags with a thick layer of organic plaster. Earthen floors, made from organic materials like straw treated with natural oils, are resilient and beautiful. Reclaimed pipes, doors, windows, and sinks can improve your eco-friendliness. Top off your earthbag home with a metal roof so you can capture rainwater.
Okay, earthbag homes aren’t right for everyone. You might have purchased a lot in a city neighborhood or just be adding onto an existing home. If you’re not up to using earthbags, there are still plenty of natural building methods you can use.
Adobe homes use simple ingredients like clay, sand, and water. Usually, adobe bricks are formed, stacked, and then coated with an insulating layer of adobe. Adobe can be plastered with lime-based mixes to protect its integrity and appearance. Cob building systems are similar to adobe, but the clay and sand mixture also contains straw. Cob homes are built from the ground up and are simple and very inexpensive.
Cordwood construction is another eco-friendly building method, where short pieces of a debarked tree are laid crosswise with cob (or masonry) to build a wall. One benefit of cordwood construction is that it insulates very well, making it easy to heat and cool.
If you’re not sold on using dirt and trees to create your home, local stone is a great natural construction material. Combined with steel and concrete, you can create a durable home that has a very low environmental impact. Any way you do it, there are so many natural building methods that it’s up to you to decide which way to go.