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Tuesday, May 5, 2009


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A mixer is an expensive piece of equipment that will make home building less labor intensive. Whether you are using concrete, papercrete, adobe, or cob, a mixer will help the task move along much more quickly. If you are at all mechanically inclined, you may be able to find a used one and refurbish it for your own use. If not, consider making your own homemade mixer.

To make a homemade mixer you will need:
(Image courtesy: http://www.starship-enterprises.net/Papercrete/Mixer/)
* A large, galvanized tub (feed tank) mounted on a tow trailer.
* Lawn mower blade attached to the tow trailer's axle differential.

Pull the trailer behind your truck (or mule, or whatever). The movement of the axle spins the lawn mower blade and mixes your mix.

You can see an example of this mixer being used in the video that follows.

PAPERCRETE is one of several materials that can be used to create your own shelter.
  • 30 pounds of concrete
  • 18 pounds joint compound
  • 1 pound boric acid (to make your home bug-proof)
  • 90 pounds recycled newspaper and/or cardboard (wet and shredded)

PAPER ADOBE is much the same as papercrete, only no concrete is used in the mixture.
  • 45 pounds waste paper
  • 120 gallons water
  • 100 pounds of clay
  • 11 shovels of sand


From the site: http://www.zetatalk.com/shelter/tshlt04c.htm
Time required: about one month (most of it waiting for bricks to dry).
Cost: little or nothing
  • One five-gallon bucket
  • One mixing stick or old wooden spoon
  • 1/2 bucket of adobe clay
  • 1/4 bucket of sand
  • 1/8 bucket of straw cut into two-to-three-inch pieces
  • Enough water to make a doughlike consistency
  • Six empty half-gallon waxed milk containers OR six 4 * 11 * 22 inch wooden brick molds, which can be made from 2-by-4s nailed together
  • Waterproof tape
  • Thoroughly mix the adobe clay, sand and straw in the bucket; add only enough water to create a workable consistency
  • You can use either the wooden brick molds or the waxed 1/2 gallon milk cartons. To make the molds from the latter, cut one side from the carton (which becomes the open top of the brick mold). Cut and flatten the folded spout end and tape the carton firmly into a rectangular shape.
  • Pack the brick mixture into the cartons, filling each about tow-thirds full. IN 15 minutes to 24 hours, the brick will be firm enough to tip out. Each batch is different' you will have to judge when your mix will maintain a brick shape.
  • Place shaped bricks in a sunny location and turn repeatedly as they dry. (A completely dry brick is uniform in color, inside and out.)
MOST EXCELLENT ARTICLE on building with Adobe by J.D. Hooker can be found here. Make Adobe Bricks. Illustrations are included and a description of how the bricks are stacked into a makeshift oven and hardened by firing.

HOW TO MAKE COB/ADOBE. This video shows how cob/adobe can be made without a mechanized mixer.

One of MANY recipes for making cob:
1 part clay
2 parts sand (this keeps the finished product from cracking)
Mix thoroughly
Add just enough water to make a firm dough. A hard packed ball should not shatter when dropped to the ground from shoulder height. If it shatters, it needs more clay. If it flattens (like a pancake) it's too wet.

At this point, the mixture could be used to build an outdoor oven.

TO BUILD STRUCTURES WITH COB, you will add straw (not hay, straw) to your mix. When the mud/sand mixture is the consistency of peanut butter, add your straw. Straw allows the mix to support more of its own weight when wet. It also allows you to make wetter mud, which is easier to sculpt.

Cob Cottage Company (includes lots of pictures of cob houses)
Cob Building in the Country
See this free book online:
Cob Builders Handbook





COB AND WOOD CONSTRUCTION COMBINATION (for roundhouse) . . . also shows example of Reciprocal Frame Roof.

To search for more information on the internet regarding this system, use the term 'earthbag' rather than 'sandbag.' If you search for 'sandbag' you will find several helpful hints on how to make your own exercise equipment, rather than how to construct a building.

The speaker on this video has a heavy accent, but I believe it is worth watching more than once to catch what he is saying. He discusses the type of bags used, how to prepare the soil, using barbed wire as a type of mortar to hold the bags in place and how to build using the bags in a staggered pattern. Note: this video does not discuss using a 'tube' system, but separate bags.

This method is similar to earthbag building except that there are no bags. The earth is held in place by using wooden forms.

VIDEO: John Ryan -- fun Appalachian music background

This type of roof helps create rooms that appear larger because they are not broken up with interior support beams.

"The reciprocal frame is a roof structure where each beam both supports and is supported by other beams in the roof structure. A minimum of 3 beams is required to create a reciprocal frame roof. As each beam supports the next in a reciprocal manner no internal support structure is required. Only the outer end of each beam requires support which will normally be a post used for the wall. The roof loads are transferred to these posts and in turn to the supporting foundation. The beams can be fabricated from timbers, laminated wood, steel or reinforced concrete. A very inexpensive roof structure can be made from logs."

Click on the above link for more information on Reciprocal Frame Roofs. Scan down the page and click on the image of the ceiling for details which include architectural drawings.

"Adobe brick has a high thermal mass meaning that when the brick heats up, it can hold a large amount of heat and then release it slowly. In a well-designed solar passive adobe brick home, the winter sun heats the adobe bricks during the day. This heat is held in the brick and released during the night, keeping your home warm. Conversely, sun is kept off the mud brick walls during summer with strategically placed eaves and/or a verandah, allowing them to stay cool during the day and remain cool all night."

"This time course of the heat transfer is also known as the “thermal lag”. Essentially, the thermal lag is the amount of time it takes for heat to 'pass through'. The thermal lag for earth walls is around 7 to 10 hours for a one-foot (300mm) thick wall. This is ideal for most climates as mid-day heat will be released after the nighttime drop in temperature."

Retired train cars, cargo shipping containers, and truck bed containers are also being utilized to create low-cost housing.

Converting Steel Shipping Containers to Housing

Here is an example of a New Mexico house created using several different alternative techniques.
"This segment gives a quick overview of some materials used in green building, including straw bale and adobe walls, earth plaster, natural materials, passive solar heating and cooling, and much more. "

Alternative building materials are an abundant resource in a society where excess items are routinely disposed. It is not likely that such alternative construction will make a great impact on the environment, but these utilizing these methods WILL save you money if you are inclined to utilize them. Established homeowners can save money by creatively utilizing these methods as they maintain and develop their current property. Cob construction (and similar) methods can be used to create outdoor ovens, walkways, walls, garden benches and many other pleasant features that will increase property value.

Additional Reading:





This blog presents ideas and information designed to enrich the life of the reader. These articles are NO substitute for consultation with skilled professionals. The opinions and ideas expressed are fallible and that of the author. Readers are encouraged to be well-informed and draw their own conclusions.


Sunday, May 3, 2009


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Building your own home is an option for people who own land, but lack the funds to have a ready home constructed.

There are MANY MANY plans from many sources on how to build your own home. While recommendations vary on many points, one place where they all agree is that you must know what the building codes are in your area. You will want to know what must be done to the property to make it ready for a residence. Decide on your water source and sewage options and build in such a way that you have the option to make improvements later. In other words, hauling water is fine while you are young, but you will likely appreciate indoor plumbing in your later years. Construct your dwelling with these things in mind.

One of the most intriguing plans I've seen is that of compound building. Rather than build a single building for a dwelling. some homeowners are opting to erect several small storage shed sized buildings. These are often small enough that no building permits are required. They can be positioned much the same as rooms would be in a house, but they each have their own foundation and roof. A wall is erected around the outer perimeter to
secure the compound and sometimes a roof is placed over the interior courtyard with walkways between rooms (buildings).

This plan for a compound home is of one made with hay bale construction.
Illustration courtesy: http://www.balewatch.com/

If you are homesteading, many authors suggest that you live in an old trailer home (or shack) on the property while you are building. During this time, your tools will likely be kept under a tarp or other waterproof container. Your first construction project (building A) will be the building which will later become your storage/garage space. This will help you perfect your skills while gaining experience. Once building A is complete, you live in building A and use the old trailer for storage while you construct building B. As each new section is finished, you move possessions into that and equipment/tools into your finished storage (which you just vacated).

If you more time than money, you can acquire many building materials for the cost of carrying it away. When modern construction methods are used, the excess materials must be cleared from the site. This is an expense to the contractor. If you follow the construction industry and are dependable, you may be able to get materials FREE in exchange for saving the contractor the expense of hiring a disposal service.

This site has a nice table on how materials can be used in construction:

Recycling Construction Materials: An Important Part of the Construction Process.

MaterialHow Is It Recycled?Recycling Markets
ConcreteThe material is crushed, the reinforcement bar is removed, and the material is screened for size.

  • Road base

  • General fill

  • Drainage media

  • Pavement aggregate

Asphalt PavementThe pavement is crushed and recycled back into asphalt, either in-place or at a hot-mix asphalt plant.

  • Aggregate for new asphalt hot mixes

  • Sub-base for paved road

Asphalt ShinglesAfter removal of nails, asphalt shingles are ground and recycled into hot-mix asphalt.

  • Asphalt binder and fine aggregate for hot mix asphalt

WoodClean, untreated wood can be re-milled, chipped or ground.

  • Feed stock for engineered particle board

  • Boiler fuel

  • Recovered lumber re-milled into flooring

  • Mulch and compost

  • Animal bedding

DrywallDrywall is typically ground or broken up, and the paper is removed.

  • Gypsum wallboard

  • Cement manufacture

  • Agriculture (land application)

MetalMelted down and reformed

  • Metal products

CardboardGround and used in new pulp stock

  • Paper products

The house in this video "was built over a period of seven months into the side of a hill. It was constructed almost entirely of salvaged, natural, second hand, or found materials. We wanted to see what could be accomplished with out buying newly manufactured materials..."

(Image courtesy of http://www.strawbaleconference.com/index.html)

Don't be afraid to ask for help. Building a dwelling can be labor intensive
(another reason for building small). You can gain experience in using
your method of choice by volunteering to help with an ongoing project
near your home. Search the internet for 'learning workshops.' If you are willing to travel and camp overnight, you will be rewarded with more learning opportunities.

When you have enough materials assembled, you can host your own workshop (well worth the expense of hiring an experienced facilitator to teach and organize the crews, in my opinion). Well-placed announcements on the internet and the local health food store (or farmer's market) will get the word out. Consider what you would want to have available as a volunteer, and secure those items when you host a work day(s). This would include toilet facilities, drinking water, possibly a camping area, and possibly enough food for a common meal. Your educational facilitator will likely have some ideas about what works well in these settings (and what he/she may require).

Next, we will look at alternative building materials and methods. . . .

Friday, May 1, 2009


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Various circumstances displace people. News footage often shows tent and cardboard villages which provide inadequate housing for refugee families. Overcrowded conditions and sub-standard shelter can contribute to the spread of disease and abuse.
Emergency shelter can include that provided by government agencies or that offered by generous friends or family members. These are not always an option. Creativity may be the key to finding protection from the elements.


Please understand that trespassing is a crime in most parts of the United States. The following is for emergency preparedness information only. Urban squatting is by it's very nature a risky proposition. It is not a romantic alternative lifestyle choice. For the purposes of this article, it is a means of surviving until you can get to a more secure location. Those who would vandalize property and take advantage of absent property owners in order to escape the expense of making adequate provision for themselves and their families are (according to my understanding) thieves and robbers.

This option may only be workable for one or two persons as transitional, not long-term, housing. In other countries, there are laws giving legal status to a person that enters a deserted building and takes up residence. This is not the case here in the U.S.

Having made those disclaimers, it is possible to find livable circumstances in urban areas while you seek to find more permanent housing. Deserted buildings abound, especially in tough economic times. It is illegal to break into a space which has been secured and/or posted. It is possible to find spaces that have not been posted or boarded up . . . but you enter at your own risk (some of these spaces are not structurally sound) and (depending on the laws in your area) with the understanding that you could be on the wrong side of the law. Look for a location that appears to be deserted. Be mindful that you aren't likely the only one looking for housing. There may be another squatter(s) there, and he/she/they may not welcome the company. Look beyond residential housing. Consider abandoned business properties that are otherwise sound.

In a circumstance such as this, good camping skills would come in handy. You will need to know how to dispose of your own garbage and waste in a way that does not promote disease or damage property. You may find it best to remove small bits of rubbish at a time to avoid drawing attention to yourself.

Don't make your presence known. Be discrete about your comings and goings and keep the noise level down. Privacy is your friend and should be guarded.

Consider spaces that weren't originally constructed as residences: alleyways, crawl spaces, space beneath bridges, under docks, etc.

Be quiet and do not be destructive. It costs nothing to clear away debris. Make any improvements you can. You may secure the property by replacing broken windows and repairing doors. You may even be able to make other simple repairs. If discovered, your efforts will go a long way towards convincing the owners of your intent to cause no harm. They might even be grateful that you kept the property in good condition, and law enforcement MIGHT decide they have better things to do than run you in (but don't count on it).


If you are at all handy with tools, you may find that some property owners are happy to have you live there rent-free in exchange for some sweat equity. A person willing to do some hauling and cleaning could return a building to livable conditions that would otherwise be condemned and a liability. By scavenging for used materials (windows, doors, flooring, lumber, etc.), you can get supplies for little or no money (or in trade). If you have a truck, some tools and know how to shop for a bargain, such an arrangement (free rent for repairs/maintenance) could benefit all concerned. The owner's property is improved and kept from vandals. In addition to the free rent, you might be able to grow some of your own food.

If you aren't up to the task of landscaping a wilderness or rebuilding a shack, consider something smaller. You may find a nice neighborhood where someone wants to turn that unfinished attic room into an apartment. Transform a junky garage into a new den or perform routine home maintenance and repairs in exchange for living in the space. While this wouldn't work for people with families, single persons with skills (and excellent character references) could earn themselves a nice rent-free home for a stretch of time.

Kay is . . .

a perpetual student of things I find interesting and (I hope) helpful to others. Feel free to use and apply all information with a healthy dose of common sense. :-)

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