The wall tent at the Energy Fair on June 26 was stuffed with people learning how to construct sustainable homes. 

Before letting the builders loose, presenters encouraged communication with  city planners, lawyers and contractors involved in the building process,  because 60 people were about to build homes out of straw with an hour-long construction education. 

Even the first little pig had more going for him than that. 

While not everyone should be building load-bearing walls, everyone should be able to explore eco-friendly building materials that anyone can direct someone else to use.

And plus, the Fair builders are going to need some new materials after the weekend storms.

I was introduced to hempcrete­ by an architect in California (of course). 

The material is a sustainable bio-composite that is made of hemp hurds (left over inner pieces of the hemp stalk) and lime. 

The company American Lime Technology—why it’s not using the slogan “Get Stoned with Us” I don’t know— states that homes built with hempcrete use 30-40% less CO2 emissions than those built with traditional brick. 

A downside of hempcrete is its lack of strength when compared to concrete. It is typically used as non-weight bearing insulation that excels at keeping heat out and cool air in.

A more prohibitive downside is cost. CNBC reported last year that the first modern hemp home was built in 2010 in North Carolina at a cost of $133 per square foot. The highest priced region of the country, the North East, averaged  $111 per square foot for non-hemp houses, according to the 2010 census.

A cheaper and more load bearing building technique is called rammed earth, and it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Walls are constructed by putting damp earth into a rectangular wooden frame, compacting it down, adding another layer and repeating. 

The technique has been used for millennia and is dirt cheap, literally. Most of the expense goes toward labor, which can be intensive, especially when compressing the walls without modern machinery. 

The finished projects don’t look like dirt, though. Designs can be planned, and layers can be colored and smoothly finished over.

Rammed earth is stronger than hempcrete (typically concrete or asphalt is added), and it can be reinforced with rebar or wood in earthquake prone regions.

One of the more intriguing renewable building materials in the last 20 years has been shipping containers.

It many cases, it is cheaper for shipping companies to just leave the 8-foot by 20-foot and 8-foot by 40-foot containers on the dock.

The four container tall Container City was constructed in London in 2011. At the time, the containers were an experiment in construction and housing affordability. 

Although renovating costs have gone down and empty shells are plentiful, at this time mass production of vertical containers aren’t seen as much different than high rise apartments in solving housing crises.

They are popular in the DIY and tiny house scenes, though, and photos of lightly modified, brightly-colored containers are easy to find online. More complicated projects incorporate container stacking and full-length windows. The most intricate homes are composed of multiples of containers cut into ways that camouflage the material’s origin.

Pre-fab online offerings range from about $30,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Or buy a $5,500 empty off Amazon. It includes absolutely nothing, but a home isn’t where your things are. It’s where you have your things delivered.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)

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