a better house than an earthship

I think about many odd things on my bike ride. Yesterday, I was thinking about North Dakota. It's economy is smoking right now because of it's petroleum reserves. As a result, many people are moving there but are not finding enough housing. However, the climate is tough there. A good house there would be 1) quick to build, 2) easy to keep warm, 3) light filled in those long winters and 4) strong for tornadoes and blizzards and floods, (bonus points for no/low cost mortgage).

Earthbags could do all but 1, unless there was a big team of helpers.
A Corganix shipping container/earthbag hybrid also suffers from slowness except for the utilities which come pre-installed.
Earthships would also be slow. The earthships are low slung though which helps with high winds. They also are built with south facing green houses to capture passive solar heating and provide light.
But this modified version, called the high thermal mass (HTM) home is even faster to build and promises even more ease of heating because of dry stacked concrete blocks for the walls on the north, east and west sides, basically a south facing basement with a roof on it and a greenhouse on the front of it. But I think the concrete blocks will still slow the home builder down. Also, some people, in today's conservation climate, would like to reduce their concrete usage.

I thought maybe the geo-textile cage hybrid from Hesco might be feasible, see the R-house, but it won't have the thermal mass, unless it is filled with sand, and I don't know how to install a running bond beam on top for the roof. So the simplicity of the system would be very fast and might be initially inexpensive, but the modifications necessary might bring the cost back up. Maybe if the R-house panels were filled with stones, like a gabion, with plaster on the inside and foam on the outside. Forming a bond beam on top of a stone foundation wouldn't be that difficult. This house idea is basically living in an above ground foundation.

Another possibility is the EarthCo MegaBlock which provides high mass and a breathing wall, but still in need of outside insulation. These are made from soil on site in a machine that looks like a giant playdoh toy that squeezes out one ton blocks of soil.

A precast two wall concrete panel with 7" of EPS between 2" of concrete on each side would be real fast, but more expensive. I like this last idea though. The polystyrene acts as an insulator and vapor barrier. I wonder if these could be used on the floor as well without a basement beneath. These floor panels can be ordered with radiant tubing installed.

An earth berm on the north side might be weird in a neighborhood, so a low-slung ranch would do the trick as long as wall openings are minimized on the north side. I think the ideal is to be built into a south facing slope, cut into a hill. If one is on a hill, then the flooding issue goes away as well.

Pre-fab makes it fast. Concrete makes it strong. Insulated makes it warm. Insulated on the inside concrete makes it easy to hold a constant temperature. Cut into a south facing hill elevates it off the flood plain and provides plenty of passive solar heating. The only draw back is the pre-fab part gets pricey.


Passive solar heating illustration.Image via Wikipedia
Update: I forgot about this farmer in Vermont who did this very thing on the cheap, but well constructed see Sugar Mountain Farm and their Tiny Cottage project. They also use earth air tubes to assist in fresh air flow and passive heating.
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