Natural building carries its own vernacular and understanding some of the key terms can help you in your building process.
Photovoltic panels (often called PV’s)are made of silicon, and produce electricity from sunlight. Depending on the location of your property and its available sunlight, you may be able to produce electricity for your household needs.
The electric power generated by the panels can be stored in batteries for later use (stand-alone PV systems) or can be fed into the grid of an electric power company (grid-tied PV systems).
Passive Solar Heating
Passive Solar Heating is using sunlight to help heat your home in the winter. Solar heating requires south-facing windows that admit winter sunlight, shading for summer time (usually provided automatically with overhanging eaves) and thermal mass to store the heat from the sunlight (usually provided by tile floors or extra thick gypsum board walls).
Passive Cooling is using natural techniques like cross-ventilation, stack ventilation, night-time ventilation, and evaporative cooling to keep your home comfortable in the summertime without air conditioning. Passive cooling requires a good understanding of your climate, proper placement of windows, doors and other openings and, in most climates, thermal mass that can help store “cool”.
Thermal mass is any dense material used in construction that can absorb and store radiant heat. Thermal mass inside your home acts as a giant flywheel and helps moderate and slow temperature swings. Tile, brick, concrete, stone, plaster, gypsum board, cob, rammed earth and water are some typical types of thermal mass used in climate responsive design.
Climate Responsive Design
Climate responsive design means design your new home or renovations to take advantage of sunlight, rainfall and winds available on your site. With a little design foresight and effort, your home can be heated by the sun, cooled with breezes, collect rainwater, and provide microclimates for a wide range of plants.
Natural finishes are plasters and paints made from natural, non-toxic materials such as clay, mineral pigments, lime, wheat paste and milk protein. Natural finishes include earthen (or adobe) floors, clay and lime plasters, clay-based paints, lime paints, and milk paints.
Earth plasters are plasters made from clay and sand with additives such as fine chopped straw, wheat paste, milk protein (casein) or mica. Earth plasters are excellent thermal mass (see passive solar heating) and can help moderate swings in humidity. Earth plasters can be applied directly over gypsum board as well as strawbale walls.
Outdoor rooms are developed garden spaces that can as extensions of your indoor living space. They are often partially enclose on two or more sides with plantings, benches, walls or trellises and furnished for cooking, eating, socializing or relaxing.
Strawbale construction is a building technique that uses stacked strawbales for the exterior walls of a building. The strawbale walls are plastered inside and out and the thick (18-24 inch) finished walls look similar to adobe or stone. In loadbearing strawbale construction, the bales themselves hold up the weight of the roof, in post and beam, or in-fill, strawbale structures, a wood, steel or concrete framwork holds up the roof while the walls are constructed with non-loadbearing bale walls. Strawbale construction originated in the US in the late 19th century and has recently spread throughout the US and the world because of its amazing insulating properties and simple, straight-forward building technique.
Rainwater catchment means collecting the rainwater that falls on your roof and using it for drinking, washing and toilets or in your landscape. Systems for drinking include fine filtration and ultraviolet treatment while those for washing and landscape only filter out large contaminants.
Earthen Construction (Adobe, Cob, Rammed Earth and Pise)
Earthen Construction uses earth, in some form, as the primary building material. Earthen construction is thermal mass with no insulation and is especially well adapted to dry areas with large swings between daytime and nighttime temperatures.
- Adobe construction uses earth and straw formed into sun-dried bricks which are then laid up into walls.
- Cob is a mixture of earth, sand and straw which is used wet to form thick walls or built-in furniture.
- Rammed earth is earth compressed (rammed) into removable formwork.
- PISE or pneumatically impacted structural earth is wet earth blown like gunite against formwork.