Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Shelter in Netopia: Hybrid Home Theory

(Some people may wonder what an article on "Sustainable Housing" is doing in a blog on the politics of Hierarchy and Empire. If you're read my book, you understand, but for the rest of you, one of my main points is that Hierarchy cannot be directly confronted--it will just reassemble in a different manner. It must instead be confronted obliquely though the formation of a competing Rhizome network--and the independence and flexibility of this form of shelter represents a critical step towards the creation of such a network...)

It’s one of humanity’s basic needs: Shelter. It can be so simple, yet modern methods of shelter represent the very worst of our over-consuming, alienated and hierarchal civilization. The design and concepts presented here are an attempt to return to simplicity and sustainability. The hybrid home model presented (see illustration) is simple enough to be made by its occupants, utilizing largely local and sustainable materials. It provides for its own heating, cooling and water, and facilitates a high quality of life, without creating an unsustainable drain on resources. It is very flexible, and can be adapted to most climates and resource-limitations. It is one part of the mosaic of solutions that make up the netopia model of an independent rhizome node…

The principle of hybrid home theory is the use of a combination of sustainable materials, taking advantage of the best that different methods have to offer. There are a number of “sustainable housing” movements alive today, many of which seem irrationally attached to a single method or material. Hybrid homes reject this, instead utilizing the most sensible combination of sustainable materials.

As a general rule, straw bale provides excellent insulation (R40+), but poor thermal mass. Conversely, dense materials (without trapped air) such as cob, earth/tire fill, rammed earth, adobe, brick or stone have excellent thermal mass, but poor insulating ability. The basic hybrid home combines a shell of straw bale (insulation) with a core of a thermal mass material inside the insulating shell, where it can provide efficient, reliable thermal control (effective use of heat/cold stored in thermal mass, without waste to outside). A thermal-mass floor (rammed earth, tile, stone, etc.) is also used to ensure solar heat capture in winter, and for additional thermal mass.

A hybrid home ensures the flexibility of material choice and ratio of insulation to thermal mass to work in nearly any environment, using sustainable and local materials, and allows for the simplicity of vernacular architecture.

Hybrid home theory also integrates effective passive solar heating and cooling, as well as efficient use of an internal wood stove. The home is largely heated in the winter by means of daytime passive solar gain from south-facing glazing. In cold climates, or on especially cold days, heating of both water and house is supplemented by a high-efficiency wood stove (either modern metal stove or traditional masonry stove). In warm climates, or in the summer, heat for water and cooking is provided via roof-top solar collection (passive water heater and passive vegetable-oil heated cook top), avoiding excessive home heating from stove use. Indoor temperature can always be quickly equalized with outdoor temperature (if desired) by opening the large south-facing windows & window/doors.

Water is supplied or supplemented by rainwater collection from the large roof area, and is recycled via a branched-drain graywater system for use in a ‘kitchen garden’.

Soil nutrients are conserved through the use of a composting or moldering toilet system.

Excellent ventilation without heat gain or loss is ensured by passing air through a thermal mass radiator under the floor prior to entry into the home, ensuring that entering air is already at the indoor temperature.

Economy and efficiency of heating are enhanced by efficient use of space: a standard hybrid home is approximately 1000 square feet, with a roof area of approximately 2000 square feet. While the illustration provides one possible and simple design for a hybrid home, these principles can be easily modified and applied to a variety of styles, sizes and layouts. Hybrid home theory doesn’t introduce radically new innovations. Instead, it represents a compilation of proven vernacular-architecture solutions into a composite that is more flexible and efficient than the original.

The hybrid home concept can adapt to any technological level. Only the included windows represent a level of technology that cannot easily be achieved by an isolated farmstead. Windows can be replaced by simple, smaller openings shuttered on the outside and covered with thick insulating curtains on the inside. The solar-gain function of the design’s South-facing glazing can be replaced with a 4” thermal mass wall surrounded by thick, adjustable insulating curtains on both the inside and outside of the wall…

Here are two article that I wrote a few years ago that supplement this post:

Rethinking Housing

Suburbia Makes Good Firewood

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