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Or A house made from junk

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1 Or A house made from junk
Sustainable Living Or A house made from junk

2 The project In the early seventies, as part of the back to the earth movement, I wanted to build a sustainable living environment and live as sustainable a lifestyle as I possibly could. I purchased 80 acres of mostly wooded land, with some marsh, and a few cleared acres. It was located about 15 miles North of Detroit Lakes, MN. I began the project in 1973 and over the next few years constructed a sustainable living environment. This slide show is the story of the years I was constructing and living in that dwelling. The whole project was construction 101 for me. I started with a book in one hand and a hammer in the other. From what I learned from that project in the 70s, my wife and I have since built another residence in the early 90s, which is also briefly described at the end of the slide show.

3 I advertised in the local paper for an old house that the owner might want torn down and I would keep the wood. A farmer north of Moorhead, MN answered the add and below is a picture of the house I tore down. A lot of wood, which I used for building projects over the years.

4 Below is the clearing on the land I had purchased where I would build the dwelling. This is looking north. The house was to go to the left of the old chicken coop, which I also tore down for the lumber.

5 I had decided to build a ferro-cement geodesic dome because they could be constructed with minimal materials and I thought they looked cool. Below is the superstructure covered with metal lath. The cement will be trawled on to the lath

6 In the sand below the floor I installed electric heating cables
In the sand below the floor I installed electric heating cables. It was designed so when the wind was blowing and the wind generator had fully charged my batteries I could heat the floor with the excess electricity. It really never worked. Too much mass for the energy that could be put into it.

7 I bought an old cement mixer at a local junk yard for $25
I bought an old cement mixer at a local junk yard for $25. Hired a student for a couple of weeks and began applying cement to the metal lath on the super structure

8 Hot fall day and cement began to crack because of drying too fast
Hot fall day and cement began to crack because of drying too fast. Had to work out some way of keeping wet.

9 This worked well. Would just sprinkle water on between applications of cement.

10 Using Ferro-cement we apply the cement to the outside and push through the mesh. The person on the inside trowels the cement smooth and adds where needed.

11 When we got to the top, I did not have enough money to purchase or rent scaffolding so we dumped the cement in the front loader of the tractor and shoveled onto the mesh. This worked quite well for both lifting and placing the cement.

12 Completed Ferro-cement dome from inside. Much like living in a cave.

13 Finished dome with attached greenhouse. Tried a sod roof on greenhouse
Finished dome with attached greenhouse. Tried a sod roof on greenhouse. The grass died I so had weed roof. The weeds died so I had dirt roof. Large windows face south for passive solar gain. The individual windows were taken from a green house that was being torn down.

14 First winter of living in dome
First winter of living in dome. Note sod roof and minimum window area on north side.

15 Dome picture taken from on top of wind generator tower. Note weed roof
Dome picture taken from on top of wind generator tower. Note weed roof. Pickup ran on either propane or gasoline.

16 When I first moved in during the winter, most of my heat loss was through the large front window. I installed a large carpet that could be lifted up during the day and let down at night. This helped with the heat loss but there would be about a ¼ inch of ice on the window every morning.

17 The first winter. You can see the carpeting covering the large front window

18 Because of the problems with indoor shutters, I installed insulated shutters, made from 2” of foam, on the outside. This made a tremendous difference in heat loss and living comfort. These had to be opened and closed manually in the morning and evening. There should be a large market for someone designing and selling insulated shutters that will be opened and closed by a photovoltaic cell.

19 Inside the dome. All the furniture is made from recycled wood or trees that had to be cut down.

20 The room divider wood is from the old chicken coop that was on the land when I started building

21 Garbage. I recycled almost everything and had a compost pile for the organic waste. If friends bought out garbage they would have to carry it out. I would not accept other peoples garbage. I would have approximately one garbage can full of waste for the entire year.

22 The kitchen area. Again the room dividers are from the old chicken coop

23 The upstairs loft. I always make it perfectly clear that I was given the zebra striped coverings. I would never buy anything like that. A major problem with geodesic domes is insulating and covering the triangles. I did finally cover then with individually cut, colored burlap pieces.

24 The table and chair set. Made out of an old basswood tree that had fallen and a spool from a telephone company. Took three people to move the table and two to move a chair. The wood slices are hot plate insulators so not to melt the table covering.

25 After living in the dome for several years, I decided to insulate better. The only practical way to insulate was to cover the whole dome with urethane. Once this was complete it made me realize how important insulation is in living comfortably with low energy consumption.

26 The dome from the garden area
The dome from the garden area. The power lines on the right go to the wind generator and batteries. Total cost to this point for building and living expenses was around $3000.

27 The wind generator tower
The wind generator tower. I was experimenting with various types of blades and generators, so was climbing the tower a lot. Decided to make it a tilt down so put hinges on one set of legs and a pulley on the tree. Could then raise and lower the tower with my pickup.

28 Finished generator and turbine
Finished generator and turbine. This was a system that I had found in a farmer’s yard in eastern ND. He said I could have it if I took everything down. The battery house is at the bottom of the tower. Supplied my electricity for the years I lived in the dome.

29 The control system for the wind generator and batteries
The control system for the wind generator and batteries. Everything is old military surplus but worked well.

30 The batteries I used for storing the energy from the wind system
The batteries I used for storing the energy from the wind system. I got recycled batteries from a bell telephone backup station. The generator was 32 volts so I arranged the batteries into 32 volt storage and converted to 120 volt at the control panel

31 Wood fireplace/furnace
Wood fireplace/furnace. It was very heavy (thermal mass) and would hold a lot of wood. I could put enough wood in to burn for nearly a day and the mass would gain enough energy to heat the house for two more days. There was a sealed door for the front and controlled draw on the sides

32 I wanted to build a digester toilet that would digest all the organic waste from the house and supply methane to burn in the water heater and nitrogen rich fertilizer for the garden. This was my first attempt, made out of a five gallon bucket, which would hold the waste and drop it into a digester setup below when the toilet cover was closed

33 This was below the 5 gallon bucket
This was below the 5 gallon bucket. The waste would drop into the galvanized flue piping that had blades like a cement mixer on the sides. Once a week or so I would mix up the waste and pass it into the inner tube digester in the insulated box. As the waste worked its way around the inner tube it would be digested by anaerobic bacteria. The liquid waste would be stored in the 55 gallon drum for fertilizer and the gas would be burned in the water heater

34 The anaerobic digester
The digester needs to be held at around 95 to 98 degrees for it to be effective. Also you should have a starter batch of bacteria for quicker and more effective starting. This can be obtained from most sewage treatment plants. Bring a five gallon bucket in and ask for a bucket of crap. The workers will look at you a bit strangely but usually give you the bucket of crap for free.

35 The original toilet/digester began to leak quite quickly, since it was held together mostly by duct tape. I still thought it was a good idea so developed this one out of 10 inch plastic pipe, a chemical toilet (no chemicals) and a food disposal. Tested it out and it worked quite well.

36 The new design installed in the house
The new design installed in the house. The waste would be placed in the top holding area where it would be flushed down into the larger holding tank below with a ½ pint of flushing water. Once a week or so the larger holding tank was emptied through the disposal below.

37 The disposal below the toilet would be turned on and the waste would be passed along to the digester.

38 Digester - Waste started at one end and passed through the pipe while being held at a constant temperature with a heating cable. Fertilizer and gas (methane) removed from opposite end.

39 A tempering tank placed on the hot water side of incoming water
A tempering tank placed on the hot water side of incoming water. Water sits in the tank and goes to room temperature before going into the hot water heater. Also ran the waste hot water coming from the shower through the tank so as to give up its heat to the water going into the hot water heater. This simple tank will save a large amount on a hot water bill, up to 20 to 30 cents a shower.

40 Attached greenhouse-Started plants early and had a late season herb garden. When first constructed I found it got extremely hot during the days and would freeze at night. I needed some way to store the daytime energy for use at night. Installed a 55 gal drum filled with water and it was cooler during the day and warmer at night. Added several more and found even cooler days and warmer night. Ended up with 12 drums pained flat black. Never froze at night with those drums in green house. On top of the drums is an experimental plaster mold for making wind generator blades

41 Garden – Picture taken from on top of the wind generator tower
Garden – Picture taken from on top of the wind generator tower. I was constantly trying to cut down on work with various mulches. Tried plastic (environmentally a disaster), saw dust (leaches a lot of nitrogen out of soil), newspaper (leaches nitrogen and a mess). Ended up planting rows far enough apart to mow between them. Was able to grow all the vegetables I could use,

42 Produce from the garden
Produce from the garden. I canned much of the produce and rented a frozen locker in a nearby town to freeze much of it. With meat from hunting (deer and grouse) and fishing I was able to supply most of my food needs. Every once in a while I would break down and buy some bacon.

43 The dome as I lived in it for several years
The dome as I lived in it for several years. Has the urethane coating for better insulation.

44 What I learned about designing for sustainability and about myself
When designing for energy sustainability the building should have extremely good insulation, southern exposure (in the northern hemisphere) a very large thermal mass for energy storage. I learned that we do not need large amounts of expensive and energy consumptive stuff to have an enjoyable and constructive life. I think Americans measure their worth by the amount of stuff we have and not by their contributions to maintaining the earth and all of its occupants. Also I really like bacon.

45 What happened next I was out east visiting relatives and some friends were living in the dome while I was gone. The chimney caught fire and spread to the urethane and then inside the dome. When I got back it was pretty much gone. I saved what I could and tore down the rest. I still had the land and 15 years later I got married and my wife and I decided to again build a sustainable living environment on that land. We used many of the concepts I learned while building and living in the dome. We would build a little more sophisticated this time and since we had limited funds, would build the environment in steps. First the basic structure. When that was paid for we would begin adding on some of the alternative energy components. Following are some pictures of the basic structure and comments on how we applied lessons learned from the dome.

46 Building the new house. Insulation is extremely important so we built a super insulated structure. The walls are two separate 4” walls spaced four inches apart for a total of 12 inches of insulation in the walls. We have high energy trusses so we could install 20 inches of insulation in the ceiling. On the back side of the inside wall we put a plastic vapor barrier so as not to break it when we wired the house. We then added an air to air heat exchanger to control the fresh air brought into the house. It was completed in the mid 90s.

47 The large windows all face south
The large windows all face south. The main living area is on the left and the greenhouse/energy storage area is on the right. We wanted a very large thermal mass like the fireplace and 12 barrels of water I had in the dome.

48 We used all local materials in construction
We used all local materials in construction. This local rock was used in building the fireplace. A very large thermal mass which stores and holds the energy from the fireplace. All the wood in the house is Minnesota lumber. Nothing from the west or the rainforests.

49 A 22,000 gallon swimming pool has replaced the 12 barrels of water
A 22,000 gallon swimming pool has replaced the 12 barrels of water. To the right of the pool there are ducts in sand below the cement/rock floor. When the room gets warm enough, a fan turns on and passes the hot air through the ducts storing heat in the sand. We have a wood water heater out back for heating the pool water and have since added a 480 square foot solar collector for heating the pool.

50 We were just beginning to add plants into the green house and have since added a much larger selection, including banana trees and fresh bananas.

51 We were worried about humidity so have a cover for the pool when not in use. Works well and humidity has not been a problem. The first year living in this structure our total cost for space and water heating was $170 for the season

52 Hot Water Solar Collector Added to Heat Pool

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