Building with the environment in mind goes beyond just materials. You actually need to start with the local environment–meaning weather and land. For a building site for the main lodge we wanted flat land, a great south facing view (for passive solar heating), shady porches (both to help deal with mud that could be tracked in and provide cool places for sitting in the summer). And we wanted a roof that could handle the little bit of snow we get as well as the spring winds.
All these thoughts went into the plans, but now as we’re about to start the building phase, we’re moving into the next part of this–how to reuse as much as possible (salvage lumber, recycled steel, etc), and how to keep the impact of the building low profile. The big one here is to keep the concrete low.
Concrete is both expensive and hard on the environment. It’s a lose-lose proposition. To keep the amount of concrete needed for strong foundations very low, we’re going with a traditional rubble trench foundation. For the steel roof, however, we’re using concrete piers — these anchor the roof to the ground. But we’re avoiding the expense and the high impact of a concrete slab.
The other benefit to this is that the adobe floor will be warmer, softer, and a beautiful earth color. Sealed with linseed oil, the floor has the advantages of being very low cost (it’s dirt from the ranch, some sand, and straw chopped very fine to add a little strength and light), and you just have to mix and pour (and not mind getting muddy).
So, now the clock is ticking. We’re into monsoon season (meaning lovely afternoon rains). Grading starts next week, then it’s time to lay the foundation lines, dig the trenches, fill with rubble, pour the piers and the foundation stem. And then we star laying adobe and stacking straw bale. The goal is to have all this done by this fall, so we’ll have a place for classes (and for a nice warm winter).