Sunday, May 31, 2009

Permanent Shelter

Temporary shelter can be life saving, but for real security, everyone needs permanent shelter. While there is an amazing variety of permanent shelters, from the wooden yurts I mentioned in my post on Temporary Shelter (5/19/09) to underground houses and structures such as domes and zomes, most of us are not going to build our own houses. (Though this website full of pictures of hobbit-like earth built homes makes me think about it.) There are millions of buildings already out there and rather than tear them all down and build new ones, I think it makes much more sense to adapt what's there to meet our needs.

I have been hearing from people who talk about 'Deep Retrofitting'--redoing a house so it is very energy-efficient. While this is not always possible given our time and budgets, it is useful to think of the home as an ongoing project. Planning ahead with what we'd ideally like, we can take the transition of the building to what we want in small stages. As things need repairing or replacing, we then have an idea of the direction we want to take.

At the least, weatherizing old buildings to make them energy efficient makes a lot of sense. An idea that started in Cambridge and is now starting to happen around the Boston area is the notion of 'Weatherization Barnraisings' where a group of us gather at someone's house and work together to weatherize it. The real benefit is not to the homeowner (who does get their house weatherized) but to the volunteers who often go home with new skills that they can apply to their own houses.

Of course this begs the question of the many people who can't afford to buy a home in the first place. Everyone deserves housing, and affordable housing at that, but our society isn't ready to simply make this a right. While there are folks that own so many houses they can't remember the exact number (a former US presidential candidate is an example), there are hundreds of thousands without homes in the US and millions around the world. Squatting is an option (see my last post), but so is intentional community (see my post of 10/8/09). While I know that some people need to have their own space, I think it makes more sense to share housing than to try to have millions of single family homes. When I see a big old house, rather than thinking about how to subdivide it into apartments or condos, I think of how many people could live together there, sharing their lives. I'm not sure the earth has the space for us to all have our own homes, but we could share enough buildings to make sure everyone has shelter.

Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn--A book on how houses and other buildings evolve according to the needs of the people using them. The book details the principle of shearing layers
Francis DK Ching, Building Construction Illustrated--An architect's manual on the basic principles of construction and materials, filled with diagrams and information. It probably makes more sense to read How a House Works first to get the basic concepts and then this book for all the details
Eugene Eccli, Low-Cost, Energy-Efficient Shelter--Ideas for weatherizing houses, remodeling houses, and building houses from scratch
Duane Johnson, How a House Works--While a bit much on the joys of modern life (it is a Reader's Digest book), this book gives a clear introduction to how a house is built
Lloyd Khan, Home Work--Subtitled 'Handbuilt Shelter' this book has over a thousand photos of all kinds of housing from around the world
Lloyd Khan, Shelter--A classic work from 1973 it looks at everything from gypsy wagons to domes and zomes to English cottage homes
Helga Olkowski, Bill Olkowski, Tom Javits and Farallones Institute, The Integral Urban House--A 1979 rethinking of what an urban house can be, it contains a chapter on 'Conservation of Energy' in the house as well as one on 'Integral Design'. They have taken an old house and rethought it
John Prentiss, The Dome Builder's Handbook--A primer on building geodesic domes
Malcolm Wells, The Earth-Sheltered House--A reprint of the book Underground Buildings, this is a sketchbook of ideas for underground houses by the architect who popularized the idea

Quote of the day: “Houses are built to live in and not to look on.” - Francis Bacon


Robyn Coffman said...

I dont know how to say this without sounding all weird... but i love your blog, most of your info is a little beyond my scope, just beyond where i am... and that is a very good thing.

We do intentional community in an older home (5400 sq ft) and living responsibly in it is our continued goal. The older home has been a challenge on some fronts, some days that gypsy wagon sounds like a nice alternative.

So thank you for the push and reminders...

Be blessed today and always.

MoonRaven said...

Thanks for the comment, Robyn. I don't think it's weird at all--there are many days when I think what I'm writing is beyond me. It's important to remember (for me as well as you) that what I'm doing is collecting tools, only some of which will be useful at any given time. Feel free to take what you can use and leave the rest--and who knows, it may be useful later.

I like the idea that your community values its home and that you are "living responsibly in it". Older homes can be a challenge, I know. There are definitely days when a gypsy wagon or a mobile home or maybe a houseboat seem like nicer ideas.

Incidentally, I would like to mention your work in an upcoming post--you can contact me at if you have any thoughts about that.

Blessings on you.

SoapBoxTech said...

Weatherization barnraisings...I like that.

MoonRaven said...

I would invite you to one but it seems a fair ways for you to travel...

This morning I was just at a 'garden raising' where a bunch of us helped build a raised bed garden in someone's yard (the best we can do in an urban situation).

It's a great model--folks in the climate action group I belong to have even talked about bike trailer raisings--where we'd work together to build bike trailers to help folks be able to carry more with their bikes. When we work together there's a lot we can accomplish.

Here's hoping you can find some folks to do stuff with you.

SoapBoxTech said...

Maybe it says something about me that I seem to have a hard time doing that!!??! hehe

I wanted to add, I just opened that hobbit house link in a new tab last night but didn`t look at it until today. Turns out I stumbled across that page probably around a year ago now. I found it as inspiring as you seemed to. It really got me thinking about more possibilities for the future of our half section of land (where that cow moose had her calf) that is currently left mostly wild. Thanks for bringing it back into my focus.