Green tips

What makes the Beehive House “eco”?

During the superadobe technology workshops we pay special attention to convey all the knowledge and attitude needed to design our homes and lives in an environmentally conscious way. There is a separate chapter dedicated to this topic in our course book entitled „Let us design together with nature”. In the planning phase of the Beehive EcoHouse we tried to take into consideration these aspects of course within the given framework of building regulations, the qualities of the land and our budget. The focus is not only on finding environmentally friendly solutions but applying methods and using equipment that do not require special knowledge or complex engineering, can be carried out at home or with the help of friends, which will guarantee the highest level of self-efficiency and independence for the family.   

Sustainability should be present not only in the energy used in the building phase but the energy required for the maintenance of the house in the long run. (Embodied energy refers to all the energy needed for the production of materials used for the house and the energy required for these materials to be delivered to the building site.)

What aspects should be taken into consideration, what kinds of materials, tools, designing and building methods should be used and applied for the Beehive House to be not only beautiful and comfortable but healthy, environmentally friendly and sustainable? Some advantages of the adobe and superadobe we have partially listed before. In this chapter we collected all the other aspects of sustainability we considered during the planning.

Materials:

There are many positive effects of the walls built from earth/superadobe on the human body and health (biological architectural advantages):

                  • Superadobe houses will possess great acoustic properties, are sound-proof and healthy and swallow a big part of the electrosmog (See: Why exactly superadobe?).
                  • These houses will have a healthy inner climate due to the great heat storage capacity and humidity control of the adobe walls. Due to these properties superadobe houses heated to a less extent can provide the same thermal comfort as the houses made of bricks or cement heated to a more extent (not to talk about houses built using light structures or covered with plasterboards). The human body unconsciously perceives the pleasant environment.
                  • Great heat storage capacity means that the walls heat up or cool down very slowly so the walls heated up during the day will still radiate heat during the night when the outdoor air cools down and the other way round.
The walls cooled down during the night will ensure a pleasantly cool temperature during the day. In the winter the walls keep the heat of our stove and temper the air.
  • Earth walls are the healthiest for the human body compared to all other building materials. Adobe is a natural material and with rare exceptions it does not contain harmful substances for the human body. A lot of people prone to allergies or sensitive to chemicals can live a symptom-free life only in adobe houses. (Those who are sensitive to proofing used against fire or the preservation of timber the only solution can be to live in a domed house free of wooden structures and materials.)

Building with (super)adobe has many ecological and financial advantages, as well:

  • Adobe is a natural degradable material whose components get back to nature with time and will be reused again. If we do not add stabilizers such as cement for example adobe houses will behave the same way. The innovative aspect of the superadobe technology is that stabilizers are not needed, however building regulations specify the construction of a cement base and the use of stabilizers for us though we will try to use the minimum amount for the Beehive House. If possible we are planning to use eco-cement which is more expensive but more environmentally friendly and whose manufacturing requires 80%-90% CO2 less than the manufacturing of the traditional Portland cement.
  • The superadobe technology does not require real argillaceous earth like the traditional adobe technologies and we can use almost all on-site earth. The use of local materials keeps to a minimum the delivery costs, the embodied energy and the environmental pollution.
  • The superadobe technology is the only technology that makes the construction of arched forms (yurt forms, vaults, domes etc.) possible without extra costs, building expertise and due to its low tech quality it enables anyone to learn it. Additionally to the esthetics and variability of the arched forms they are statically sturdy compared to the square buildings using joists. So like in nature (the snail or egg shells) from the minimum amount of material we can build the biggest and most stable structures. The gothic domes built from superadobe are a good example of this. With the same floor area the surface and the inner space of the house that can get heated up in the summer and cooled down in the winter will become smaller this way thus we will need less material for water- and heat insulation and we need less heating. The convection is the best in a dome or a yurt form, there are fewer corners and heat bridges (heat bridge is a heat insulation problem in the wall leading to moisture and mold).
                  • There will be less timber and carpentry work for the roof which will be supported by the dome itself without a slab. There will be less need for cutting trees and deliver them on site which means again less energy consumption and CO2 emission.
                  • The retaining walls of both houses will be built by the earthship technology (reused tires filled with earth);“Petals” (apses) of the Tumbleweed House will be vaults, their two sidewalls will keep the weight of the house and the connecting wall between them has no weight-holding function.
That’s why we can replace the thick and strong superadobe walls with natural straw bale walls that are weaker but are perfect for insulation.  
  • Applying the superadobe technology we will end up with less debris and garbage which mean less energy consumption, pollution and fewer costs for cleanup, transportation and garbage treatment.

During the construction we plan to use recycled or recyclable materials that are not or the least harmful for health or the environment:

  • The polypropylene tubes that serve as louver are produced with partially recycled plastic granules and do not contain dangerous chemicals. They are made of inert material (meaning it does not dissolve in water, it is resistant to most chemical dissolvents, alkalis or acids, and there is no evaporation of harmful substances either), it is recyclable and its degradation process is not harmful for the environment. At the same time the tubes are the products of the chemical industry as they are made of plastic and are produced at high temperature and under a lot of pressure thus if possible instead of polypropylene tubes we would like to use natural though weaker fabrics made from hemp or jute.
  • The barbed wire placed between the tubes which acts both as reinforcement and a kind of flexible mortar that increases the food and earthquake resistance of the walls is also made of recyclable metal.
  • Modern materials used for the plaster and the mortar containing a lot of harmful substances. In contrast to these chemicals we are planning to use plaster, mortar, chemicals and paints that contain cement or lime mixed with a special environmentally friendly additive such as VIP-REX if needed. (VIP-REX is a product patented and produced in Hungary which is specially recommended for adobe walls as it improves their humidity control and water resistance.) For the treatment of wooden and adobe surfaces we intend to use linseed oil, for painting the walls lime instead of dispersion paints. (Lime is a great hygroscopic substance with antiseptic qualities and can be easily reapplied.)
  • Paneling is planned to be done using used or residual materials (residual parquet, mosaic, broken tiles).
  • Superadobe can be used for other things needed in the house such as to build furniture, stove benches, bathtub or wash basin.
  • Instead of buying expensive finished products we will try to apply creative techniques and handmade products for example divide the space in a smart way with different textiles and curtains instead of built-in doors, we try to and avoid square furniture provided by the industry.

The window bay of the gallery manhole:
it is strong and does not weaken the statics of the dome due to the tubes layered on each other and there is no need for a door frame or even a door – a curtain will do.

  • The Beehive Earth House will be mostly covered with green roof and earth which looks not only good but saves the costs and energy input required for a traditional roof, and serves as a natural insulation for the house. The Wine-Press House will have a thatched roof which is also a natural material. It is water resistant and a good heat insulator and similarly to the green roof it requires little embodied energy, it is cheaper and does not pollute the environment. Besides thatched roofs are part of traditional Hungarian architecture.

On the whole we can say about the design of the Beehive Houses that we aimed to combined the used ecobuilding technologies and materials in the most ideal way, since all have its advantages. (Super)adobe is the body of the house: with its strong, stable structure and good thermal mass capacity it is the frame and the heat storage mass of our building. The reed and the straw bale have a less compressive strength and has no thermal mass capacity either, but it is perfect for insulation. It will cover the house and protect it from the cold (like the fur or the coat does for our body). Earthship is an earth building method that is cheap and uses reused wires. We can build strong structures with it, but the gum inhibits the moister regulations of the wall that’s why it is not ideal for residual buildings. But it is a good solution for other structures, like outbuildings, retaining walls etc.

The “eco-aspects” of the design:

The bigger Beehive house is an earth sheltered house. Besides the southern facade the major “body” of the house is under the ground. The advantages of earth covered houses are numerous:

                  • Earth bermed houses are the most ideal solution for sloping sites as their construction requires less field work than if we wanted to build horizontal areas all around the house.
                  • The great thermal qualities of earth have already been detailed. In case of earth houses this means that the biggest part of the house is protected from the wind and cold. It is an especially advantageous situation if the house faces to the South and the northern part is protected from cold and wind. 
The temperature of the deeper layers of the earth is the same both in the summer and in the winter (+12 °C on the average in a 6-meter depth). Under the ground there is a smaller difference of the temperature that we need to overcome with heating (or cooling in the summer). Earth provides good thermal insulation as it will always be warmer than the temperature outside so heating the house to a comfortable temperature will become easier. In the summer earth will cool down the house. The fact that it is under the ground allows for the wind to blow freely above the house whereas in case of traditional houses the wind bumps into the walls and cools them down.
  • Building regulations for rural or agricultural sites in Hungary allow to occupy with buildings only a small percentage (in most cases 3%) of the total plot. Another advantage of earth sheltered houses is that according to these regulations only those parts of the building are concerned to this 3% that exceed the original surface more than 1 meter. Thus you can build a complete house fit in the hillside even on a small plot as we plan to do in the case of the Beehive “Nautilus”.
                      • The way the houses and other buildings will be situated will follow the designing principles of permaculture of course taking into consideration the properties of the site and the building regulations. Thus the most ideal place for a house is the keyline of a hillside where the previously convex slope becomes concave. This is where micro climate of the slope is the most ideal as far as the energetics of the house is concerned. The side-buildings will be situated according to the rules of the zones and sectors of permaculture.
  • The properties of the site allow for an ideal siting of the Beehive Earth Bermed House. The facade and the main glass surfaces of the house are designed to face South that is the best for the house to be get the most sunlight in winter. The Northern part will be fenced from the wind as it is in the ground just like the entrance that faces opposite to the main direction of the wind. (See the plans in the Supplement section.) In the summer the Western sunrays heat up the house the best due to them reaching the house from a low angle. Another way to protect the house from the sun is by planting deciduous trees and bushes.
  • Both house was designed to be of an ecological size that meets the basic comfort needs but minimize the construction and maintenance costs.
  • We have tried to optimize the proportion of glass surfaces too so that the house will be lit well but not forgetting about the fact that the insulation quality of the best windows can never be compared to that of insulated (earth) walls. Besides the production of glass and windows requires a lot of embodied energy and costs. At the same time it is important to use quality windows for the good insulation. One way to save energy and money is rather by having some windows that cannot be open. With superadobe technology it is possible to place simple pipe windows or glass bricks between the layers which will allow for the light to get into the house without the construction of expensive windows. On top of the domes the roof windows will also add to the house being light. Without them the earth covered house would get light only through the southern facade and the back parts of the domes and the side rooms would not be light enough.

Layout-wise the rooms have been designed to functionally be situated in the most ideal way possible:

  • The plumbing units will be close as there will be only one water tank to supply them with water. This way shorter water and drain pipes and less plumbing work will be needed. Due to the gaps between the superadobe layers it is easy to place the pipes and wires and there will be no need for additional carving of the walls which will save us time and work.
  • The heating (including the heat needed for baking and cooking) will be provided by one central heating unit: a masonry thermal mass heater fit for the size and energetics of the house. The heater and its accessories will be located in the center of the house closer to the Northern side, actually in the intersection point of the living room-kitchen and the bathroom and will heat all two rooms and the whole house at the same time. There will be no need for heating pipes or separate heating units only one chimney. Cooking and baking will be done on a cooking unit attached to the stove which will be heatable in the summer without heating up the whole masonry heater. When the weather is too hot cooking can be done in the winter kitchen outside the house and if needed we can place a gas tank in the kitchen if we do not want to heat the place.
  • The heating costs of the Nautilus can be further reduced by having the “heating apsis”, the toilet and the bathroom and the pantry surrounding the central room at the northern side of the house to provide further insulation for the main living area. The second, eastern sleeping room will function as a guest room used only in the summer and it will function as an “insulating room” in the winter. In the Wine-Press House the central dome will be protected from the cold and the heat by the rooms surrounding it like petals and if possible the petals could be linked by a porch or winter garden.
                  • We have considered not only the practical issues when we positioned the windows and doors of the houses. A “living home” need to ensure both the physical and the mental and spiritual health of the inhabitants. Every culture has its own theory and tradition of the sacred set-up of the houses: the shape and the structure of the building is specified, it is important in what order the rooms are arranged, and even to plan the way of the light getting into the house through the windows determined by the seasons. It is interesting (and probably not accidental) that the spiritual aspects that “feed our souls” are in harmony with the practical and ecological ones.
Unhappily this wise and comprehensive way of thinking disappeared form the modern architecture. We would like to revive this knowledge and our architect – Péter Mújdricza – helps us a lot, because he has an excellent sense of plan and draw these spiritual aspects. The window-eye of the wine-press house is a good example of this view that renders an enchanting “chiaroscuro” to the walls of the house from spring to winter.  

“Green” solutions, the use of the elements of nature and a diversified energy system:

There are many ways to the passive utilization of the solar and the earth thermal energy even if we cannot afford to install expensive solar panels or a geothermic heat pump:

  • Sun traps: it is useful to store the heat energy of the sun coming through the glass surfaces facing South. We can use materials with good thermal mass capacity: flooring, furniture and wall with proper color and structure (adobe, brick etc.). The water is also proper for this purpose (see later). As we described earlier vaults with broad glass surfaces oriented to the South are ideal for sun traps.
  • “Lake of sunrays”: the surface of the lake (we plan to make in the second phase of the construction) will absorb and reflect the low winter sunrays back and lead them into the house intensifying the impact of the sun traps.
  • Winter garden: the winter garden in front of the Southern facade will not only function as a sun trap but will insulate the house from the front and can be used for storing the plants in the winter or transforming it into a vegetable garden.
  • Water storing columns (tanks): in the center of the main dome we are planning to erect a glass column with a diameter of 30-40 cm full of water up to the gallery which will absorb and store the energy of the sun then slowly radiate it into its surroundings. If we are creative, we can combine our water thanks with aquaponics (“two birds at one stone”).
  • Tanks and pipes storing water: one of the simplest way to have warm water in the summer is by using a black water tank or placing a black snake pipe on the roof or the sunny southern side of a hillside.
  • Sun cells, sun collector: as it is costly we are planning installing one later. At the moment we intend to build a home-made beer collector.
  • Earth heating/cooling: we can utilize the thermal energy of earth by placing a snake pipe into the ground and connecting it with the house without the installation of a complicated and expensive heat-pump. Though the snake pipe cannot compete with the heat-pump in efficiency, the installation of the heat pump requires too much energy and money and the machinery needed for its maintenance is also energy and cost-intensive. The snake pipe can be placed in the ground by ourselves, it is much cheaper and as a passive system no machinery and energy are needed. It is good not only for helping the winter heating but also function as a passive cooling system in the summer without using the energy consuming and noisy air-conditioning machines which even can cause lung diseases, as well.

Other possibilities of renewable energies and environmentally conscious water consumption:

  • The masonry thermal mass heater we intend to use has a better efficiency than the tile stove due to its secondary combustion chamber. It is a renewable energy source and we are not dependent on the energy providing companies.
  • Installing windmills is very costly even in the case of the more simple windmills with vertical axles but on the long run they can be worth it.
  • Compost furnace: we are planning to build one in the second phase of the construction to utilize the energy produced during the ripening phase of the compost which could be used for heating the winter garden or the lake.
  • Water system adapting the recommendations of Prof. Joseph Országh, Hungarian-Belgian water policy professional (http://www.eautarcie.org): collection and storage of rain water (it is better for showering and washing than the hard water). We intend to collect and store the grey water too for example in the garden. As we will not use hard chemicals there will be no need for the purification of water. We will not produce black water at all as the feces and the urine will not get into the water. The sewage system is very harmful for the environment and deprives the system from a lot of biomass. We are planning to use a compost toilet and the feces rich in organic materials will be used as fertilizer for the garden.