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my modified earthship vs. your bioshelter :)

Posted: Sat Sep 27, 2008 12:35 pm
by BinaryWhisper
Hi Bob

I followed a link from a for sale listing for your home.

My wife and I are actively looking for property to build what I have been calling a modified earth ship although after reading about your home it would appear that our plans are for a bioshelter. An earthbermed mostly concrete thermal mass wrapped around a masonry stove with a greenhouse down the front of it and integrated grey water system. I was unaware there was a name for it :)

I had to smile when I went over your website. I have over 20 years experience with aquariums and have built many filters over the years. It was my intention to use that experience to build the filtration for the indoor greywater wetlands/gardens. It is essentially the same technologies. We will likely have a septic, well and be on the grid to help grease the wheels for the building inspectors. We have to pick our battles :)

I have some big plans for the greenhouse and the way it relates to the rest of the house and hence our lives. My vision is a complete life altering environment and I am looking forward to getting started on it. We will be building it ourselves with the intention of doing so mortgage free and as close to utilities free as possible.

This brings me to the main point of my visit. Do you have floor plans ( a crude sketch is fine) that I could have a look at? I would like to see the room arrangement as it may show me things I never thought of. I'd also be very interested in any specifics you could share as to your ideas on how such a home be best laid out. Is your home mostly concrete? Does your masonry stove utilize passive hydronics? Any functional negatives, physically or socially, in your day to day lives would be of particular interest to me. That assuming you have the time Bob. I know you have a life.

Well I'm going to have a better look around your forum here. We will talk to you later


Re: my modified earthship vs. your bioshelter :)

Posted: Sat Sep 27, 2008 3:25 pm
by BinaryWhisper
I have found a 1st floor layout and have read the description of your home. I would still be interested in other information or insights you have to offer though.

Our design is substantially different. We are building single level (no basement) concrete and cinder block earth bermed structure. We have restored 7 houses and are hardcore recyclers so as soon as we decide on a lot we will start picking up used cinder blocks and storing them on site. I will mix my own concrete and build the stem walls for the greenhouse using field stone/slip form construction.

Still.... mechanically there are a lot of similarities :D

Re: my modified earthship vs. your bioshelter :)

Posted: Thu Oct 09, 2008 6:06 pm
by Bob
Hi Steve,

Apologies for not responding sooner. I just discovered your posts, now two weeks old. Here are some quick responses...
I'd also be very interested in any specifics you could share as to your ideas on how such a home be best laid out.
Not really, not without knowing more about the site specifics or your personal needs or desires/uses for the space. (That said, check out the reprint of a 1985 TNE article attached below. It includes some floor plans. Note: I offer it as a description of one very site-specific design only, not as a recommendation that anyone else build the same thing....) From a strictly (thermally) functional perspective, though, we laid ours out so that virtually all of the windows (the weakest links in the thermal envelope) open into the attached sunspace, instead of directly to Alaska. Another thing we did was to lay it out so it is mostly an open floor plan. Few closed rooms, partitions and doors. Air -- and heat -- circulates more freely than in most houses. That, plus the "super insulated" envelope obviated (or reduced) the need for a heating distribution system, reducing cost and complexity.
Is your home mostly concrete?
The foundation is all poured concrete. It is set into a southwest-facing hillside on the diagonal so there is an uphill and a downhill corner, and the greenhouse windows face due south. The above grade portion is wood frame, double stud walls (approx R-30)
Does your masonry stove utilize passive hydronics?
No. (Because of the open plan, not sure if the added cost/complexity would be worth it.)
Any functional negatives, physically or socially, in your day to day lives would be of particular interest to me.
Where to begin? :-? Of course "negative" is relative, depending on what you are used to, your goals and expectations. We did a lot of trial and error and experimentation over the 20+ years we lived there, so it's kind of hard to separate out "maintenance chore" from "interesting experiment". As time went on we learned a lot about what worked and what didn't through trial and error. What I've posted here on my website pretty much represents the final products, but I'm still tweaking them as well. (I'm also currently in the process of building a new place -- much simpler, but incorporating stuff learned in the 'live-in lab'.)

Re: my modified earthship vs. your bioshelter :)

Posted: Fri Oct 10, 2008 7:52 pm
by BinaryWhisper
thanks for the reply Bob.

The attached pdf was excellent. You say that your new design is simpler. Could I ask what aspect is simpler? Floorplan? mechancials?

Re: my modified earthship vs. your bioshelter :)

Posted: Sat Oct 11, 2008 12:00 pm
by Bob
About the only thing the two buildings have in common are the underlying design principles (e.g. integration of whole systems to capture multiple benefits, economic valuation of whole systems, rather than individual components, etc.). The new building, currently under construction, is a simple 28x24 shop/garage with living- (or work/studio?) space above, and unheated storage (and infrastructure) space, in shipping containers (connexes) alongside.

(Building as it is today: Shed roofs over the connexes still to be built...)
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The living space is insulated well enough that I can heat it with (1) a <$200 electric demand hot water heater small enough to hold in my hand, (2) a <$200 gas-fired demand water heater, or (3) a gasifying wood stove (a modified barrel stove capable of producing both biochar and usable fuel gas.) All three heat sources will be piped together in parallel, to supply heat to an insulated hot water storage tank (thermal mass). (See attached schematic diagram below) The tank will supply heat to a radiant floor, and be sized to supply one day's worth of heat at design outdoor temperature (-35degF) from one firing of the woodstove. The electric- and gas-fired demand water heaters will provide backup for when we're not here, or don't feel like making a fire in the stove. There will also be provision for using heat from a small diesel generator which will run on gas generated by the gasifying woodstove (my own design, still to be tested...).

As of this summer, here in Willow, Alaska, electricity, propane and fuel oil cost almost the same when converted to Btu. Wood (birch) cost about 1/3 each of the other three. (Here is an online calculator others can use for their own locations.)

Water and waste systems (e.g. urine-separating composting toilet, gray water biofilter) developed in the Eagle River bioshelter -- with minor modifications -- will be installed in one of the connexes -- a complete "Infrastructure on a Skid".
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