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Zero House Sneak Peak

Zero House Project sets ambitious goals

Can we build homes with a zero carbon footprint, that use net zero energy and contain zero toxins?

The Sustainable New Construction class of 2017 is undertaking to answer that question with a resounding “Yes!” And they will be doing it in a completely modular, prefabricated form, at a realistic market cost.

Zero House is a demonstration project being undertaken by Endeavour Centre and Ryerson University’s Department of Architectural Science. The plan originated as SolarBLOCK by ECOstudio, a multi-unit design for urban infill sites. Zero House is a scaled version of a single module of the larger plan – one piece of a potentially larger development.

Zero House is designed to consume no more electricity than it produces in a year, and will use no fossil fuels. The building will sequester more carbon in its plant-based materials (which include wood, straw, mycelium, and recycled paper) than were emitted during material production, positioning it as an important solution to climate change. No materials inside Zero House will contain any questionable chemical content and the building will have an active ventilation system to provide the highest indoor air quality for occupants.

The project will be built in Peterborough in modular components, and then dismantled and rebuilt at the EDITdx Expo for Design, Innovation and Technology in Toronto this fall, where show goers will be able to visit the home, meet the designers and builders and experience Zero House for themselves.

Zero House

The class of 2017 gathers to start Zero House by making mycelium insulation samples.

The project is being sponsored by many progressive material and system manufacturers, and we will introduce them as their components are placed in the building.

We will keep an ongoing journal of the construction of this project, so keep watching here for updates and to follow our progress!

Root Cellar Reports

In 2012, Endeavour helped to build a subterranean earthbag root cellar for the The Seasoned Spoon Cafe at Trent University. It was a fascinating project for which we could find very little in the way of research or documentation on which to base our design and systems. Now, after operating for three winters, this root cellar has been the focus of a research project by Martine Cleary through the Trent Community Research Centre.

Martine produced two documents from her research:

The results of her work are very interesting, and will change the way we approach root cellar design in the future.

Earth Coupling Strategy
Our approach with the Seasoned Spoon root cellar was to try to have the base subterranean soil temperature be the determining influence on the root cellar temperature. The cellar was designed to be entirely earth bermed, with the walls buried in soil and the roof covered with a minimum of 2ft of soil. To keep the cellar from getting too cold, we insulated the roof area as we were concerned that outdoor temperature might cool the cellar down too much. The ventilation tubes for the cellar were run around the perimeter of the footings before we backfilled, providing 60-70 feet of “earth-tube” for each of the two intake pipes, and this was also done to ensure that freezing winter air was tempered so as to not lower the cellar temperature.

Need More Cold Air Influence
As it turns out, the base soil temperature is warmer than the cellar would be, ideally, and that we actually could have used the sub-zero air temperatures to bring the root cellar into its ideal temperature range of 1-4C. With that in mind, we would strongly consider leaving a portion of the cellar unburied and exposed to the winter air. And we would definitely have the fresh air intakes come directly from outside and into the cellar, which would help to bring the temperatures down in a controlled manner.

Buried quonset hut root cellar by Endeavour Centre

The completed root cellar lies under a blanket of snow, which helps to insulate the structure

At the Circle Organic Farm root cellar, we had concerns that the exposed end of the buried quonset hut that forms the cellar would make the cellar too cold in the winter. But from Martine’s report, it looks like that cellar stays much closer to the optimum temperature because of the influence of low outdoor temperatures.

Root Cellaring Definitely Viable
We were happy to see in the report that the potatoes and carrots studied in Martine’s paper did well (often better than the samples that were refrigerated!), and that a growing number of farms are looking to modernize this low-tech and low-energy means of winter food storage. We’ll be excited the next time such a project comes our way!

Earth floor workshop

The 2014 Sustainable New Construction class had their first day of hands-on learning this week when we helped Mike Henry and Deirdre McGahern install an earthen floor at Headwaters Farm.

earth floor mix

All the ingredients for an earth floor are ready to mix

The floor was installed in the basement of the new Headwaters Farm straw bale house, which is the epicentre of a permaculture/organic farm. The earthen floor will be in the root cellar area of the basement.

The day began with laying a base for the floor. In this case, the floor had been insulated with recycled foam insulation (4 inches for ~R-20), and the class formed a bucket brigade to move loads of “road base,” a well-graded and moist mix of limestone screenings intended to be tightly compacted. Given the number of people we had on the job, a lot of the compacting was achieved via good old fashioned foot stomping, as well as some tamping with a metal plate tamper.

The floor mix was based on a clay soil from an aggregate pit near Huntsville, Ontario. They provided a clay/aggregate mix that was about 1 part clay to 3 parts sand (well graded from silt to 1/8″ stone). To this, we added another portion of sand, as well as chopped straw. In ratio form, the recipe was 1 clay to 4 sand to 1 chopped straw. This mix has a heavier proportion of sand than a plaster mix. Higher aggregate for floors is something we’ve learned from Sukita Crimmel (and her new book, Earthen Floors, which is highly recommended). The sandier mix reduces cracking and helps make a stronger floor. The mix received much less water than a plaster, just moist enough that there is cohesion when squeezed or troweled.

After running these ingredients through the mortar mixer, a bucket brigade moved the mix down to the basement. We applied the mix to a thickness of 3/4″ which seems to be a “sweet spot” for earthen floors. It’s thick enough to have body and strength, but thin enough that drying times are reasonable.

earth floor mix

The mix is checked for water content

The mix is spread out and compacted with the use of wooden floats. The wood floats help to achieve a flat surface and allow the mix to be worked repeatedly without drawing the moisture and clay to the surface.

The height of the floor is checked with a levelling stick and a laser level. When the stick is placed on the floor surface, the laser line will align with a pre-set mark on the stick if the proper level has been achieved.

Once an area of floor has been smoothed and levelled, a steel trowel is used sparingly to bring an additional level of smoothness to the floor. Too much steel troweling will bring the water and clay to the surface and increase the chance of cracking.

earth floor mix

A wood float is used to smooth and compact the floor

We started installing the earth floor at around 1.30 pm and we were finished by 4.30. Many hands made for light work, and the floor was looking great when we packed up to leave. Mike and Deirdre returned to burnish the surface the next day (misting the surface and applying additional steel troweling to really smooth out the surface).

earth floor mix

Many hands at work on the earth floor

The floor will now be left to dry for at least a week, and then several coats of linseed oil (Claylin makes finishing oils and waxes for earthen floors) will be applied. Once the oil has dried (3-7 days), the floor is ready for use, or it can be sanded for additional smoothness, and a wax can also be applied.

We love earthen floors! Once you’ve experienced the feeling of an earthen floor under your feet, you’ll definitely want one…

Waste Wood Structural Columns

There is an incredible amount of “waste” wood that is thrown into landfills or otherwise left to rot because it is not long enough to be used vertically in a building. So in 2006, we took that wood and stacked it up to make load bearing columns in buildings. Offcuts from log home factories, discarded 2x4s and 2x6s and dead tree limbs all find permanent, structural homes in our waste wood columns.

You can see a slideshow of the entire Kinark project here, and watch a video about the waste wood columns here:

Hypar Roof Workshop with George Nez

On July 3rd, the students at Endeavour’s Sustainable New Construction program took part in a day long workshop focused on building hyper-parabolic or “Hypar” roofs.

This type of roofing is much different than any other form of roof. Rather than using dimensional structural material (such as lumber or metal) to create a structural skeleton and then sheathing that skeleton with a waterproof covering (steel sheets, shingles, etc), a hypar roof uses very little material to create the frame and relies instead upon stretching a fabric over the frame to form a hyper parabola (an arch in two perpendicular directions) and coating that fabric with a thin (3/8-inch) layer of latex-modified cement.

Hosted by Henry Weirsma of Fifth Wind Farm and taught by George Nez of Colorado, the class was able to work on all the steps involved in making a hypar roof. We were joined by Tim Krahn of Building Alternatives, who brought his engineering perspective to the proceedings.

We started by examining a cross-gable frame assembled by Henry. While many geometries are possible with hypar roofs, this one has a form that is very compatible with conventional North American housing and roofing styles, and can be used singularly or can be easily combined to roof rectangular or L-shaped buildings. It affords generous gables on all four sides, making the roof space easily habitable.

By stretching fabric and/or mesh across the frame, the hyper parabolic shape is automatically created. This confluence of two arches results in an extremely strong geometry. Many different fabrics and/or meshes can be used. We experimented with fiberglass stucco mesh, polyester bed sheets and landscaping fabric. The fabric/mesh is stretched tightly and stapled along the frame. This material gives the roof its tensile strength.

The compressive strength of the roof comes from pouring a latex-modified cement over the mesh. The latex allows the cement to have a lot of tensile strength, while the cement/sand portion provides the compressive strength. Several layers of this mixture are added to the roof until a layer of 3/8-inch is achieved.

While latex and cement are not highly sustainable materials, the fact that they can be used sparingly to create roofs of high strength (tested to upwards of 50-150 pounds per square foot) and light weight (4 pounds per square foot) while reducing the amount of lumber and other high-cost, high-weight materials make them an exciting option.

George has built hypar roofs all over the world, and showed us photos of examples from Africa, Asia and the USA. He is a passionate advocate for this kind of roof, and he inspired a lively and discussion-filled day.

Hopefully, it won’t be long before Endeavour has a chance to build a full-scale hypar roof on one of our projects!

Seasoned Spoon Earthbag Root Cellar Almost Finished

More Trent University students may be able to eat locally-grown produce year-round at The Seasoned Spoon cafe, now that their subterranean earthbag root cellar is nearly complete.

This project is very unique, using local low-impact materials to create a food storage structure that will be able to house a range of vegetables at proper temperature and humidity levels year round, without energy intensive cooling or heating equipment.

Here is a complete set of progress photos, showing the building from start to finish:

Endeavour would like to thank the Seasoned Spoon for the chance to be involved with such a great project. Thanks also to Trent University for accommodating the build.

Tim Krahn of Building Alternatives was the adventurous and participatory structural engineer on the project, and Ben Parkes was the lead builder, with lots of help from Justin McKeiver and lots of volunteers.

We’ll post a final look at the root cellar when it’s all complete.

Earthbag Root Cellar for The Seasoned Spoon Cafe

The Endeavour Centre has teamed up with The Seasoned Spoon Cafe at Trent University to build a buried root cellar for the over-winter storage of vegetables grown at Trent gardens and destined for yummy dishes in the cafe. Another tip recently released from them is that they use Battery powered mowers: to keep their gardens looking great.

The walls of the building are made with earthbags. In this technique, a soil mixture that has good compaction qualities (lots of different sizes of aggregate and slightly moist) is placed into long polypropylene tubes and tamped in place. There are a number of really great ways to keep spiders out of your home naturally. Also known as “flexible form rammed earth” this technique is just about the simplest, cheapest, most sustainable and most effective building techniques we use at Endeavour. While it requires a lot of grunt labour, it is satisfying work with immediate and satisfying results.

Once the building has its roof in place, the whole thing will be buried in the ground and will become a small, wildflower covered hill on the Trent campus, very close to the Seasoned Spoon. The earthbag arch entryway will be the only visible feature of the building.

Inside, the building will have both a damp and a dry room, for the storage of different vegetables. The dry room will be separated from the ground by a vapour barrier, while the damp room will have a floor that is not sealed from the ground beneath. The two rooms will be separated by a compressed earth block wall. Both rooms will be ventilated by earth tubes, which are long pipes buried deep around the building with an inlet that draws fresh air from outside and a solar fan that provides exhaust. The air in the tubes will be cooled to earth temperature in the summer and warmed to earth temperature in the winter, providing the root cellar with a fairly constant temperature of around 10C.

We will continue to post the progress of the root cellar as it moves toward completion.

If you are interested in volunteering on the root cellar, The Seasoned Spoon is relying heavily on volunteers to help with construction. You can contact us to find out more about volunteer opportunities.

Haiti Program Information Meeting

Join us for an information meeting about the Endeavour in Haiti program on Sunday, November 20th!

At this meeting, program leader Tina Therrien will outline the details of the program and answer questions from potential participants.

Tbe meeting will be held at Sadlier House in Peterborough from 2:30 – 4:00pm. For more information call us at 705-868-5328. If you are interested in this program but cannot attend the meeting, please let us know. We may be able to set up a Skype connection.

Tadelakt Workshop Wrap-Up

Our first workshop at Endeavour, Tadelakt and Advanced Lime Plastering, was a great success!

Tadelakt is a historical means of applying and treating lime plasters to make them waterproof. Originating in Morocco, the plasters are applied in successive thin layers, troweled smooth and then burnished with hard stones using an olive oil soap. The soap and the lime have a chemical reaction that creates the waterproofing. The soap and stone burnishing also creates a beautiful, glassy finish that is amazing to see and touch!

Over five days, instructor Ryan Chivers taught our group of intrepid plasterers a remarkable amount about lime and lime plastering. Here’s a quick look at what we covered in the workshop…

A Tadelakt Workshop Gallery
A Bit About Lime

The process of actually mixing the plaster is the same that we’ve experienced with clay and lime cement plasters. One of the best things Ryan taught us was that the need to “slake” lime into a putty is really not necessary with modern, Type S lime. Modern, north american limes are processed in such a way that they are fully hydrated at the manufacturer using heat and pressure. This greatly simplifies the process of working with lime plasters of all types as the weeks or months of slaking in water are eliminated. However, the plasters do want to be mixed at least a few hours before use as the lime does take some time to fully take up the water that’s been added. We mixed a day ahead of ourselves throughout the workshop.

 Applying Lime Plaster

Our first plastering was not tadelakt, but a finish lime plaster that was applied directly over painted drywall. The walls were prepared by painting on a mix of white glue and sand, which gave adhesion for the plaster. We then applied two very thin coats of lime. This system was very quick (a 12×15 room took about 1 hour for 2 people to apply, per coat). We’ll post finished pictures of the room once it’s all cured.

Practicing Tadelakt

Tadelakt is all about timing! You could read about doing tadelakt forever, but it’s all about timing, feel and doing the right thing at the right time. Luckily, Ryan was great at preparing us for what to expect at each stage. By practicing first on our tiles and cob balls, everybody began to understand the stages of tadelakt and how to know when it was time to move on.

Applying Tadelakt

We did one tadelakt wall in a “dry” area of the house. To be fully waterproof, the tadelakt must be done just right, so we had one wall that will not be exposed to direct water on which to practice. And it’s a good thing… it really does take a lot of practice (much more than one wall!) to get a feel for the technique.

Tadelakt Shower/Bathroom

Tadelakt is beautiful anywhere, but in bathrooms, showers and other wet areas it mixes beauty and functionality like no other natural material.

The timing for tadelakt gets more complex the more surface area there is to cover. In this bathroom, we had several different substrates under the tadelakt which all affected the timing, and we had many people applying, troweling, stoning and soaping. The result, however, is a wonderful, rich, shiny plaster!

In the end, the crew did an amazing job. We’ve all been promised a nice hot shower in the finished bathroom to appreciate our work!

We’ll post photos of the finished bathroom when it’s ready. The tadelakt takes 28 days to fully cure…

Our thanks to Ryan for teaching a terrific workshop and to all the participants for so much fun, hard work and learning together!