This beautiful work comes to us as we prepare to manipulate trees and other natural resources to make a home for ourselves so that we too may grow.
We are going to buy land – a special piece of land where we will make a home. What should we look for when buying land? At first we didn’t know how to begin answering this question. But by now we have a better idea of what we want and we put together this list of wishes we hope to balance together:
- Designation: land that is designated for both construction and agriculture – the majority of which is for agriculture. Sometimes there is one part of the land where the house is built and the agricultural lands are separated. We are looking for land that is a combination of both. In Romanian this is called “intravilan” – land that is “inside the village” – meaning the housing area. We have plans for additional structures on the house – including a birthing center.
- Orientation: North-South orientation – with a view in the south. That way we can enjoy both the view and passive-solar energy by having south facing windows (the north wall will be fairly closed to insulate from cold winds. It is preferable that the house can be placed in such a way that the entrance is from either the south, east or west (as the north is an uninviting fron).
- Fertile Land: We want land that is easy to cultivate for diverse crops. Preferrably without stones, comfortable summer climate (not too cold so we can grow crops like wheat which suffer from cold weather) and ground that is not too acidic or salty.
- Water Table: We expect to pump our water from a well. The water table should be between 4 and 10 meters. A water table that is too high can damage house foundations. A water table that is too low can be more difficult to pump and is more likely to dry up in dry seasons.
- Flowing Water: Hydro-electricity is one of the most reliable and affordable green-electricity solutions. We hope to find land with running water with enough head to generate eletricity.
- Near Water: If there isn’t running water on the property then we would like to live within walking distance from a body of water.
- Proportions: We prefer land that is well proportioned – not too elongated. It should also be at least 50 meters wide to accommodate the potential length of our house (15-20 meters) with additional space on both sides (10-15 meters on every side).
- Accessible: We prefer a town that is accessible by public transportation (bus or train) to and from a near city. Our land should be within a short driving distance from the town – preferrably even a short walking distance of ~ 20 minutes.
There are also a few things we know to look out for. Thanksfully this list it small and we hope it stays that way:
- Altitude: If the area is prone to be flooding then our land should be located at a higher altitude so that water can easily flow away from and not accumulate on it.
- Quiet: The land should not be situated on a main road.
We just got back from a meeting at the school of architecture in Cluj. It was a good meeting with some followups to look forward to. But we did meet with some skepticism – “ecological building is a fashionable thing” … I agree that there is a lot of fashion in ecological building – even intellectual/academic fashion. I couldn’t possible put it better then George Carlin did:
But, I also think it’s important to be able to discern between the bullshit and the real shit. Ecological building should have direct impact on quality of life – otherwise it really is a fashionable indulgence. So I thought to take this opportunity to share some of the things I consider to be ecological in the context of building a rural house in Romania.
My general impression of homes in Romania (actually Israel too!) has been that they are cold in winter (public spaces are generally much warmer then homes I have visited). This is a combination of poorly insulated homes and fairly expensive fuel resources.
In cities gas is the primary source of heating energy – it is very expensive and building-blocks built of concrete are poor heat containers. We are struggling to keep our gas costs under control and can just manage to keep the apartment at 19-2o degrees celsius.
Village homes are usually poorly insulated (despite super thick mud-brick walls) and even though firewood is relatively cheap, it is expensive when you live on what you can grow … and you can’t grow money. So those that do have fire-wood used sparingly – again, just enough to keep out the cold.
Hemp is said to be one of the best insulating construction materials. This means that the same quantity of fire-wood that a village home uses ine year to just-barely keep the cold out can be sufficient for keeping the same house comfortably warm for 2 years (if not more!).
I’ve mentioned before that almost every apartment or house I’ve visited in Romania suffers from humidity problems. Humidity is locked inside the house and it’s walls (you have to see it to believe it – water running down the windows and accumulating in pools on the window-sills). It turns into mildew which leads to respiratory problems.
Hemp is also said to be a healthy building material. It creates a permeable wall that absorbs excess moisture on the inside and releases it on the outside. It does this without any insulation or sheathing materials. It is a natural quality of a properly built and well ventilated hemp-masonry house.
Self Grown Homes
Romania used to be a major supplier of hemp-fiber – which means that the land here is good for it. As a rule of thumb one hectare of land yields enough crop to build a house. Oh and hemp requires no herbicides or pesticides, kills weeds and renews the land in which it grows. Oh and it is said to have huge potential in world markets for zillions of applications. Oh and its seeds can be used for food and oils which are magically healthy.
Almost every Romanian farm has vast farm lands – which means that most Romanian farmers can potentially grow the hemp they need to build/rebuild their homes.
Simple to Build
Hemp masonry is poured around a wooden frame – which a small group of people with basic coordination and tools can build in a week or two. Romania is gifted with vast amounts of excellent and afforable wood.
Hemp building requires the most rudimentary frame building skills – many framing complications involving insulation and sheathing are completely obsolete do to the nature of hemp construction.
Bringing the Toilet Home
Our new friends, Ina and Sabine, eloquently described the challenge of reviving the image of village homes in Romania “Bringing the toilet – a freezing outdoor shack with a hole in the ground – indoors”. The ecological implications of technologies (they are so simple – that calling them technologies, though true, can be misleading) such as dry-compost make this easy and afforable to do. Running water is used to evacuate waste from the home and then a simpleto-install and super-easy-to-maintain mechanical system separates water and waste and converts the waste into dry and usable compost. So much cheaper and easier then digging a hole in the groun and installing a sceptic tank that needs chemicals, can demand unpleasant maintenance to run and a periodic evacuation service.
So, All Fashion Aside …
We are still beginners when it comes to ecological building – but we are committed to this path. We have a very limited budget to create our home. A limited budget comes bearing gifts of simplicity – complicated, expensive indulgent technologies are just not an option. Ecological means simple solutions, many of which are do-it-yourself (or do-it-with-your-friends), based on and respectful of natural available resources.
That’s it, direct simple things that come together to make life good.
The more we dig our hands into the endless details of creating a sustainable home the more I realize that it isn’t really sustainable. How is that possible?
No matter how you do the math the most sustainable and cost-effective way to generate electricity is together, not every house for itself. Given our very low electricity bills and the high costs of the cheapest of available green-electric solutions (hydro and solar) – I doubt we will offset the costs in our lifetime. The same holds true for running water and I am guessing for most of the other infrastructures we take for granted in day-to-day life. There’s a reason we live on shared infrastructures – it’s the best way to do it.
At the heart of my preference for an independent sustainable home is an uncomforting thought about togetherness. I simply don’t trust the huge “we” mechanism to continue facilitating food, warmth and shelter. I don’t trust “we” to facilitate the growth and supply of healthy, nutritious and non-poisonous food. I don’t trust “we” to supply me with consistent and affordable eletricity or gas.
I don’t trust the “social we” because it is dominated by corrupt motivations (that come in many flavors – some raw and in your face, others subtle and devious). I don’t trust the “intellectual we” because it is ignorant towards so much freely available knowledge on how to do things better.
I belong to a miniscule percentile of people on the planet who can indulge in not trusting “we” to do a good job, and to do so from a warm apartment with food on my table. But I have also seen, over recent years, how those things are slipping away. I saw that unless I do something about it I am heading towards a point in time in which I will be to cold and hungry too indulge in criticizing “we”.
So I decided to do something about it. I have come to Romania where there are plenty of natural resources with which I believe I can do much better then “we” seems to be doing. It would be wonderful if we could meet with a few other like-hearted people with whom we might be able to create a better “we”. But when I say sustainable I am being selfish … I am building my own little Noah’s ark because I don’t want to feel like I am drowning anymore.
In a way this post continues my previous post on Passivhaus. I’ve had these resources open in my browser for some time and didn’t quite not in what context I should place them here on Bhudeva. Passivhaus gave me to the context that was looking for me.
Rural Homes is a project run out of Auburn University in Alabama, USA. We learned about it through Itsik Hirsch – a talented architect and teacher at the Israel Institute of Technology who also happens to be a dear person to us and my uncle. Itsik teaches what is called “studio” – which, as I understand it, is an experimental learning space which usually makes up a major part of architecture studies. It is where students do actual architectural work and gain precious practical experience. But in most cases that experience remains theoretical because their projects are not actually built.
The Rural Homes project took the “studio” in an inspiring direction. In it students are challenged to create feasible and affordable solutions for people who live in extremely poor living conditions. The challenge is not just to create a design on paper, the students actually go out and build the house themselves. It is a tremendously inspiring project that touches many people’s lives. It is a wonderful (and in my experience rare) example of academic study and research directly connecting to and benefiting the society in which it exists.
Following is an interview with the man behind this beautiful project – Samuel Mockbee:
For more information:
- A website dedicated to the spirit of Samuel Mockbee
- A website dedicated to the living Rural Studio project.
So what does Passivhaus have to do with all this? Very little and that is the essence of my critic of it. Rural Studio should be a reality check for Passivhaus. The greatest place for impacting both the lives of both people, the environment and this entire planet we inhabit (which are really so intertwined to the point that they are one and the same) is where most of the people are, not where a small percentage of rich people can indulge in ideology.
Our reality is somewhere in between Passivhaus and Rural Studio. I am inspired by Rural Studio and deterred by Passivhaus. I feel that Rural Studio touches my life and that Passivhaus overlooks it. Maybe I am bit too harsh towards Passivhaus and though I can speculate on why that is I will keep that to myself – it is a question I believe Passivhaus can benefit from asking.
If you happen to be visiting this blog these days you may find it to be a but … confusing? unclear? There are two things we can offer you to introduce some clarity.
The first is that you read our About page – that may give you a picture about where we want to go and what Bhudeva has to do with it.
The second is to understand that we are doing a lot of waiting grazing – it’s a great word/idea/inspiration I picked up when I was working as a photographer with improvisers. It draws inspiration from cows – they just do what they do (and they do it almost all day long) … and it works. In improvisation Grazing describes a state in which you are already in performance and yet you feel as if you have nothing to offer. When that happens and you realize that you are grazing for material then the grazing itself becomes the material. It can alleviate tensions that comes from thoughts like “I have nothing to do but I need to do something” and almost instantly transforms you into a space of doing … the doing of grazing.
We are currently in an apartment in Cluj and we have this encompassing vision of where we want to go and we aren’t sure how to get there. The most actionable task in the Bhudeva context is finding some land and a house in our vicinity. We are in the process of doing that but it isn’t very interesting and worth noting (yet!). So the rest of the time we are grazing, imagining that we are in our house and asking ourself what next? What you currently see on the website is an echo of that process. We are getting flashes of images of our house, making our own yogurt, baking our own bread, exploring ecological and sustainable building and agriculture … we are passionately pursuing whatever arises from our grazing.
On the face of it, it may not make much sense at this point, but under the surface it’s brewing ever so gently into what we believe will fill the rest of our lives. So stick around … with all this grazing we are bound to start squirting some delicious milk 🙂
How to go about planning a house? We have so many ideas and questions – small and big details that pass through our attention. How can we collect them? How can we arrange them to give them direction? How can we share them with other people that will help us transform thoughts and words into a physical reality? …
Today we started answering these questions by launching a mini-site within Bhudeva – Bhudeva: House. This site is dedicated to the physical house we are going to build. In it we are collecting all of our thoughts, wishes, ideas, questions, inspirations … whatever comes to mind to explore and describe the house we wish to create for ourselves. It is a first concrete movement to create a specific flow of energy that will eventually manifest as a physical house.
We expect to change the arrangement of the website as we progress in our exploration – for now these are the few simple guidelines that we are using:
- Though there is a timeline which describes the order in which thoughts came to us – we don’t believe it to be an important or particularly informative aspect of the site. Posts are created when we approach a new idea and we may go back and edit them as more thoughts or information appears on that idea. So if you reading this as a blog please keep in mind that posts may change long after they were first published. To us the site is more like a notepad.
- Categories are used to group together ideas around central functional needs – such as kitchen, living, sleeping, work, meditation, etc. By clicking a category you will see a list of posts that relate to that specific function.
- Tags are used to indicate recurring themes. For example we often relate to themes like space and privacy which are added as tags. By clicking on a tag you will see a list of posts in which a theme was mentioned.
Your are welcome to visit Bhudeva: House.