My guest for this episode is Bob Theis, the architect and natural builder from California. He returns to continue our conversation on natural building materials and techniques.
If you haven’t listened to the last interview with Mr. Theis, please go back and start there, as we jump right into the conversation this time around. This introductory list isn’t all inclusive, but we cover different construction techniques, including catalan, or tile, vaulting which is a quick way to build load bearing arches. We return to the conversation of labor costs and the trade-offs involved in using natural building techniques, particularly in developed countries where labor is more expensive, or if we decide to be an owner-builder and the issues that can arise from tapping the good will of our family, friends, and neighbors in helping to build our natural home. Home renovation is covered in more detail, including what roofing materials to consider using, and why some are not ideal. There is some time spent talking about thatching, a craft that I have a deep interest in exploring one these years. We wrap things up by looking at some interesting emerging building materials.
Check out the resources section below for a more information on these topics, and the other people and ideas touched on by Mr. Theis in the interview.
One of my takeaways from this is that we need to keep looking for new and novel ways to use the resources we have available, especially items that might be discarded or seen as having little value, and also to see what old ways we can re-discover. In the interview with Robert Kourik, he talked about some of the ideas he found when walking through the stacks of his library and looking through old books, such as Mrs. O’Brien’s gardening techniques. What is sitting on your bookshelves waiting to be found? What is in your local library that I, or others, might never see? What ways of doing can our elders teach us that was passed on to them from their now deceased parents, grand parents, or even great-grand parents? As we find that information, how can we apply our creativity to synthesize the new and the old together, while also investing in them so others can see the possibilities? Also, how can you apply your own interests, and special skills, to creating new possibilities in ways that I or others might not consider?
Something that comes to mind from this conversation is the business opportunity that could be created here in the U.S., and probably elsewhere, for someone who wanted to explore making cross-laminated timber panels out of local resources. As Bob mentioned, in the Pacific North-West, there are trees getting taken out by beetle kills, and I think of the damage done by the emerald ash borer in the South. Or, as I mentioned, to explore doing this with pallets. I imagine folks taking this idea and finding local materials, particularly pallets, and experimenting with wood of different dimensions, different adhesives, and so on, and then sharing what they find. Can it be done on a small scale in a home wood shop and then used to create, say a shed, as a working example? Perhaps you build that shed with cross laminated timber panels and then put a thatched roof on it, and send me a picture. That would make my day.
Another part of this time with Mr. Theis that stands out was where he talked about placeholder and transition materials, such as the rigid foam panels compared to the soy and vegetable oil based panels. I think that they play a role, by being a good solution now, while we wait for these other, better, emerging materials to make it to market, or while we wait, as the example of the cork insulation, comes down in price. As we learn more, experiment more, and then invest in the pieces that make sense for us, where we live, we can help bring down the price for others. Or, another side of this, is just asking our builders and suppliers if they’ve every used, or carry, these materials, such as mineral wool. Get them thinking about other options, and spread the idea that these possibilities exist.
The direction we’re headed may be slow to turn, and may take a few decades or generations, but we can invest today, in a better tomorrow.
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