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Based on feedback on a comment in my last diary, I found out that there's interest here in a project I'm working on: the construction of an earth-sheltered (underground) home in Iceland. We're still in the early stages, but I'd be glad to talk about the concept, what we've learned so far, etc, and how we plan to proceed. :)

For most of the past year, I'd been looking for land to build on... and I must say, the search was frustrating and disappointing. Lots usually fell into one or more of several categories: 1) Too small /too in town; 2) Too large and unwilling to go through a rezoning to break up the lot; 3) Pre-financial-crash prices; 4) Simply too far from Reykjavík (I work in town); 5) Too high up (roads become more dangerous / difficult to get through in the winter with increasing altitude); 6) Uninteresting - just plain flat land. At one point, there was a piece of land I was quite interested in, and the owner was willing to do rezone. But Reykjavík took 5 months just to be able to tell me whether it'd be possible to rezone, and by then the owner had changed his mind on selling. Frustrating.

But then I found Stapagljúfur.

(Above: The entrance to Miðdalur. Stapagljufur is right inside the valley, from the east of the road to the bottom of the river canyon)

Stapagljúfur ("Mesa Canyon") is 8,35 hectares (about 20 acres) near the entrance to Miðdalur (Middle Valley), the first valley in Hvalfjörður (Whale Fjörd), about half an hour from Reykjavík (20 minutes if they build Sundabraut). It directly borders the greater Reykjavík area but is in Kjós instead, a countryside area with a much more relaxed back approach to dealing with construction and land-use changes than the hyper-strict Reykjavík construction administration. It lies on a gentle south-facing slope, which suddenly plunges down into a 20-meter (60 foot) deep canyon with a small, glacial-melt river at the bottom. In some places it's a 35-degree slope; in others, sheer cliffs. The half-kilometer long canyon begins just before our property and ends just after it, so we and the property across the river (Tindstaðir) basically own the whole thing. Little babbling creeks run through the land, creating wetlands, tiny waterfalls, and still pools. One has carved out a 6-meter deep ravine of its own. Sizeable marshes lines the creeks, though most of the property is high and dry grassland. A 4-meter tall hill between the flatland and the canyon creates a ledge on the canyon slope perfect for building a home. Crowberry plants can be seen scattered throughout. A well-maintained lowland road leads back to the main arterials to Reykjavík. Mountains to the south block out Reykjavík's light pollution.

It's not perfect, of course. Direct sunlight doesn't hit the land at all until the start of February, and not during midday until late February, due to the 850-meter high mountains to the south. And having been grazed down by sheep for literally a thousand years, erosion is a problem in some areas, with visible landslide scars in a section of marshy gravel. While better than the western slopes of Kjalarnes where cold winds race down Esja to the sea, it can still get sizeable gale-force, even hurricane-force winds flowing down from the valley to the fjörd during storms.

But that said, I think it's perfect for our needs. Even the neighbors (great people, btw) are supporting our crazy idea.

Wait, what crazy idea? Well, here's our concept drawings of what we want to build there:

Okaaay, so... unusual? Check. But if I was satisfied by traditional houses, I wouldn't have wanted to build in the first place, I'd just have bought. My dream is an earth-sheltered home in the countryside.

Let's go into the design for a minute here. While it looks like a cave, it's not to be bored into a slope. That'd be all too difficult, expensive, and dangerous. Instead, we plan to take the natural shelf on the canyon slope, dig it down even further while levelling it out, build there, then fill in over the house and replant. We were initially planning to use shotcrete, but according to the people our architect consulted, it's apparently over 4x more expensive than regular concrete, so instead we'll be building with traditional slabs and then texturing them, possibly with an acid wash. Sand will be sourced from neighboring properties, and gravel will be sourced from our own land, where an erosion-caused landslide exposed a gravel deposit (afterwards we'll shore up the it up and replant). We want to use basalt fiber rebar instead of steel. Basalt fiber - simply melted and stretched basalt (what could be more Icelandic than that?) held together with a binder - is a composite related to fiberglass (but with better material properties and durabilities). Steel guarantees that concrete will begin to "spall" eventually -30 years, 50 years, 75, 100... sooner or later,the steel will rust, and rust is nearly ten times larger than steel. Even coating the steel in epoxy doesn't seem to stop it. It's a shame to think of how the Romans built concrete structures that lasted millenia while few of ours will even last a century. I seek to avoid that. Steel also means keeping the concrete at a very high pH, which unfortunately means maximizing the prescence of weak calcium hydroxide and minimizing the prescence of stronger carbonate, silicate, and aluminate compounds.


(Above: A 30-year-old bridge section in Florida, ruined beyond repair)

Of course that's not concrete's only problem. Cement has a high CO2 footprint. The calcium carbonate it creates isn't very waterproof, has limited self-healing capability, and tends to leach over time. Cement isn't a local product and all must be shipped in. Its raw materials have to be shipped in in the first place. Wouldn't it be great if one could use, say, trash to replace a lot of it?

Well, it turns out you can. The Romans used something called "pozzolana", which was a type of volcanic ash, in their concrete. Now called "pozzolans", they're a whole family of silica and aluminum minerals that have been exposed to high heat and undergo what's called a "pozzolanic reaction" in concrete. Though volcanic ash is most definitely an option around here, the type of pozzolan I want to use is fly ash, which here in Iceland has become a storage problem from Reykjavík's trash incinerator. Up to 60% of the cement should be replaceable with pozzolan. There is one primary disadvantage to pozzolanic cement - it's slower to harden. After 3 months, it has only 70% of the strength of traditional concrete. After 6 months, 85%. It takes years to reach the full strength. But the reaction keeps going, and consequently its ultimate strength is higher. It's also more waterproof (2x better after 6 months, and only increasing thereafter), has significant self-healing ability (due to the slowly ongoing pozzolanic reaction), does not readily leach, and has been clearly shown from ancient concrete to have extreme long-term durability.


 (Above: Various pozzolanic materials available on the market)

Lastly, I additionally want to use microfibers in the concrete. These fibers -usually plastic - help ensure that there's tensile binding everywhere evenly in the concrete, not just near the rebar. They've also been shown to significantly reduce spalling in the case of fire by turning into conduits through which steam pressure can escape.

Where possible, of course, I'd rather not use concrete. Bedrock would be best. But what's down there? Honestly, I don't know. There's cliffs to the east and gravel to the west. I'd love to have a ground penetrating radar figure out but I don't think there's one in the whole country - and any "digging" to try to see what's down there, this time of year, would involve a pickaxe. If we find bedrock, we'd like to simply level it, polish it, and seal it as flooring (as well as use it for part of the wall if possible). If we don't find bedrock, flooring will be smooth volcanic scree held together with mortar.

You probably noticed in the concept drawings a total lack of drywall. This is no accident. Drywall is mold-prone if exposed to moisture, easy to damage, and makes maintenance difficult, as well as being an extra cost, both for building materials and labor. Instead, we plan to go for a steampunk look, with pipes and conduits sought and emphasized for their appearance. We may add some unnecessary meters and valves, perhaps some sections of clear tubing on water pipe, etc, to give the sense of living within a working "system". We want to avoid plastic as much as possible, but where necessary, we would like to either have metal piping on the outside or utilize some techniques we've read about to give it as metallic of a look as possible.

We considered infloor heating but decided instead to go with traditional geothermal radiators to reduce maintenance (we don't want leaks hidden from the eye, we want everything visible and accessible). A geothermal well to feed the valley is being dug right now and will be coming online next year (cold water will need to come from our own property). We're hoping to have the hot water line run to the house underneath the driveway, so that any heat it loses on the way helps melt ice. Any used hot water that doesn't need to be fed back into the system, we'd like to dump into a small outdoor pond to have a chance to cool before it runs into the river, to avoid depleting it of oxygen and to give us and the local birdlife a warm bath.


 (Above: There's fish in that river -midsize fish in this section, larger fish (salmon) downstream. The last thing I want is to disrupt the river ecosystem!)

Being big into both cost-savings and recycling, we've already started doing the whole "pickers" thing and gathering up good, used materials in good condition. So far we got dozens of square meters (hundreds of square feet) of parquet flooring (for the master "bedroom" loft), six radiators and fittings, and a bunch of other stuff. Our best find has been large amounts of free, undamaged double-pane glass (it amazes me how willing people are to throw away perfectly good glass when they change out their windows). We plan to step up our picking activities once we have formal blueprints and know exactly what we'll need, including regular trips to the dump and roadtrips to hunt for natural materials (driftwood, interesting rock, etc) and disused buildings that we can salvage from (with permission of and fair payment to the owners, of course). We've purchased a 20-foot shipping container to store building materials in (which we plan to bury), but unfortunately it's not on the land yet and won't be for a month or so, so until then we're packing our apartment full of the stuff ;)

We want the project to be personal, to be something we can point to and say "we did that" - even if that means taking many years to complete the project. My fiance (a professional driver) plans to do the digging and is current taking a course in excavator operation. We're considering buying an excavator rather than renting so that we can take as long as we want, then selling it afterwards to raise money for finishing the interior; our only digging costs would then be maintenance, depreciation, and fuel. My fiance has worked a little with concrete before, but we're looking to have his father (who's worked extensively with it) give us lessons and to spend time volunteering for practice. In accordance with Icelandic building regulations, there will also be a professional, licensed construction manager who supervises the project. We've got a number of friends and family members who've volunteered to help us with the construction this summer, who want to likewise have a part in such a project. That said, we don't plan to do everything ourselves. Some tasks take difficult-to-acquire skills or special licenses, and we do not plan to try to become experts in everything.

So enough about "plans" - what have we actually done so far?

Well, not much. We only closed on the land in January, and the architect has been taking his time. We've meet with him twice in the office and once on our land so he could "get the smell of the place". We've been picking and acquired a shipping container. We're talking with the power company about getting power on-site, and are working to acquire an circuit box to set in the shipping container. We've been meeting with the zoning architect to merge our lots and lay out where to have the driveway, outbuildings, etc. We took measurements two days ago for extending our fence all the way to the river to better keep out sheep, and we'll be making some hardware store trips soon to pick up the 35 meters of wire mesh, barbed wire, and posts needed to complete the project. But all in all, what we can do without formal blueprints is rather limited.

We're working on landscaping. As always in Iceland, erosion is a problem. Iceland was largely forested when settlers arrived,but a thousand years of woodcutting and especially sheep grazing has led to only a fraction of a percent of the forest being retained. In the modern era there's been a lot of work trying to correct this, but in a country larger than Ireland with only 320,000 people, adverse weather and depleted soils, this isn't going to happen fast. One school of thought says to use only native plants, pointing to out-of-control lupine that was introduced to try to stop erosion and restore the soil (which it does, and it ultimately does get outcompeted by native plants after it restores the soil enough in an area, but that takes decades, and in the mean time it pushes plants like bilberry and dwarf birch). The other school of thought argues that any forest is better than no forest, that they're not competing with native trees because in the vast majority of the coutnry there are no trees at all, and that it'd be far easier (even profitable) to cut down unwanted trees and plant natives later once the rampant erosion and soil depletion is under control and you've got existing trees acting as a windbreak. It's quite true that many non-native species are hardier and grow faster than the very limited selection of natives and are thus better suited to quickly recover the amount of forestland. Basically, the argument is, "if it can grow and spread faster than native species into the unforested regions... good for it!"


(Above: Fields of lupine)

I have mixed feelings but in general support this latter school of thought. I can see the erosion on my land with my own eyes, what a thousand years of grazing has done. I also support the concept of food forests, providing habitat for wildlife in the same land that feeds one's self, and I want our kids to grow up thinking about where their food comes from. So we're not limiting ourselves to native species, and instead focusing on trees that are some combination of useful (especially for food), noteworthy, fast-growing, and hardy. The hardiest plants, like Russian pine (hardy to -60C, grows up to 50m tall, yields pine nuts) and sea buckthorn ("only" hardy to -30C, but famously resilient against harsh weather and with very nutricious berries), will go on the edges and most eroded slopes, acting as a windbreak and anchoring the soils. The most water tolerant varieties of plants (for example, swamp cypress, cranberry, etc) are to anchor the marshlands, and the less hardy plants (most fruit trees, for example) in the more sheltered areas in the middle. We're still going to leave a good bit of land as grassland, but it'll be allowed to grow free rather than be constantly eaten down to the ground. Most of our seeds are being sown loose (I don't exactly have time to plant several hundred thousand seeds individually!), but I will be planting some in trays indoors as a backup plan.

We've been learning about home construction, of course. Based on feedback from the architect, for example we know that we have to move the guest room further out to the west side so it can have a window, in accordance with building codes. We need to shorten the "tunnels" between rooms, because they're exterior walls, and exterior walls are expensive. This raises a problem of slopes - if a tunnel runs from the first floor up to the second, the shorter you make it, the steeper it gets. We've proposed a number of solutions that are found in real caves, including "human-added" steps, tunnels entering a room at different heights with a ladder to reach the upper entrances, rooms connected by only one tunnel where previously two were connecting, etc.

This information also led us to research how external wall costs are traditionally minimized in earth homes. The best approach appears to be the "umbrella":

Normally, underground (for example, basement) insulation and waterproofing are directly attached to a house's outer walls. Here, they are over the house, acting like an umbrella that keeps water out and heat in. The gravel/sand underneath remains dry, and dry ground is a far better insulator than wet. A huge pocket of trapped heat lines beneath, extending to the sides and deep below the house, of a scale that a total loss of heating only results in a temperature change of a few degrees per month. About half as much surface area insulative and waterproofing material is required, and the insulative material is half the thickness needed for a regular home. And the design is altogether much simpler: Instead of needing to follow the contours of the home, it's just a big layer over everything.

Thre's more we've learned, and far, far more that we're going to learn. We'll either succeed or go bankrupt trying. ;) But it's a labor of love.

And I hope to live there some day.

------------

As an additional followup to yesterday's diary, the additional protests to the conservative government's breaking of their campaign promise to let people vote on whether or not to join the EU (probably the most important decision of this generation) keep going. Here's a video and some pictures I took at yesterday's protest (I arrived quite late because of work so it was winding down, but oh well!)


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (48+ / 0-)

    The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

    by Rei on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 08:12:33 AM PST

  •  Very cool! (7+ / 0-)

    Join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news and views written from a black pov—everyone is welcome.

    by TomP on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 08:21:47 AM PST

  •  Not seeing the concept drawings (5+ / 0-)

    You should include the video too.  In addition to the music which was nice and soothing, the video is very cool and the concept is mind blowing.

    This is your world These are your people You can live for yourself today Or help build tomorrow for everyone -8.75, -8.00

    by DisNoir36 on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 08:33:32 AM PST

    •  The video didn't show up? (0+ / 0-)

      Grr, I hate trying to post and edit diaries on my cell phone  :(  The video is here. I'll try to find a way to get into the diary, if not here then a few hours from now when I'm home.

      The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

      by Rei on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 08:48:52 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sound really interesting. (7+ / 0-)

    Frankly, if you ever have anything interesting to say about life in Iceland, go ahead and diary it.  It's almost impossible to get news about Iceland elsewhere in the world.

    All the construction plans sound neat.  I'm not a civil engineer or anything, but there's two things worth keeping mind:

    1) Bedrock is certainly solid, but it's also frequently faulted and fractured.  That may be difficult to turn into a polished floor.

    2) Unconventional materials get expensive really fast, as does underground construction.  I hope you're... financially well equipped for this.

    (If I could make a house with walls of nothing but columnar basalt I totally would.)

    •  From the info that I have at present.. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BachFan, MGross

      .. which could of course change as things go along, rebar is usually about 5% of the cost of concrete, and basalt rebar is about 3 times more expensive. So that's not a major increase in cost. It's also easier to work with - it's a small fraction of the weight (much easier to transport and lay up) and can be cut with regular saw blades without damaging them. It does have some construction downsides, mind you. For example, you can't use tools to bend pieces into corners on site, you have to use preformed corner pieces or bind flat pieces together.

      Pozzolan is generally notably cheaper than the cement it replaces, and can even be free, depending on the source (many pozzolans are traditionally considered waste products)

      The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

      by Rei on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 09:01:44 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Love the whole idea! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BachFan, flowerfarmer

    Good luck with your plans. I hope you will be able to finish it as you want.

    Iceland is a fascinating country.

    Just one thing - do you really need barbed wire to keep out the sheep? I say this because I have seen the damage done by barbed wire. It can get very ugly.  

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 08:47:34 AM PST

    •  The land is already 95% fenced in (4+ / 0-)

      ... and we just plan to continue the current fencing. It's not full barbed wire fencing - it's a metal netting fence, with a strip of barbed wire on the top for if anything tries to jump over and one on the bottom for if anything tries to dig / squeeze under. Just pushing against it won't cut anything.

      That said, it may be something to think about. I don't know how aggressive sheep get in trying to get past a fence.

      The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

      by Rei on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 09:11:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sheep are not generally hard on fences (4+ / 0-)

        unless they are tightly confined or extremely hungry.

        In the US, sheep fences are built more to keep other animals out to keep the sheep safe rather than to keep the sheep in.

        Barbed wire is a problem for horses but not so much for sheep, and it's actually quite good for cattle (not that cattle are a consideration for Iceland).

        Overgrazing is of course hard on the land, but judiciously applied sheep are often very good for it. Their hooves do little damage, they add nutrients back to the soil, and once your trees are established, they will probably not be bothered. In a few years, you may find that a couple of weeks of sheep are beneficial.

        Of course, that's based on my experience in my ecological niche which is different from what you face there, and it may be a while before you get to that point.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 09:37:18 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Doesn't sound too bad. Although there is no such (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elfling

        thing as "humane" barbed wire, I believe there are types of wire that work well but don't tear into the flesh. They probably wouldn't be able to tangle themselves in a securely attached single strand.

        I doubt that ewes would push through sturdy fencing unless there is something particularly tasty on the other side, although they might jump it. Rams would be more aggressive. You might want to look into the history of the current fencing to see how it has fared.

        You do not want to have to go out in the middle of the night and extricate a terrified sheep from the wire.

        "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

        by Most Awesome Nana on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 09:50:01 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  In Scotland, a pasture was fenced in and (0+ / 0-)

        immediately sprouted trees.  Examination of the turf revealed thousands of tiny "bonsai" trees hiding in the grass that sprang up as soon as the sheep and cattle stopped cutting their tops off.  Some of them were 30 years old!  When you finish fencing your land you may find you don't need to plant much.  

        Your design looks gorgeous but pricey.  Since you're borrowing the money from your parents, I hope they are rich.  

        "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." -- Sen Carl Schurz 1872

        by Calamity Jean on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 09:34:52 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Sounds very interesting (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BachFan

    Good luck with it. There was a flurry of interest in building bermed houses in the U.S. in the '70s, when people first were interested in the idea of energy conservation, but it didn't catch on, I think. You can still find older books on it.

    In your pictures, why are people throwing bananas at the cops? Better that, I suppose, than something more volatile.

    Great Questions of Western Philosophy: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

    by Mnemosyne on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 08:48:44 AM PST

    •  Most people reject that which is different. (6+ / 0-)

      Earth homes are actually what Icelanders lived in for a thousand years. My fiance's grandfather grew up in one. But when the country got wealth, it abandoned tradition rather than modernizing it. They're really perfectly suited to Iceland's cool and very windy climate. But because people think of the old ones with simple furnishings, no electricity, small windows, little air circulation, etc, they automatically assume that any underground house is going to be like that. And a lot of people really have trouble understanding the benefits. I actually had the zoning head in Kjós, when I first talked to him, tell me that he didn't understand how the ground could act as insulation because "the ground is cold".  head smack  No, I didn't say the first thing that came to mind, which was "Yeah, and if you live a huge pile of insulation sitting out in the cold all winter, it'll be freezing cold too... until you build a house in the middle of it."  Instead, I sent him some papers on earth homes afterwards and he seems quite supportive now.  :)

      The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

      by Rei on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 09:08:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Earth homes are very neat (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mnemosyne, flowerfarmer, dotdash2u

        are are extremely well suited to extreme climates (hot or cold). I hope you'll keep sharing your journey with us. It's a fascinating project.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 09:38:50 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Apparently, a big part of it (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        flowerfarmer, dotdash2u

        is making sure that the underground part is watertight, so you don't get drainage problems or mold.

        With Iceland's incredible landscape, I should think a bermed house with huge south windows to let it in would be a marvelous place.

        Great Questions of Western Philosophy: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

        by Mnemosyne on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 11:13:11 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Fascinating (4+ / 0-)

    Good luck with your project.

    We've got a well known "underground" house here in our area, that recently went up for sale.

    The "Earth House," a 4,300-square-foot underground home in Far East Dallas, is up for sale for $1,15 million. Built in 1990, the "House Under the Hill," as its former owner called it, is protected by 1,000 tons of dirt, providing insulation and cooling bills that have never topped $250 in the hottest months. Inside is an architectural modern masterpiece reinforced by a concrete foundation 6 feet thick in some places.
    (several interior and exterior pix at the link)
    http://www.dallasnews.com/...
    There's also a real estate YouTube.
    http://www.youtube.com/...

    The price has since been dropped to $870K

    “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

    by Catte Nappe on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 09:33:51 AM PST

  •  Amazing place! (0+ / 0-)

    Interesting demonstration too. I love the confrontation with the one riot cop. Without a helmet. Or a shield. Or a rifle. Tough guy, if he's all they need to protect that building.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 09:49:32 AM PST

    •  Amazing place indeed (0+ / 0-)

      During the big demonstrations last time there was an incident where the protestors formed a human shield to protect the police. Iceland is not like other places.

      Anyone considering a dog for personal safety should treat that decision as seriously as they would buying a gun.

      by Dogs are fuzzy on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 01:05:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The police and protesters get along well (0+ / 0-)

        ... as a general rule. Also as a general rule, I find the Icelandic police to be exceedingly professional about their jobs. Very by-the-book and non-threatening (being unarmed probably has something to do with the latter)

        The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

        by Rei on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 03:44:21 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  This is an interesting (5+ / 0-)

    and learning intensive project.  I admire what you're trying to do.  My parents built an earth sheltered home near Boise, ID in the late 1970's and still live there today.  Financing was not available for such a non traditional home so they bought 30 acres, divided it into two parts (which was all that was allowed), sold one part, and used the proceeds to build their home.  Finding an architect was an adventure.  Their home is more traditional than what yours will be, but they used some of the same principals.  They have had a few problems over the years like skylight leakage, and are still trying to figure out what will grow on the roof that doesn't need to be watered or maintained.  People think it sounds like a cave, and it kind of is, but it doesn't seem that way from the inside.  The whole front of the home is glass with a south westerly exposure.  I look forward to reading about your progress.

  •  Best of luck with this. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BachFan, Rei, flowerfarmer, elfling, dotdash2u

    Having built my own "non-traditional" home I feel a need to caution you about time and money. (There are powerful financial reasons why most houses are "traditional.") When first considering my non-traditional home I came across the phrase "it will take twice as long and cost twice as much as your highest estimate." I thought that was a silly thing for someone to say...

    until, after it was finished, it had indeed taken twice as long and cost twice as much as my highest estimate. The difference between theory and practice is huge. The map is not the territory... etc. etc.

    I also hope you end up living in your dream home some day. It was a long, exhausting, grinding multi-year process and took its toll on me emotionally and physically. But then I foolishly made the choice to do all the work myself, with a little help from family and friends. Give yourself permission to take lots of breaks and give yourself lots of time to recover, after you finally finish it.

    muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

    by veritas curat on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 10:18:36 AM PST

    •  I greatly appreciate this comment. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      veritas curat

      What were the elements that saw the greatest degree of price inflation from your original elements? I obviously want to be as conservative as possible on those aspects!

      What general tips would you offer? We're a team of two and have some volunteer labor lined up, but I know the scale of the project is massive.

      The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

      by Rei on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 03:21:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Our home used fairly traditional techniques (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        veritas curat

        it also cost more and took longer than projected.

        I would say the kinds of things that happen are:

        - weather delays
        - One supplier or worker or inspector can't get to you when you hope, pushing everything else out
        - you will spend lots of time on the site waiting for people
        - you will realize partway in that this thing or that thing doesn't work as you'd hoped, or that spending just a little more gets you some better outcome. Then you'll repeat that little change lots of times.
        - you occasionally want to do Something Else Just This Once
        - One of you is sick or hurt and can't do the construction and the day job for a bit.
        - Lots of trips to the hardware store for that One Small Thing you didn't expect to need or that didn't fit and can't proceed without.
        - Having to train anyone you bring on the site in your nonstandard plan
        - it can be slow to work on a site without adequate heat, light, or internet, which may or may not be a factor for you.
        - Don't forget about the cost of any road improvements for your driveway.
        - Just the time to go shopping for supplies as planned eats a lot of time and a lot of mental energy.

        Once we were mostly done, I avoided the hardware stores for over a year... even though my favorite hardware store also has my favorite scones.

        That said... I love my house.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 05:00:55 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  To this excellent list I would add (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          elfling

          issues about tools and equipment. Renting tools and equipment  turned out to be more expensive than buying them because of the extra time I needed them to be on hand. I bought a lot of tools that I didn't realize I would be buying.

          Code requirements can change plans in expensive ways. I have no idea how things work in Iceland but out here I had to pay extra to have a civil engineer go over my plans and certify them.

          Materials, like plywood sheets, come in square units. When building not with square units there is a lot of waste.

          Also, concrete, is very caustic - wear gloves and other protections, like knee pads, face masks, etc. - those things wear out and must be replaced.

          And the Laws of Physics always prevail. Things break and must be fixed. My project involved what I call many "stupiphanies" - an epiphany that involved the learning process that occurred when I did something spectacularly ignorant of the Laws of Physics. And then new things needed to be bought to replace the broken things...

          muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

          by veritas curat on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 05:57:12 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Oh yes, tools (0+ / 0-)

            We were lucky to inherit most of what we needed.

            But there are a lot of throwaway materials - things for jigs, scaffolding, and there is much need for weather protected storage on site. Tarps are surprisingly expensive.

            By 'throwaway' I mean things that won't be part of your final house structure, not necessarily that they will go to a landfill. For example, I'm building a chicken coop right now out of lumber recycled from the concrete forms. Those things still had to be purchased and trucked to the site, and then after we needed to sort out the useful items (takes more time than you think) and store them.

            There will be inevitable trash, though, and for us it cost a few thousand dollars to fill a couple of dumpsters.

            Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

            by elfling on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 07:30:33 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Thanks for the great info. :) nt (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              elfling

              The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

              by Rei on Fri Feb 28, 2014 at 03:17:06 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Love that word (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            elfling

            "stupiphanies". Sadly I'm sure that will apply to me as well.

            We've started stocking up on tools, focusing on the used market, but I know there's going to be a ton more that we have to get.

            Yep, code requirements are very strict here, more strict than in the US. And we have to have an engineer go over the plans too.

            The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

            by Rei on Fri Feb 28, 2014 at 03:16:14 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Delays don't bother me. (0+ / 0-)

          I'm mainly curious about what can hike the price. Thanks for the list, though!

          The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

          by Rei on Fri Feb 28, 2014 at 03:11:45 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Delays increase your cost (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Sharon Wraight

            For example, every month until you get to a habitable structure is a month where you're paying rent and commuting between your apartment and the site.

            In my jurisdiction, we'd be at a point where we'd need a building inspector. All work stops until the inspector comes and then (hopefully) you're approved and it resumes. But the building inspector has to be scheduled, and during the time you wait for him, you may be incurring costs on workers and/or equipment.

            Having to store stuff for longer than you expect at the very least gets in your way. You might find that you needed to return some items and you go past a timeframe. While you store it, it's more likely to be damaged by weather, debris, handling, etc.

            Building codes can change. I forget which thing it was that we had to sweet-talk the inspector into letting us keep per the original plans.

            Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

            by elfling on Fri Feb 28, 2014 at 08:04:42 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Actually no (0+ / 0-)

              My loan is from my parents rather than a bank. I still have to pay interest, but the conditions are that I don't have to start paying the loan back until I'm moved into the house. So it's not as big of a deal. That said, I do look forward to moving in sooner rather than later to make it easier to keep working on the house until it's time to sleep rather than having to "go home" each day.  As soon as there's at least one room closed off from the elements (even just with plastic), a functioning toilet, a faucet, and some way to get power to a power strip, we plan to move in.

              We're more and more leaning toward buying an excavator and reselling when we're done with the exterior to raise funds for finishing the interior. That would again eliminate time pressure from equipment rental - we'd only have to pay fuel, maintenance, and depreciation costs.

              Good point about storage. We've purchased a 20 foot shipping container for $1000 to keep things out of the elements. What did you use? Until the container gets onto our land (even that has to get approval  :Þ), our weather-sensitive stuff is being stored in our apartment; only the glass is stored on the land (and we're a bit nervous about that, but we don't want to risk breaking it having to move it several times more... that and it's super-heavy.). We've put it in the shelter of a hill and put a comforter over it, covered in a piece of rigid plastic, covered in a tarp, to hopefully keep it safe from any stray debris until we can get the container out there. Winds already took the tarp, quilt and plastic off once and dumped the quilt in a marsh; we had to weigh the tarp down a lot better the next time.

              The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

              by Rei on Fri Feb 28, 2014 at 12:11:39 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Tarps, a shipping container, and a shed. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Sharon Wraight

                Some stuff got rained on that therefore had to be discarded.

                Buying and reselling the excavator is a good plan.

                Good luck! I hope you'll keep blogging about it. It sounds like a very neat project.

                Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

                by elfling on Fri Feb 28, 2014 at 01:48:10 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

  •  Trees are not my field of expertise (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    flowerfarmer

    I'm going to speculate, though, that you want a diverse mix of species so some can thrive no matter how the climate changes.

    Anyone considering a dog for personal safety should treat that decision as seriously as they would buying a gun.

    by Dogs are fuzzy on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 01:08:08 PM PST

    •  Yep, we've got seeds from a couple dozen (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      flowerfarmer

      Not thinking about climate change, just being realistic about the odds of survival... it doesn't get that cold here, but it's very windy, and the wind may prove just too much for some species.

      That said, climate change is a real issue here, it's happening pretty fast. To the point that the glacier on Snæfell - "Snow Mountain", which had never melted before - had its peak start showing through, and is expected to be all gone in 20 years. To the point that we now have a new tallest waterfall, when a receding glacier receded up a cliff and revealed a new set of falls.  And on and on. The far north has the highest rate of warming in the world.

      The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

      by Rei on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 03:40:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great post! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    flowerfarmer

    I have been interested in earth houses myself - but I read that they tend to be damp. How do you deal with humidity coming thru the floor and walls?

    He who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

    by Sophie Amrain on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 02:11:47 PM PST

    •  Good air circulation (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      flowerfarmer

      One can use forced air circulation or passive. For passive, you have air enter from the south side below the house and exit higher up.

      The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

      by Rei on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 02:36:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  A couple of questions (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    flowerfarmer

    I've been to Iceland a number of times (am envious that you live there!) and always wondered why they did not do more with earth-sheltered structures, especially in the rural areas. Do you think it is just tradition (plus the cheap geothermal heat)? They seem to be pretty good with the poured cement structures and even hundred-year old abandoned farmhouses made this way seem in pretty good structural condition, so as long as you do your waterproofing and drainage right you should be fine.

    My other big question is about the protests. When did they start up? I was there for the music festival in November and there was no sign of anything like the pictures you posted. Most people I talked to were against the EU thing and there were a few "No EU" billboards on Reykjanesbraut, but that was about it.

    Miðdalur looks like a gorgeous piece of land. Are you going to get some horses? They seem to be like jetskis or ATV's are for us poor North American types.

    •  Well, earth-sheltered used to be the standard (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      flowerfarmer

      here. One of my fiance's grandfathers grew up in one of the old turf houses. But you know how things go, if something's been done for a thousand years, that's "old fashioned", people jumped at the chance to live more western lives. And the image of earth-sheltered houses is of course an image of dusty, dirty, crumbling old building.

      The protests are new, started up on Monday.  A majority is against joining the EU but a solid majority wants to conclude the talks, and an overwhelming majority wants to have a vote on the issue. Their breaking their campaign promise that they'd have a vote is not going over well.

      I'll get horses eventually, but first things first  :)

      The day I'll consider justice blind is the day that a rape defendant's claim of "She consented to the sex" is treated by the same legal standards as a robbery defendant's claim of "He consented to give me the money": as an affirmative defense.

      by Rei on Thu Feb 27, 2014 at 03:05:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  thank you! was looking forward to this, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rei

    then got sidetracked for a few days.

    very, very cool.

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