What’s in a Home – Biotecture, Symbiosis, and the Self-Regulating Homestead

Our homesteading ambitions are somewhat atypical.

We do want to grow our own food and all the typical homesteading stuff. Mike really looks forward to hunting and playing on our own property. In addition to the standard homestead lifestyle we want to do our very level best to incorporate as much innovation and symbiosis to our lives and home as possible, because it’s environmentally responsible but also because it will provide us more freedom and joy if we can successfully do it.

Basically my main goal is to develop an understanding and the confidence to utilize the principles that Mike Reynolds pioneered back in the 70s or 80s around earthship biotecture. I am not interested in having curvy walls mosaiced with beer bottle mandalas and hammocks and patchouli (although all of that sounds wonderful).

I am interested in having a robust understanding of what goes into creating a climate-regulating, water recycling, energy producing, food growing and storing, self-sufficient household that we can build mostly ourselves and that meets all regulatory and legal requirements.

As much of a stretch as it may seem to be able to encompass all of those benefits into a house build, I think it’s contrarily insane that we as a species, with our intelligence and innovativeness, don’t do this as standard practise. It’s not an issue of affordability on a social level; we subsidize the industries that provide us with heat and power by the billions. We pay fees and levies to dispose of materials that can be used to create these households. So I can only assume that the forces of lobbyism and money in politics have set us back in this regard and I know the information must be out there, albeit elusive.

What I have found is plenty of diagrams via Pinterest and Instagram, and on larger ‘survival’ or ‘prepper’ type websites. I’ve been following the Kinney Earthship and Darfield Earthship for some time and it seems that many of the folks who have forged the earthship path in the past have moved on to new projects.

Maybe standard earthships are just too radical for longterm homesteading; or maybe I just haven’t found the true earthship homesteads. I was never a big fan of the esthetic of the standard earthship and I am really stuck on having a log home.

Breaking down exactly all of the apsects of our homesteading goals isn’t possible because so much of what we want is still undefined. But we have some idea of what we want.

Land; for hunting and foraging and lumber and firewood, gardening and husbandry.

Electronics, tools, appliances, and other modern conveniences.

But this one; this is the big one: Smart use of natural assets. Utilizing what’s naturally available and optimizing it’s benefits.

I want to build our home into a hill:

I want to collect precipitation (maximizing collection by having a saltbox or skillion roof), store the water in the hill, have it fed into the home via gravity, and recycle as much of it as possible:

I want the upper level to be bedrooms with log or timber framing. And the main living space and foundation to be built with stone, adobe, and other materials that will maximize thermal mass. The hill will help insulate the house and provide a natural thermal battery for climate regulation. It’ll provide space for a root cellar in the hillside and reduce the energy needed to preserve food. The main living and utility spaces will exist on this foundation level:

In addition to the mass, the north-facing side of the house will have an attached greenhouse seperated from the main living area as a buffer zone to grow food and regulate temperatures via solar thermal collection and convection:

The tubes running beneath the hill at the back side of the house will draw cool air into the house as the buffer room expels hot air through ventilation traps in it’s ceiling to keep the house cool on hot summer days. In the winter all vents will remain closed and the thermal mass will radiate heat back into the home when the temperature drops.

All of this natural convection and thermal mass will reduce the amount of firewood needed in the stove during winter and will provide free a/c in the summer.

Being as we will still be living in the north where the growing season is short, it’ll be nice to have that indoor garden space where we can still grow cold weather crops like brassicas and maybe even some peas and root veg like carrots and parsnips.

Having most of the lower level of the home built into the hillside creates a perfect scenario for an effective and accessible root celler right off the kitchen:

All my life I’ve dreamed of having a wood stove. I want to hang wet clothes near it to dry. I want to have hot soup ready to serve on the chilly January days. I want to chop and collect wood in my pyjama pants and gum boots, and smell that beautiful wood burning smell. I want to use a biochar composter to create potash and then use it to render lye for homemade soap.

There are some amazing rocket stove designs as well that work in symbiosis with the thermal mass of a cob home that I take interest in.

Maybe I’ll gain the confidence to endeavor in the more complex stove by the time I need to, but for now I am satisfied with the idea of a traditional free-standing wood cook stove.

Beyond the home itself, I’ve been daydreaming about all of the awesome outdoor systems that I can implement to make food production as self-sufficient and efficient as possible. I really like this method shared by backwoods home that places the grazing animals and their shelter between two seperate fenced spaces, alternating which side is opened for the animals and which side grows the season’s crops each year:

A huge must for me is an outdoor summer kitchen where I can cook, smoke, and process food when it’s hot out. There are so many cool ways to build outdoor ovens using brick or stone and cob, smokers and dehydrators using solar thermal- I am so inspired to create this! Any excuse to be outside most of the summer is a good excuse.

Pinterest may be the best virtual vision board ever and I’ve been sorting inspiration as I have found it on my Pinterest. I have tried to link as many of these photos to their sources as possible; many of them came from Pinterest.

Breaking this all down, there are some great savings to be had in the cost of building the house using earthen and recycled materials. On the flip side, a larger up-front investment will be necessary for the water and solar systems, the extra windows, and the tools and equipment necessary to make it all not take fifty years to complete.

We’ve been kicking thoughts and ideas back and forth about what will be most important and what can wait as well as how realistic it is to believe that we can achieve all of this. Much of it can come with time though and we are motivated to do everything possible to make as much of it a reality as we can.

It’s way early in the game to be concerned about the actual logistics of construction of the homestead while we are still at least a few years away from getting there. We plan to ‘camp’ the land in a temporary shelter for some time to get to know our property before starting the plan. Still; it’s nice to daydream and learn the ropes along the way.

Happy Homesteading! Xx

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