People often say of green building projects that they aren’t affordable. This is true if you’re shooting to live in a glittering LEED certified urban high rise in Dubai or Saudi Arabia, but if you belong to the 99% of the population who wants a relatively simple, soulful home in which to hang a few plants, grow some herbs and vegetables, tap into the sun, and live in peace without wondering if the electricity is going to get shut off, then this post is for you. Here are six sustainably-built structures that cost very little to build. Some have been around for hundreds of years and a couple of them are new, but in each case they are accessible to everyone.
Starting with the oldest first, it doesn’t get much more affordable than these awesome beehived-shaped buildings in Syria that require no air conditioning in order to stay cool. Granted, few people in the 21st century are going to sign up for a home that looks like this, although Earth Architecture claims that 50% of the world’s population already lives in something similar, but the fact that they have survived 3,700BC despite being constructed purely out of mud bricks that are almost free if you don’t count the labor required to make and stack them.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site in Yemen has survived hundreds of years. Known as the “Manhattan of the desert” and located in the Shibam district of Hadramaut province, it consists of 437 tall clay towers, of which 400 are still habitable. Although it is uncertain when most of these buildings were originally built, evidence suggests that one of the mosques was constructed during the reign of Abbasid Caliph Harun al Rashid (786-809). Efforts are underway to fix up the buildings that have succumbed to nature’s wrath, but given that they are constructed of locally-sourced earth, they cost significantly less to build than their concrete, steel, or glass equivalent.
Not only are Nader Khalili’s earth bag homes cheap to build, but they’re also fit for space! The Iranian architect spent many years researching a building method that would be suitable for space, but that are also perfectly great on our own planet too. Like the Syrian beehive homes, they are slightly conical in shape except instead of using mud bricks, Khalili promoted building with sacks filled with earth and held together with barbed wire. Finished off with earth-friendly lime, these homes are still incredibly affordable and don’t require an arsenal of architects to get off the ground.
Perhaps taking her cue from Khalili, a British writer decided to build her dream home on a 6,500 square foot plot of land in Turkey using earth bag construction techniques. She did it, including solar power and rainwater harvesting in the plan, for only $3,761. Now this is still a lot of money for some of the world’s most unfortunate, but something like this is definitely within just about everyone’s realm of possibility if they have the patience to do it slowly over time.
The link to this last post actually leads to a story about David Sheen, a Canadian-Israeli who set out to make a free film about earth architecture projects all over the world. It was an incredibly ambitious undertaking that demonstrates just how widely used this method of building really is. But the first image – and the place that Sheen first nurtured his passion for earth-friendly building techniques – depicts a beautiful home on Kibbutz Lotan in Israel – one of the foremost leaders in all things “eco.”
This building isn’t the sexiest of them all, but in some ways, it is the most groundbreaking. A former science teacher concerned about how he would survive his retirement built a guesthouse out of scrap materials that he collected at local construction sites. And instead of hiring a pile of East Asian workers to do the elbow greasing, he taught himself how to install the electric and plumbing infrastructure. It took him 7 years, but he built this guesthouse for half of what it costs most people and now he rents it out for over $500 a day!
Now that you’ve seen that it’s possible, are you inspired to build your own home without breaking the bank?