TL;DR – Find the 3 Key Considerations here.
You know the story: Start with a solid foundation and build up from there. While I primarily work and teach and design with specifically earth building systems, I not only advocate but I am a fan of all the other natural building systems. One reason is because they can all be built to endure the passage of decades and centuries with little-to-no maintenance. The same is not true of most modern buildings.
The methods that we teach incorporate ancient design concepts for withstanding seismic, water, wind, and fire events. People had to design knowing that the “emergency services” were just you and the people who lived very close by (and likely didn’t own a fire truck). Most commonly, questionable products (drywall, steel, laminate flooring, foam insulations, asphalt shingles, etc.) are used in place of more natural ones. The same is true for bad design ideas (steel reinforcement, angles of sorrow, monolithic walls, basements, indoor or exterior attached service panels, etc.). Designing for more natural building systems more often makes it easier and less expensive for builders and owners, so why go back to using toxic materials and inferior methods?
I understand that not everyone wants the “full Monty” when it comes to a natural build. Most people are still caught up in the modern building paradigm; and most professionals can not learn our system in a school, as they do not teach these methods, or, if they do, only a few of them.
Somewhere around 80% of costs are locked in during the Design and Site Selection phases. Site selection should be done in a way that is cognizant of the seismic history. This includes the depth, width and composition of the foundation as well as the subsoil composition. Here, it is important to overlay certain principles that ancient builders were using; they were not using steel reinforcement. I contend it is better to not use steel in, at the very least, a domicile.
Then it is to the consideration of the width, depth and composition of the walls. Several key ideas are to be applied here. First, monolithic wall systems will fail due to “normal” tectonic and other forces over time; and fail dramatically to a significant seismic event. Thus it is important when attempting to achieve centuries of durability in wall and foundation systems to design for those environmental forces to be considered. In practical terms it means smaller wall dimensions with pressure relief joints that allow independent movement and thus eliminate structural cracking and or spalling (pieces breaking off) that might otherwise occur. You could also design arched or rounded walls, windows, doors and pass throughs or entryways that withstand the forces of time much better than 90° angles.
It is also important to note year to year weather patterns as well as extreme weather event history (we call this the 1 in 100 year principle when selecting a site). I have seen neighbourhoods built in dry years become submerged in wet years and stay that way for years after. You can imagine what this does to property usage and value when you have to paddle a boat from where you can get a vehicle, to your house. These factors are usually given little consideration in a modern house build for when money is the only serious bottom line.
Here are 3 things to consider when designing for a multi-century lifespan in your home or other structures:
- Build it Solid; Build it Once! When it comes to doing something with your life, what’s important? Spending forever repairing a money pit is likely not the first choice; even for guys like me that like to work around the house. Instead, spend your time creating beautiful gardens that provide nourishing healthy food, or traveling to see places you’ve dreamed of visiting, or anything else that brings value and meaning to your life.
- Trust Yourself! Do your research when it comes to building and be careful what you listen to. There are plenty of people ready to sell you on a system that has plenty of bells, whistles, and (often empty) promises. We tout a couple of our own checklists (just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org) that can help guide you through the sales pitches you will run into. I guarantee you will save a lot of headaches and money; and that’s my sales pitch. However, whether you use our checklists or someone else’s, the time you spend on planning will pay off in thousands ways down the road.
- Do You Really Need That McMansion? There has been a recent phenomenon; see if it sounds familiar. The kids go off to college and the parents sell their paid-off home to upsize to a large home on a fake lake or 5 acre lot. They incur another mortgage and wind up in debt in a house they bought so visitors would have space. They could have put their visitors up in a pricy hotel every year for those visits for a cost often less than the yearly interest payments on a loan. Then you have the cost and workload of furnishing, cleaning, and maintaining that big (mostly empty) home. The data shows that these people often move into a condo or smaller home within 5 years of upsizing. Whether you are building, renovating or upgrading: smaller, natural, and less cluttered is more conducive to a happier lifestyle and wallet.
Remember that you are in control of the home you live in and the life you lead. Own it!