In October, 2010, I had the very fortunate opportunity to visit with Sylvia Cook, owner of Aerecura Rammed Earth Builders and owner of Ontario’s first rammed earth home, just after the beautiful walls had been finished. The roof, windows and main floor had yet to be installed, so it was a bit difficult to visualize the finished product. Just over a year later, Sylvia and her husband held a housewarming party so all of us interested parties could come and take a look at the finished product.
To recap: Sylvia, a retired physics teacher, and her husband, a retired English teacher, were determined to build one of the lowest possible embodied energy homes they could. When researching materials and styles of homes, she wanted to find a material that was local, abundantly available, durable, and contained a low-embodied energy. A rammed earth fit home all of her criteria. You can read my full interview with Sylvia here, and read about the goals of the rammed earth home here.
The house itself is on two and a half levels (an open office area above the kitchen looks down onto the living room). It has a beautiful view of the hollow the house sits beside. Terrell Wong, the architect designed it to take advantage of as many passive heating and cooling features it could, so it is oriented to face southwest with large windows on the south side and smaller ones on the north side. The upper clerestory windows can be opened in summer to let the heat escape while lower floor windows will open to draw in cooler evening air.
Now that the house is completel, I asked Sylvia a few follow-up questions:
1. If you were to build again, is there anything you would do differently? ie., lessons learned.
I’m disappointed with the amount of wood used just on the relatively small section of the house between the top of the rammed earth and the roof. In order to maintain the continuous insulation layer we used a double stud wall construction. Next time I would use SIPS for this part of the house, as well as for the roof.
I would overestimate the heating needed and use a radiant infloor hydronic system for the lower floor. I made the decision not to because it was hard to justify the installation expense for the small amount of heat needed, but am now having to get creative with other methods of supplying that heat. Another time I might even consider putting hydronics inside a rammed earth wall. I think it’s important to remember that any initial expense will be amortised over a very long period of time, even though I won’t personally be around for more than a tiny fraction of that.
2. What in the house is salvaged (I believe the stairs and cross beams are), and where did you source your salvaged material?
The stairs originally came from the Belleville CN roundhouse, circa 1840. The wonderfully quirky welder who made the railings onsite happened to have them stored in his barn. A fantastic piece of serendipity as they fit perfectly!
Some of the beams were re-purposed from our formwork, including the open-ventilation roof support on top of the feature wall.
All of the interior doors are salvaged, collected from yard sales, flea markets, roadsides and Habitat for Humanity Restores. I have my eye on one from Legacy Vintage Building Materials in Cobourg to be used between the great room and master suite.
The supports for the deck (and the sink in the powder room) are logs from the trees removed to make the driveway.
To see more photos of the house visit BEC Green’s Facebook page.
For more information about Aerecura Rammed Earth Homes, contact Sylvia Cook at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 289-251-6684.
Visit Aerecura’s website for more information.
I’ve liked the concept of rammed-earth housing for a few years now; unfortunately, after seeing more at this house, the design appears lacking cohesiveness, especially for a showroom house.
Also, I don’t understand the reasoning behind sandwiching insulation between the rammed-earth walls instead of just using rammed-earth blocks; it sort of defeats the purpose of the rammed-earth if they’re just going to add other materials to supplement. It may as well be called rammed-earth sheathing and sheetrock.
Lastly, any idea what the foundation and bottom flooring are made from? Is it a traditional concrete foundation?