EcoNest Natural Building Workshops and Timber Framing Workshops

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Excerpt from The EcoNest Book: Using Natural Unadulterated Building Materials

In 1990 Robert went to Europe in his quest for a natural building system with which to enclose his timber frames. He was seeking an eco-friendly replacement for the pressboard and petro-foam panels known as SIPS (structural insulated panels). He took along some samples of good Iowa clay. Not being familiar with foreign travel, he decided that he should bake the clay to "sanitize" it. Once there, he had an audience with Hugo Huber, a leading world expert on clay construction, who scrutinized this sample with great disdain. "This is dead," he said. Robert then remembered that he also had a little sample of raw clay that he had scraped off the side of the road on an impulse, en route to the Iowa airport. Upon being offered this second sample, Monsieur Huber's eyes twinkled as he indicated that this clay was of the finest quality. This was Robert's first lesson on the vale of "unadulterated" building materials and an insight into why the European founders of Building Biology have this as one of the principles of healthy building.

We have a cultural obsession with improving upon nature, often without considering the consequences of our actions. In the case of clay, baking it destroyed many of its natural properties. It transformed it from a material with great abilities to handle atmospheric moisture to one that was vitrified and impervious. It turns out that this hygric buffer capacity (the ability to take on and then release moisture as atmospheric moisture levels fluctuate) is the secret to longevity for the historic earth-based buildings throughout Europe and Asia. It is the lack of this same capacity that has caused so many moisture problems in our light-frame construction in North America. Using raw clay also results in a building with  fabulous acoustics, balanced electro-climate, healthy humidity ranges, and very low embodied energy, especially when compared to its baked alternative - the brick.

On that same odyssey to Europe, Robert had the honor of meeting Dr. Anton Schneider, one of the founding fathers of Baubiologie. When Robert asked him about the health and longevity of buildings, he gave Robert his simple answer gleaned from a lifetime dedicated to research. He said: "A home will be successful to the degree we use unprocessed natural building materials in its creation." Living in homes based on this principle over the past two decades, we have come to know this simple statement to be true and of great value.