Homes in different parts of the world used to look different from each other out of necessity, built to optimize for the challenges and benefits of local climate. When residential climate control systems became commonplace that changed. Where a home in tropical south Florida once required very different building methods (and materials) compared to a home in the cold mountains of New England, essentially identical construction methods are now used for single-family homes in any climate. The result is inefficient and virtually indistinguishable housing from coast to coast, regardless of climate. As regions throughout the world are facing increasingly dire housing shortages, the race is on to find solutions that are economical and available to us right now.
The mission of CalEarth, one of the non-profits that Hackaday has teamed up with for this year’s Hackaday Prize, is to address that housing shortage by building energy-efficient homes out of materials already available in the areas that they will be built. CalEarth specializes in building adobe, or earth, homes that have a large thermal mass and an inexpensive bill of materials. Not only does this save on heating and cooling costs, but transportation costs for materials can be reduced as well. Some downside to this method of construction are increased labor costs and the necessity of geometric precision of the construction method, both of which are tackled in this two-month design challenge.
For the average person, a government order to shelter in place or stay at home comes with some adjustments. Many changes are cerebral: we navigate vast expanses of togetherness with our families while figuring out how to balance work, life, and newfound teaching roles. Other changes are physical, like giving each other enough space to be successful. A lucky few can say that not much has changed for them personally. No matter what your position is in this thing, if you have a place to shelter, you’re doing better than 20% of the world’s population.
An estimated 1.6 billion people, including those who are homeless and those who are refugees, are living without adequate shelter. The need for shelter is a cornerstone of human well-being, and yet building a home for oneself can seem totally out of reach. After all, most people aren’t qualified to build a habitable structure without an architect, an engineer or two, and a team of construction workers with heavy equipment. Or are they?
It all depends on the design and materials. Dome structures have been around for centuries, and the idea of using packed earth to build walls is a tried and true concept. Architect Nader Khalili perfected a blend of the two concepts with his SuperAdobe construction system, which employs long sandbags filled with moistened earth. Khalili opened the California Institute of Earth Architecture (CalEarth) in 1991 to explore the possibilities of SuperAdobe and to educate others in the building process.
I grew up among the poor. I am one of nine children, and constantly knew need. I never forgot, so now I’m responding. — Nader Khalili
This year, the Hackaday Prize is teaming up with CalEarth to push their widely accessible concept of sustainable living into the future. As with our other three non-profits, this effort is twofold. The open call challenge invites you to design sustainable add-ons for SuperAdobe homes that expand their livability and are simple to build and use. Throughout June and July, our CalEarth Dream Team members are working to find ways to automate the process so that these homes can be built much faster, and in turn help more people.