By: Valerie MacDonald
CASTLETON – A unique Castleton home built in the ancient “rammed earth” style of the Great Wall of China is part of the Green Energy Doors Open event taking place in September across Canada.
Retired teachers Ruth Cook and Stephen Cavalier wanted to build a home that was good for the environment on an ongoing basis and with the aid of a designer and engineer built one into a hill in a wooden area of Castleton in 2010/11.
With that experience, Cook has gone on to establish a company (www.aerecura.ca) and has started her second career, she explained during a recent telephone interview from the Bruce Peninsula where her latest client’s home is under construction.
The first home in Canada where she ever saw such rammed earth construction was musician Randy Bachman’s Salt Spring Island home in B.C., she said.
“It absolutely captured me,” Cook recalls, spurring her forward to creating a truly sustainable house for she and her husband.
Forms are put up to form the walls and then a mixture of earth and some steel reinforcing rods are put between them with special pneumatic tampers “ramming” down the earth – hence the name of the construction type.
There is six inches of insulation in the middle of these walls too.
Not only will this type of construction last hundreds of years, or longer, it provides the structure for minimal heating requirements due, in part, to the passive solar heat sink wall of rammed earth construction which is warmed via strategically-place windows that shine the sun onto it, and which provides a coolness so there is no need for air conditioning during the hot weather, Cavalier explained during an interview at his home.
When you walk into the house, it is strangely silent as the walls seem to absorb sound. And indeed, it is this feature that has made for soundproofing a wonderful music studio that the family built in the lower level.
The second floor exterior is natural cedar and the huge deck on the front overlooking more of their forest is supported by huge white pine beams harvested from their very property.
The windows are triple panes.
To date, Cook’s company has built about “half a dozen” such homes, including another in the Castleton area, but it is not on this year’s Green Energy Doors Open Tour.
“The thermal mass of rammed earth is higher than concrete,” Cook explained.
It uses 90 per cent local earth from closed gravel pits. The actual carbon footprint is therefor reduced from both a construction perspective and its on-going impact on the environment and energy draws because it needs minimal heating and no cooling, she said.
“I could heat it with a hair dryer.”
Then there are the intangible benefits of the sound, feel and natural smell of rammed earth construction…no plastic off-gassing, for example.
The rammed earth walls absorb humidity, sound and toxins. They are sustainable during flooding and fire proof as well, Cook added.
They have an attractive natural look that blends into the environment in a very pleasing way.
If you want to see this type of construction up close and personal, the Green Energy Doors Open (GEDO) Tour takes place Sept. 24 and 25 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A release states that this annual showcase weekend “celebrates sustainable energy projects and success stories in provinces across Canada.
“Every year in early autumn, businesses, organizations, community cooperatives, indigenous communities, municipalities and homeowners open their doors and host events to promote the sustainable energy initiatives and technologies in their communities. GEDO is free to participate in as a host and to attend, and aims to raise awareness, support, education and enthusiasm around sustainable energy in Canada.”
For more information go to www.greenenergydoorsopen.ca.