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Earthen houses: a solution from the past for the future

Earthen houses: a solution from the past for the future

By Yaiza Martínez

The project "You have land, you have a house" emerged a year and a half ago, when one of its founders and current president, Antonio Prados, discovered the land constructions with some friends. So they all went to California to train to learn how to build them.

Since then, this group of entrepreneurs has dedicated themselves to building earthen houses, and teaching other people to make their own homes, basically using earth and lime.

Currently, the development of the project is carried out by professionals from various disciplines who believe that things can be done differently: they believe in another way of associating, working and building, ultimately, living more in harmony with the nature, and in accordance with the energy and economic needs of today's society.

That is why their earthen houses are more energy efficient and ecological, resistant and durable. But, in addition, they are much cheaper than a traditional house. Antonio Prados details us in the following interview the characteristics and advantages of these constructions.

What is a dirt house and how is it different from a traditional construction, apart from the material with which it is made?

The earthen houses are the truly traditional ones. We build round houses with earth and lime, and we like to say that traditional construction is one that is made with vernacular techniques and materials. The construction of now, the standardized one, is not traditional ... The first dwellings that human beings build when they come out of shelter in caves have one thing in common in all civilizations and on all continents: they are made of land.

In addition, they share another thing, and that is that they are round. In some cases, combined with wood, in others with straw, bamboo ... etc., but they share being of earth and round. Why? The earth is the most available material on the planet and the round shape is the most logical and natural (in nature there are practically no square shapes). Besides being the one that best welcomes us and where energy circulates best.

What are the advantages of earthen houses?

All are advantages: they are more efficient, they consume less. Both in their construction and in their deconstruction, they have the least impact and leave the least ecological footprint. In addition, air conditioning them is much cheaper, around 60-70% less in energy consumption, which is outrageous.

On the other hand, earthen houses are sustainable, they are the most ecological houses that exist; and they are very solid and durable: by being made with lime mortar and by using dome designs (structurally the most stable) and in vaults, it makes them houses that last for many generations ... They withstand earthquakes, floods and hurricanes.

They are also more organic, more humane and healthier. In these houses, the walls "breathe" (unlike houses made with cement, iron, glass…), so the air quality is much better. They have a great thermal and acoustic insulation (inside you rest ...).

Finally, it must be added that these houses are unique because there is not one the same as another, and because they are built completely by hand. And they are very beautiful.

Regarding the drawbacks, it should be noted that earthen houses are not made for the "high density" of cities and have limitations in terms of height (they are usually built with one or two floors), although we have examples of constructions with earth In some countries, like Yemen and others, you can find eight-story, 800-year-old earthen buildings ...

When and how did the project “You have land, you have a house”, which encourages the construction of this type of house in our current society, came about?

The project emerged a little over a year and a half ago, when some friends and I discovered this type of construction and we went to California to train. We were clear that we wanted to live in this type of house, and spread this type of construction. We wanted to teach others to build their own houses and show them that making your own house is possible, without having to be a bricklayer or an architect. And so we are doing. Of course, we also design and build these wonderful homes to anyone, anywhere, for more than reasonable prices.

In today's society, nothing is valid anymore. More and more of us want to live and "do" differently. When we talk about housing, very important disciplines come into play, which are related to the four elements: water (to which we pay a lot of attention), both what we collect and what we use and reuse and what we discard and reintegrate into the "system" , as clean as possible; the air, of which we have already spoken; fire (energy), in this sense we attend to the systems with which we produce energy and the responsibility towards its expenditure; and, of course, the earth that is our main component, "our element".

How are you expanding the construction of earthen houses in our country and elsewhere in the world?

We do it in various ways. On the one hand, giving training workshops, both in our permanent school in Cuellar (Segovia), and in situ, for organizations and groups throughout Spain.

In addition, we do talks and presentations at interested colleges, universities, and centers throughout the country. On the other hand, we are beginning to develop development cooperation projects, such as the one we have started in the Sahrawi refugee camps of Tindouf, in Algeria, where we are going to build a series of ground pharmacies and at the same time teach and train a group of young people to organize themselves as a cooperative and to earn a living by making these houses for others.

In these projects the volunteer program to which anyone who is trained in one of our workshops can sign up will be very important, sending us their information on the web.

How many people have already built a dirt house thanks to your project?

We could not say how many people have built a house of these characteristics, but what we do know is that since our inception four new business projects have already been generated, by people who have been trained with us, as well as innumerable associative and personal initiatives. Several houses are being built both in Spain and abroad, and there are many projects underway.

Where can you learn to build a dirt house and what is needed?

It can be learned in any of the workshops that we schedule throughout the year. The basic workshops are five days (Monday to Friday) or two weekends (for people who cannot take a whole week), and in them you leave prepared to undertake the construction of your earth house (yes, always supervised by a qualified technician, as in any work). Yes, it sounds weird, but it's that simple.

And what does it take? Well, comfortable clothes, gloves, hat, glasses and a lot of desire to learn and work. The theoretical material is provided by us. What projects is the initiative "You have land, you have a house" developing for the future?

We are immersed in various projects. One of them is the standardization of the technique in the Spanish technical building code (CTE). For that we have set up a commission with the Madrid Higher School of Mines, the Construction Materials Study Laboratory (LOEMCO), the Association of Lime Producers (ANCADE), and we are taking the first steps.

On the other hand, we are creating a "Network of Earth Builders" throughout Spain, to share projects and information; and we are organizing a volunteer program, of which we have already spoken, to support the development cooperation projects that we are starting.

Likewise, we intend to install a permanent school in Madrid where, in addition to teaching how to build with earth, courses on renewable energy, water treatment and permaculture in general will be taught.

Finally, we intend to make social and ecological housing compatible, since until now ecological housing was expensive and social housing "cheap" and of poor quality. We believe that it is possible, and for this we look for municipalities that are "brave" and are willing to tackle the housing problem in their municipality with a "groundbreaking" program with the established (without speculation). We know how to do it and we are willing to share it with any local corporation in Spain that contacts us.

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