We’ve been developing the methodology for the Open Building Institute through a series of builds.

The process began in October 2013 with a microhouse—a 144 sq ft tiny house with a loft, a bathroom and a kitchen. To this we then added a bedroom, a mud room, a porch, a library/work space, an office, another bathroom, an utility room, and an aquaponic greenhouse. Together, these structures form a 2000 sq ft living and working space at Factor e Farm (Missouri, USA).

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To address the matter of heating in the winter we focused on sunlight and a more comfortable form of firewood heating. Plenty of large windows on all rooms, as well as windows on every exterior door, provide sunlight and heat in the autumn and winter. The clear roof of the porch also helped heat the house during the day—this porch was later replaced with a greenhouse for improved passive solar. Since our mid-western winters are sunny but very cold, passive solar was not enough. For this reason, our main form of heating is a hydronic wood stove connected to a DIY heated floor. The cost of materials for our hydronic control panel is a fraction of the commercially available ones. The heated wood floor provides an extremely comfortable, even form of heating. Its energy source – wood – is entirely local and renewable: it comes from our forest. Every year we plant hundreds to thousands of trees to make up for what we use.

In order to keep the house cooler in the summer, we placed the windows and doors symmetrically so cross drafts cool the house at night, lined the porch roof with shade cloth, and installed thermal curtains on every window. With this approach, combined with the high thermal mass of CEBs, we don’t need to run the A/C unless the outside temperature is above 95 F.

To make the house hackable, we focused on keeping all systems accessible. Rather than pouring concrete over the hydronic heated floor water lines, we buried them in sand. If there is a leak in the system, we can lift the floorboards to repair it. The electric lines are not embedded in the walls, they run along the ceiling edge, inside an easily accessible channel. And the water lines run along the edge of the rooms, in a channel under the floor. If there is a leak or if we wish to add another valve, we can simply remove the boards to make the necessary repairs or changes.

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In 48 hours we transformed a pile of raw materials into a greenhouse.

This greenhouse was built during a 6-day workshop led by Catarina Mota and Marcin Jakubowski. On the first 2 days, a team of 35 participants built and installed all the wall and roof modules. We then spent the remaining 4 days building the fish ponds and other biological systems: 1 chicken coop, 85 aquaponic towers, 2 compost grow beds, 6 mushroom grow towers, 1 aquatic worm system, 1 BSF breeding system, and 3 hydronic radiators. By the end of the workshop we had tilapia swimming in the ponds, lettuce growing in the compost beds, and fresh eggs in the chicken coop.

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