The Sun House
by Theo (Father Marc Boisvert)
We have long embraced the concept of environmental sustainability. We use compost. We recycle. Our energy for pumps comes from PV solar panels; electricity for the Guest House is augmented by a wind turbine and we stick with natural pesticides for the farm. Having read about alternative construction going on around the world, we decided to try our hand at it. We will be building a small house with earth bags. Rice, barley, wheat (staples of our diet here) all come in poly bags which we've saved. They will be used to hold a mix of moistened sand and clay. Gotta purchase the sand which comes from riverbeds nearby but we have tons of clay on our property. The bags will be laid out much like bricks or blocks and barbed wire will be used as mortar between the rows. It's a learning process and we are anxious to see what will develop. Enjoy the project vicariously.

This is day one. The site was looked over carefully and a plan was developed that would allow a couple of healthy young trees to survive. We decided on an L-shaped plan. Once the dimensions were decided, the boys set out to lay out the lines which guide the digging of the foundation.

End of day 2. Foundation for the east wall is complete. It is one foot below grade, about eight inches above grade and eighteen inches wide. River rocks and mortar (traditional stuff here) were used for the the foundation.

The guys fill in the foundation walls with "remblais", a mix of rocks and gravel and sand.

Here are Joanes, our plumber, and Denis, project coordinator, standing where the bathroom will be located. Keep your fingers crossed that the rain stays away today so that we can get a good start with laying the bags.

This is the finished foundation with the plumbing and electrical conduits in place. Small adjustments will be made on Monday and we'll start filling poly bags with our mixture of sand and clay and laying them out like bricks. Can't wait!

We broke two wooden tampers so we're making a couple of iron ones for tomorrow. The barbed wire was tricky but we finally got the hang of it. Several of us are walking around with band-aids tonight.

One big lesson: it is much smarter to sew the bags shut after putting in the sand and clay mix. A sewn bag can take 11 shovels' worth of mix unlike an unsewn bag of only 5 shovels' worth. That's Pierre-Rinot taking his turn as an earthbag tailor.

This is a shot of the day's work on the earthbag house. Lots of lessons learned.

The barbed wire is much easier to handle now that we have learned how.

Had torrential rains all night last night. That puts a halt to the earthbag house, at least for this morning. Here are Denis, Aye and Junior thinking about what to do next. Notice the metal tamper next to Denis. This works much better, is more solid and a better workout for the biceps.

The guys are getting more proficient. Here's an example: they fill a bunch of bags, sew them shut and then lay them out.

That's TiWawa stamping away.

A long shot of the house taken from the road. It's slow but sure progress.

Here are TiDenis and Thierry getting a close up look at the new, funny house. Door frame is in and the walls get higher and higher.

Window and door frames are in. More and more neighbors are stopping by to take a gander at this strange-looking structure. They aren't sneering but... I'd like a dollar for every raised eyebrow.

Here's a great, pastoral view from the bedroom window. That itty-bitty dark thing in the middle of the photo is a cow. We are laying the last of the earth bags today (if the rain holds off). Then comes the roof.

A photo of Evens finishing the sewing of earth bags. All the bags are done now.

Here's Denis, the Earth Bag House project manager, framed by his work. He's proud of his accomplishment and can't wait to see it finished. Denis is 20 years old and now sees the possibility of becoming an alternative building contractor.

Denis and Evens waiting on the masons to put up the block wall for the bathroom.

The "ceinture" is finished. Don't know what it's called in English. It bonds the bags together at the top and allows us a way to secure the wood framing for the roof.

I use the word 'texture' when I comment on the cement stucco adhered to the earth bag house walls. Brings back fond memories: like the first time I gift-wrapped a present. It wasn't pretty but still got the job done.

Here's Raymond near the refined, textured wall. Raymond moonlights as a weaver of fishnets, hammocks and bags.

Cement stucco is being applied to the exterior of the earthbag house now that the interior has been done. Still have the roof to finish but that will go up in a snap.

Outside walls are slowly getting done. The effect of the stucco is very similar to old structures in Europe or early homes in the southwest-- see the rounded corner here.

Door is set up.

Wooden windows are in.

Can you tell I'm proud of the work our guys are doing with the Earth Bag House? The metal roof should be finished today. Hope so cause the dark clouds are rolling in as I write this. It will have a composting toilet (see www.oursoil.org ) and running water once we get the well dug and we buy a pump and a cistern.

Once the Arts and Crafts' guys finish the sun on the house the exterior will be done.

Some detail trim work painted white near the foundation adds an aesthetic touch to the house.

Honel painting the sun on the Earth Bag House which we now refer to as the Sun House or Kay Sole (in Creole).

This home was built at Pwoje Espwa in Southern Haiti, where Father Marc has dedicated his life to serving and helping suffering children. This project not only houses over 700 children, but has an agricultural project, three schools, carpentry and masonry facilities, and an arts and crafts program. They have many ideas to help the Haitian economy and people living there. Because they are a non-profit, and are continuously struggling with funding, I encourage you to visit their website (www.freethekids.org ) and consider making a donation to their cause.


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