Rustic Homestead Community

SunRay Kelly has created an interesting collection of 7 natural homes on the homestead in 2nd growth forest at the base of Cultus Mountain in Washington, USA.

room looking out picture walls to forest

Garden House by Sunray

We live a chop-wood and grow-your-own-vegetables lifestyle here on the homestead. Instead of working away from home all day to make money to buy food and pay big utility bills we grow a lot of our own food and make our own heat.

exterior view of Sky House

Sky House by Sunray

Skyhouse includes a greenhouse as part of the house.

About SunRay

SunRay’s organic style seeks to retain the natural shape of trees used in construction. His study of architecture and sculpture only reinforces his affinity for the organic forms found in nature, rejecting the rectilinear, artificial Western method of architecture.

While he was still in college, SunRay’s showed some of his blueprints to an older builder who replied, “Learn to use a hammer, boy, because no one but you is going to be able to build that.” Since then, SunRay has been creating things that “nobody but SunRay could build.” His structures are timeless and give the appearance of being rooted, as though they had sprouted from the forest floor.

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Heating Homes, Past and Present

Solar is a great source of passive heating and can be used actively for electricity and in ways such as hot water panels that circulate water to heat the house. These solutions don’t always work in a given situation but when they do they can be very attractive.

One common heating method in the past (and still used a fair amount) is oil tanks. Before that we had coal heating for houses. The house I grew up in had such a system (taken out long before I moved in, but remnants of it were still visible) where coal was poured down a shoot, at ground level, into a basement room with the furnace.

Then the coal was heated and I believe water was heated and sent to radiators to warm the house. This was no longer in place, so I am guessing; when I moved in the house had a furnace using gas to heat air and that was sent to warm the rooms upstairs. I remember sitting by the vents where the air would be warm.

Removing oil tanks and especially underground tanks can be quite a challenge and requires special attention to potential environmental issues (leaking oil). This clip from This Old House shows an old system being removed and replaced by a new oil tank.

Normally oil tanks are used for heating in areas that don’t have natural gas utility lines available. That is often rural areas but also areas that just never had gas lines put in. Heating using house-hold oil tanks is quite common in the North East United States even today. Delivery trucks connect to the house and pump in oil – very similar to what old coal delivery truck did (and in many houses in the North East they probably had trucks delivering coal before converting to oil).

This Frequently asked questions on oil tanks (from Commtank – the company in the video), provides lots of useful information, including:

Why should I consider removing my Underground Storage Tank (UST)?

Approximately 50% of 275-gallon 12 gauge steel tanks are estimated to develop leaks within 15 years, according to the American Petroleum Institute. Many older underground home heating tanks were never designed to withstand long-term exposure to soil and water. Even steel tanks that were specifically designed for underground use can leak if they do not have adequate corrosion protection. Home heating oil storage tank leaks can be very damaging to the environment and leaking petroleum products may contaminate the groundwater. Toxic ingredients such as benzene, toluene or xylene threaten human health by poisoning the environment and may require costly cleanup.

Related: Using Algae Filled Window Panes to Provide Passive and Active SolarCon Ed has been piping steam (a byproduct of creating electricity) to heat buildings throughout lower Manhattan since 1882Do It Yourself Solar Furnace for Home Heating

Wonderful Low Impact Woodland House

photo of the inside of the woodlands house

This site includes details on the process of building a wonderfully distinct woodland house in Wales, that is environmentally friendly.

It was built by myself and my father in law with help from passers by and visiting friends. 4 months after starting we were moved in and cosy. I estimate 1000-1500 man hours and £3000 put in to this point.

Some key points of the design and construction:

  • Dug into hillside for low visual impact and shelter
  • Stone and mud from diggings used for retaining walls, foundations etc.
  • Frame of oak thinnings (spare wood) from surrounding woodland
  • Reciprocal roof rafters are structurally and aesthaetically fantastic and very easy to do
  • Straw bales in floor, walls and roof for super-insulation and easy building
  • Skylight in roof lets in natural feeling light
  • Solar panels for lighting, music and computing
  • Water by gravity from nearby spring

Fantastic stuff. Read more about how they did it and why.

photo of the from of the woodlands house

Related: Green Building with Tire Balesposts on personal engineering projects from our engineering blogLivable Buildings Awards
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Amazingly Flexible 344 Square Foot Room Can Transform Into 24 Different Rooms

Gary Chan, a Hong Kong Architect, has created an very cool modular apartment (32 square meters) that can transform into 24 different rooms using sliding walls.

Box of tricks

His latest effort, which took a year and cost just over $218,000, he calls the “Domestic Transformer.” The allusion to toy robots seems apt, given the science-fiction quality of the color scheme – mostly black and silver, washed in eerie yellow light.

Acoustic privacy is limited. When Mr. Chang is entertaining, anyone who wants to use the phone must do so in the shower (also known as “the phone booth”). Still, Mr. Chang is determined to see his ideas put to use in new multi-unit buildings. He has invited a number of developers to visit, and has meticulously documented his apartment’s history in a book, “My 32m2 Apartment: A 30-Year Transformation”. Buying a new apartment might have been a less expensive solution to his storage problem, he admitted. “But why do that?” he asked as he stood in the kitchen making noodle soup. “I see my place as an ongoing experiment.”

Related: Great Furniture for Small Spaces