Saturday, October 31, 2015

The House that Soil Built

Over the past year, the Talus blog has focused on soil and its important role in our lives. Topics often discuss soil's indirect involvement in our world.  However, what if you depended on soil directly for your shelter? There are many cultures that have in the past or currently depend on soil to protect them from the elements. This month's International Year of Soils theme is "Soils and the Products We Use" will highlight these amazing structures built from soil.

"Casa Terracota" in Colombia.

Many people who have visited the southwest of the United States are familiar with Adobe houses. These houses are typically soil (15-30% clay) and mixed with an organic material such as straw. The soil/straw mixed is baked into bricks. Due to soil's thermal properties it holds heat and cold well. In deserts these properties are very desirable as temperatures can fluctuate greatly.

In Korea, there are soil houses known as Mokcheon Earth Homes. The name Mokcheon comes from is the village where these homes were first built. In more modern times they are known in the western world as "cobwood" homes as wood is now used to stabilize these structures.

Many of us may remember "sod houses" from our grade school days in the United States. The pioneers who ventured west found that there was a lack of trees on the Great Plains, so they had to improvise. Using sod (grass, roots, and soil) they could build shelter that was well insulated, but fairly damp. These houses did not hold up to frequent rains and constantly required upkeep. European sod homes (developed centuries before the US pioneers) had layers of bark to prevent the roofs from leaking and lasted 30-40 years! These structures can be built into the landscape and have more recently gained popularity due to people's fascination with living like hobbits! Improvements have been made to these homes in more modern times (i.e. rubber to prevent roof leaks). 

hobbit house, green roof, sod roof, sod house, old world, Nordic countries, Iceland, Norway   
Because today is Halloween, the last soil home example is a creepy one, but one that we are all very familiar with. Soil can be our "last home" or final resting place. Countless varieties of earth tombs have been used in cultures around the world. Many of these structures are very well preserved and have protected their occupants very well over the years. These structures have allowed us to understand ancient cultures as well as see how they used soil to honor their dead. 

Greek Tomb -