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  • Jen Nickel

Rammed Earth Open House

Updated: Feb 28

Natural building has been a growing interest and passion of mine over the years.  Most recently, I have been captivated by the beauty and simplicity of rammed earth construction – a method of compressing earth into durable concrete-like walls that create the structural shell of a building.  This construction method is so different than our conventional Niagara region homes, I was excited to learn more.  My intrigue led me on a journey to scenic Prince Edward County to visit a rammed earth open house by Aerecura Sustainable Builders.  It was a busy weekend for our family, including a cheer competition for my 12-year-old daughter, Emily, so with a bit of convincing we added a detour to our travel plans, and she came along with me for this adventure.  Join me as I share some insights and inspiration from this eco-conscious dwelling that left me inspired and motivated.

 



The striking aesthetic and natural health benefits of rammed earth


Approaching the rammed home, I was struck by the contrast of the organic waves of earth tones against the crisp black cladding and metal roof.  Stepping inside, the home felt solid and durable, and despite the high ceilings and hard surfaces, the sound was dampened and not echoing.  What struck me most was the absence of synthetic smells that typically accompany newer homes.  The natural aroma and textures created a warm and inviting atmosphere that contained virtually no plastics!  Being filled with natural materials – earth-based walls, wood cladded ceilings, large wood windows, and natural stone countertops – it was a comfortable space with connection to nature and optimized air quality. 

 


Rammed earth in a Canadian climate


One of my first reservations with rammed earth construction was how it would perform in our Canadian winters.  Would this home feel warm and cozy or cold and sterile?  As I acclimated from the cold January afternoon to the indoor space of the home, I found that the thermostat read 18 degrees C: a comfortable temperature, though not as warm as I would prefer.  But I soon learned that the heat pump in the house wasn’t even running due to a faulty part on back order.  In fact, the heat had not been running for 2 weeks in this house!  To retain 18 degrees without any heating for 2 weeks in the middle of a Canadian January is impressive to say the least!  The walls of this home are 20 inches thick – 6 inches of rammed earth on the outside and 8 inches of rammed earth on the inner side with a 6 inch cavity between filled with insulation.  The key is the thermal mass of the walls – they naturally retain heat in cold seasons, and absorb and dissipate heat during warmer seasons, plus the double wall system reduces the temperature exchange from exterior to interior.  On top of that, the passive solar design integrates proper building orientation and strategically placed windows to maximize solar gain in the winter.



Craftsmanship and quality


As I explored the home, I admired all the details that go hand-in-hand with rammed earth design: deep window openings with chamfered corners, wood triple-glazed windows with wood-clad headers, concrete floors with recessed floor receptacles.  The real heart of a rammed earth home lies in the craftsmanship of its walls.  The process of creating these beautifully layered walls is not an automated one.  It is a hand-on method of compacting the earth mixture between formwork with manually operated pneumatic-powered tampers.  The mixture, consisting of gravel, sand, 5% cement plus a water-proofing agent, is tinted in various shades using additives such as iron oxide, and compacted in organic wavy layers.  It is a labour-intensive process, but the results are not merely structural elements, but true hand-crafted works of art. 




Sourcing local for a global impact


During the open house event, we got to hear directly from the architect, the builders and owner of the Prince Edward County home.  One noteworthy aspect of the construction of this home was that 90% of the materials used in the construction on this project were sourced locally from Ontario and Quebec!  This not only offers environmental benefits in reducing the carbon footprint associated with travel, it also serves to support our local Canadian economy.  In listening to the talks, it was evident that the teamwork involved in rammed earth construction creates a tight-knit community for the duration of the build and beyond!  The journey and the relationships formed between the architect, building crew, and home owner is a beautiful testament to world of natural building.




Rammed earth really is a fascinating building method, and seeing it in person is a must to fully appreciate the beauty of it.  It was inspiring to meet the talented team at Aerecura, who built the first stabilized, insulated rammed earth home here in Ontario 15 years ago, and continue to grow this combined art and science across the province.  Wouldn’t be great to see this building method make its way down to the Niagara region?  If you’re intrigued, let’s explore this journey together and create the first rammed earth home in Niagara! 


Check out https://www.aerecura.ca/ to learn more about the art of rammed earth construction.

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jenimariedesign
Mar 01

Awesome article, Jen! It was great seeing you again at this event :)

Keep up the great work!

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