Book Notes: Introduction to Permaculture :: Chapter Four

Continuing my notes on the book Introduction to Permaculture (1991/2009) by Bill Mollison, here is Chapter Four: Structures.  (Intro and Chapter One)  I am relying mainly on my sketchy notes here, without a book in hand to check quotes, accuracy, etc. (there is a version of the book online, with lots of illustrations). Any misrepresentations of Mollison’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional.

CHAPTER FOUR: Structures

4.1 Intro

Efficient house design elements: natural energies (sun, wind, rain), surrounding vegetation, common-sense building practices. Give thought to correct house placement and designing for the climate.

House as workspace, accommodating a home industry. “Space-saving design involves the same kind of ‘stacking’ found in nature, where shelves, elevated beds,
and ceiling or roof structures mimic herb layer species, understorey, and plant canopy.”

House & garden interaction: Turf roofs, vines on house; greenhouse (with a shower); inner courtyards. Put some life into these areas, such as a covey of quail to catch insects, frogs, a tortoise or two, a gecko.

Mudroom: food storage, wash and prep area for veggies, place to grow fungi, place for wet weather gear, workshop/tool storage, seed storage, desk space, firewood storage.

4.2 Temperate House

Places where it’s cold in winter and hot in summer, so houses have to accommodate two objectives: “During the winter, cold must be kept outside, and heat in. During summer, heat must be excluded and the house opened up to cooling evening breezes. Energy-efficient houses can accommodate both goals through careful design.”

Houses should be no more than two rooms (10 yards deep), with the East/West axis 1.5 times longer than the North/South axis, and activity rooms should be on the sun-facing side. The eaves of the house, and the depth/height of the windows, should allow direct sun in winter but not in summer. There should be smaller windows on the east side, only a few on the west side.

(Reny Mia Slay’s illustration of a temperate climate house, at Scribd)

Natural Insulation discussion (sidebar listing materials)

Planting around the house: Deciduous trees on the sunny side and east side. The goal is to reduce or eliminate the need for electric, gas, oil (etc) energy input to heat or cool.

Greenhouse info (pp. 80-82) — attached greenhouse, shadehouse.

House modification: Older houses often (“perversely”) face the road instead of the sun and there is a “mania for glass windows on all outside walls.”

  • Seal drafts/cracks.
  • Insulate.
  • Add greenhouse on side (even a small window greenhouse).
  • Add mass heat like concrete slab, tanks, brick, stonework.
  • Add solar water heater on the roof.
  • Use vegetation for microclimate control.

4.3 Tropical House
Honestly, I didn’t take notes on this, as I don’t live in the tropics, but this is worth sharing: “The humid tropics are usually more subject to periodic catastrophe than the temperate lands (with the exception of fire); thus the only safe long-term house sites are: Above the reach of tsunami (tidal wave); sheltered from cyclone and hurricane tracks; above valley floors subject to mud-flow or volcanic ash flow; on ridge points or plateaus out of the path of rock or mud slides triggered by clear felling, torrential rain, or earthquake; inland from easily-eroded sandy beaches.”

4.4 Drylands House
Again, I don’t live in a drylands, so I skimmed this. He talks about underground housing, caves, bermed houses. Some elements of a drylands house could include internal courtyards; extensive fully enclosed vine arbours with mulched floors and trickle-irrigated; earth tunnels; induced cross-ventilation; growing plants on the roof instead of a yard.

(Reny Mia Slay’s sketch of a berm house, at Scribd)

4.5 Plant Houses
Sod roofs. Houses made of vines on light steel/timberframe structure. Apparently they are igloo-like and are efficient in colder climes like Germany.

4.6 Waste Resources From the House
Instead of being disposal problems, waste products can be seen as resources: “These waste resources are wastewater from showers, sinks, and laundry; sewage; food scraps; and paper, glass, metal and plastic garbage. Glass and metal can be recycled, while plastics are kept to a minimum if you take your own shopping bags to market. Newspapers and office papers are used as a mulch barrier in gardens and orchards, or soaked and fed to worms(in limited quantities). The most important products are waste water and sewage, and these are treated in different ways according to climate and preferences.” There’s some further discussion of this.

4.7 Technological Strategies to Reduce Energy
Examples: wood-burning stoves, greenhouses, radiant or conducted heat, greenhouse attachment, wood-fueled cookstoves, gas/propane stoves, solar cooking, insulated container cooking, solar collectors on the roof, wind power, small hydro-electric systems, an airy screened cupboard for items that don’t need a cold fridge, solar food dryer, low-pressure sodium lights, low-flow water nozzles, toilets with two flush modes, water tank to hold water, compost toilets, clotheslines, etc.

Next: Chapter Five: Home Garden Design.

(* Featured photo was taken inside permaculture teacher Steve Whitman’s greenhouse, Aug. 2013, in Plymouth, NH.)

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