Sustainable Structures

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Portland Community College

community education

Candace Gossen, Instructor



SUSTAINABLE STRUCTURESAlternative Building Options. Adobe,rammed earth, straw, cob, earth shelter, recycled houses, earthships and solar greenhouses. Learn solar, thermal mass and bioclimatic theories

10 weeks x 2 hr. class 7-9 pm Tuesdays 2 - 6 hour field trips included


Week 1- Survey issued. Introduction to class and instructor. What are Green buildings? We will discuss building types and early use of bioclimatic principles. Project: Mason Jar Test and Site Surveys

Reading references: (p.17,21, 260-279, and chapter 3 in course pak)

The Green Home, by Wayne Grady

The Natural House Book, by David Pearson

Ecological Design, by Sim Van Der Ryn-Stuart Cowan


Week 2- Learning solar paths and sun charts to apply to any geographic area. Exercise to follow. Heat flow discussed along with energy conservation and thermal mass theory. Project: Sun Charts

Reading references: (p.302-314 in course pak) Sun charts to be used in class

The Passive Solar Energy Book, Edward Mazria


Week 3- Bioclimatic designs with emphasis on heat stratification, wind and ventilation, direct gain solar. An exercise in solar greenhouses and sunspaces applied. Air collectors and other solar systems reviewed. Project: Sun Shadow Simulator.

Reading references: Design with Climate, Victor Olgyay

The Independent Home, Michael Potts


Week 4- Solar Greenhouse—Design construction and operation. Environment and ecosystem, biosphere. Light collection, solar transmission and heat use. Principles including exterior design: the site location, configuration, building codes, roof design, geometry, sky radiation, interior design, mass sizing, convection and ventilation. Construction criteria, mass, frame and glazing. Homeheating principles and planting charts.

Reading references: Solar Greenhouse, Bill Yanda and Rick Fisher

Week 5- Adobe—What is it? History of adoberos. Making adobe brick, hand vs. Machine and gringo blocks. Adobe footings, stems, anchors, and flooring options. Vigas? What king of roof? A cost planning guide discussed. Details-what kind of window jambs, sills, fireplace design and doors. Perhaps a workshop banco design and/or garden wall. Project sheets handed-out.

Reading references: Adobe and Rammed Earth Buildings, Paul Graham McHenry,Jr.

The Earth Builder’s Encyclopedia, Joseph Tibbets


Week 6- Rammed Earth—Earth, simple material. Examples of earth architecture. Rammed earth construction reviewed along with soil testing, foundations, forms, and fill. Window and door details Floor and roof structures. Insulation and thermal mass values. Mechanical considerations, repair and renovation and building codes.

Reading references: Adobe and Rammed Earth Buildings, Paul Graham McHenry,Jr.

The Earth Builder’s Encyclopedia, Joseph Tibbets

Buildings of Earth and Straw, by Bruce King, P.E.


Week 7- Straw Bale—A new technique to current industry, but older than us all. Feasibility, construction, passive solar techniques, insulation values, sealant, labor, principles, environment, heating, cooling, ventilation. Who can build straw bales? Can we use hay?

Reading references: The Straw Bale House, Steen, Steen, and Bainbridge

Buildings of Earth and Straw, by Bruce King, P.E.

The Last Straw, newsletter


Week 8- Earth Shelters and Earthships—Historical perspective. Earth shelter design and issues. Comfort and habitability and occupant assessment. Earth environment, energy and moisture, heat loss calculations, load analysis, and underground heat transfer. Indoor air quality, mechanical systems and thermal calculations. Passive cooling and heating integration. Project: Daylighting design and energy performance reviewed.

Reading references: Earth Shelter Technology, Lester Boyer and Walter T. Grondzik

Daylighting, performance and design, Gregg Ander

Earthships Vol. 1,2,3 by Mike Reynolds


Week 9- Embodied Energy - Log vs. Wood frame—look at current construction techniques and compare energy of milled vs. Unmilled trees. Peeled poles, sealing, chemicals, structure and design, thermal values, cost, feasibility. Brick, concrete block and stone. A look at the "milled" rocks.

Reading references: A Handbook of Energy Use for Building Construction, U.S. DOE Alternative Energy Sourcebook, 1991, Real Goods

Solar Living Source Book, John Schaeffer and the Real Goods Staff

Ecology of Commerce, Paul Hawken


Week 10- Realia — Recycling through building construction, "Off the Grid", Greywater systems, Overview of recommended drawings required for owner/builders,

Reading references: See lists above

Field trip #1*- Weekend (Saturday or Sunday)(6hours) To Construction Site – Hands on visual experience of either adobe, rammed earth or straw bale house in construction (weather permitting) Incorporating soil testing techniques and site analysis

Field trip #2*—Saturday or Sunday (6 hours) A survey of the built environment. A house of solar systems, another built off the grid, one of thermal mass.

*Both field trips will be within driving distance of Portland for a one-day round trip.

Reading Materials: Packets of case studies are available for further reading material. See instructor.

Projects: A project will be issued following each class to be discussed the following class period. The projects are not required, but are strongly suggested in order to benefit from what is discussed and learned in each class period.

Class attendance is strongly recommended. We will discuss a new topic each class period as well as work examples in the classroom.

There will be no grading due to the nature of a non-credit class, although the class materials you will be learning is part of a university derived structure.