Solaroofguy 20040104

This message was posted to various forums on 04 December 2005

New Year greetings to Jeff and friends,

Back to the Root is one way of looking to the future and perhaps this reflects that our experience is interconnected with all others on the great circles that form the structure of the universe. When looking back we see natural patterns more clearly so that we can harmonize our life to gain support (to live in-phase) and resonance with nature. This means biomimicry and is the way forward with technology. Habitat is our most fundamental technology for living. When we see it destroyed by tsunami and reduced to broken debris then this is a time to rethink and rebuild our Habitat closer to the roots a way that is more natural and follows sustainable patterns; thus becoming more accessible and affordable to all - especially those who through disaster or poverty have not a roof over their heads.

On the issue of the affordability (that was a key issue of Marcin's paper on affordable eco housing - see: it is most important to look again at our habitat design solutions for those who are destitute - since the great majority will be given shelter that is rudimentary protection from weather and which provides no climate control. Such shelters are often too hot and too cold and have crude finishes (dirt floors, flap doors and vents) that preclude any possibility of comfort and productive lives - yet some disaster refugees may be stuck in such primitive living conditions for years. Here is a good example of the best of such emergency shelter systems:

This results in immediate relief but long term debilitation and sense of hopelessness. What is needed is a habitat that enables and empowers; it would provide the means for families to bootstrap to a better life; the habitat would build self reliance and knowledge; it would produce confidence and a way forward out of difficulties; it would be an investment that would continue to yield material and social benefits and build local resources and wealth. The habitat for sustainable living which we seek would able to exploit inexhaustible resources from the ambient environment - by using water, plants, eco systems and sun - and the the building would be designed and equipped to directly capture and use such "free" and abundant resources. Some examples of design efforts in this direction are:

I have turned my efforts from greenhouses to human habitat and I see that the best value for money is the goal to enclose the greatest volume of controlled environment space for the least area of lowest cost building envelope. There is no more efficient solution than the geodesic sphere and so I have begun the development of the Eco Sphere, which has a dodecahedron shaped, transparent envelope building. The Ecosphere is proposed as a tensegrity structure so that the internal cubic space is framed with compression members and thus produce a large floor area with natural opportunities for as many as 5 floors within the Eco Sphere. The cubic space is one of the 5 possible cubes that can be inscribed within a dodecahedron and it is aligned with three pair of edges on the x, y and z axis. Aligned with these principal axis are also pairs of compression members forming two central columns, two beams of the main floor, and two (optional) beams supporting the (optional) upper and lower floors respectively. The number of floors depends on the scale of the Eco Sphere. The top floor level is used as a plant culture area and the "floor" is a net that supports the plant leaf canopy. This area and the vertical volume of space around perimeter of the Eco Sphere envelope is all utilized for aeroponic plant culture. The floor levels and living & growing space are shown with diagrams on the Eco Sphere Concept? pages.

The small scale Eco Sphere could be a pattern for a modular, light and portable structure, with an edge length of 10 feet the interior cubic volume will have 16 foot height, and a top and bottom floor area of 16 by 16 feet gives 256 ft2 each, while the main floor (at the mid height of the Eco Sphere) would be 10 by 26 feet, for a total of 772 ft2. The compression members that function as columns and and floor beams are of similar design and will cost about $5 per linear foot. We need about $2000 for this interior compression member frame. The exterior framing members form the edges of the pentagon shaped envelope where there are 20 edges in two layers. In the small scale module ten of the edge members are acting both in compression and tension and will be formed with aluminum extrusions at a cost of $2000 plus the envelope cost of $5000 for the lowest cost translucent polyfabric double layer cover. Let's say that about $10,000 is a budget for the structural frame and envelope, which is about $13/ft2 of floor area.

This is not a complete system and I would say that a turnkey system with all the climate control, energy and ecological life support systems would need a budget of 20K or about $25/ft2. This is ten times your target (see: or five times taking into account the larger floor area and enclosed space. However, I would challenge anyone to make a detailed budget that would add up to less money. Even a used 20 foot shipping container will cost the 2K that you propose as a basic budget. And a shipping container is not an eco habitat. Nor are traditional or modern buildings to be qualified as "eco" simply because they are efficient. We need to understand the difference between an "enviro" and an "eco" design. The lowest cost greenhouse tunnel with no "systems" is also in the suggested low cost (affordable) range but such structures are only for seasonal use for growing transplants in spring - a "cold frame". Here is an example of greenhouse on a low cost budget that has no "eco" systems:

I estimate that the larger scale Eco Sphere will cost as low as 10 to 15 dollars per square foot of floor area because of the minimum envelope area for enclosed volume and floor area improves with the increasing diameter of the Eco Sphere. The DIY approach and the mass production of components will also contribute to increasing the affordability. What is the important criteria is NOT how cheap a habitat design can be but how much cost reduction over conventional construction (typical 40 to 50 dollars per square foot) is achieved or possible, while ALSO providing the ecological life support system (ongoing production of sustainable resources such as water, food, biomass for biofuel) that is integral with the habitat - this is the "eco" approach. In this regard the Eco Sphere would have a low operating cost and a high net income that can pay off the building investment from a combination of savings and revenue that is not generated by a conventional "enviro" or "green" building.

Additionally there is the aspect of investing to avoid future risk from physical disaster and climate change. If we follow the old patterns then there is the risk of reoccurrence of loss and lack of adaptability to change. The ecological life support methods are affordable and very adaptable and the buildings are very strong and resistant to disasters and are also portable and lightweight. All components can be reused and recycled into other buildings or new materials. There is enough money to build sustainable homes and communities but if we continue to be dependent on non renewables resources to support our lifestyle (even with great efficiency) then we are all doomed to a world where only a minority will have enough and they will be seen to be "wealthy" and the majority will have on alternative to crushing poverty.

This message has the purpose to place due importance on the step of ecological design that takes us beyond Green concepts to the Blue Green? vision that is embraced by the Eco Sphere project and which should be our key design goals for sustainable reconstruction and development - our collaboration can produce this revolutionary change - so please team up with Eco Sphere and spread the word about this design project - we need a great deal of help to respond to the urgent need for change; the pressing need for new solutions that will build a sustainable future for all.

Blessings and best wishes for 05 - Rick


Thanks, Rick, for all the work you've done to define and guide this project's development.

I find it helpful, to keep my feet on the ground, if I get a little practical experience with a technology new to me. Perhaps you have some thoughts on a small prototype I could build that might be helpful to the effort. A component or model...

I was also considering a solaroof project:

My time, like everyone's, is limited, so I'd appreciate your input if you have some specific areas you'd like to see explored physically... Ed