Don Jordan Design & drafting

Construction Experience you can build on

P.O. Box 1655, Bonners Ferry, Idaho 83805

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Alternative building

Some of my criteria for energy efficient homes  are:

> Energy Efficiency
> Ease of Construction
> Affordable
> Environmentally Efficient


Modern insulation systems and windows have only allowed us to mediate the real problem of energy efficiency, which is SEASONAL VARIATION. It is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Rather than fight the individual problems, how about combining them? The Earth deals with it fairly well; the surface temperature fluctuates, but a few feet underground the earth is a relatively constant temperature. With a basic understanding of thermodynamics, we can build a home under a sheltering blanket of earth that is cool in the summer and warm in the winter - and the energy is
virtually free!

With proper use of insulation and convective air flow, the temperature and ventilation of our "Castle in the Ground" can be controlled for the optimum comfort of the worthy inhabitants! The very best specific information on insulation and ventilation of underground homes that I have found is in "PASSIVE ANNUAL HEAT STORAGE SYSTEM" by John Hait. His techniques for using insulation and ventilation help us turn seasonal variation into an advantage! It is possible to store excess heat during the summer for use during the winter! In warm climates, it is possible to save the cool winter temperatures to enjoy during the summer! Even daily temperature variations can be put in your heating - cooling bank to help give you consistent, comfortable living conditions. Since this is accomplished with exchange of air, the home is also very well ventilated!


"Castles in the Ground" uses a repetitive forming system to create all concrete modules that go up utilizing standard concrete construction technique. The modules are 385 to 645 square feet each, so most homes would consist of 3 to 5 modules. The modules go up quickly as a low tech, conventional and repetitive system.

Most of the examples in are hexagonal in shape.
Probably for the same reason bees use them... they are quick to build, strong and can join together in a variety of shapes!

Hexagons enclose a lot of area in proportion to total wall length (circles enclose the most-but are not as convenient when trying to put that bookcase against the wall). Straight walls also allow EASY use of standard door and window units. They also solve some of the difficulties of concrete construction.

One of the hardest things for me when pouring concrete has been keeping the walls STRAIGHT and PLUMB! I feel like I spend as much time putting in kickers and braces and tangling up string line as I do putting up the forms! 

Most of the "Castle" walls are only 12 feet long, and there are SIX corners to keep everything rigid! All walls are multiples of 4 foot, so there is little plywood to cut. You have a pile of plywood, a pile of 2 x 4 x 12 foot walers (horizontal framing) for the inside of the forms, and a pile of 16 footers for the outside. Studs are not necessary. That's right, ANYONE can do concrete with this system! The wall forms go up quick and easy; no kickers, no braces, straight and plumb!

The ceiling system is perhaps even easier! Ceiling forms that can be handled by two people are supported by the wall forms and a temporary center post. Just carry them in and set them up with simple attachments!

The key is the simple forming system that is repetitive and reusable. You deal with a few standardized components to pour the walls and ceiling as one solid unit!


Since the single largest cost of construction is labor, standardizing the process SAVES MONEY. Additionally, at this time, the cost of lumber is skyrocketing while concrete has remained relatively constant. As you will see in the following chapters on construction techniques, the "Castles" are
DESIGNED to be cost effective; it was not an afterthought! Many techniques we use are not possible with other construction styles. For instance, most of our exterior finish work is done with a small bulldozer and grass seeder. Try THAT with a conventional frame structure! Compared to the labor costs for a small crew, equipment time is quite reasonable!

Your biggest savings in a properly built home are through the greatly reduced heating, cooling and maintenance costs. You might also have lower insurance costs. These savings can easily total $200 per month when compared to the average home! When purchasing a home, the mortgage costs are only part of the overall costs of home ownership. When you add the total costs of mortgage, heating, cooling, maintenance, insurance, taxes, etc..... you will find how much cheaper it can be to live in a Castle - as long as it is in the ground!


I am disturbed with a common attitude that builds homes to last 50 - 100 years. Sure, WE might not need a home to live in much longer than 50 years (although I intend to live 120 years!) but somebody will want to live in it! Wouldn’t it be great to pass a home on to your great, great, great grandchildren!

How environmentally responsible is it to spend all that time, money and RESOURCES to build a dwelling to last only one lifetime?

Please don't take me wrong, there are some wonderful frame structures out there that will last a long time. (I even built some of them). I have even used treated wood in contact with the soil - but only where there was a profound economic or design justification; and only when the design allowed easy replacement of that component in 50 years or so.

Another concrete advantage is reduction of off-gassing from treated materials and adhesives used in plywood and particle board.

Concrete, of course, is not without it's problems. I have some real concerns about the mining associated with production of it's components. Perhaps one of you will perfect a more environmentally correct and
economical alternative to concrete. If so, I will adapt the "Castles in the Ground" system to use it!

Well, enough philosophy; since you are reading this, you are probably already somewhat enlightened and are interested in alternatives and improvements in our lives. I hope you enjoy your home, whatever kind it is! You may build your Castle in the ground using a different system; you may build your Castle on top of the ground; please do not build your Castle in the air unless you put wings on it! Please also feel free to contact me concerning YOUR ideas!

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