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Thoughts About Rebuilding Haiti After The Devastating Earthquake
(Or Anywhere On Earth That Needs Low Cost, Sturdy Housing)
My first thought is that here is an opportunity to make small amends to the Haitian People for the egregious behavior that has characterized how Haiti has been treated by the United States for about one hundred years.

Here is a great (but brief) history with a bit of gallows humor:  http://www.rall.com/2010/01/syndicated-column-haitian-earthquake.html
Now is the time.

I am a builder not a social worker. I have been researching the design of a home for a client here in Oklahoma that specified lightweight aerated concrete as being the basic material for their home. A steel post and beam frame supports a second floor system and a steel roof system with tin. There is no wood involved. It will never rot, is insect proof, is totally fireproof and would withstand (in my opinion) an Oklahoma tornado or a sizable earthquake.
The idea is to build the most cost effective, sustainable, energy efficient, green home possible.

The thought has come to me that a much scaled down and modified version of this home would be a perfect fit for Haiti or for that matter anywhere that needed thermally efficient, low cost, strong and sustainable “green” housing. Much of the concrete is to be lightweight cellular concrete for thermal efficiency and savings on the actual volume/cost of cement used for walls.
Currently the plan calls for cellular concrete to be mixed on site using a high percentage of shredded scrap polystyrene plastic (EPS). We are calling it EPSCrete or StyroCrete. EPSCrete could also be applied by hand, to a substrate, to achieve a very strong and insulative layer to the structure making a much more comfortable living enviroment. A standard concrete building is not very pleasant in heat or cold. Natural ventilation techniques would be used to enhance the comfort level.

A great bonus of the EPSCrete is that polystyrene that would normally wind up in the dump would be turned into a great building material.
There is also an ongoing thread on EPSCrete on the Ferrocement Educational Network.

The Homes Could Be Built In Phases - Get a roof over their heads quickly
Download rough sketches for hut click here

Phase one would get a basic roof over peoples heads. Footers appropriate for the local soils conditions would be poured. The post and beam steel frame would be put up and covered with the hand applied ferroccement (FC) skin (see plan) on the walls and roof. This structure would be very strong and weatherproof but not very comfortable because concrete and steel offer no insulation.

Phase two
would be to hand trowel layers of EPSCrete over the FC skin. Multiple layers of EPSCrete could be applied as time and materials allowed. Each layer would increase the thermal efficiency and strength of the building. Comfort counts.

Phase three
would be to add concrete floors, water harvesting storage tanks built out of Laminated Ferrocement (LFC), composting toilets built out of LFC, solar hot water, minimal solar power for lighting, etc. Efficient natural ventilation techniques would add to the comfort factor.

This would be a very simple and easy to construct building. The steel frame could be fabricated on site using local labor. It would require a welder on site to tack the frame together. Once the steel frame was up anything at hand could be used to skin the walls and roof.  FC seems to be the ideal choice for the skin.
This building system would maximize use of local Haitian labor and materials. In the process you would be creating a work force of Haitians, with the necessary tools, that could carry this building system into the future.There are ways to actually build all the fixtures, furniture and cabinets with concrete but... that is another story.

You can download a .pdf file of my in progress plan by clicking HERE.

Check out: http://ferrocement.net/flist/index.php for an overwhelming amount of information on Laminated Ferrocement.


Someone Doing What Is Needed In Haiti
ACE, Inc.     Aware . Concerned . Engaged    http://ace4haiti.com
I have been talking with Philip Snyder of ACE about appropriate homes for Haiti.
Phil has been doing relief work in Haiti for decades and has a clear vision of the situation and has given me insight into what is needed for housing.

Philip is Executive Director & Treasurer of
ACE, Inc.    Aware . Concerned . Engaged  http://ace4haiti.com

ACE was founded in 2011 by Phil Snyder and Matt Kammeraad as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
Based out of Holland, MI - ACE adheres to the highest standards of financial stewardship and is dedicated to helping the people of Haiti anyway possible.


ACE is AWARE of the debilitating effects of poverty upon the human condition.
They are CONCERNED for the welfare of our fellow man, especially those most vulnerable.
ACE is ENGAGED and committed to helping provide sustainable self-help initiatives where most needed.


Please Contribute To Their Efforts!

You can download a .pdf file of the evolving plan for sustainable and affordable housing by clicking HERE.

Concrete Facts Useful In Haiti
• Recycling old concrete into aggregate to use as fill and to make new concrete is a proven money saving and very green technology - see:
  http://www.concretenetwork.com/concrete/demolition/recycling_concrete.htm

• Properly done cellular concrete is a proven very cost effective, strong, thermally efficient and green building material that has been around for a long time - see:
http://www.alliedfoamtech.com/Appconc.htm

• The collapse of the structures in Haiti was due, in large part, to poor building practices. Anything that is going to be a permanent structure should be built to specifications that would resist the next earthquake, hurricane or what ever nature throws at them. Cellular concrete would be a great choice for strength - see:
 http://www.newsweek.com/id/231846

• Haiti has an enormous problem with sanitation. The earthquake has made the problem worse. There is a simple and cheap solution. Composting Toilets.

It looks like, to me,  the Haiti disaster offers a great and worthy laboratory to perfect building technologies and systems that would be applicable world wide. Not only for disaster zones but everywhere.

Cellular concrete is a prime candidate for green, cost effective, thermally efficient (comfortable), sustainable, green construction in Haiti.
Cellular concrete was developed in Sweden in 1914. It is not pie in the sky, over the rainbow technology.
This would not be the first time cellular concrete has been used after a tragedy.
Cellular concrete was used extensively to rebuild Europe after WWII - See:
http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-21053118.html

Also see my page on concrete technology: http://www.greenearthstructures.com/aac.html

Why Not?

Why Not -organize a fund to build a prototype and see how it works? If it looked promising get a few more funded. If it worked like I think it would....

Why Not - gear up and produce large quantities of modular concrete forms that could be used to quickly erect, strong, low cost, thermally efficient cellular concrete homes for the displaced people of Haiti? Cellular concrete can be formed into block and panels and erected where it would be hard to get equipment. The block can be easily carried by hand and assembled like the CMU block used in a lot of the construction there now. However if properly done it would be much stronger than the CMU construction they have been doing. It would also be very thermally efficient adding greatly to the comfort level in the home.
Cellular concrete can also be used as cast in place walls. For larger structures and homes easily accessable to bulk concrete.

Why Not - take the same cellular concrete technology and quickly build new hospitals, schools, businesses, government buildings, etc.?
At the same time you would be recycling vast quantities of rubble and training Haitians to build using this technology.

Why Not – bring in equipment to re-process all of the steel scrap, from the demolished buildings, cars, etc. into reinforcement for the concrete structures that will be built? Build these new buildings right. Training Haitians to run this equipment would make more skilled jobs. On The Job training is the best kind.

Why Not – use this heart breaking tragedy to develop building systems and technologies that would not only vastly improve the lives of the people of Haiti but be applicable for people world wide?

Why Not - along with cellular concrete for walls, floors & roofs - use the myriad other sustainable, green technologies that are available in the rebuilding of Haiti. Wind, wave power, water harvesting, solar hot water, phototvoltaics, efficient lighting, engineered natural ventilation - you name it should be part of the package for every home and neighborhood.
Sewage Is A Big Issue In Haiti
Why Not - Make composting toilets a standard feature of every home built? This is old proven technology.  A cheap to construct, efficient solution to the problem. Again you would be training Haitians to build using simple technology that can be passed on to improve the whole societies living situation into the future. Win Win.  See:  http://www.jenkinspublishing.com/sawdustoilet.html and also http://www.ecobusinesslinks.com/composting_toilets.htm

Grassroots energy is what is needed. Small solar panels on every roof.
Why Not - Figure in a minimal amount of solar power for each home. Solar hot water is (I am told) the biggest bang for your buck going. What would the relatively small investment in solar hot water do for the sanitary conditions of Haitians? What would be the return on investment of better health and less medical care? 

What would enough solar electric to power lights at night do? What about enough to run energy efficient lights and a refrigerator?
I just stumbled onto an organization that looks like a poster child for doing what I am talking about:
Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) see: http://www.self.org/ their goals say it all. Please contribute!

A Model For This Re-Construction Vision

I have watched with fascination, as Greensburg Kansas rebuilt "green" after a devastating EF-5 tornado leveled the town May 4th, 2007. http://www.greensburgks.org/

Greensburg's web page says it all - Greenburg: Better, Stronger, Greener!

Why not - Haiti: Better, Stronger, Greener

Why not – The World: Better, Stronger, Greener!

A Sustainable Business Model For The Haitian Re-Construction

Imagine a business where the business derives its power from the people who work there and capital is used as a tool to serve the people instead of the other way around as it is with most corporations.”

Keep it grassroots. Eliminate, as much as possible, recreating the top down society the people of Haiti (and most of the rest of the world) suffer under now.

Why Not -  In the process of setting up companies to rebuild Haiti - use tried and true democratic principals. Make sure Haitians are trained in all of the fields necesssary in building sustainable infracture for Haiti and make sure the business model used is just as sustainable.

Organize these trained people into employee owned cooperative businesses to involve the people in developing their own neighborhoods and their society overall.

Companies formed by local people to do this massive undertaking should reflect a new direction for the Haitian people.

I am involved in forming a company here in Oklahoma called the Oklahoma Worker Cooperative Network (OWCN).
We envision an interconnected system of worker owned cooperatives that fosters fairness and security for local economies, functioning in harmony with local ecosystems, supporting just, safe and democratic worker environments, and providing the basis for a joyful, prosperous community life for all.

Setting up similar companies in Haiti seems to be a no-brainer.


You may be thinking – who would be able to organize and implement such a grand scheme quickly? Seems daunting.
There are lots of unemployed people that have vast knowledge of every one of these construction fields right here in the USA.
An organization like the US Green Building Council (or... you tell me ?) would be a perfect place to start finding qualified individuals for such an endeavor.
Selected personel could train the Haitian people to build using all of the latest sustainable systems and technologies.
When they leave there would be a trained force of eco-builders and basic sustainable industry left behind in Haiti to carry on the rebuilding into a much brighter future.


Thanks for taking the time to read this. I would really appreciate your thoughts and suggestions on these ideas.


Email Paul Wellman - USGBC LEED™ Certified AP
970.734.6645

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