common house

Common House

Welcome to the  Common House – this is our main and largest structure.  It has two sections, which were built separately but are now connected. Together they make a home sweet home as well as a great place to entertain all our guests and gathering spot for community events.

The first part is one big open space that serves as a kitchen, living room and general do-anything area.  Here, we  cook  meals, watch storms roll by, cozy up by the wood stove, entertain our friends, and plan future experiments.


This structure is an earth-bermed, passive-solar design with wood stove and radiant floor heat capability (though we haven’t used the radiant floor yet). It is 1180 square feet with frost protected shallow footing. The north side of the house is constructed of dry-stacked cement blocks, which are surface bonded, insulated and finally buried.  This keeps the coldest part of the home in the stable temperature of the earth and shielded from the elements.

The south side is wood-framed and mostly windows. The sun shines into the house and is absorbed into the cement floor, providing heat as well as amazing lighting. We embedded glass bottles into the walls where the light would create fun colors. Awnings on the south side keep the sun out during the hotter months. Both interior and exterior walls are covered with lime plaster, which is water resistant and gives the house more thermal mass.

The second part of the house, which we call The Wing, was added on a year after the first.  This is the quieter, more private part of the house.  Here we can enjoy some alone time in our bedrooms, have storage closets, and read or relax in the library/study in the north by the stove. Here is an example of a bedroom. They are about 9 x 13 feet and the closet for each is in the hallway across from it.  Each has a sliding glass door because that allows for maximum sunlight as well as a private entry.

The Wing space was built much like the rest of the Common House, with it’s earth-bermed north side and solar passive windows facing south. It is similar in size and also has a wood stove and radiant floor heating. An interesting element of this structure is that the interior walls are made with cement blocks, as opposed to traditional wood framing. This allows the sun to heat rooms from one side, while the wood stove heats the other side. The cement walls also allow the bedrooms to soundproof without insulating them against the heat.  In fact, the walls become greater thermal mass, absorbing heat and radiating it back slowly throughout the day.

Another fun aspect of the Common House is the small Sun Room on its east side.The Sun Room is our main enterance and serves as a mud room, a small greenhouse, and a space for some of our utilities. We decided to add this room instead of berming the east side of the house in order to get more light into the house while still protecting ourselves from the elements. The clear roof allows more sun into the space, and plants love it in the summer.