Unique Eco-Friendly Homes Provide Safe Housing For Displaced Communities

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May. 22 2019, Updated 2:32 p.m. ET

Between political conflicts and natural disasters, thousands of refugees around the world find themselves without homes every year. Cal-Earth, a nonprofit organization based in California, has developed a housing solution to help tackle this issue. The institution focuses on creating sustainable structures called SuperAdobe homes. The organization teaches people how to build these durable homes with basic materials and designs. 

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Nadar Khalili, an Iranian architect, founded Cal-Earth after researching ways to create more efficient homes. While working for NASA and creating concepts for human settlements on Mars, he shifted his focus to finding a workable housing solution for people with limited resources. Today, thousands of domes have been built around the world. Nadar’s children, Dastan and Sheefte,h continue to lead the institution. 

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While they may look like something out of a sci-fi movie, these homes are shaped like domes for a good reason. One of the strongest forms in architectural design is the arch. Domes are strong structures because they are essentially arches rotated at 180 degrees. As a result, the structural integrity and durability of these homes are one of their best selling points.  

Dastan Khalili, who took over his father’s role as president of Cal-Earth, stated that these homes are “fire-proof, hurricane-proof, tornado-proof, earthquake resistant.” The structures themselves have proved these are not just optimistic claims, either. SuperAdobe homes in California were recently left untouched while wildfires destroyed neighboring structures. This design has proven to be a match for earthquakes, as well. SuperAdobe homes were the only structures left standing in a Nepal town during the intense 2015 earthquakes. 

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While they can withstand natural disasters, these homes also improve over time. According to CBS Los Angeles, Khalili said, “You take an arch, you turn it on its axis, and it becomes a dome, you take an arch and repeat it and have a vault. When gravity pulls on it, it becomes stronger with time.” 

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The key to the structural integrity is the way the SuperAdobes are built. First, sandbags are filled with wet soil and arranged in layers. It’s an ideal material for flood resistance, and it also provides compression or vertical strength. 

Next, strands of barbed wire are placed between each sandbag to act as mortar. This step gives the structure horizontal strength. Finally, earth is added as a stabilizer. This feature doubles as fire-proofing and insulation. Since the building system is relatively simple, anyone can apply it to other structural needs like silos and dams.

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These structures were also specifically designed to be easily built. In fact, Cal-Earth asserts that anyone can make one of these homes and encourages families to build the homes together. According to CBS Los Angeles, Khalili stated, “You can literally buy the plans, go anywhere in the county, have it stamped and start building. Usually for about one-third the cost of a normal house and it will last hundreds and hundreds of years and for generations and generations.” The necessary materials needed are soil, water, sandbags, barbed wire, and a shovel. 

While they may look humble, these homes don’t have to be limited by size or comfort. Cal-Earth’s largest prototype is 2,000 square feet. They have modern conveniences, such as plumbing and electricity. If you’re interested in building a SuperAdobe home, you can get the blueprints here. Not so sure you want to pick up a shovel yet? Try staying in a dome house through Airbnb first. 

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