My Earthen Floors
The first time I ever experienced an earthen floor was while working on renovation plans for a 100+year old adobe home in northern New Mexico. I was struck by the beauty of the floor and the graceful way its history was revealed through the barely perceptible wear of countless footsteps treading for over a century. And now, more than 25 years later I am the proud owner of earthen floors in my home.
We have a lot of visitors who come to see our compound, in response to the invitations that Robert and I offer as we teach and lecture about natural building all over the country. Many guests have never actually been in a natural home before. I most enjoy watching the reaction as people experience the earthen floors.
Our stocking-footed winter guests and bare-footed summer guests are astonished and delighted with their first encounter. An earthen floor with its subtle undulations and tone variations is cool in summer, warm in winter and a sensual delight to walk on. The floors never fail to illicit a host of questions. Here are some FAQ’s
How is it built?
There are many different ways to build an earthen floor. All of them require soil with the proper clay content, a small amount of fiber (usually finely chopped straw), elbow grease and surface treatment like linseed oil and beeswax. Traditionally in New Mexico Ox blood was added to the floor for strength but our own vegan floors, which substituted flour paste for blood, have performed admirably well for over 10 years now. For information on various construction techniques I recommend a little booklet written by Athena and Bill Steen called “Earthen Floors”. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
How do you clean it?
A well sealed floor can be damp mopped, swept, waxed or vacuumed.
How much does it cost?
If you have skill with a trowel time and patience, building your own earth floor can be dirt cheap. Otherwise you will need to pay a skilled craftsperson to lovingly craft your floor daily, for at least a couple of weeks, and then apply multiple finish layers, making it comparable in cost to a wood or tile floor.
Does it ever get dusty?
A properly finished earth floor will be durable and solid and will not need any kind of maintenance for many years. It feels like leather and behaves a lot like a soft wood floor. It might not be a good idea to drag a piano across it but it will hold up well under day to day traffic and may never require touch up in a shoes-off home. If damage does occur, like an un-attended spill, it is fairly easily repaired.
Can you put radiant floor heating in an earthen floor?
From an environmental standpoint an earthen floor is unrivaled… local materials, local craftsman, no factory pollution, no waste products, no landfill after-life and little or no transportation. And its ecological performance is coupled with biological compatibility. Easy on the spine, promotes healthy electro-climate, free of toxins, hygroscopic. Never experienced one? I invite you to see ours!
Paula Baker-Laporte, FAIA, is an architect and a certified building biology practitioner. She is the principle of Baker-Laporte and Associates and EcoNest Design. She is primary author of “Prescriptions for a Healthy House” and co-author with husband Robert Laporte of “Econest-Creating Sustainable Sanctuaries of Clay, Straw and Timber”. She can be reached through the website www.econest.com.