Late spring, 2010. Wet and heavy snow. Roof made of fabric, cement and acrylic. Winter three for this test roof. The snow was so heavy it was impractical to lift a full shovel. The roof had no leaks. This roof surface remains bare for testing. A protective layer might be wise in the next few years.

Note : Repairs were made in October 2015. (Age of roof = 8 years). A problem occurs where fabric lays on mold. See exposed fabric discovery here

Snowload testing is important for any structural technique: For example, over sixty percent of emergency tents collapsed in the winter following an earthquake disaster in Pakistan; sadly, there were casualties. Keep in mind that the structure built using self-sheltering techniques in this photo series costs less per unit of floor area than a delivered emergency tent.

The web version of this issue in the ferrocement.com manual series was posted first so that what is practiced moves immediately into public knowledge.

We briefly jump forward to February, 2011 for snowload test of this $5 per sq/ft shelter at about 60% completion.

Tents can be fragile when exposed to bad weather. For example, after an earthquake in Bagh, Azad Kashmir, Pakistan. After one night of snow fall, 345 tents were damaged. Sixty-nine tents could not be repaired and 276 tents were difficult to repair. (From a total of 690 new tents).

Water and Sanitation were declared to be Human Rights by the United Nations in the summer of 2010. Clean water, sanitation, and shelter are human rights that also rank as life necessities along with clean air, food, and the freedom to enjoy social interaction with fellow humans. This research into applied economics points toward immediate yields that extend beyond quantitative economic analysis to the realm of qualitative profits that contribute to vital cultural strengths supported by a modern three pillar vision of justice and equity, which is widely accepted as prerequisite and foundation for a sustainable future; justice for all, justice for the future and justice with nature.

Food and shelter are human needs unavailable to many hundreds of millions. Why? Production methods which broadly satisfy human needs of the poor do not efficiently channel income to large corporations. Similarly, small-scale ecological agriculture produces twice the yield per unit of land area as industrial scale farms. Efficiency measures in so-called advanced economies are focused on the 1000 : 1 ratio per hour of work in field crops such as corn or wheat, and those efficiency measures ignore the huge cost of displaced small farmers that migrate to overcrowded urban centers – to name just one category of costs so large that they more than cancel even the theoretical gains attributed to centralized corporate land ownership and mechanized factory style agriculture.

The cultural difference between small-scale agriculture and large communist or private corporate farms is that the smaller farms are owned and worked by independent and free citizens rather than semi-slave migrant or gulag prison labor, a similar situation of popular empowerment with housing is addressed in this manual. Though individuals, neighborhoods and communities can easily afford these techniques, they are too costly for the wealthy and far too costly for large construction conglomerates.

The five-dollar-per-square-foot house, the flycatcher compost toilet, and the potable water storage tank that collects rainwater from its own roof as well as the shelter roof are technologies studied and developed at the ferrocement.com research and testing area. Results are quickly presented on the web so that the structural and construction techniques are safely moved into the public domain and there remain available for use by all who might wish to do so.

This ferrocement.com manual series is for both individuals and formal scholastic study. Printed field manuals are also available for the individual or formal classroom. To acquire printed manuals, navigate to the Book section from the Welcome/Home page of this website.


The shelter frame and its temporary plastic roof explained to this point by the Shelter-2009 photo series were undamaged by winter. May windstorms blew it off the temporary brick supports, twice. The second storm was more severe, it forced the walls out of square and wrenched two opposite corner angle braces out of their binding. Though these wrap bindings appear thin, they are fiber reinforced concrete and far beyond human strength; it was quite a struggle to pry the structure back to square and reinsert the angle brace into its still perfect wrap binding. A circular groove let into the bamboo for the wrap joint to grip would surely lock a brace against tension as-well-as compression.

Use the Pythagorean theorem to reset the shelter frame square, measure until distance from corner to corner is equal.

Rolled privacy screen like this is made from many different materials, the one pictured below is willow. Reeds and split bamboo will also be used to exhibit construction materials and techniques used to construct the model shelter.

I once cut into a roof for an architect friend and was surprised to discover a perfectly preserved 30 year-old reed and cement roof with rolled roofing applied as if the roof was wood. The house was built in my neighborhood by a french family, about a decade after WWII. Robér Veneble was the father's name, he wasn't exactly poor, the world was different in those days, ten years after the war people still didn't have much extra money; a reed and cement roof made perfect sense then, it still does. My architect friend sold the home a few years later, and then it was sold again, for almost a million dollars. Robér disappeared at sea in the 1980's, his ferrocement sailboat which I watched being built as a youngster was found in perfect condition on a south sea island beach. His experimental structure with reed and cement roof burned during a forest fire, 2008, I don't think anyone but me had any idea what roofed the back half of that house.

Willow on bamboo frame, soon to be plastered, framing of doors and windows still needs examination of best solutions for differing materials. Walls and roof should last at least a generation, maybe several. What will people do about doors and window openings in locations where milled frame wood is either too expensive or not readily unavailable? That is one question to study. Ideas?

Another cost saving when using rolled reed mat is the woven wire poultry netting is not required. The chicken wire was applied as ripstop for a purely fabric and bamboo structure. The armature materials were changed when later computations proved that plain sand and cement plaster is substantially less expensive than acrylic/cement/fabric. The more expensive mixture is still better for the roof because it is impermeable to water, if acrylic is available and civil societies are able to discount the price with direct, larger volume purchases than an individual can afford. Also, sunlight does not decompose the cement/acrylic roof as it does composite tarpaper material, additionally, new acrylic/cement sticks to old with an invisible perfect union many years later. It should be noted that the poultry wire is not a great expense and does not add significantly to wall thickness.

Robér did not use wire mesh on his roof. It survived many earthquakes and wind storms. The tar paper roofing on top was replaced many times by workers. Even so wire mesh is not too expensive. Especially in areas of strong earthquakes and hurricanes.

Sustainable development ideas for rapidly creating a billion homes includes self-built homes as shown here. A cure for chronic homelessness will liberate suppressed imagination and creativity. All benefit. Self-built shelter promotes human health and directed evolution toward a sustainable and much more rational human culture.

Self-built homes utilizing folk art and skills provides the additional benefits of practicing democracy and creating an economy utilizing the modern concept of externalized profit. This is the opposite of all current economic systems and points to a much more healthy way of life. There are natural examples. Consider the honeybee. It works hard and succeeds by making sweet gold for the wealth of itself and civilization. The external profit of the honeybee is that it pollinates the planet.

Democracy is the most efficient tool to focus distributed intelligence of humanity. It is the key to progress. Information growth and content is the aspect of life growing and flowering within the decay and chaos of surrounding entropy. Democracy is the bloom of the most advanced science and evolves with humanity and the cosmos. Supporters of democracy are lovers of life. This idea underlies self-built homes and the space-age. A gentle population decline is civilized. The world will change gradually to earlier population levels. These little houses help provide human dignity.

Self-built homes as folk art is a path to sustainable development. The idea will be born from those in need and then adopted by those who are jealous. Smart humans soon realize living in a society devoted to dominion and acquisition is not as much fun as a sustainable culture based on universal justice. Especially after Earth's increasing health becomes obvious to everyone.

Humanity can afford 0.2% population decline accompanied by accurate education about excess consumption and planetary health. Bamboo, biological fiber and cement are in the equation.

The mat is shown above rolled over the window opening, gardener's pruning scissors will cut out the window opening easily and quickly. Notice the temporary wire tie to the bamboo vertical pole, the window opening is to your left. Luckily, the willow mat stitching is positioned just to the right of the vertical pole of the window opening, one may wish to consider this when laying out the frame, if the mat is available before beginning construction.

The reed mat Robér used was stitched together with cotton string rather than wire as pictured in this example. My former neighborhood experiences Santa Anna winds with hurricane force gusts; the cotton-stitched, reed-mat reinforced plaster roof Robér built was not harmed by strong, hot winds roaring down the coastal mountains behind Santa Barbara, California. Sadly, few like Robér will ever live there again, his and his welcoming neighbor's experimental living structures are forbidden in modernity.

The mat will not be in perfect position at first try, several temporary ties will be needed. It is extremely important to devote a split second and bend temporary tie ends inward so that you or anyone else present does not blind themselves on a protruding sharp wire. Examine the cut end of wire closely and you will see that wire cutters shape the cut wire end like the sharpest of knife blades, perhaps sharper. Bend all wire ends inward. Save an eye, do this repetitively and develop this habit. The best course is to use cotton rope instead of wire from the very beginning, 1/8" diameter is a good size, 1/4" is okay, too (6 - 12 mm).

Notice the split bamboo: one of the economic benefits of this technique is the ability to use low quality bamboo culms. Small village or family bamboo plots may be located on the worst land, highest quality culms (poles) may be sold for cash income while lower grades are incorporated into the frames of personal shelter.

Mat material can be cut with wire cutters, gardener's pruning shears are even easier.