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Cooler, Cheaper & Recyclable: 7 Reasons Why Our Grandparents’ Mud Walls Are The Best

Want a house that benefits both you and the environment? Mud houses are known to be durable, low-cost, and most importantly, biodegradable.

Cooler, Cheaper & Recyclable: 7 Reasons Why Our Grandparents’ Mud Walls Are The Best

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Did you know that of 118 million homes in India, 65 million are mud houses?

While most are obviously a factor of economics, it is also true that many prefer mud homes for the advantages they offer. Interestingly, we are seeing a small shift in urban centres as well, with home owners feeling their grandparents had it right.

Indeed, even architects like Laurie Baker, fondly referred to as ‘Gandhi of Architecture’, have been pushing this trend for decades. Following the Gandhian philosophy, the British-born architect went on to construct hundreds of mud houses and inspire a generation of architects to use locally available construction materials.

From the ease of access and lower costs, mud houses have several advantages against cement or steel. Unlike modern materials, they also stand steady after decades, and when dismantled, do not generate carbon emissions.

Here are 7 Reasons Why Mud Walls Are Better

1. Strong, Sturdy & Disaster-Resistant

A disaster-resistant house in Barmer district of Rajasthan

Mud brick, if stabilised, can prove to be a solid and durable construction material for walls and floors. It can last centuries without developing cracks even during earthquakes or floods.

“While mud houses may cause some problems during rains, these issues can be addressed during construction. Stabilisers like wheat husk, straw, lime, and cow dung can be used to prevent any damage,” Kerala-based architect Eugene Pandala explains.

For instance, using the Stabilised Compressed Interlocking Earth Block (SCEB) technology, local mud can be stabilised with five per cent cement. The final compressed blocks have high structural strength and water-resistance.

A prime example of this is Bhunga in Kutch, an earthquake-prone region, where houses are made with mud bricks, twigs and dung in a circular structure.

Likewise, in Rajasthan’s Barmer district, the houses have three vital elements–a cylindrical shape, mud, and thatched roofs. These houses were built by Delhi-based non-profit organisation Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS) in the aftermath of the devastating flood in 2006, which uprooted thousands of houses and rendered hundreds of villagers homeless.

2. Thermal Insulation

Image courtesy: Thannal

Have you ever wondered why houses made of mud walls have moderate temperatures, irrespective of the season?

That’s because mud walls are naturally insulated, providing thermal comfort inside the house. During soaring summers, the inside temperature will be lower, while in winters, the mud walls will comfort you with their warmth.

Additionally, the pores also allow a cool breeze to enter the house.

“Mud buildings are similar to the human body. Mud walls, being porous, can breathe, like our skin. This helps in maintaining comfortable indoor temperature, irrespective of extreme weather conditions outside. So one can save a lot of money spent on ACs and other mechanical means to keep the space comfortable,” says Biju Bhaskar.

He is Co-founder of Thannal Hand Sculpted Homes, that builds eco-friendly structures from Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu.

3. Recyclable

Image courtesy: Malaksingh Gill

While recycling has become a buzzword for environmental preservation today, mud houses have been silently doing that for ages. When dismantled, mud houses are recyclable or re-usable.

“The material is re-usable, and if you break it down, mud can easily go back to nature. So if your son needs to build a house, he can re-use the entire material and not look for anything new. This way, we can reduce the dependency for construction from nature,” says Biju.

This sustainable feature also lowers the overall construction cost.

4. Biodegradable

Image courtesy: Ashams Ravi

Thanks to fast consumerism, we are surrounded by materials like plastics, metal, glasses, and copper that take years to decompose. This has burdened our planet and water bodies with tonnes of waste. With no other alternative, they continue to pollute the environment.

Mud is an excellent example of a circular economy. It easily goes back to nature, from where it came.

5. Cost-Effective

Due to its abundance, mud or rammed earth can be procured at reasonable rates. Besides, it is a locally available material that reduces or mitigates transportation costs.

This cuts down the overall construction cost up to 30 per cent, “If one sq ft in a conventional house costs Rs 1,000, the same area in an eco-friendly one will be priced at Rs 600,” says Pandala.

6. Compatibility

Image courtesy: Malaksingh Gill

There are four basic construction techniques to build a mud house that depend on climatic conditions, location, and its size.

  • Cob: A mixture of soil, clay, cow dung, hay, cow urine, and lime is kneaded with tools, hands, or feet to make lumps that eventually form the foundations and walls.
  • Adobe: Sun-dry clay to form bricks.
  • The Wattle and Daub: Wooden/bamboo strips called wattle are ‘daubed’ with a sticky material made from mud, clay, sand, etc.
  • The rammed earth technique: Ramming a mixture of the earth (mud) along with sand, gravel and clay until it becomes rock solid.

Mud can easily be blended with other materials and adjusts to all four construction techniques.

7. Carbon Footprint

Not Just a Humble Hut: TN Org Shows How Mud Houses Can Be Viable in Cities Too!
Image courtesy: Thannal

Did you know that the cement industry generates around eight per cent of the global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions?

“If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third-largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world with up to 2.8bn tonnes, surpassed only by China and the US,” reads a report by London-based non-governmental organisation Chatham House.

In the 21st century, cement became a substitute for mud and a go-to material for most architects. In comparison, mud has negligible carbon footprints as it is recyclable and can be excavated from the earth. Plus, it is sourced locally, eliminating transportation (from quarry to construction sites) that otherwise would have left carbon emissions.

Now wouldn’t you want a house with low carbon emissions that does not burn your pocket?

Featured Image: courtesy Thannal

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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