Resilient & Affordable Housing for the US Gulf Coast

Earthen building materials re-appropriated for use in hot wet climates

  • Robert Holton Louisiana State University
  • Michele Barbato Louisiana State University
  • Nitin Kumar Louisiana State University


ABSTRACT: Objective: Southern Louisiana is currently under great pressure to increase the quantity of resilient and affordable housing available within its local communities. Can earthen building mediums traditionally used in hot dry climates be re-appropriated for use in hot wet climates to help address this need? Methodology: In our current period of climate change, unpredictable events have and will continue to displace thousands of residence in the coastal region of Louisiana. This historic unseating of entire communities necessitates a reconsideration of standard housing solutions. Constructed primarily of materials accessible from the building site, compressed stabilized earth block design and building techniques offer an economical and sustainable approach to the current increase in demand for weather resistant housing. To investigate the composition of earthen material in Southern Louisiana, a United States Geological Survey soil classification map and chart were consulted to identify locations of different regional soil types. Several locations in the area proved to be potential sites being composed of material that fell within the guidelines for soil compositions suitable to making compressed stabilized earth blocks. Forming the tested soil into earth blocks was realized by fabricating a manual block press to produce the 10” x 6” x 3” modules. Varying mixtures with differing percentages of cement, the stabilizing agent, were formulated to test how the stabilizer influenced the blocks strength and durability. After curing for 28 days, blocks were tested for resistance to compressive and tensile forces with successful results in line with building regulations of hot dry areas. Achieved outcomes: In response to the need for affordable, climate responsive, housing in coastal Louisiana single-family prototype designs were then developed using compressed stabilized earth blocks as the primary construction element. The critical demand for housing in regions around the gulf coast has been recently documented in the article, Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees’ by Coral Davenport and Campbell Robertson published in the New York Times on May 3rd 2016. The article, focusing on Isle de Jean Charles located along the Louisiana gulf coast, details the experience of resettling local residents due to flooding. Unfortunately, this phenomenon of water inundation is more than an isolated event. In August 2016 thousands of residents across southern Louisiana were displaced by severe flooding, a likely outcome of climate change. The need for affordable housing for the numerous families driven out of their homes, as well as for other low-income families, is an essential and pressing concern for the region. Through the novel use of engineered earth blocks in a hot wet environment and an awareness of local contextual parameters, the prototype designs offer an affordable, resilient, and sensitive way to bring about housing for the many individuals in need. From our research we have concluded that it is feasible to reappropriate earthen building materials found in hot dry climates to construct enduring structures responsive to a hot wet environment.

KEYWORDS: Affordable, Sustainable, Housing, Climate-Change

How to Cite
Holton, R., Barbato, M., & Kumar, N. (2018). Resilient & Affordable Housing for the US Gulf Coast. ARCC Conference Repository.