Dirt Floors: Not Your Ancestors Flooring Option
Woman cleaning her dirt floor (NY Times)
Dirt floors were the norm in the 17 and 1800's. Even basements in the early 1900's did not typically have concrete floors because of the extra expense. The downfall was the constant moisture coming up from the dirt in the summer, but the homes did not experience the severe drying that is common in today's homes. Dirt floors are coming back as a green solution to flooring. This time around though, these floors are ultra sleek and cool and will not be tracked all over the place.
Dirt floors have come about because of a movement in the green building world called natural building. This type of construction is based on using materials that have the least amount of processing. This is due to the realization that even though many green products are very sustainable and reusable, the manufacturing process can be very significant environmentally.
How Dirt Floor Work
Dirt floors are a mixture of dirt, lime, and sand. This mixture must be mixed correctly in order for the dirt floor to cure properly. The mixture is literally dumped into the house onto of a compacted gravel bed. This bed can have insulation underneath it to provide some R-value, but because of the extremely natural state of this floor, it tends to be warm to the touch and will absorb heat from the sun.
The dirt flooring mixture is spread with a concrete rake and a broom. The dirt floor mixture is then left to sit for 2 weeks to harden. After this, the floor is sealed with lint seed oil and bees wax. If the homeowner wants it to be shiny, they add another coat of lint seed oil.
These floors can be washed with soap and water like linoleum. The durability of this type of flooring is what is truly impressive. Although this method has not been thoroughly tested in temperate climates (many this is installed in mild, warmer climates) there is no reason to assume it would work any differently with the proper insulation barriers to keep it from freezing.