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How one family thrives in the Arctic with a cob house inside a solar geodesic dome

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Life inside the Arctic Circle is by no means easy, unless you’re a Hjertefølger. We first heard about Benjamin and Ingrid Hjertefølger four years ago when they began building Nature House, a three-story cob house wrapped in a solar geodesic dome. Located on the island of Sandhornøya in northern Norway, the ultra-green home was designed to enable the family of six to eek out a sustainable existence despite challenging climatic conditions – they even grow most of their own food. Inhabitat recently caught up with the Hjertefølgers, who have now lived in their home for three years, to learn about their challenges and victories.

The Hjertefølgers, which translates to Heartfollowers, live in Nature House with their four children – they’ve added one to their number since Inhabitat last wrote about them. After constructing their cob home topped with one of Solardome’s single-glazed geodesic domes with the help of friends and neighbors, the family moved in on December 8, 2013.

“The house works as we intended and planned. We love the house; it has a soul of its own and it feels very personal. What surprises us is the fact that we built ourselves anew as we built the house,” Ingrid Hjertefølger told Inhabitat. “The process changed us, shaped us.”

The family had to design their home with extreme temperatures and wind in mind. It’s impossible to grow food in the dome in winter – Hjertefølger said there are three months without sun at Nature House – but the design does enable the family to grow food five months longer than they could outside. They grow apples, cherries, plums, apricots, kiwis, grapes, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs, squash, and melons.

Growing their own food is just the beginning of sustainable living at Nature House. Hjertefølger said all of their grey and black water is reused for fertilizing and watering the plants they grow. The family composts food scraps. They make sure to use clean, biodegradable household products, as elements in those products could end up in the food they eat. The home will have a long lifespan too – Hjertefølger said cob “lasts forever if you keep it dry,” and as their dwelling is always covered with the glass dome, it hasn’t been worn down by weather. She also said there’s no need to paint or even maintain the cob structure’s walls.

Improvements could be made to the house, but for the most part the family seems incredibly satisfied with the design. “If we were to build a new Nature House, the ideal thing would be double glass on the green house so that we could have a tropical garden and no dripping in the winter,” said Hjertefølger. “But that is a bit unrealistic because it is very expensive with all that glass.” She also said they’d like to make a few changes to how the plant beds are set up “to get more usable space and better placement for different plants.” Overall, though, the family says they thrive inside Nature House.

“The feeling we get as we walk into this house is something different from walking in to any other house,” Hjertefølger told Inhabitat. “The atmosphere is unique. The house has a calmness; I can almost hear the stillness. It is hard to explain. But it would have been impossible getting this feeling from a house someone else has planned and built for us, or a house with corners and straight lines.”

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