Skip to main content


Healthy Living, Healthy Building (Building an EcoNest)

By Bales, Design, Issue 62, Straw-Clay, Walls No Comments

By Elaine Brett

Finished WallsTwelve years ago I had never even heard of building with straw.  I lived in a four-bedroom colonial house in a subdivision in Maryland.  The conventional American Dream – good job, big house, nice cars, the monthly lawn service, the health club membership, 24/7 access to shopping …

Then on my 49th birthday came the American nightmare.  A wake up call from Mother Nature.  Sometimes she needs to smack you hard to get her attention.  My wake up was a cancer diagnosis that sent me spinning into a quest of asking questions and trying to understand “how could this happen to me?”

One path of my quest (probably driven by my background as a chemist) sent me questioning the chemicals in my environment: the food I was eating, the air I was breathing, the water I was drinking, the lifestyle I was living, the buildings in which I was residing and working.  The answers took me beyond the overt pollution of urban air and water to the hidden nooks of micro pollutants in synthetic materials, chemical food processes and endocrine disrupters in simple everyday products.

The quest also took me on another path.  I began looking for a place to live clean and chemical free, or at least as clean as is possible.  And that’s how I came to a small town in the North Fork Valley ( in Western Colorado.

Read More

Traditional and Contemporary Natural Building in Korea

By Bales, Design, Energy, Floors, Issue 62, Plaster, Straw Bale Construction, Straw-Clay, Walls No Comments

By Kyle Holzhueter

Editors Note – This article is a feature length pictorial look at the various aspects of natural building in Korea.  The full-length article will be in the upcoming issue of The Last Straw and is available in its entirety right here on the website for subscribers.  Make sure you have a subscription soon so you won’t miss this stunning array of natural building techniques.

Traditional Korean Architecture

Traditional Building in Korea relied primarily on natural and local materials.  Buildings were traditionally designed according to the 間 (Korean: ka, Japanese: ken) module, a common measurement found in east Asia.

East Asian Modual

East Asian Module

Traditional Korean homes generally have a timber frame with adobe or wattle and daub infill, though regional variations are found throughout the country.

Traditional House

Traditional House

Regional Variation

Regional Variation

Especially on Jeju Island where volcanic rock and strong winds are abundant, homes traditionally consisted of a double wall system with an exterior wall of volcanic rock surrounding an interior wall, creating a protected corridor around the house.  This in turn, protected the interior walls from wind and rain and improved the thermal performance of the home.  Also because of the strong winds, thatched roofs were generally secured by a net of straw ropes.

Become a subscriber to view the entire article and all other protected content...

Read More

Light Straw-Clay Appendix in the IRC

By Codes and Permits, Issue 62, Straw-Clay, Technical One Comment

codes1An appendix on Light Straw-Clay Construction was also approved for inclusion in the 2015 International Residential Code (IRC).  To date only the states of New Mexico and Oregon have a section on Light Straw-Clay Construction in their building code.  The proposal received a 6-3 approval vote at Building Committee Hearings in Dallas in April 2013.  After public testimony and immediately before the vote, one committee member encouraged approval, commenting, “This is the future.”

The appendix governs the use of light straw-clay “as a non-bearing building material and wall infill system”. It is limited to one-story structures, except it allows structures greater than one-story “in accordance with an approved design by a registered design professional.”  It is also limited to use in Seismic Design Categories A and B, but this includes approximately 85% of the contiguous United States.  Use in higher seismic risk categories can occur through the “alternative means and methods” section of the code with an engineered design.

The appendix proposal was submitted by architect Paula Baker-Laporte, who along with husband Robert Laporte form the company EcoNest ( as the leading practitioners of light straw-clay construction in the U.S.


The appendix was co-authored by architects Paula Baker-Laporte and Martin Hammer, with significant input from Richard Duncan, PE and Robert Baker-Laporte.  Practitioners from mid-west, including Lou Host-Jablonski, Architect, Sue Thering, and Doug Piltingsrud, contributed to the Commentary, which is expected to make the appendix more flexible in its application.

The full text of the appendix as it will appear in the 2015 IRC can be downloaded at:

Additional text and illustrations are planned to be included in the “2015 IRC Code and Commentary”

Contact:  Paula Baker-Laporte at [email protected]