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THE SITUPS*: Super Insulated Tilt-Up Panel System.

By Bales, Issue 63, Prefabricated Panels, Straw Bale Construction, Uncategorized, Walls One Comment

By Huff ‘n’ Puff Constructions

Editors Note: We plan to have a comprehensive article covering as many of the tilt-up straw panel systems on the global market as we can in Issue #64 due out in July.  Please also note that the images associated with the thumbnails on this page are of large size.  We wanted to keep them original size to allow you to see details clearly.

INTRODUCTION
Recent times have brought an increasing wave of environmental and energy efficiency awareness in the building industry throughout Australia.  This increased awareness of the effect of logging on our forests, lakes, and streams, as well as heightened concern for the energy cost and efficiency of our buildings and ever-increasing costs of construction materials is bringing tremendous pressure for change to the Australian building industry.

A primary focus of this change is the development of alternative forms of construction for single and multi-family housing as well as commercial and industrial buildings.  With a tradition that dates back almost 200 years, the Australian building industry has utilized timber extensively for use in wood frame construction, concentration on wood framing timber as the principal raw material for the structural shell of the majority of our housing and much of our light commercial structures has tremendously diminished our hard wood and softwood forest resources in Australia.

The cost of framing timber has more than doubled in the past five years. The price of timber is projected to continue to rise over the course of the next decade with additional concerns over the quality and availability of that timber.  The price and in some areas the availability of energy has added a new and important factor in most building projects.  With these facts in mind, the building industry, known for its rigidity and resistance to change, will have to look at replacement materials for framing timber in home and commercial construction.

THE SITUPS*
We are in the process of developing and bringing to the market place a unique, and ecologically sound, structural insulated panel building system.  These panels will be able to be put into place by two people.  This structural panel system provides a cost-effective, building system that is based on an environmentally responsible manufacturing process.

Huff ‘n’ Puff Constructions are manufacturing a structural super insulated panel that uses as its core material waste agricultural cereal straw from wheat and other cereals commonly grown in Australia.

SITUP Prototype

SITUP Prototype From TLS #24

With the recent high rise in energy costs and energy availability this product’s value to the builder and his client is a product that is more important now than ever before.  THE SITUPS* is highly competitive to conventional building methods.  With the reduced construction time, energy savings, non-toxic nature of the product, and strength and durability of the product indicate we have a building system whose time has come.

HISTORY
It was on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River at Hay that we made our first SITUP.  This event was first published in The Last Straw many moons ago now.  It involved a BIG chain saw and a jumbo straw bale 2.4 m x 1.2 m x 1.2 m (8’x4’x4’).  We made three panels out of the one bale and had a lot of waste with the “method” we used at that time.  Back to the drawing board…  [Huff ‘n’ Puff shared this technique in TLS #24, Winter of 1998]

01 Testing 2

Testing

In between building straw bale houses and wineries we kept on refining the process over the past 8 years.  Eventually we got an order to make 60 x 2.4 x 1.2 x 150 mm panels for a straw bale house that we were building in Kangaroo Valley, near Sydney.  These panels were to be used for the internal walls and are non-load bearing. 

We had these internal panels tested at the University of Western Sydney.  Our tests were to establish their load bearing and wind loading capacity.  They did not pass muster for load bearing but showed us their potential.  However the size of 150 mm wide proved to be very hard to manufacture and will need a lot of refining in the 03 Kangaroo Valley 1 (1)process to make them a worthwhile proposition.

FIRST LOAD BEARING PROTOYPES
After many experiments and research we have chosen a method that we feel has the potential to change the way we build with straw bales now and into the future.  We also realise that several straw panel systems are now on the market in parts of Europe and Canada.  Our opinion is that more is good and will only lead to the acceptance of building a house, flats and even high rise units and many other types of building by adopting straw as the medium in tilt-up wall technology.

07 Wagga Wagga 2 (3)

Near Wagga Wagga

We have now completed two SITUP buildings in New South Wales.  One close to home in a suburb of Wagga Wagga, and the other on a farm near Yass, which is close to Canberra.  We are now filling an order for a three-pavilion SITUPS home in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales.

11 Yass 1 (4)

Near Yass

The SITUPS are currently 2.450 to 3.000 metres high and come in various widths from 600 mm to 1.2 metres.  We can also make them between 350 mm and 450 mm wide.  The cladding can be a variety of material from renders to weatherboard, corrugated iron and many other forms of external sheeting.  Internally they can also be clad in render or Gyprock and various types of lining boards.

We are also developing a portable SITUPS factory to make these on a building site.

SUMMARY
The SITUPS will greatly reduce carbon emissions from new buildings through savings during manufacture and the operation of the building.  We already know this, having built many straw bale buildings since 1998 and together with 145 straw bale building workshops now completed.

Hunter Valley

Hunter Valley

Our goal is twofold; first, to reduce the carbon impact of modern buildings with the SITUPS and; second, to be able to utilize a waste product of our wheat and rice cereal growing in Australia where rice straw alone is burnt at an alarming rate.  Some one million tonnes goes up in smoke (particulates and carbon) every year.  Enough straw to build, say, 44,000 three-bedroom SITUPS homes on an annual basis and that is only from the rice grown in one area of Australia.

All the other benefits that come with straw bale homes that we have know of and practiced over the past 17 years apply equally to the SITUPS.  The main difference to conventional building with straw bales is that the SITUPS are uniform pre-compressed at time of manufacture and hence are very fast to build with, saving time and money.

* The SITUPS is a registered trademark of Huff ‘n’ Puff Constructions

John Glassford and Susan Wingate-Pearse, The Straw Wolf and My Little Wolverine
Huff ‘n’ Puff Constructions
“Jack’s Flat”
22-24 Moore Street
GANMAIN N.S.W. 2702.
AUSTRALIA
61 2 6927 6027 Work
0412 11 61 57 Mobile
[email protected]
http://www.glassford.com.au

News and Updates

By Uncategorized No Comments

NewsIt’s time for an update of things and to let you know what’s next here at TLS.

At the top of our agenda is completing our crowd-funding campaign successfully.  We have 7 days remaining and need a final push to get us to our goal.  We saw a huge round of support about 10 days ago and need to see one more just like it.  Please visit our campaign at Indiegogo.com and support the most in-depth coverage of natural building.

We are preparing Issue #63 due out in April.  You won’t want to miss this one so make sure you have a subscription to receive your copy at a discount and uninterrupted for the next year or two.

Nowhere else on the internet will you find the in-depth coverage of the natural building world.  It’s easy to find pictures and quick comments on Facebook or on various websites, but you won’t find “how-to” articles mixed with new systems and ancient techniques of building.  That’s what we do here!

Issue #63 will continue our look at Asian natural building with a focus on Japan.  There will be articles on Tadelakt, the ancient finishing technique from Morroco, and hemp-lime, a wall-building technique.   We will also have a focus on bale wall panel systems where people are experimenting, quite successfully, with prefabricating panels on small and very large projects.

Prior to the release of Issue #63 you will see the articles appearing here on the website as we complete our editing.  Some of these articles will be open to the public, but many of them will only be available to subscribers, so don’t miss out!

Finally, we now have our program, Ads for Articles up and running.  If you are a professional who would like to share your work and advertise your services or materials, take a look at the details and consider sending us something about your work.

We hope you enjoy what you are seeing at TLS and let us know if there is anything we are missing.  Thank you for visiting our website and supporting natural building.

Jeff Ruppert
Editor

 

 

 

Issue #62 Released

By Issue 62, Straw Bale Construction, Uncategorized One Comment

TLS#62_coverThe first TLS issue in three years has made it to press.  We are excited to announce our return to regular production.  You can now find your copy in our store in either PDF or print format.

Issue #62 is the first full-color issue of The Last Straw.  It is also full of the kind of content you have come to expect.  Issue #63 is due out in April, which means we will be publishing issues at the end of each quarter.  If you have a project or details of your work that you want to share, make sure to send us you articles soon!  In order to keep up with our schedule we need to receive a steady flow of stories from the field.

In this Issue:

  • Natural Building in Korea
  • Choosing Natural Hydraulic Lime Plasters
  • Straw Bales and Building Science
  • Permitting your bale building
  • Fueillette House
  • IRC Approval
  • German Fire Test

You can find the print version here and the PDF version here.

We hope you consider a subscription in order to receive each issue uninterrupted and at a discount.

 

 

Welcome!

By Uncategorized No Comments

Important!
We have identified and fixed a glitch in our subscription system that created problems for non-U.S. folks to subscribe.  If you have had problems in the past, please try again and let us know if you continue to have problems.  Thanks for the support!

The Last Straw has undergone a transition over the past year and we’re having a revival of our own.

Russian_BalerWe are now part of the Colorado Straw Bale Association (COSBA).

TLS has come a long way since the days of Out on Bale (un)Ltd where it was created back in 1993.  It is with great honor that we continue the TLS tradition and have the opportunity to upgrade it to reflect the times in which we live.

While much has changed behind the scenes our mission remains the same, which “…is to inform and inspire people to build more consciously and with foresight toward future generations.

With the digital age well upon us we are offering our subscriptions a little differently and hope to bring you even more interactivity with the publication.  By becoming an annual subscriber you will receive both print and pdf versions of each issue.  We want you to be able to access your documents from wherever you are, which means we are considering implementing an online reader for your convenience.

Read More

Figuring the Hidden Costs in Your Building Plans – TLS #41

By Bales, Costs and Estimating, Straw Bale Construction, Uncategorized One Comment

This article appeared in TLS issue #41

by Chris Magwood and Peter Mack-Canada

This article is an excerpt from the book Straw Bale Building: How to Plan, Design and Build with Straw (New Society Publishers, 2000), and is reprinted with permission.

mistingHitting a Moving Target. There is never a single point during the planning process when you can fix an exact budget for your project. Once your plans near completion, however, you have a chance to use them as a guide for estimating both materials and labor costs.

If you find you have missed your budget target by a significant amount, you will have to go back to your plans and start making adjustments. This can be disheartening, but it is better to catch such a problem early than to run out of money before there’s a roof over your head! You may be able to adjust costs without changing your plans, if you commit yourself to finding cheaper materials and hiring less labor. If you do change your plans to reduce costs, don’t forget to work in planning that will allow you to bring your building back to its originally planned size later.

You may discover that you have apparently created plans that will allow you to build for less than what you budgeted. Congratulations! This is every homebuilder’s dream.  Don’t change your plans, however.  When the project is over, you’ll be able to spend a bit more on detailing, furnishing, and landscaping.

It Always Costs More than You Think. The building project that is completed without going over-budget is rare. Your plans will allow you to create a budget estimate, but there will always be unforeseen costs, delays, and problems that will require extra cash to solve. Leave yourself with plenty of budgetary breathing room so you can deal with the inevitable. Try to reserve at least 10 percent of your total calculated budget to cover unforeseen costs.

Pre-construction Costs. The pre-construction costs of your project will not be evident from your plans. These include the price of property, interest on your property payments, building permit fees, driveway allowances, access roads, septic permits, service and utility hook-up and municipal development fees and taxes. Depending on where you are building, these fees can total several thousand dollars and take quite a bite out of your actual construction budget. Wells, septic systems, service entrances, and the excavation/groundwork must all be completed before you actually begin construction and will take another bite out of your budget.

 

trowels

Do you have a misting pump (above), a weed-whacker (right), or enough trowels and wheelbarrows for that big plastering party? If not, better add another $500 to your budget!

Other Hidden Costs. Before you start taking count of the dollars needed for materials and labor, don’t forget to consider other hidden costs you may need to cover.  The purchase and/or rental of tools can add up to a significant budget factor.  Working without the right tools is frustrating and slow, so think your way through the construction process and make a list of what you’ll need. From shovels and picks for digging to carpentry tools and plastering trowels, the list will be extensive and expensive. Keep a bit of your budget set aside for unforeseen specialty tools you’ll need to buy or rent. For specialized tasks– plumbing, wiring, heating, roofing, concrete form work, etc.– weigh the cost of acquiring or renting the appropriate tools and equipment against the costs of hiring labor.  It may be more economical to hire labor.

Storage. Any building project can involve lots of ‘tarping up’ to cover materials from the elements. This can be especially true for straw-bale projects. Invest in enough good quality tarps to cover the walls of the building and the mounds of straw.

Power. Depending on the availability of grid power at your site, you may require a generator for your power needs. Check the costs of purchase and rental to see which is the better option.

whackerTransportation. If you are building yourself, you might find it beneficial to own a truck, van, or trailer that can be used to pick up and move materials. Such vehicles can be sold when you no longer require them, but you will need money to purchase, license, insure, and service them.

Toilets. Unless you are building in a well-serviced area, you will need some sort of on-site toilet. You can rent serviced units, or you can build an outhouse. Rental toilets are convenient and are removed when you are finished with them. They can also be expensive if the project is a long one. An outhouse requires an early outlay of time and money, but you get some building practice, and an outhouse is not a bad back-up facility to have in case of plumbing disasters in the future!

Work clothing. You will need proper clothing.  Buy good safety boots—spend extra for comfortable, well-fitting boots, gloves, and maybe a hard hat. If you are working in an inclement climate, warm and/or waterproof clothes will make a big difference to your ability to work efficiently.  Construction will wreak havoc on your clothing, so buy quality clothes or plenty of cheap, second hand stuff.

Insurance. Construction insurance covers your project in case of mishaps. Rates can vary tremendously, so get a number of quotes, and be sure you are covered for the risks that concern you most–fire, accident, damage from wind, rain, etc.

Sales tax. Don’t forget the tax man. Sales taxes can add a significant percentage to both material and labor costs. Don’t just total up pre-tax costs!

Cost of living. If you are doing your own building, don’t forget to include your cost of living while you are building. Rent and food must be covered, as will all your regular bills. If you are taking time off work to build, these expenses can take quite a bite out of your budget.

An Inexact Science. Unfortunately, budgeting is an inexact science. It is impossible to account for every contingency and glitch that may arise. The further afield you move from conventional construction, the more variables enter your budgeting equations. The only certain advice is spend plenty of time figuring out your budget, and leave lots of room for error.

Newsflash! Straw-bale Infill Meets U.S. Building Codes – TLS #54

By Building Science, Community, Design, Straw Bale Construction, Technical, Uncategorized No Comments

codes1This article originally appeared in Issue #54.  This issue includes a table of straw-bale building codes, guidelines and mandates in the U.S., and links to straw-bale codes, guidelines and supporting documentation; and an extensive review of the status of straw-bale codes and permitting throughout the world.

by Sigi Koko – Pennsylvania, USA

The bottom line is that yes, using straw bales for non-loadbearing infill walls meets existing building codes for both residential and commercial structures throughout the United States. Why is this true? Because building codes are not written to exclude new or alternative construction materials and methods. Rather, each building code begins with an inclusive statement such as the following from the CABO 95 Preface:

“…there are construction materials and practices other than listed in this code which are adequate for the purposes intended. These other methods represent either seldom-used systems or performance-type systems which require individual consideration by the professional architect or engineer based on either test data or engineering analysis and are therefore not included herein.”

The intent of building codes to ensure that materials are used safely and suitably, not to limit the use of appropriate materials. The burden of proof is to demonstrate that an alternative construction method meets the intent of the building code for durability, effectiveness, and safety (including fire resistance). This means showing how straw-bale infill wall systems meet the requirements of the building code for insulation value, flame spread, smoke development rating, and fire rating. Demonstrating compliance with the building codes is possible thanks to many pioneers that have dedicated time and money to sponsor third-party ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) tests. The results of these tests show that straw-bale wall systems not only meet the building code but, in most cases, surpass the intent of the code compared to standard stud-and-drywall construction.

Several states and counties throughout the U.S. have adopted building code amendments that specifically address straw-bale construction, though most regions do not yet include such provisions. Obtaining a building permit for straw-bale infill in regions without a specific building code is not impossible, but rather entails a non-standard process. The question is not whether you can get a building permit for infill strawbale, but rather how to best communicate with local building officials that strawbale is a viable method of construction that meets the existing building code.

David Eisenberg has written extensively and with great eloquence about how to communicate effectively with building officials, and I encourage anyone wanting more detailed information to review his writings on the topic. I have used the following strategy with success:

1) Schedule a pre-submittal meeting with the permitting official to communicate your intentions to build with strawbale. If they are not already familiar with straw-bale construction, provide printed information and additional resources. (Don’t overload with information unless it is requested; like all busy people, building officials are less likely to review a daunting pile.) Bring to the pre-submittal meeting:

• drawings of the proposed building

• an overview of straw-bale construction (I use “House of Straw: Straw Bale Construction Comes of Age” by the US Department of Energy, available at www.eere.energy.gov)

• copies of ASTM testing data (fire-related ASTM tests are at www.dcat.net)

For the final permit submittal, my experience is that stamped structural drawings greatly facilitate the speed and ease of the permitting process.

2) Remember that your building official is your ally not your adversary, and has the same goal as you: to ensure that what gets built is safely built.Acknowledge your common interest for occupant well being and safety. You will create connection instead of confrontation and open a dialog on how to achieve your common goal.

3) Be informed or hire an advocate that has experience in straw-bale construction, including how to build appropriately in your climate. The building officials will generally have more confidence in your project when they know someone on your team fully understands this non-standard construction technique. At a minimum, be prepared for the following common questions:

  • How does your wall system handle liquid water and vapor?
  • What is the fire rating and smoke development rating of the wall system?
  • Will the straw bales attract pests, such as termites and rodents?
  • What is the insulating value of strawbale?
  • How is electrical and plumbing installed?

I have to date not experienced any delays during the permitting process using this method of interaction with building officials. Increasingly, I find that building officials already possess some level of knowledge about straw-bale construction, which was not the case in this region of the country (Mid-Atlantic states) even five years ago.

Finally, I would like to address the issue of adopting existing codes and details in different climates. I design structures in a wet, humid climate with hot summers and cold winters. However, many of the now-standard straw-bale details have mostly developed in arid and temperate climates that are not necessarily durable in this mixed climate. For example, I do not recommend using rebar inside a straw-bale wall in a humid climate, since the cold metal creates an artificial dew point inside the straw wall. The result is elevated moisture around the rebar, which can lead to rotting the straw over time. Instead, I recommend external pinning or using materials that are “warm,” such as bamboo. Similarly, pea gravel at the base creates an artificial dew point, as well as creating a thermal break along the entire base of the wall. My point is not that the originally developed details are inadequate, but rather that they are specific to an arid climate. So when adopting codes and details in different regions with different climatic concerns, ensure that what you propose will perform durably in your climate.

Sigi Koko, the founding principal of Down to Earth, a design and consulting firm specializing in natural building, has obtained construction permits for many straw-bale buildings in her area. With a Masters of Architecture and several years of in-the-field construction experience, she has developed written specifications and architectural details for straw-bale and cob construction. www.buildnaturally.com

Better Quality, Ecological Correctness through Sustainable Design – TLS #59

By Bales, Community, Design, Fire, Uncategorized, Water No Comments

This article appeared in TLS #59.

by Ken Haggard and Polly Cooper – California, USA

Adopted from an article that appeared in Home Power Magazine.

Straw-bale cottage during construction.

Straw-bale cottage during construction.

Like many other architectural firms in California, San Luis Obispo Sustainability Group architects had been designing building that utilized passive solar for many years. Like many other architectural firms around the country, and around the world, in recent years we found ourselves shifting our design work to “sustainability,” an extension of passive solar design concepts.

The definition of sustainability we use in our work is to use resources that meet our needs but do not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs. As our firm and the work we do evolved, our practice has evolved to encompass broader issues including life cycle impacts of materials, miniaturization of infrastructure, health issues in buildings, permaculture and landscape regeneration.

By 1994, we had developed a comfortable working environment, consisting of a mix-used passive solar complex that included an office, shops and a residence on an old trout farm adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest, 12 minutes north of the city of San Luis Obispo. Little did we imagine that we would endure the trauma of losing nearly everything we owned or that this tragedy would afford an opportunity to redevelop our complex based on our new knowledge of sustainability. In August 1994, the 41 Wild Fire that burned 40,000 acres/16,200 hectares in our area destroyed our entire complex, and forced us into applying these broader principles of sustainable design for ourselves. Once we got over the initial shock of losing an extensive library, slide collection, office and home, it became more and more obvious what an opportunity our natural fire-oriented local ecology offered us – we could start from scratch and build sustainably, without the problem associated with retrofitting existing structures.

One of the first things we realized was that the fire had left us with a large inventory of building material. (We had several strawbale benches on the site before the fire. They turned out to be more fire resistant than most of the stucco-, tile- and metal-clad buildings in the canyon.) It had killed most of the mature trees (except for 2/4 of the fire-adapted oaks), and these trees were now available to use as lumber. We would never have dared touch them while they were alive. In addition, the massive opening-up of the landscape afforded by the fire allowed us to examine our aging infrastructure. We realized it could be redone in a much more sustainable way. Landscape regeneration became an everyday reality, not some theoretical subject. We suddenly could do things that we had only talked about, but never had the time to do – like getting off the electrical grid.

cottage2

Completed straw-bale cottage.

Right after the fire, it was necessary to develop a base of operations – a place to store tools, plan from and live in. We attempted to combine this need with several others, such as providing future retreat for guests and visitors, as well as a demonstration workshop for our senior sustainable design architecture class at Cal Poly State University. The result was a 500 sf/46m2 cottage that we built on a slab that was left from a shed we had removed long ago. his was one of the few slabs in the canyon not destroyed by the re, because it supported no flammable building at the time. For the structure of this building, we used fire-damaged telephone polls with a truss joist frame. We built the walls from rice straw bales laid on edge, which provide good insulation. In addition, the stucco finish provides interior distributed thermal mass. For the ceiling, we used wheat straw bales laid flat between TJI rafters, which also provide good insulation. The roof is corrugated steel sheet, and includes a 4-ft.x 8-ft/1.2mx3.4m skylight with skylid (movable insulation) unit. Our electrical power came from a Pelton wheel (a microhydro system) on the creek connected to storage batteries.

The construction of this building used healthier building materials that produced less waste. The unused straw was used for erosion control on the site. The building also gets much of its heat from the sun, and uses waste as a resource. In addition, the structure served as a prototype to test details that we planned to use in the larger buildings.

Sustainable Materials

In sustainable design circles, there is a lot of talk about the advantages of using regional materials. As practitioners, we always had nagging doubts about how much of this is truth and how much is idealized theory. Once construction of the guest cottage was underway, we turned our attention to testing this theory. There were several stands of mature trees on the site, especially in the creek areas. The oaks, Sargent cypress and several pine species were native. The Douglas fir and redwoods were not, although their natural range on the coast extends to just 10 miles/48 km north of the site. They were planted 33 years ago when the trout pods were developed. After the fire, all the redwoods put our new growth immediately, and three-quarters of the oaks sprouted from at least part of the remaining trunks. The other trees were killed. We now had an opportunity to do what passive solar applications do – use resources directly on the site rather than importing them from far away and exporting the impact elsewhere.

We felt obligated to mill the dead trees into lumber for reconstruction. We hired sawyers to do this during the fall of 1994, suing a wood Miser portable mill. Both we and the sawyers were amazed at the quantity and quality of wood produced in this relatively small area. We harvested 22,000 board feet of lumber, enough for construction of the other buildings with enough left over to be a storage, rain and sun protection chore. The economics of this also created the unusual condition of using straw-bale construction in conjunction with heavy timber construction, as it was more economical to mill big pieces rather than small ones.

The result of this experience was very interesting. The wood we obtained cost about the same as it would have from a lumberyard, but the quality was much higher. In addition, all phases of the life cycle of this material – source, transport, processing, use and source regeneration – happened on the site. Waste could not be exported elsewhere. It became a resource used for erosion control and organic matter for the regenerative process.

It became obvious to us that although the first costs of both milling our own lumber and buying it from a lumber yard were about the same, the long-range environmental costs of milling our own was much less. These costs are not often accounted for in our present economic system.

The Studio/Office

interiorThe next step was construction of the studio and office, completed at the end of March 1995. Because of the function of this building, we placed great emphasis on natural lighting in addition to the passive solar design. The studio/office is also off-grid, powered by photovoltaic (PV) panels over the library/research area, with a Pelton wheel on the adjacent creek for use as backup in the winter when the water is high. (Two streams fed by the nearby mountain range flow through the property.) The studio/office is heavy timber-frame construction with straw-bale infill.

The south side of the office is configured to allow maximum sun penetration in the winter and begins to shade itself in early April. During the summer months, it is totally in shade, picking up sun again in late September. Parts of this facade are view windows, part unvented 12-in./30cm Trombe walls that also act as shear walls, and part 9-inch-thick/23cm water tanks below the south-facing window on each end that act as indirect gain passive heaters. The Trombe walls and water tanks are painted with a selective surface paint on the sun-facing side.

The wiggly light shelf on this south facade serves two purposes: providing summer shading of the windows and low water tanks and throwing light deeper into the building in winter. This office is also designed for maximum night ventilation. Summer breezes generally flow from southwest to northeast, so the air moves through the long dimension of the office. These breezes, coupled with the large amount of distributed thermal mass in the building, keeps the interior temperatures below 79oF/26oC, even when daytime summer temperatures are quite hot, occasionally reaching 110oF/43oC.

The Residence

The two-story residence of the complex was completed in October 1997. We used construction techniques similar to those in the office, except that the heavy timber structure is placed 6 in./15cm inside the straw-bale walls. This configuration allowed us to expose the beautiful timber frame and create a continuous two-story straw-bale wall without interruption of the north side. The curves of this wall were very easy to achieve with straw bales without any added expense. This is the best arrangement of the timber structure and bale walls we’ve found to date. There are remarkably few cracks in this wall. The contrast to the stuccoed wood shear walls on the east side is very telling.

The residence uses interior 8-in./20cm concrete block walls as shear walls, thermal mass and decorate “gates.” Besides south-facing glass, skylights provide direct gain, with skylids as thermal control. We’ve found that this system offers more flexibility in the fall and spring than fixed overhangs.  The El Nino weather pattern sometimes produces a very unusual cool late spring, which we cannot respond to in the studio with its fixed overhangs. The skylight/skylid arrangement in the residence did allow us to respond to these unusual climatic conditions. The residence is also off-grid, powered by the PV system and Pelton wheel backup that provides electricity to the rest of the complex.

Landscape Regeneration

exteriorOne of the unexpected joys of this whole ordeal has been to experience the rapid regeneration of the landscape following the fire. Fire is such an integral part of the native California landscape that everything is set up for it. The first spring was dominated by delicate fire poppies, which only appear in newly burned areas.   In this case the seeds had been waiting 60 years for their chance – it had been that long since this area last burned. The next year was dominated by morning glories, which spread all over the armature of the burned branches of earlier plants. The third year was the year of low herbal plants – sages, bush poppies, soap roots and others.  In the fourth year, we found the Ceonothus (wild lilac) dominating. The regeneration of oak and cypress trees then began to be much more noticeable.

The best wood for reconstruction turned out to be the Sargent cypress, used for the structure and trim. Alder was the best for cabinets. The cypress trees regenerated naturally because they were a fire species whose seeds are stimulated when they are burned. When the office was done, to commemorate the wonderful alder cabinet it contains, we planted several times the number of alders in the creek than were there before the fire.

Better Quality, Ecological Correctness

We’ve found that the application of our design theories to our own situation has helped convince clients and others that sustainability is more than just another theory. It is a way of achieving better value while simultaneously having far less impact on our planet. In fact, once we get beyond the fears of scarcity that haunt our industrial culture, we will see that these two values – better quality and ecological correctness – are interrelated.

Ken Haggard and Polly Cooper are principals with the San Luis Obispo Sustainability Group, 16550 Oracle Oak, Santa Margarita, California 93453; 805.438.4452, fax 805.428.4680 <[email protected]> www.slosustainability.com

Ed.Note – An article about the curved wall straw-bale workshop building (not pictured in this issue) at Ken and Polly’s complex will be included in TLS#60/Details, Details, Details. It’s amazing in its design and structure.