I once heard Geoff Lawton (a long-time permaculture teacher and designer from Australia) say that local solutions for sustainable design problems are often durable. This means that good local solutions will not become technologically obsolete. I think the straw bale is such a solution for building in the mid-west. Here is what it has going for it:
- It is easily produced in every community.
- It uses agricultural byproducts with minimal processing.
- It has the high insulation value that scorching hot mid-west summers and freezing cold winters demand.
- Suitable for do-it-your-selfers and community involvement in building.
I’ve been building with straw since 1992, and I have been involved in the construction of 5 straw bale buildings for my own projects and have consulted on dozens more. I live in a straw bale house with my wife Valerie and son Eliot.
MUM Sustainable Living student Jeremiah Blakely came to me early in October and asked if he could do a directed study building a straw bale cabin. He was interested in doing a very experimental structure – a straw bale dome. He was looking to build something simple that he could live in while he finishes his degree. This is something dear to my heart, as in 1992 I quit the Master in Computer science program at MUM to pursue building a straw bale home.
I was open to the idea of his doing this as a directed study, but I felt that he would be better served to do this separate from the University, when the time spent on the project wouldn’t cost him tuition. I suggested he start with a simpler rectilinear design, but I directed him to consult with Michael Havelka, a partner in Abundance Ecovillage who lives in a straw bale house with a straw bale insulated domed roof. I also gave him a few other connections in town with people with straw bale building experience.
I didn’t hear much from Jeremiah for a few months after that. I did hear that Jeremiah decided to build his cabin and that many Sustainable Living students were helping him out. We met with me once to discuss options for solar power.
This is an excellent first effort, and I am sure everyone learned a lot in the process. I’m a little concerned about the trees and clay used to build up the floor and as a foundation for the bales. The logs will eventually rot, but long after Jeremiah graduates. The building itself has a post and beam frame with concrete piers as a foundation for the frame.
I also think better use could have been made of passive solar design. The house is on the east side of the water and is facing east.
Jeremiah plans to live in the cabin starting this winter.
|Lonnie Gamble is a founding faculty member in the Sustainable Living department. His expertise includes renewable energy, food and agriculture, sustainable economics and local alternatives to the global economy, permaculture design, and green building. To read more from Lonnie go to his blog.|