Building Green: Energy Efficiency and Aesthetics From The Same Materials (Part 1)


Hi, I'm Ted Owens and I work in the field of green and appropriate technology design. During the presidential elections a few years ago, I was watching one of the candidates as he was interviewed on a late-night TV show. The candidate was being asked about moving the U.S. towards greener cars and power generation, and increasing the overall energy efficiency of appliances. His reply was that it all sounded great; however, the technology was not yet available. At that moment I was sitting comfortably in the warmth of my solar-powered straw bale home that I had designed and built. The outside temperature hovered around thirty degrees F and there was still no need to turn on the backup heating system. The television was being powered by 100% sun-generated electricity from photovoltaic panels mounted on the roof. And my year-2000 66 mpg gas-electric hybrid car was sitting in the driveway. I sat there and thought to myself, "I wonder what technology he is waiting for?"Today, that candidate is President of the United States, and I am still generating my own electricity to run all of my appliances, including a refrigerator, stereo, computer, toaster, lights, well pump—the whole works. Sunlight enters the south-facing windows of this small home to supply well over half the heating needs. There is no mechanical air conditioning system in the house and yet the inside temperature is comfortable, despite the 100 degree (F) summer heat outside. A cistern collects rainwater for the toilet, the cold water on the washing machine, and for a gardening spigot. The exterior walls of the home are made of straw bale, which is an excellent insulator. The interior walls are made of adobe bricks (solid, unfired mud) which stabilize the indoor temperature within 3 degrees during a 24 hour period. The walls are coated with a durable earth plaster that not only looks great, but also eliminates the need for paint, which is both an ecological and cost-saving benefit. And best yet, the same natural materials that help to heat and cool the home also look beautiful. It is a win-win scenario for building construction and, in the upcoming installments of this column, I will show you how you can do the same as I share with you what I learned from designing and building my own solar straw bale home.

The south side of this hybrid straw bale home contains a maximum amount of windows for winter heat gain. The photovoltaic panels on the roof convert sunlight into electricity. These panels generate 100% of the electricity for the home.


View of the east side of the hybrid home. Both the interior and exterior wall surfaces are coated in a durable earth plaster that is used instead of cement stucco.


Straw bales are used as insulation for the home. Straw is a wast product that can be used for construction of very green homes. This construction photo shows the straw bales being used as an infill to a post-and-beam framing system that supports the load of the roof [See also: Construction of a Straw Bale House, Part 1 -Ed.].

See also: Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10, part 11, part 12 and part 13.

[This has been a guest post by Ted Owens, a green designer and filmmaker. More details on green building design and construction can be found on his website and in the Building with Awareness DVD and Guidebook. -Ed.]

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