Sep 10, 201309:00 AMPoint of View

Affordable Straw Bale Senior Housing

Affordable Straw Bale Senior Housing

Courtesy © Ward Joyce Design & Arocordis Design

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Vermont’s first straw bale affordable senior housing project has been built in Holland, in the Northeast Kingdom area of the Green Mountain State. The house is close to the local community and residents’ families, says Becky Masure, project manager for the affordable housing non-profit, Rural Edge, where “seniors retain their independence.”

The land was donated by Evelyn Page, now deceased, from her family’s nearby farm and in memory of her husband; she also gave funds to Rural Edge. As standardized energy efficient construction methods have become increasingly expensive, Rural Edge decided to test a new approach and some new-old ideas.

They found straw bale an appealing alternative because of its fire-resistance, insulation capability, savings on labor costs, availability of local talent to build this way, carbon footprint reduction, low-embodied energy, chemical and allergy free composition. Enduring comfort, durability, and beauty also inspired Rural Edge to try the straw bale  approach, so they asked the architects to consider the material. 

Ward Joyce Design collaborated with Arocordis Design and structural engineer Ina Hladky on two single bedroom apartments with a shared common area, an entry porch, and separate unit porches facing south.

The structure sits on the top of a hillside, taking its architectural cues from nearby farm buildings such as the bent uplifting roof that reaches south towards dramatic rolling vistas. Built on a cost-reducing, frost-protected concrete slab, with empty sleeves designed into the slab for future installation of on-site solar electric PVs for the potential for greater self-reliance and renewable readiness.

The architects sited the building to face the long way south to north, for passive solar heating. Operable awnings and casement windows naturally ventilate each unit and common area; ceiling fans circulate air in the living spaces.

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