Sep 10, 201309:00 AMPoint of View

Affordable Straw Bale Senior Housing

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A small parking area, reached by a winding drive, serves residents and visitors. Eventually, the owner will install and maintain pathways around the building along with a small vegetable garden and edible landscaping to provide outdoor activities and fresh food for the residents.

Uncontrolled moisture is the natural enemy of straw bale construction, so the architects worked to reduce exposure to wind-driven rain and snow. Extensive roof overhangs shed water away from the plaster and stucco walls. A two-foot-high double-stud pony wall forms a base on which the non-structural straw bales rest. The pony wall is cellulose-insulated. Straw bales extend up to the underside of an I-joist framed cellulose insulated sloping roof, clad in gray EPDM (Ethylene-Propylene-Diene-Monomer), a long lasting rubberized roofing system used in low-slope situations like this.

Lee Cooper of Back 2 Basics Builders, the general contractor, built a post and beam frame, with 18 inches of straw bale surrounding it, to support the roof. The builders installed air fins made of half-inch Homosote, finished with air-sealing tape, fit into specially detailed slots in the wood frame, helping to reduce heat loss at joints between materials. Multiple rough and finished coats of plaster encapsulate exterior and interior faces of the straw bale wall enclosure. Natural colored lime coatings and wood finishes were used along with other easy to care materials for interior finishes such as polished concrete floor.

New Frameworks Natural Building is the straw bale consultant, with Ben Graham and Deva Racusin working on the project. Ben helped the architects with the unique detailing of the straw bale enclosure system. Deva provided construction administration assistance during the straw bale installation and assisted Lee Cooper with straw bale enclosure construction and air-sealing work. 

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