DESIGN CRITERIA

Siegel and Strain Architects Wine Creek Residence

There are many styles of straw bale homes to choose from and many aspects of a home design which need to be considered before a final decision is made.  For example, what are the weather conditions in your area?  If you experience a lot of rain, either seasonally or throughout the year, a Pueblo style home (flat roof) would not be a good choice.  If, however, you live in an area which receives little or no rain during the year, this may be an appropriate home design for you to consider.  The style of home, and the details of how it is designed, play a large role in its efficiency, so don’t rush the process.  Take a little extra time to ensure that your choices are the best match for your property.

 

SITE EVALUATION AND VISITS

An excellent way to decide what design is best for your land is to fully understand the property before you begin the design process. If you are able to delay the design and construction of the home, it is a great practice to live on the land in a temporary structure and watch how the land interacts throughout the year with the cycles of nature.  You may discover, for example, that the area you thought was so beautiful is actually a wind tunnel for most of the year or that the spot you had no interest in actually proves to have the best solar access and natural ventilation.  Only experience, over time, can show you these truths.

 

WATER CONSIDERATIONS

Pay attention to how water flows on your property.  Perhaps you do not have an obvious creek or other visible body of water, but when it rains, the water has to go somewhere.  Watch where the water goes so you can know where to build and where not to build.  Watch for puddles and other areas of stagnant water.  In addition, look for clues that could indicate the presence of ground water such as specific types of trees and ground cover. Look at the geography of the land as well. Can you identify runoff channels or other areas of potential water?  Unless you are on city facilities, you will most likely require a well.  The closer you place the building site to the well, the less expensive it will be to bring the water to the house.  That said, you will also need to consider where your leach field for the septic system or grey and black water treatment systems will be situated.  The well must be located a safe distance from this area, yet, the field also needs to be close enough to the house to minimize costs.  Whenever possible, it is best to keep the well uphill from the drain field so no waste can flow down into the drinking water supply.  Therefore, part of watching the way water interacts with your land should include an understanding of the topography and, to what ever extent possible, the geology of the property. I believe water is the “new gold” of our time. As such, I suggest you do whatever you can to harness this amazing resource on your property. Work with your land, not against it, and the harmony you create will treat you well for the life of the home.


SOLAR TRACKING

Chris Keefe Organic Forms Design

Chris Keefe Organic Forms Design

The movement of the sun is vital to an efficient home.  For example, it is possible to harness the power of the sun for both electricity (active solar power) and heating needs (passive solar design). Do you know where the sun travels across your land at different times of the year?  Do you know how to watch the full moon in order to understand the path of the sun six months in the future?  What is the latitude of your land? These details can all affect the design of your project in regards to solar access. For example, the size of the roof overhangs on your home are extremely connected to the solar access you will see. An overhang that is too large will block the sun that you want to enter the building in the winter while too short of an overhang will allow the summer sun in when you don’t want it.  Know the angle of the sun in your latitude and design your home to take full advantage of what is available to you. Keep in mind that just as bale walls are only one aspect of a green home’s insulation values, solar access is only one aspect of energy design that should be considered. Prevailing winds, tree locations, the slope of the land and many other details must be fully investigated before the home design process is started to create an integrated home.  Truly understand your land and the design of your home will undoubtedly be more appropriate.

 

DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS

Chris Keefe Organic Forms Design

Chris Keefe Organic Forms Design

Once you know your land intimately and you have decided where the house will go and which direction it will face, the time has come to design the home.  As you have already learned, straw bale walls are ideal for sound proofing and for insulation. Use this information to design a home that balances the need for insulation with that of light and ventilation. Design a home balanced with sound protection and view sheds. Keep in mind that proper window placement can reduce heating and cooling costs while improper placement can raise them both. Remember that solar gain can be an ally when the design matches the needs; however, it can be an enemy if not properly utilized. Just because a view is nice does not mean that a bank of windows is necessary to appreciate it. After all, how much is that view worth? Ask yourself that question before you draw in the bank of windows because you may be paying for that view every month when you get your utility bill.

The less impact you have on the land when building, the more cost efficient the home will be.  If you have to spend more money on excavation and retaining walls than on building your house, the site was likely not be used to its best potential. The more you design with the land: its topography, water, wind, solar access and flora, the more the home will be a part of the landscape and thus be a part of the world in which you live.   

If you are looking for as much comprehensive information as possible on the topic of Design, we highly recommend our book, “A Modern Look At Straw Bale Construction”. You can read more about it here, and as an e-course participant, you can receive 25% off your purchase instantly by simply typing in “ECourse” into the Coupon Code Field during check out.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the best way to select bales for your straw bale project.

Happy Baling!

Andrew Morrison

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