By Chris Keefe
Whether you are designing, contracting, owner-building, or just planning a straw bale house, here are five tips to pay attention to in the summer months.
To begin with, it’s HOT! Well at least in most places at this time of year. This is not to be overlooked. Many health problems in this world are directly caused from people unknowingly being dehydrated. So tip #1 is stay cool. If you are planning or designing, do it inside or under a shady tree. If you are building, then try and plan it out to have the roof finished before it gets too hot. That way, it is cooler on the construction site, and your help will be ever so grateful. And most importantly, don’t forget sunscreen and drink plenty of water!
If you are in the planning stage, it is a good time to walk the site and just observe a bit. Look for features that can help or hurt your new home. Look for cool zones, or places that are naturally cooler from nearby trees, water, or wind channels. Look for hot zones, or places that are hotter than others because they receive direct and uninhibited sun light. Speaking of the sun, this is a good time of year to pay attention to the suns path. How will it affect your building? What kind of overhangs do you need to plan for? How does it interact with your site? Are there features like shady trees, land formations, or water that can interact with your building? All of these features even in the heart of the summer can cool your house tremendously.
While designing, always be aware of overall layout. This includes outside and inside your home. If you have a vegetable or herb garden, placing them near a kitchen door, would allow you to get the most use out of them. Additionally, using features such as trees or the house to provide shading or protection for the garden at certain times of the day will alleviate you of added work and allow you to enjoy it all. Inside the house, have a sunroom. A well protected sunroom in a straw bale house is such a blessing. With the temperature soaring outside, it will provide you with a cool space to hang out that is open to the beauty of the outside. In the cooler months, as well, it can be a nice warm place in the house that can help bring heat to the adjacent rooms.
Water! If you are lucky enough to have water on site, it is a good idea to become familiar with the way water flows around, through, or under your site. If you don’t have water, it may be possible for you to dig a pond. Having water is a great way to help cool your home and yourself and can greatly beautify your site. Siting water in line with prevailing winds can naturally cool the breeze as it reaches your building envelope. (It is important to note though, that during cold months, some sort of wind breaker should be employed as this can pull heat out of your home. Deciduous trees and shrubs could probably help solve this issue.) Water is also good to have nearby in the hot summer months when your climate is most likely dry and risks of fire is increased. It can act as a holding tank for irrigation and as a fire block for fire protection.
This is also a good time to figure how your windows and doors will interact to cool your house. If you can try this while in the design phase that would be ideal. Keeping in mind that heat rises, having high venting windows opposite low venting windows will allow cooler air to enter and warmer air to exit; coupled with the efficiency of straw bale walls, you have an excellent air temperature regulator. Another rule of thumb especially in warmer climates is to open your windows at night to allow the interior to cool and then, close them during the day and let the intrinsic insulating properties of the bale walls keep that coolness and comfort within the house. And very importantly, always remember to think out where you put your windows and how you protect them. Views are great and should always be a integrated into the design, but put thought into how they are integrated. A serene and majestic mountain lake view that adds 10 degrees to the interior of your home at 4:30 each summer afternoon ain’t gonna be that pretty for long. Trust me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Keefe, from an early age, discovered his creative spirit in art. In 1996, he received a B.A. in Liberal Arts focusing on drawing, Music and Philosophy from San Francisco State University. In tandem, he was actively involved in a grassroots environmental project for five years at the University of California in Berkeley. He became interested in the field of straw bale as he began his graduate studies in 1999 at the San Francisco Institute of Architecture. Focusing to integrate his work in the environmental and sustainability field with his creative imagination, he received a Master of Architecture and Ecological Design in 2001. Soon thereafter, he founded a company called Organicforms Design which offers ecologically and artistically based design utilizing natural and sustainable materials. Since then, he has worked and completed several exciting design/build projects in Southern Oregon. In 2002, he began to focus primarily on straw bale research and design as the lead designer on the innovative project, The Straw Bale Village in Jacksonville, OR. Please visit his website at www.OrganicFormsDesign.com
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