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 winter months. (For those of you in the southern hemisphere, see our summer tips for this time of the year!)
This is a great time of the year to check out your solar path. Find south and watch where the sun rises in the morning and where it sets in the evening. Days are short and the sun stays low. This is particularly important for deciding about how to site the house. You will want to take advantage of this as much as possible. The more you let the sun in at this time of year the more you will be able to regulate the temperature inside, naturally! If the house has already been sited than just observe how the sun’s path relates to your home. Keep shutters and curtains open that may be blocking it. See if there is anything that could be removed if it is blocking the sun from entering the house. Just remember, let the sun shine in!
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 cold zones, or places that are colder than others because they rarely if ever receive sun light. This is a place you want to stay away from. Search for trees if there are any or other features that can help you. For instance, trees serve many purposes. If sited between the home and prevailing winds, they can act as a wind blocker or defuser to protect the home. If sited on the southern side they can protect the home from direct sunlight during the warmer months.
Water! It is a good idea to become familiar with the way water flows around, through, or under your site. This includes checking out if there are 50 or 100 year floods in the area. The reason for this will vary depending on the climate you are building for. In really cold climates it is an issue involving your foundation. Proper drainage to keep water away from your foundation is a must. If water becomes trapped in or around your foundation, then freezes, it could seriously damage the integrity of your foundation. If you are in a really wet climate, you have to elevate those bales! Elevating your building on piers may be the solution.
Keep those Bales Dry. The winter colder months in most climates means RAIN! And lots of it. Keep this in mind if you have or are storing all of your bales. The best idea is to build your structure (if you are doing post and beam) first than you can store the bales with in your building itself. This also helps by having the bales close at hand for wall building. If you are using tarps, make sure that you wrap them tightly enough to withstand heavy wind if that is an issue. Also, be aware of temperature changes. If cold weather shifts to warm relatively quickly, your tarp may sweat moisture into your bales, so in this instance, it is good to keep them well aerated.
If you’re past the planning stage and into the building stage and beyond, this is a good time to check the performance of your walls. Look for air leaks. When it is really cold outside, get the inside really warm and check out your walls from top to bottom. Pay close attention to your openings. Even the best of builders can miss a pinhole air leak. There are several simple ways to take care of small air leaks and it is well worth your time and effort. Remember, a well designed, well sealed straw bale home can save you as much as 75% in energy costs, compared with conventional construction.
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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