I wonder if any of you knows when a straw bale house isn’t green. Ok, it’s a bit of a teaser title and opening sentence, but there is a reason for it and there is truth in it. A straw bale house isn’t green on its own because the wall system is only one part of a bigger system, and a small part at that. It’s a great advantage to have R-40+ walls made from a natural material, but please, PLEASE don’t think that is all it takes. Make sure to bring all of the details into play during your design process so that you actually get a functioning “green” home. Let’s talk about the details.
Insulation Envelope: As I mentioned above, the walls are only one part of a greater system. Having R-40+ walls is amazing and the energy efficiency of the walls is very high; however, how’s the rest of your envelope? After all, as we all know, heat rises, so the insulation in your ceiling/roof is equally, if not more important than the insulation in your walls. I recommend the highest levels of insulation you can muster. For 12″ rafter, vaulted ceilings, this may be somewhere between R-42 (high density fiberglass) and R-72 (closed cell spray foam). Foundations are another space that is often overlooked. Be sure to insulate well below your house as well. You may choose a full depth or shallow frost protection option. Either way, be sure to maximize your insulation.
Material Choice: The types of materials you choose to build with has a major impact on the level of “greenness” you will achieve. For example, is your framing material certified sustainable, recycled, or otherwise low impact? How about your plumbing and electrical fixtures; are they high efficiency units? There are a lot of places you can dig deeper to find more efficient and healthier materials to work with so take the time to talk with the experts in your area to discover the best options available to you.
Size Matters: This is probably the most obvious place you can have an impact on how “green” your home is. After all, the bigger it is the more materials it will require to build and the more energy it will consume over time. Reducing your home’s square footage to what you really need, more than what society tells you that you should have will make a huge difference. Be honest with yourself and let go of the “I’ve made it” mindset in which you need a big house.
Last weekend I spoke at the Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs, CO and it was amazing to see the interest in living tiny. We had somewhere around 45,000 people attend the three day event! At the Jamboree I presented a portion (a sneak peak, perhaps) of an upcoming workshop I’ll be releasing soon called “Create Your Freedom” in which people realize their passions and dreams and then create a life that not only supports those dreams but also uses those passions to fuel a career for the individual. In that presentation I spoke about the importance of living in what I call “Human Scale.” To me, it’s not so much about living tiny as it is about living within the scale of our humanity.
As such, I’m not suggesting that you have to live in 200 square feet (although you can if you want to. that’s my 207 SF house in the above picture…), but I am suggesting that you build to a more reasonable size home than our society has put forth. Keep in mind that the average square footage of a home in the US these days is over 2600 SF, even with shrinking household sizes. In other words, less people are living in each larger home. That’s not sustainable and it’s certainly not green. After all, do you really need 1000SF PER PERSON to be happy? That’s where the numbers fall in the US right now: 1000SF per person. That’s not Human Scale, that’s greedy.
Do you have stories about downsizing? How about ways in which you made your straw bale home truly green? Share your stories and comments below and keep the conversation going!