The Straw House Blog

The German Book

Building with StrawBuilding with Straw bookI have the German straw bale book I mentioned back here, and much to my surprise it isn’t in German it’s in English.There was something sort of undefinably cool about having our house in a foreign book that we couldn’t read. I suspect it’s just more that Friedemann was kind and thoughtful enough to send me a translated copy that we could read. It’s called Building with StrawBuilding with Straw: Design and Technology of a Sustainable Architecture
I haven’t had a chance to do a complete reading yet, though my quick scan shows lots of good clear drawings and an abundance of technical information. The featured houses are grouped at the end of the book with several nice colour pictures of each, as well as technical drawings and a nice write-up. In terms of the houses shown this one of the best straw bale books I have ever seen, as most of the houses are very interesting, modern and different.

I’ll try and post more when I’ve had a better chance to go through the book in a more thorough fashion.


Green Expo this weekend

The 2nd Annual Natural Events Green Expo will be held this Saturday at the Peterborough Armories. Last year’s Expo was well attended and a lot of fun, this year they have twice the exhibitors, and some good presentors.

I’ll be there, come on up and introduce yourself.


More Publications

We’re going to be profiled in this Friday’s edition of the Globe and Mail. It’s the Architourist column, in the Real Estate section. I’ll post a link when I have it.

We’re also in a recent book on Modern Straw Bale building/design, the book however is in German, so even when I get it, I’ll just be looking at the pretty pictures.

A review copy of the German book was sent to an Italian architecture magazine, and now they are working with SMA (the architects) on a feature article. They are working with SMA rather than us because they are a very technical magazine and are more interested in the engineering and architecture of the house than ‘our story’.


The Danes prepare to eat our lunch

WorldChanging has an excellent article on Denmark and its move into renewable energy on a grand scale.

In 1973, during the Yom Kippur war, Denmark was 98% dependent on foreign oil for its power. Today, thirty-two years later, the country derives 21% of its energy from wind and is a net exporter of energy.

They’re investing 10 billion dollars of R&D money into renewables over the next 10 years. And this, my frineds is where the rest of the world will be eating North America’s lunch in the decades to come, as oil gets more and more expensive more and more of our money will be going overseas not just to pay for oil, but to pay for any kind of alternative energy infrastructure as well. Meanwhile we drop another 100 million dollars trying to get another reactor working a the Pickering nuclear plant.

But the best part of the article, for me, was this quote from Svend Auken, a member of the Danish Parliament and former Minister for Energy & Environment:

Finally, he envisions the pathway to a bright green future, saying that �it need not be dull, it need not be boring, we don�t have to give up our lifestyle, we just have to be a little bit more smart about how we live.�

Amen brother.


October Update

It’s been a pretty busy fall around here, we had the OSBBC house tour right at the beginning of the month, I’ve been very busy with various work projects and Joanne’s maternity leave has come to an end and she has returned to work.

Aside from my regular work (which has been going very well, thanks for asking) I just recently built a custom 6’ long version of my dining room light for Eurolite. I was somewhat apprehensive at first, I didn’t think it was going to come out very well, I was worried that the proportions would all be off, plus it would have to be hung from four wires rather than two. In the end though I was very pleased with the results, if I had enough plastic I would probably build another one for myself. There are some images of the custom fixture on the lights page.

The Tour

Given the weather (it poured rain most of the day) the tour went quite well. We had fewer people than we expected but still had around 75 people over the course of the day. Mom was on the door, Dad helped with tours, Simon and J.P. from Generation Solar, Peter Mack from Camel’s Back Construction, and Paul Dowsett from Scott Morris Architects were all answering questions, showing people around and handing out business cards by the fist-full. Surprising (to me anyway) was that the majority of people who came through the house had read the blog, many of them from the very beginning.

Afterwards we had a nice BBQ, Tina, Steven & Laurie & Malaika, and Regis (from the Paudash Lake house I worked on) all came by, a pleasant visit was had by all.

Final Grading

We have finally completed the final grading around the house, Eric was here last week and the week before dumping topsoil around the house and leveling it back out. The ICF"s are covered and the west and north sides are backfilled with topsoil. The east side of the house has been built up with gravel/sand from our pit - since we are building a deck on that side we didn’t see any point in buying topsoil.

The Floor

Dan Peel was here again working on the radiant floor system and it looks like we have finally got all of the kinks out of the system. We had been having a series of problems where the various aquastats on the hot water tank couldn’t read the temperature of the water inside the tank accurately and as a result the floor would rob all of the heat from the tank. This always seemed to happen right as we were about to shower and you wouldn’t find out there was no hot water until 5 minutes into the shower - and only then would the boiler come on. Over the course of last winter we also had two broken pumps and a malfunction in the boiler that kept it running for one month non-stop (before we clued in), these problems masked the underlying aquastat issues until spring of last year. But by then the sun was out more frequently so we decided to spend the summer thinking about the problem and Dan suggested drilling a hole through the side of the tank cover, through the insulation and placing a temperature prob right up against the stainless tank insert. That seems to have done the trick. We’ve had almost no solar gain for over a week now and the house has been quite comfortable. Thanks Dan!

Site Update

I recently purchased a Kill-A-Watt, which is a meter that shows how much power in Watts and Amps a device uses over time. It can also display Volt Amps (VA), Power Factor (PF), Kilowatt/Hours (KWH) and time (how long it has been plugged in). It has no data logging built in, while it is plugged it works, unplug it and it loses all data.

So I’ve been wandering around the house plugging all of my various tools and gadgets into the Kill-A-Watt and compiling a list. The list is ongoing but I have added in the values of the various lights around the house and posted it in the house section: Load Chart. As I measure more devices I will add them to the chart, right now it’s mostly just the power tools, and computers.


Straw Bale House Tour

This Saturday October 2nd is the Second Annual Ontario Straw Bale Building Coalition Straw House Tour. We missed last year because Gil had just been born, so we’re excited to be taking part this time. The Tour runs from 10am to 4pm, rain or shine. Full details can be found at the OSBBC Tour page.

Peter Mack from Camel’s Back Construction,  Simon Boone and/or J.P. Pawlins from Generation Solar, Paul Dowsett from Scott Morris Architects, and my Mom and Dad, will all be at the house giving tours, answering questions and hopefully having a good time. If you’re in the area please drop on by and introduce yourself.


Check Us Out at Talk Energy

We’re the featured story at Talk Energy right now.



Mission Green Part Two

I wanted to wait to post this until after Garry had his update done on the Mission Green site so that I didn’t “scoop” him. It’s a nice article with some really nice pictures, obviously the secret to good interior shots is to take them when it’s raining outside.

Around 2pm, right as a huge thunderstorm hit, the convoy rolled up. I grabbed all of our umbrellas and headed out to greet everybody. Once safely inside we gathered in the front and Garry told everyone about Mission Green and some of the goals they hoped to achieve, and a bit about his own history.

With that squared away he proceeded to ask a series of well thought out and focused questions about all aspects of the house. I highlight that because I get asked a lot of stupid questions about the house and so it’s a pleasure to answer smart ones. Let that be a warning to you if you’re coming on the House Tour! Not a single one of them cracked a Three Little Pigs joke, they were a class act. Pete Mack and Simon Boone were there as well and both had to field questions on the off-grid system and the straw bale structure.

After touring around the house we headed outside to check out the trucks. We largely ignored the big Yukon SUV since the only difference between it and the regular one is that its engine has been tweaked to run the special 85% pure cellulose ethanol made by Iogen. Nice, and certainly a very definate improvement to what would normally be a very non-Green vehicle. But what really interested all of us rural geeks was the hybrid Silverado pickup. You can find out all you need on their site, I’m not a GM PR person, but the feature that really thrilled all of us was the two exterior 120V 15A outlets in the pickup bed. The truck can act as a generator, it has an inverter and will feed 120V off the batteries until they get low and then it will start the engine (!) to charge them back up! I wish we’d had that when we were building the house, no more listening to the generator idling all day.

All in all it was a very nice visit, I really enjoyed meeting Garry and his team, and I’m pleased and honoured that they chose to visit us.


Mission Green

Mission Green is coming here.

Mission Green is a cross-Canada tour that salutes 85 local Canadian environmental initiatives that are creating a cleaner, healthier environment for all Canadians. Garry Sowerby, renowned adventure traveler and world record setter, hits the road in GM’s advanced technology vehicles to highlight what we all have in common - a shared concern and compassion for the places we call home. Follow the journey with us as we tour Canada!

We’ve been asked to be one of the stops on the tour. Garry and his team will be coming by next Friday afternoon for a tour of the house, some pictures with local press and all that fun stuff. I’m pretty excited to meet Garry as I’ve followed his career for some time and even have a well worn copy of Road Fever, the book written by Tim Cahill about their drive from the bottom tip of South America to the northernmost edge of Alaska.