Oval Straw Bale House

Location: Hillsburg, Ontario

Square Feet: 1700, on 2 storeys

Date Completed: April 2010

Contractor: Harvest Homes/Evolve Builders

Sustainable Design Features: Straw bale construction, round log posts, FSC certified wood framing and flooring, trim & finished wood milled directly on-site, Papercrete countertops, cob & stone masonry heater fireplace, silicate and recycled paints.

From early design considerations of habitat preservation and geopathic energy assessments through to the final stroke of paint, all features were considered for their effect on human health, environment and of course, comfort and beauty.

In our opinion, the Oval Strawbale House exemplifies that which soma earth ARCHITECT and the builder, Evolve Homes, strives to embody in every one of their projects, a home that is all of elegant, efficient and ecological.

We were so inspired by the gentleness and awareness of our client who is studying Reiki & Permaculture. The curved shape grew out of our many design conversations together and also creates an extremely high vibrational energy with this simple plan shape. Using a a variety of methods, including a special Biogeometry BG3 pendulum, Eco-Architect, Ingrid Cryns, is able to test many levels of more detailed design to continuously enhance & balance the quality of energy on land, buildings and interior spaces.

Eco-Architect, Ingrid Cryns, dowsed for the geopathic earth energy lines to find the best place to position the house to clear the bed, sitting areas for the couch & office as well as the kitchen sink. The detrimental geopathic lines dowsed were the Hartman, Curry & Benker lines. The client, a Reiki practitioner, and the Architect, also found together a very large, three foot diameter, beneficial energy spot on the site and placed the house so that it this was just inside at the corner between the living room/mediation room window and upstairs bedroom walls. A plastic line was embedded into the concrete floor slab to connect this spot to the centre of the house at the fireplace to secure the energetic centre of the house with the land. This was the most critical & significant energy enhancing aspect that was implimented. Also, the design of the house with the two curves in plan creates an extremely strong beneficial energy, as it implies dynamic movement flow through the zero-point centre of reality when using a vesica piscis shape. All together, this creates a very strong sense of well being, joy and calmness when inside the house that is very noticeable to anyone who visits.

Inside, soft finishes including customized sculpted relief work emerging from walls and fireplace surrounds together with luxuriously deep window sills replete with tiled mosaics, complete the unique look and allow personal expression for the Owner, who often also assisted with design and implementation of many details.

All finishes are natural with ‘O’ VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and we have installed reclaimed timber flooring, papercrete countertops, milk paint stains as well as milling wood from directly from the site. The house has radiant heating in the floors and a tankless water heater. As the site has a great supply of wood and our client used some of the maple, cherry, ash and ceder wood in his house. The client and Architect visited the site together and talked with the trees to request permission to be felled for  the house. This was a tremendous experience for both of them that was written about in the building SOUL blog.

Careful attention was paid to sealing of all joints in the building envelope and upgraded conventional insulation. Low- or no-VOC sealants and recycled under-floor insulation, instead of virgin polystyrene, was used. Additionally, this home’s strawbale insulated exterior walls, at + R30, offers significantly better operating performance than ordinary conventional construction methods.

While insulating is important, so too is the notion of massing: using dense materials in which to store and then slowly release heat. A heavy concrete subfloor as well as 1 ½” of plaster on the interior of the bale walls, combine to provide excellent thermal storage capacity. This mass absorbs heat when it is generated via the sun or the radiant floor heat distribution system, and then gently releases this heat again as the air temperature declines. Strategic use of mass provides comfort and efficiency. Working equally well in the summer by robbing the air of its heat as well as humidity to maintain user comfort, this home has no need for mechanical air conditioning.

Integration of an historic “kachelofen”, or masonry fireplace, expands the use of mass in this home. Ordinary fireplaces or woodstoves regularly burn uncomfortably hot while also consuming wood inefficiently as up to 70% of the heat escapes through the chimney. Kachelofens incorporate many small channels into specially constructed masonry masses between the firebox and the chimney. These channels absorb the generated heat before it escapes to the chimney – improving efficiencies by a factor of 2x or 3x.sumi

Better still, this mass radiates the captured heat for hours afterward at a slow, gentle pace, allowing the users to bask in a soft, warm glow with all the visual pleasure of an ordinary fireplace.

Local sourcing and use of naturally occurring materials are vital components in reducing the impact of this home. And what could be more local then felling trees from the owner’s surrounding woodlot, milling them on site, having them kiln dried nearby then turning the finished boards into all of the interior doors, cabinet doors, window sills, stair treads and baseboard. To top it all off, literally, natural oil finishes are applied and offer long lasting protection in lieu of ordinary petrochemical based urethanes.

More than simply “low-VOC”, silicate dispersion paints – Canadian  manufactured using silica sand and natural mineral pigments – are used throughout to provide rich colour and naturally mildew-free painted wall finishes. One room was even more specially treated with a clay veneer instead of any paint at all, leaving a suede-like texture that immediately attracts attention. Additionally, some baseboard was sculpted and the fireplace face’s constructed using only earthen based plasters prepared on site from locally available clays. No cement, no polymeric binders…just rich, durable, natural materials.

Click here for additional Project Details of ENERGY SAVINGS and the ENVIRONMENTAL PREFERRED MATERIALS.