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A house made with straw

HUDSON, Wis. - If your impression of a straw house is one of a sod hut on the open prairie, guess again.

The modern versions include everything a contemporary house enjoys with more environmentally friendly materials and an apparent big plus in the insulation department.

Jason Haverly, with the help of some experts in the field, is building his home out of straw bales and recycled materials on Perch Lake Road in the town of St. Joseph.

"I took an on-line class in building biology because I wanted to build a healthy home," Haverly said.

He said the house is a story and one- half, with a pretty good storage area in attic and a full basement. The design includes three and one-half bathrooms and four bedrooms.

"The house has a foot print of 44-feet by 24-feet with two-foot thick walls," said Lucas Alm, St. Paul, who is the architect on the project.

A detached garage was built along more traditional lines but with some environmental considerations included.

Mark E. Morgan of BEARPAW Design and Construction in Strum, about 13 miles east of Mondovi, is an experienced straw bale house builder involved in the project.

Morgan said he been part of 50 straw bale construction projects over 15 years and is dedicated to sustainable and energy efficient design.

He said the cost of construction is roughly the same as building a traditional custom-built home.

One big plus with straw bale construction is its insulation factor. Wire mesh is attached to the outside and inside of the bales by means of stitching through the straw. A layer of stucco goes on the outside and a layer of more traditional plaster on the inside sandwiching the straw in between.

According to website for Camels Back Construction of Warsaw, Ontario, Canada, the most accepted R-value of a bale home is R-30.

Haverly has also installed triple-glazed windows.

The houses are built without air conditioning and heating is a minimal problem. "It costs $100 to $150 a year to heat the house," said Morgan.

"Solar panels in the roof will collect hot water and distribute it to radiant tubing in two feet of sand under the basement floor," Haverly said about one heat source.

Another will come from a masonry mass stove that holds heat in firebrick on its way out. "It burns hot and clean so there are less toxins that go out the chimney," he said.

If constructed properly, the building isn't a fire hazard, said Morgan. On several websites straw bale house builders around the country claim they are less of a fire hazard than conventionally built homes.

Timbers from an old barn, circa 1880s, have been installed throughout the house complete with pegged joints.

"We took down a 40-foot by 60-foot barn in River Falls and reused the white oak beams," Haverly said.

The beams ran crosswise. Some are 40 feet long and used in their full dimension in the home.

Haverly, 37, is a native of Cumberland who moved to Hudson eight years ago. He and his wife, Lisa, have two young children, Will, age six and one-half, Addisu, 4, who is newly adopted from Ethopia.

They hope to be moved into the new home by late November or early December.

For more information on straw bale type houses, Google "straw bale construction" on the web.