Saturday, April 28, 2007

Lifestyles: Straw Determination

[Source: J. Craig Anderson, Tribune] -- Sometimes, following your conscience means having to endure the same unimaginative “Three Little Pigs” joke over and over again. Such are the travails of Tempe resident Beth Hoffmann, who fought the city for nearly a year to build her dream home, made of straw bales and earthen plaster. “When you feel that something is good, you can’t just back down — you have to pursue it,” Hoffmann said. By the time she succeeded, city officials were bringing their families around to show them Hoffmann’s unusual and environmental friendly home. But it wasn’t a desire for attention or a love of morality tales featuring anthropomorphic livestock that led Hoffmann to build her house of straw and clay. She wanted to take things most people discard or destroy and give them a new purpose. “I’m an Iowa country girl,” Hoffmann said, sitting on her back porch overlooking a modest vegetable garden and a row of fruit trees. “My parents were poor, and my mom was a saver, and I wanted to be a saver.”

Straw is the stem of a grain, which isn’t edible and is often burned in piles after the harvest, she said. Once pressed and shaped into bales, however, it becomes an excellent building material that’s sturdy and is neither flammable nor edible to insects. But that’s just the beginning of her home’s surprises, Hoffmann said. Its 2-foot-thick walls offer tremendous insulation from cold and heat. The electricity cost to cool her 1,200-square-foot home last July was just $18. In August, it was $14. In the winter, heated water is pumped through pipes underneath the tile floor to heat the home efficiently. “Plus you’re walking on warm tile,” Hoffmann said. Almost nothing that comes into contact with the house is wasted. A rooftop gutter system diverts rainwater into three barrels, where it is stored until Hoffmann uses it to water her garden. The house, designed by Hoffmann’s son, an architect who shares her interest in conservation, has a window in the bedroom closet so Hoffmann doesn’t have to turn on a light.

[Note: To read the full article, click here. Photo source: Lisa Olson]