Straw bale home featured on province-wide tour

Straw bale home featured on province-wide tour – The Confederate

By Chris Clark

Forget everything you ever learned about huffing and puffing and blowing straw houses down. This one is built to last.

Sustainability, in fact, was foremost in the minds of Chris Vanderhout and Christine Hoy when they built their unique and stylish home amid the rustic beauty of Normanby Township.

The Vanderhout straw bale residence year Ayton was one of several dozen homes participating in the 6th annual Provincial Straw Bale Home Tour organized by the Ontario Straw Bale Building Coalition (OSBBC) on Sunday, May 16.

The OSBBC is a growing advocacy, research and educational organization that has been helping build the acceptance of straw bale buildings in Ontario for almost a decade. It believes in the need for a movement towards a more environmentally responsible construction environment.

Straw-bale building has grown from complete obscurity to public prominence in recent years. The idea of durable, super-insulated and beautiful homes with remarkable environmental benefits that cost no more than conventional construction is attractive to families looking for housing alternatives.

For the same costs as typical homes and buildings, it is now possible to create similar spaces from environmentally sound materials, and to dramatically lower energy consumption.

“It’s elegant, efficient, and good for the environment,” Mr. Vanderhout said of the straw-bale house.

This month’s tour offered the perfect opportunity to see how homeowners from across the province are making innovative ideas a reality. Visitors were invited to step right inside a variety of straw bale buildings, see what they are like, and get honest feedback from owners.

An experienced tool and die maker, Mr. Vanderhout opted to steer his career in a decidedly greener direction and, literally, laid the foundation for a new career in environmental home construction with his straw bale house near Ayton. Vanderhout now works as a project manager for local sustainable builder Evolve Builders Group.

The home was built using modern construction technology, but with blocks of straw bales for insulation inside walls that perform at an R40 value.

“You get extremely good performance,” Mr. Vanderhout said of the straw bale, “all from a natural by-product of farm crops. Just about everyone in this area has a neighbor they can get wall insulation from.”

The forward-thinking couple didn’t stop merely at straw, and have incorporated a number of “green” aspects in their home, from a composting toilet to interior plasters made from earth gathered right on the property.

The building’s flooring and trim come from the surrounding forest, as did much of the hardwood and cedar siding. Water is heated with solar energy, and the wood stove takes care of the rest on those cold winter days.

There is even an antique tub ready for use in the bathroom, rescued from a nearby field where it once held water for livestock. The home’s “living roof” uses sod and plants to further help the house maintain a comfortable temperature.

What has emerged is a custom, almost artistic, living space. It is a home designed to its surroundings, and designed to have an aesthetic appeal, using materials harvested with respect for the environment.

“It’s like bringing nature close to yourself, and making that intimate connection.”

Mr. Vanderhout said he has seen a huge change over the past five years, with people talking more and more ab out the environment and making the effort to extend that belief system into their everyday lives. He said no one can disagree with the effort involved in such a project.

“Can we do things differently, and can we make a change?” he asked. “The answer is yes. We just do our best.