Maria’s Straw Bale House – gallery

I got many requests for pictures of my straw bale house. Here are photos – from bale delivery to the passive solar floor, and the almost completed solarium, spanning six years.

Thanks to all of you who have supported TUC Radio. Looking around my new home there is so much evidence of your contributions. You have helped me buy everything this house is made of from straw bales and lumber to roll roofing and nails – a little over $15,000 over the past 5 years.

Neighbors are helping offload the bales of rice straw. They arrived from the Sacramento Delta, delivered by the farmer who grew, harvested, and baled them.
If rain gets into the bales they may begin to compost, heat up and ignite.
The stairs are finally in! For four years this stairwell was left open so the heavy buckets with earth plaster for the walls could be pulled up by ropes.
The North wall is going up with openings for the window and door.
The final inside plaster for TUC Radio's office is made of volcanic sand mixed with horse manure and home-cooked flour paste. (No pigment added)
The lizards came in through the door and you see the marks in the fine sand that partially covered the radiant barrier that separates the cement slab from the earth below. These plastic tubes will carry cold or hot water to heat or cool the slab.
The same North wall 3 years later. Roof rafters are up for a porch for hot summer days.
After 21 years of looking at a brick wall in San Francisco I now see into the crowns of two Madrone trees.
This photos is from early May, 2008. The cement slab near the window is still covered with plastic to keep it damp. The tubing in front has already disappeared under the last grueling 5 hour cement pour.
A friend is holding the bale needle we used to sew the North West corner.
The glass doors are from a defunct dot-com in S.F. They open onto the future solarium. The foundation that I just formed and poured will support an arbor for the solar panels.
May 30, 2008. The rose bush outside my window is in bloom. It was once a fancy Jacqueline Kennedy rose planted by the previous owner. When it died in a cold winter the wild rose rootstock grew back and has survived droughts, snow, heat, and the deer that love to nibble on it.
Three miles of baling twine were used to sew the wire mesh onto the bale walls. The mesh supports the double layer of earth plaster that took two years to finish.
You see the beginnings of a 4 in. thick cement floor that will act as a heat sink for passive solar gain. I'm pressing an antique star shaped wall anchor into the fresh cement for a pattern.
June 6, 2008. Here is the rough construction for the greenhouse and arbor that will support the solar panels. The darker timbers are recycled old growth redwood. Please keep up donations to the solar fund. I will soon be ready to install.
The area in the meadow above my solar panels was mowed by me and a neighbor to create a fire safe zone. A fire would have burned around us had we needed to take refuge there. When the evacuation order was given I moved my van into the middle, determined to stay and fight the fire as long as possible. I am keeping the area mowed as refuge for any future emergencies, including as a helicopter landing area for medical evacuations.
October 2008. The cement floor is now sealed with acrylic paint. The low early winter sun pours through the glass doors and warms the slab. You can feel the warmth under your feet after dark at the dinner table.
My Meyer lemon tree now spends the winter inside the solarium and fills the house with a sweet scent. The 3 inch thick cement floor soaks up the warmth of the winter sun and helps keep the house comfortable. During the summer rattan screens will keep the solarium cool. Over time I collected 5 crates of tiles of all shapes and colors. One day this floor will be covered with them.
When the fires subsided I decorated my house in celebration and cooked a spaghetti dinner for the 34 neighbors who helped make my place safe by bulldozing fire breaks and limbing up trees. The sign warning fire crews of the fragile clay coating of my house is still up - the fire season is not over yet. (August 2008)
October 2008. The cement floor is now sealed with acrylic paint. The low early winter sun pours through the glass doors and warms the slab. You can feel the warmth under your feet after dark at the dinner table.
August 2010 - the entrance to my house used to be a wobbly piece of plywood on top of a pallet. Over the last 6 weeks I poured a foundation, built the underfloor for the tiles, put in the found redwood tree on the right, made three new pie shaped steps and turned the staircase around the tree. Tomsky, the Siamese cat, is walking over the new tile floor - past the imprint of a turkey who stepped on the tile when it was drying in the Mexican sun.
This is the new view from my window. The Solstice Fire fires in the canyon beyond, at one point the largest in the county, came across the ridge in many places, burning down our hillside. The sand colored lines in the fields of gray ash are fire breaks cut by CalFire crews. You can imagine how hard and dangerous that was on such a steep hill with the fires looming above. My thanks to all who helped us!
October 2008. The solar panels on top of the arbor are producing 100 watts at 12 volts each. (A sixths panel sits behind the row of five.) They are tilted up to best collect the low winter sun and bring in just enough to keep TUC Radio on the air.
This is my south facing bay window. Rolled back on the left is flexible but solid Radiant Barrier made of bubble material sandwiched between two layers of silver foil. It is sold for insulation in most hardware stores, mainly for the attic. I'm using it year round in all my windows and even the glass doors leading to the solarium. The foil keeps the sun out in the summer and the heat in in the winter. It is easy to use and makes a huge difference!
Once the danger was over I continued the work on the greenhouse that will support my solar panels. On top are four massive 18 foot long old growth redwood beams, rescued by as friend from a barn in Ukiah. We consider such beams a treasure for their memories of the grand forests they were taken from, and for their unmatched quality and fine grain.
Neighbors gave me this beautiful old fashioned wood stove and some of the stove pipe to connect it. After removing the abandoned mouse nest inside the damper with a long spoon I spent a day wire brushing the rust and painting it. The stove loads from the side and can burn large logs - which means fewer cuts with the chain saw.
I built a couple of solar ovens myself for pennies from cardboard and heavy aluminum foil. Finally I found this used 'professional' oven that goes up to 300 degrees. The prior owners lost their sun to the redwoods around their house. I have made whole chickens, soups, potatoes with a little bit of olive oil, fresh rosemary and garlic cloves, whole squash with just a small steam vent cut into the skin, and am getting ready to bake bread. Not only is it amazing to cook without fuel and to keep the house cool, the food tastes much better because it is heated slowly and remains juicy. This outdoor place for my cooker stays sunny for up to 3 hours - longer in the summer. Some put their cookers on wheels.
On a clear day 100 feet of garden hose coiled in the sunlight makes enough free hot water within 40 minutes for a small hand-wash, or hair-wash, or even a quick shower. It is all a question of timing.
December 2008. The solarium is now enclosed. The three pane double door on the left is matched by a second set of doors facing east. The doors come from the Carolands Chateau on the San Francisco Peninsula, built in 1917 by the heiress to the Pullman rail car fortune. They once were part of three rows of matching doors that enclosed a huge solarium with a marble floor. I found them in a recycling yard in San Francisco. Restoring them was difficult since the 1/4 inch glass - the old fashioned way of keeping out the cold - makes them so heavy that I needed help in turning them over on my work table.
Not sure how this is going to work out. Hornets decided to build their nest under my lantern on the deck. They are adding layers to their beautiful paper home and it had become harder to water the patio tomatoes. They are buzzing me when I come too close and I no longer walk past the nest. But since they were here first - just like the rattle snakes - and since their house is so beautiful and in many ways so much like mine, I'm trying for co-existence. My only dilemma came this morning, August 17, 2010, when we had a fire danger alert due to dry lightning and I realized that I was unable to clean the dry Madrone leaves out of the gutter above the nest.

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