MorningStar Solar Home

MorningStar home, built by the Penn State Center for Sustainability has been around since 2007, but it will hopefully be the home of the near future. The 799 square foot building is a net-zero home that produces more energy than it consumes, and it has been used for educational and research activities on the university campus. It will also serve has a home for one lucky graduate student who will test the house systems in real life conditions.

The MorningStar not only has solar panels on the roof, but on the east- and west-facing sides of the home. The south-facing windows have sliding exterior shelving to regulate solar gain and the home has a sliding wall of liquid glass containers that, when filled with water, can retain heat during the day and release the warmth into the home during the night. Continue reading

Tiny Housing Advantages

Guest Post by Krista Peterson

Rising costs for utilities, high mortgages, and economic problems have brought on some popularity growth for tiny houses. The benefits of cutting costs are popular, but what are some other advantages to living in a tiny house versus a regular home? For those people who simply do not need the extra indulgences, possessions, extra expenditures involved with a normal house style, a tiny home may be perfect.

For one, an overall cut in cost and increased sustainability are some of the largest factors in the tiny housing boom. Living in less overall space triggers to less spending and consuming in general. Lower utilities and energy costs will definitely be an upgrade over larger houses and their need for more water, gas, and electric. The smaller houses should also take less time to pay off.

Photo Credits Jay Shafer


The less space will also mean less wasted time. With a smaller area to consume the time, simple chores such as vacuuming and cleaning take much less time off your hands. The size of the home is often directly connected with the amount of free time on your hands. If you have a smaller home, you will have more free time than with a larger space. Continue reading

Straw Bale 101

Guest Post by Andrew Morrison

Straw Bale construction is an old technology that has grown to become a respected and viable building option in most locations and climates. Not only is it beautiful and energy efficient, but it is also three times as fire resistant as a conventionally framed home and does extremely well in natural disasters such as earthquakes and extreme wind conditions. Straw bale and tiny house enthusiasts have a lot in common in that both are invested in being responsible earth stewards, want to reduce their living expenses, aren’t afraid to try something new and do things on their own, and are committed to creating a new model of sustainability by living within their means financially and from a resource stand point. Here are 9 reasons why we think you should consider building with bales:

Reason #1 Energy Efficiency.

A well built straw bale home can save you up to 75% on heating and cooling costs. In fact, in most climates, an air conditioning unit is not needed in the home as the natural cooling cycles of the planet are enough to keep the house cool all summer long. In addition, a simple heating system, very often radiant floor heating, can inexpensively supplement a passive solar design to keep a house warm all winter long.

Reason #2 Sound Proofing.

Straw bale walls provide excellent sound insulation and are superior wall systems for home owners looking to block out the sounds of traffic, airplanes, or other urban sounds. The assembly itself, a rigid skin of plaster sandwiched around a softer core of bales provides excellent sound absorption.

Reason # 3 Fire resistance.

Straw bale homes have roughly three times the fire resistance of conventional homes. Dense bales mean limited oxygen which in turn means no flames. Now wrap the dense bales in over an inch of plaster and you have a superior fire wall assembly.

Reason # 4 Environmental responsibility.

Building with straw helps the planet in many ways. For example, straw is considered a waste product that is either burned or composted in standing water. By using the straw instead of eliminating it, we reduce either air pollution or water consumption, both of which impact the environment in major ways.

Reason #5 Natural Materials

The use of straw as insulation means that the conventional insulation materials are removed from the home. Standard fiberglass insulation has formaldehyde in it, a known carcinogen. Bales also eliminate the use of plywood in the walls. Plywood contains unhealthy glues that can off-gas into the house over time. By building with natural materials, a healthy home is created from the start.

Reason #6 Aesthetics

There is nothing as calming and beautiful as a straw bale home. Time and time again I walk people through homes and they are immediately struck by the beauty and the “feeling” of the walls. I really can’t explain this one, you’ll just have to walk through your own to see what I mean. There really is nothing like it.

Reason #7 Minimize wood consumption.

If built as a load bearing assembly, the wood in the walls can be completely eliminated, except for around the windows as necessary to attach them to the structure. The harvesting of forests is a global concern and any reduction in the use of wood is a good thing for the long term health of the planet. Even framed walls with infill bales (bales as insulation) can reduce the use of wood by using engineered lumber for the posts and beams. The engineered material uses smaller, faster growing trees in place of larger, slower growing species. In addition, even a standard post and beam frame can use smaller timbers on larger spacing, thus reducing the amount of wood in the home and also working with the faster growing, more renewable wood resources.

Reason # 8 Built in window-seats/niches/storage

For space conscious builders, the options for creating wall niches and storage into the bale walls are pretty much endless. Because the bale walls are so thick, there is plenty of depth for people to essentially carve out niches for storage. Further, one can create window seats with some simple modifications during the construction process which creates space saving seating. The end results are beautiful and timeless.

Reason # 9 Perfect for the Do-It-Yourself builder

Building with bales is frankly, quite simple. If you’ve spent time building with legos, you already understand the basic principles of baling! The baling process goes very quickly and is extremely fun and rewarding to be a part of. Working with a natural material is also a wonderful way to connect with responsible building practices. It doesn’t take long to learn. In fact, we can teach people how to bale their own homes including the electrical and plumbing and plastering systems within our 7 day workshops (www.strawbaleworkshops.com).

This is just a short list of reasons to build with straw bales. This construction technology is widely accepted in nearly all building municipalities in the US and other countries around the world and many locales even have their own straw bale code for straw bale. You can run electrical wiring through the bales without any problems and have plumbing in the house as well. It is possible to get insurance and bank funding. This technology has really come a long way from when it began in the mid-west in the late 1800s!

If you are interested in learning more about straw bale construction, please visit www.StrawBale.com for tons of free information. We also offer instructional DVDs showing the whole process step by step at www.LearnStrawBale.com.

Andrew Morrison
Consultant, Teacher, Inspiring Change

===================================================
Learn the Secrets to Successful Home Construction:
www.BeYourOwnContractorTraining.com

===================================================
Get Your Straw Bale Construction Questions Answered at:
www.StrawBale.com
====================================================
Sign Up For a Seven Day Straw Bale Construction Workshop Near You at:
www.StrawBaleWorkshops.com

====================================================
Work Directly With Me at:
www.StrawBaleConsulting.com

Follow Me on Twitter: @StrawBaleTeach

*Note if you purchase the DVD’s or workshops through the links above  a portion goes to support the Tiny House Blog.