The Global Straw Building Network discussion forum (GSBN)

The Global Straw Building Network is a private discussion list with publicly available archives and the option for anyone to subscribe in non-post mode. It is composed of representatives of regional organizations and other non-affiliated key individuals involved in the general advancement of straw-bale and other straw-use building materials and techniques. The intentionally small number of members range from highly experienced professionals to well informed laypeople.

The ability to post to GSBN is by invitation only. Any posts sent to the GSBN address from email addresses which have not been approved to post are automatically discarded.

Other discussion forums about building with straw exist elsewhere for those who are new to the process and/or to building techniques in general. Please see http://strawbale.sustainablesources.com or https://sustainablesources.com/resources/online-discussions/ to join them.

Should you have further questions about the operation of GSBN, please contact the list maintainer/host at https://sustainablesources.com/about/contact-us/

To sign up for GSBN or to see the archves (since 1998), go to https://sustainablesources.com/mailman/listinfo.cgi/gsbn

Straw Social housing in UK

Recent articles in the Guardian and other publications tells of strawbale “Council housing” in the UK. Council houses are a form of social housing. The local council builds the houses which are then offered at a subsidised rent to people who are unable to afford full rental values.

Straw houses are baling out council building plans

Straw Bale Council House, Lincolnshire

North Kesteven District Council page on Straw Council Houses

Straw House Photo Gallery

Building Research & Information, Volume 39, Issue 1, January 2011, pp. 51–65, ISSN 0961-3218

DOE Launches the High Efficiency Windows Volume Purchase Program

May 27, 2010

The U.S. Department of Energy today announced the launch of the Highly-Insulating R-5 Windows and Low-e Storm Windows Volume Purchase Program, part of a multi-year integrated strategy to transform the market for high efficiency windows. The initiative will facilitate the broader deployment of these windows by pairing manufacturers with buyers looking to purchase large volumes of windows and by setting performance expectations for two new types of energy efficient windows. This will provide support for window manufacturers to help overcome the initial costs associated with producing windows at an even higher efficiency level while connecting volume buyers with pre-cleared suppliers.

“The Department of Energy has played a key role in rapidly advancing window technology in the past few years. This program will help move these technologies into the marketplace, providing significant energy savings to homes and businesses across the country,” said Roland Risser, DOE’s Building Technologies Program Manager. “This initiative will help drive demand and increase the number of offerings available to builders and project developers.”

The program includes both Highly-Insulating R-5 (U value 0.2) Windows and Low-e Storm Windows. When replacing windows or building a new building, R-5 Windows can reduce heat loss through the window by 30 to 40% compared to a typical R-3 window available today. In situations where full replacement is not an option, Low-e Storm Windows, which fit over existing windows, can be used to reduce heat loads by up to 20%. The savings for both R-5 windows and Low-e Storm Windows are a significant improvement over products available today—and many meet DOE’s price premium target of less than $4 per square foot. With higher energy performance and lower purchase prices, windows can become an even more cost effective measure for building retrofits.

Volume purchasers of windows, including government agencies, builders, energy retrofitters, renovators, and weatherization providers, will gain online access to window sellers whose products are certified to meet the High-Insulation R-5 and Low-e Storm Windows specification. Buyers can review size and price ranges and then connect directly to the vendors’ Web sites to purchase. The program includes more than 30 suppliers. For more information, visit the Highly-Insulating Windows and Low-e Storm Windows Volume Purchase Program Web site.

The Volume Purchase Program received significant interest from manufacturers, the building industry, and other key industry stakeholders. More than 50 eligible proposals were submitted from suppliers; over 30 suppliers meeting all program requirements are currently listed on the Web site ready to sell windows products. Today’s launch event co-hosted by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) will include participation from a broad spectrum of building industry stakeholders, including NAHB, American Architectural Manufacturers Association, the Alliance to Save Energy, Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County, Illinois (CEDA), and Habitat for Humanity.

Windows that are part of the program must have National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) thermal performance certification and minimum structural certification in accordance with the North American Fenestration Standard (NAFS). Additionally, all storm windows must have their glass type registered in the International Glazing Database created by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).

To participate, interested suppliers and potential buyers can visit the Highly-Insulating Windows and Low-e Storm Windows Volume Purchase Program Web site.

Concrete Foundations that Double as the Finished Floor

by Jill Mayfield

Not too long ago about the only place you saw a concrete floor was in a warehouse or industrial setting-not anymore. Concrete slab foundations finished as floors are becoming more commonplace in residential and in all types of commercial construction.

Gray concrete not your style? Today, finished concrete floors can be stamped to look like stone, tile or brick. They can be scored in a variety of geometric patterns. And, they can be just about any color or combination of color you desire. Color can be added at several different points in the process. Dye can be added to the concrete mix at the plant; it can be added to the surface and mixed in to the top layer of concrete while it is still soft; or it can be added at the end of the process through painting or acid etching.

If you suffer from allergies or asthma and are planning to build a new home, consider finished concrete floors. Carpets hold dust, dust mites, mold, and other allergens. Additionally, carpets and vinyl may be installed with glues and adhesives that give off irritating fumes. Cleaning a concrete floor is also very easy- it requires no harsh chemicals, only a broom and wet mop.

Because your foundation is in direct contact with the earth (which ranges from an average temperature of 68 degrees to 55 degrees, depending on your location), it can help the energy performance of your home. If you are worried about a concrete floor being cooler in the winter, place rugs in desired areas. While if may feel colder, its constant temperature helps in both heating and cooling your home.

If you are concerned about the hardness of a concrete floor, remember that tile is just as hard and that other types of flooring are applied directly to the foundation. Well-placed throw rugs in areas where you stand a lot will provide an adequate cushion.

The cost of a finished concrete floor can vary greatly. It depends on the types of patterns you include and how the color is applied. While you may pay more up front, this type of floor is so durable-unlike carpet and vinyl flooring-you will never need to replace it.

This article first appeared in the Austin American Statesman. At the time of publication, Ms Mayfield was with the City of Austin Green Building Program

Don’t Let Your Roof Take the Heat

Tips to keep your attic cool

By Marc Richmond*

Picture this: It’s a hot and humid summer day. You head for the indoors and some relief from your trusty air conditioning (A/C) system. Three hours later, you’re slightly cooler, but you’re wondering why your A/C unit hasn’t shut off yet. Here’s why: all day long, solar radiation has been heating up your home through the windows, walls, doors and especially the roof. Your attic temperature can easily reach over 140 degrees. That heat up there is working its way through your meager attic insulation into your home and through the A/C ductwork, located in your attic, into your cooling system. Your A/C system has to fight that added heat to change all that hot air in your home into cool air. You can install solar screens for the windows, porches around the house for shade, and plant trees around the home, but what do you do about the roof which accounts for a third of all the heat build-up of your house?

Here are a few options:

Ventilate your attic with ridge and soffit vents. Vents are louvers, grills, or screen materials which allow passage or air through them. They are typically installed along the top peak (ridge) of your roof, at the top of the side wall (gable), and on the underside of your roof overhang (soffit). Ventilation moves air through your attic by force of wind or by heat rising through natural convection. This leaves cooler air sitting on top of the insulation on the attic floor. Ventilation also has the ability to remove humidity which has built up in your attic and which reduces the effectiveness of your insulation. It is often best to hire a contractor to install these.

Insulate your attic to R-30. R-30 is roughly a 10 inch thick layer of insulation material above your ceiling. This is a job for any handy homeowner or it could be handed over to a contractor. When installing the insulation, be careful not to block your vents.

Install a radiant barrier between your roof and your attic insulation. A radiant barrier is an aluminum foil material which prevents 95 percent of the heat that radiates from your roof from reaching the insulation on your attic floor. It comes in a roll and is stapled to the underside of your roof rafters, or as a metallic paint. Radiant barriers are sold in most building material supply centers and can be easily installed by a homeowner. This system can save you up to eight percent on your summer cooling bills.

When it comes time to replace the roof, use roofing material which resists or reflects heat – typically lighter colors are best, though there are some new materials which are effective at reflecting infrared radiation (heat) with a more ‘traditional’ color.

This article first appeared in the Austin American Statesman and was republished by us in 1997. *We have since edited the article.  At the time of publication, Mr Richmond was with the City of Austin’s Green Building Program; he now is president of Practica Consulting.

ASTM Standard Guide for Earthen Wall Systems

A note from our friend Bruce King:

Friends and colleagues —

I’m very happy to tell you that ASTM International has approved publication of revisions to ASTM E2392, Standard Guide for Design of Earthen Wall Building Systems.

This has been a four year project for me and for the Ecological Building Network, and you helped make it happen! This building standard now provides:
– prescriptive guidance for affordable seismic safety,
– engineering guidance where it is practically available, and
– discourages the use of cement, especially applied as render over earthen walls.

Various industries tried to stop this project, and it has been a sometimes weird experience, but we are now done. It has taken four years but was worth it, for we now have a document that we can work with anywhere in the world.

If you already have a draft from any time in the past two years, then you have something pretty close to the final language. If you want the formal document, you must order it from ASTM International, where it will be ready with all final edits by late January. Upon request, ASTM will also translate it for any country holding a memorandum of understanding with ASTM (which is most countries). http://www.astm.org/index.shtml

Thanks, and warm greetings from cool California,

Bruce King
bruce-king.com
ecobuildnetwork.org

New Topic: Shipping Container Housing

One important guideline for sustainable building is to use materials which are locally abundant. Another guideline is that waste from one system can often be utilized as feedstock for another.

Shipping containers are abundant in the US due to current trade imbalances and are therefore inexpensive pre-built modules which some enterprising people have begun using to create residences, dorms, and commercial space.

Reza Pouraghabagher has written our newest topic area on Shipping Container Housing and will be adding more in the coming months. Follow the Resource links to see some completed projects.

Bale Raising Sept 12

Sustainable Sources founder Bill Christensen will be leading a straw bale wall raising in conjuction with DesignBuildLive.org on September 12th outside of Wimberley, TX (about 50 min SW of Austin). Hope to see you there!

(Originally scheduled for Aug 22)

Full and registration at http://designbuildlive.org/

Austin’s Green Builder Program (circa 1994)

This article first appeared in the Austin Chronicle‘s April 1994 “Green” issue.

City Program Leads National Focus on Green Building

by Jeanine Sih

The Environmental and Conservation Services Department is located in a building at 9th and Brazos Streets, and in its reception area on the 17th floor there is a full size mock-up of various yard irrigation options. The coffee table nearby holds the real goodies, two books – Green Building Guide: A Sustainable Approach and Sustainable Building Sourcebook: Supplement to the Green Builder Program – put out by Program Coordinator Laurence Doxsey, Program Manager Doug
Seiter, and interns of the Green Builder Program staff.

In 1992 this Austin program was the only one in the U.S. recognized at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro with an award from the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. “This gave us instant credilibility,” Doxsey says. With six to ten inquiries per day coming from outside of Austin, he says that the Green Builder Program is now more known outside of this city than in it.

Doxsey started the City of Austin’s Green Builder Program (GBP) three years ago, after his hitch with Gail Vittori, Pliny Fisk, and the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems. People building new construction seem to participate more in the GBP than those who are retrofitting and remodeling, though Doxsey points out that the Green Building Guide addresses the needs of both new and existing buildings.

The Green Building Guide [no longer in print -ED.] is a green education condensed into 55 pages. You get a (green) philosophy course in the first pages. The resource section focuses on four basic demands that each building puts on the environment: water, energy, building materials, and the handling of solid waste. You also learn how to rate your building’s efficiency in light of these demands. The final chunk has a glossary, references and a request for feedback. A larger database, the Sustainable
Building Sourcebook ($25) supplements the guide. Both books can be purchased through the GBP office (no longer available – Ed.). Participation in a free orientation course offered by the GBP allows you to get these books for less.

Doxsey says the Green Building Guide “is really a starting point for becoming green. When we look at a building we’re talking about a building in isolation. We haven’t really addressed the issue of relating to infrastructure – where you put the building. For example, if you build a straw bale building with rainwater catchment and have to drive 30 miles one way each day to go to work, you miss some of the thinking that goes behind green building. You should be thinking of the total context of transportation, infrastructure impacts…”

The Green Builder Program is offered to those who live in the City of Austin’s power and light company service area. In the true spirit of sustainability, the program is funded by the power company’s surplus moneys, based on predicted savings from several energy conservation programs. Participation in the GBP is voluntary.

These days Doxsey oversees the GBP’s development of guidelines for commerical building needs. HEB, Apple Computer, developers, and the city’s public works department have all expressed their desire to participate in the program.

Though a big budget comes in handy when improving your building, it’s not always necessary. Austin Habitat for Humanity and the American Institute for Learning (AIL) are collaborating with the GBP to develop low-cost, green housing in East Austin; the partnership is called the Green Habitat Learning Project. The partnership displays a praiseworthy grasp of green thinking by improving the futures of everyone involved.

Doxsey explains that AIL “is taking at-risk youth and using them as the constructors for building. They’re getting an opportunity to develop marketable skills and complete GEDs… plus exposure to environmental approaches that should become more and more in demand as the practices become more accepted. We’re hoping to get a prototype established so that Habitat for Humanity can say `this is going to work for us, we’re going to use this in subsequent buildings.’ ” There are two homes currently scheduled for construction by this partnership.

The first house built from the ground up by the Green Habitat Learning Project is located at 809 Nile Street. Construction on 809 Nile was on its last day when a licensed plumber accidently set attic insulation on fire while installing a hot water heater with a propane torch. Though the 100% recycled cotton insulation (Insulcot, R11) was UL listed and billed by the manufacturer as “flame-proof,” something clearly went wrong on March 21.

“We were lucky to save all the exterior walls, all the kitchen appliances, the bathroom fixtures. We lost the heating system,” says Judith Clements, executive director for Austin Habitat for Humanity. “The family [waiting for this house] was just devastated.” She estimates the damage at $20,000. The house was insured, but repairs should take about five months.

“One of the reasons we were using Insulcot as opposed to fiberglass,” says Clements, “is that fiberglass is dangerous to handle. One of our goals in building a green home is that we’re building a house that’s environmentally safe.” The attic insulation to replace Insulcot has yet to be chosen, she said.

The 809 Nile house was designed and built by volunteers using sustainable building practices. It was, nay is, a green house. The damaged parts of the steel roof can be recycled into new steel (try that with composite shingles). Its floors are of recycled materials indistinguishable from the ordinary. Natural light pours in through ample, double-paned windows.

Its exterior walls are made of Faswal, a composite of fly ash blocks and concrete. They did not burn, and ultimately saved the house from extensive fire damage.

Judith Clements: “The concept of green building is sound. The design of the house, the overhangs, the double-hung windows, the vaulted ceilings… all the design features are sound features. All the products that we substituted in this house are off-the-shelf, safe products. The cork linoleum does not have the offgassing of plastics.” Paint, glues, and caulk were also chosen for their safe, non-offgassing properties.

I ask her if green building is any more expensive than conventional practices.

“We don’t have the bottom line yet, but it’s real close to what we spend on a Habitat house,” Clements says. “A typical, stick-built house with no special environmental stuff is $39,750. I’m waiting for our accountants to do the printout, but the last time I checked we were at $36,000 [for 809 Nile]… I gave a workshop at a regional conference and they asked `What did you give up?’ and I said `We didn’t give anything up. We not only didn’t give anything up, but we have a better house.’ The city is going to monitor the utility bills and they are estimating 20-30% savings in
utilities.”

Doug Seiter, the Green Builder Program Manager, says that the building community is not altogether enthusiastic about green building – unless it means greenbacks. Builders often feel that green building is not worth the financial risk. Green technology, sustainable building practices have a reputation for being wonky and exotic – houses made of dirt, geodesic domes – but Seiter stresses that the reality is not all so unconventional: “We encourage products off the shelf; we’re not interested in experimenting with anybody… they’ve been using Faswal in Europe for over 50
years now.”

A bonus resulting from the Green Habitat Learning Project is the immediate importance of mathematics to the six young work crew members from AIL. Clements says that teaching math was never made easier: Nile Street “was their first classroom, hands-on experience.” Chester Steinhauser, a longtime Habitat volunteer who now teaches at AIL, noted his students’ progress. “He said that math is always the hardest course in the GED program… but these kids just ate it up
because the math concepts were practically applied to the construction of the house.”

Ah. Preparing for the future. Nice to have an economy of effort when you can get it.

Laurence Doxsey, Green Building Program Coordinator: “Any differences between this fire and other fires?”

Fire marshal: “Yes – no noxious burning plastic fumes…”

Does this mean that green-built houses have fires that are green too?

This article first appeared in the Austin Chronicle‘s April 1994 “Green” issue.