2006-07-20 / News

Straw-bale house under construction in the Shores

By Sam Bari

Bob and Wendy Crooks with bales of straw that will be used to build their new home in Jamestown. Bob and Wendy Crooks with bales of straw that will be used to build their new home in Jamestown. The first thoughts that come to mind about houses made of straw usually concern a big bad wolf huffing and puffing to blow the three little pigs' house down.

"Not so," said Bob and Wendy Crooks, who are constructing a highly unusual but environmentally responsible straw-bale house on Hull Street in the Jamestown Shores.

"Building houses with straw is an old building technique that is experiencing revival in many parts of this country and around the world," said Wendy Crooks.

"The technique offers environmentally friendly structures constructed of materials that minimize the impact on the world's natural resources. It also provides superior insulation - R30 versus the standard R19. The additional insulation results in reduced heating fuel consumption and costs. The 14-inch-thick walls also create an extremely quiet environment," she noted.

"A large enclave of straw-bale houses can be found in central Massachusetts, where the Green Collaborative is, and a few are in Connecticut," said Bob Crooks. "The Green Collaborative was the source of inspiration to build our straw-bale house in Jamestown."

Massachusetts Green Communities or "Green Collaborative" is part of a national effort to transform the way people think about, locate, and design affordable housing. Each partner in Massachusetts Green Communities is making a substantial investment to help spur projects that meet specific "green" building criteria.

The Crooks have begun construction on what is believed to be Rhode Island's first greeninspired, straw-bale house. The building is a post-and-beam-type structure with outer walls created by stacking bales of straw, which are then plastered inside and out.

"The house also provides a remarkably safe environment since the walls are extremely fire resistant," said Wendy.

"The packed straw is too dense to provide the air necessary for combustion, and the plaster is non-flammable. Straw walls are also free of chemicals found in glues or other types of wall materials that can find their way into the home environment," she added.

In addition to the unique walls, a number of other energy-efficient methods and materials such as energy star-compliant appliances and solar panels have been implemented to provide electricity and hot water. "Our Web site at mysite.verizon.net/strawbale1 provides information about the specific materials we used and offers a brief explanation of why, in the hope that it can be useful to others considering building an energy efficient house using this technique," Wendy said.

"We included a list of links to sites about straw-bale construction as well as a list of the contractors we used," she added.

"We must give credit to our architects, S. Barzin and Associates, as well as our general contractor Steve Ray, and Andy Mueller at the Greenspace Collaborative. Without these people our house would not have been possible," said Bob.

"We are trying to build a solar, straw-bale home that will be as energy efficient and ecologically sound as possible while blending well with surrounding architecture in the region," said Wendy.

"The design is a simple layout to maximize use of space and join with the existing structure," she added.

"The frame of the building is now up and the roof is on. The straw bales should arrive around July 24. Installation should begin

on or about Aug. 1 if all goes as planned. This process will take about a week. Then the plastering of the straw bales will be done later in the month," Wendy said.

Bob Crooks has lived in Jamestown since 1999. He and Wendy married in 2002. Bob works for Naval Undersea Warfare Center in research and development and Wendy is an artist. Her work has been displayed at the Newport Art Museum member show. She is a member of the Portsmouth Arts Guild and the Conanicut Island Art Association.

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