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Straw Bale Home Is Passive Solar

Credits: ©2010 Arkin Tilt Architects

This passive solar straw bale home is featured in the book, "The New Strawbale Home", and received the Western Home Award from Sunset magazine. This family home features an open floor plan and embraces the surrounding environment in its California location. The architects, David Arkin & Anni Tilt, a husband and wife team, designed this four-bedroom home as a showcase of environmental innovations, beginning with its modest size. At 1,860 square feet, it is 470 square feet smaller than the average new American house, yet it feels open and unconfined and comfortably fits a family of five. The kitchen, living and dining areas share one generous space with differing ceiling heights, from an intimate 8 feet to a lofty 16 feet, to define each area. While compact, the floor plan still includes a variety of intimate spaces - a separate entryway, a laundry room, and a window covered office alcove behind the kitchen - providing private places to retreat to.


Straw Bale Passive Yard

This passive solar straw bale home is on a north-south axis, and the interior temperature of the home stays within 5° of 68°F without additional heating or cooling. ©2010 Edward Caldwell Photography

The thick strawbale walls provide deep window sills, though the home has been built using standard frame construction. The exposed nubby textured pressed rye grass panels covering the walls and ceiling of the entryway cast a golden glow as the light changes throughout the day. The colored concrete floor endures hard use, yet is warm underfoot from the floor radiant heating system. Another unique feature is a two-door shower, one opening into the master bathroom and the other directly into the yard. Clerestory windows that frame the cupola of the central space draw in light and heat, and the patterns of the night sky. The middle of the home is supported by the Great Wall of Storage, making creative use of a structural wall, and an outdoor fireplace warms the heart on colder nights.

Although oriented on a north-south axis to maintain neighbor’s views, the interior temperature of the home stays within 5° of 68°F without additional heating or cooling. The roof is insulated with cellulose (recycled newspaper) insulation and sheathed with ‘Meadowood’ rye-grass straw-board. Straw-bale walls with PISE (sprayed-earth) finish are balanced by fiber-cement clad conventionally framed walls in appropriate locations (i.e. plumbing, bays and the high cupola walls).

A structural wall of exposed framing provides ample storage for books and art while dividing the living and sleeping areas. Bedrooms all feature bed-sized window bays, and two of the children’s bedrooms are separated with movable wall panels, adding further flexibility. Other ecological features include built-in composting and recycling (hatches in the backsplash allow recyclables to be placed in bins which are accessed from the outside), high efficiency lighting, Fire-slate countertops and many reused doors throughout the house.

Read another article in “The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture

Read more in the book:
The Straw Bale House


  Straw Bale Construction Fact Sheet (44 kb)

  Compression load testing straw bale walls (277 kb)



Arkin Tilt Architects (California, USA)

How Straw Bale Houses Work

California Straw Building Association (CASBA)