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El Dorado Ranch (Baja, Mexico)

Credits: ©2008 El Dorado Ranch, San Felipe

El Dorado Ranch is a large resort community entirely powered with an off-grid solar power system. It also offers the option of building with straw-bales, and they created a hybrid grass for the golf course which utilizes saline water sources for irrigation, and thereby eliminating the need to deplete our precious fresh water supplies for future generations.


Solar panels El Dorado, Mexico

Solar panels on the rooftop of a home at El Dorado, San Felipe, Baja, Mexico ©2008 El Dorado, San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

- 17,500 acres of El Dorado Ranch's 35,000 acre development are designated "Green Space" to preserve the integrity of the surrounding environment.
- It has the largest solar community in North America. With approximately 3,000 solar lots, it has attracted the attention of many solar lobbyists, environmentalists and solar engineers. It has become a model for solar energy. - It pioneered the development of Straw Bale construction in Baja. Not only have they constructed the first straw bale home in Baja, but they have actively promoted this environmentally-friendly construction method. With its popularity they have grown into the largest strawbale community in North America as well.
- El Dorado Ranch is in full compliance with Profepa (Mexican Government's Environmental Protection Agency). It has a full time Ecology Department.

SOLAR ENERGY: Within its subdivisions, the Ranch boasts the largest solar community in North America (3,000 homesites) with more households using this form of alternative energy than anywhere else on the continent. They have created Off-Grid communities to be completely self sustainable with their energy needs. Average sunshine per year: - Canada 2000-2500 hours - Average U.S. cities: 2200 - 3000 hours - San Felipe: 3500 hours of sunshine with 8-9 hours on average in December and January.

Economical: Solar energy has always been a good idea. A clean renewable energy source that lessens our greenhouse emissions and dependence on foreign fuels.
- The energy to make a panel is only 4% of the total output of the panel. To put it another way, a solar panel can produce over 26 times the amount of energy used. - After the initial investment has been recovered, the energy from the sun is practically FREE.
- The recovery/ payback period for this investment can be very short depending on how much electricity your household uses. - Solar energy does not require any fuel.
- It's not affected by the supply and demand of fuel and is therefore not subjected to the ever-increasing price of gasoline.
- The savings are immediate and for many years to come.
- The use of solar energy indirectly reduces health costs. Solar panels are not only a good economic investment, they are a good ecological investment for the planet. There is no source of energy that has less impact on our planet. The energy that solar panels produce is free of pollution or CO2 emissions. They generate energy from the ultimate renewable resource: our Sun!

How exactly does putting a solar panel system on your home help? First off it replaces the need for more coal or natural gas derived electricity. Coal mining is an ecological disaster. On top of that, most existing coal plants release many different toxins directly into the air we breath, from sulfur to lead and mercury, nothing good comes from these plants. Even the newer plants coming on line, which reduce the toxic pollutants dramatically, still produce massive quantities of CO2, a greenhouse gas and a direct cause of global warming. Natural gas is far more benign but still produces large quantities of CO2 when used to produce electricity.

By using solar panels, you replace dirty electricity from coal and gas with clean electricity from the sun. A 5 kilowatt system will prevent the release of nearly 10,400 pounds of CO2 every year for the life of the system. Along with adding more insulation and converting to fluorescent bulbs, solar electricity could drop a person's green house gas emissions by 60 or 70%. If even half the US were to do this it would substantially reduce our impact on our planet. It does not pollute our air by releasing carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide or mercury into the atmosphere like many traditional forms of electrical generation does, so...
- Solar Energy is clean, renewable (unlike gas, oil and coal) and sustainable, helping to protect our environment. Therefore, Solar Energy does not contribute to global warming, acid rain or smog.
- It actively contributes to the decrease of harmful green house gas emissions.
- It's generated where it is needed. By not using any fuel, Solar Energy does not contribute to the cost and problems of the recovery and transportation of fuel or the storage of radioactive waste Low/ no maintenance Solar Energy systems are virtually maintenance free and will last for decades. Once installed, there are no recurring costs. The solar energy panels operate silently, have no moving parts, do not release offensive smells and do not require you to add any fuel. And even better, more solar panels can easily be added in the future when your family's needs grow.

STRAW-BALE CONSTRUCTION: El Dorado Ranch encourages the use of environmentally-friendly home construction. The first straw-bale home in the Baja was constructed at El Dorado Ranch. Since that time more straw-bale homes have been built in its communities that anywhere else in North America. The use of straw-bales lowers the demand for wood and stops depletion of our forests, provides superior insulation, uses resources that are frequently discarded, and supplies more demand and jobs for farmers.

One of the most important items to decide on before starting blueprints for your home is the material you will want to use to build your house.

The following is a list of the benefits of using Straw-Bale and its insulation value. In our desert climate, having insulated walls and roofs are very important. Straw bale R-55:
- Provides superior insulation
- Provides unique home designs
- Straw is breathable, filters air - Straw is a renewable resource
- Straw is durable and easily maintained
- 18� thick walls
- Moisture control techniques - 6� foam insulated roofs

WATER CONSERVATION: San Felipe is a desert environment averaging less than 2 inches of rain per year. The water challenge came when they started the construction of San Felipe's first golf course. Rather than depleting existing water supplies, they were able to cross-breed a unique species of salt tolerant grass to make use of previously unusable water sources thereby preserving precious water supplies.

SALT TOLERANT GRASS With new golf courses being built throughout the country, we are setting a new standard of excellence when it comes to the environmental issues and golf course development. With concerns of water conservation at the forefront of the industry, and new environmental regulations being imposed everywhere regarding pesticide usage on golf courses; we are using a new grass called Seashore paspalum (The Environmental Turfgrass). Seashore paspalum is a remarkable species of grass, and among the recent releases of new paspalum cultivars, SeaDwarf� is unique. - True �dwarftype� paspalum - Blue-green color with excellent striping (from mowing patterns) - Very tight, dense surface - Widest adaptation to environmental conditions and applications - Can tolerate periods of drought - Maintained to mow heights of 0.1 inch, making it perfect for putting greens - Infrequent mowing needed for heights of 2-3 inches - The best cold weather color retention, eliminating the need to winter overseed with a cool season grass. - The most salt tolerant, with the ability to withstand ongoing irrigation having salinity levels of up to 12,000 ppm TDS - Recovers quickly from divots and traffic and wear - Pesticides are virtually unnecessary when using a paspalum grass and saline irrigation The salt tolerant characteristics of SeaDwarf� allows us to utilize saline, brackish, and treated water sources that are unfit for human or agriculture use and thereby eliminates the need to deplete our precious fresh water supplies for future generations. The turf color and density of SeaDwarf� are unsurpassed. It has a nice blue-green color with excellent striping (from mowing patterns) and forms a very tight, dense surface that golfers love to play on. It is not uncommon to see SeaDwarf� rhizomes down 4-6 inches in the soil, with roots reaching 2 feet deep. Having such an extensive root system enables SeaDwarf� to recover very quickly from divots, traffic and wear, and helps it to tolerate periods of severe drought. Being in a desert Biosphere Reserve zone here at San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico; we chose to use SeaDwarf� wall-to-wall on our new Las Caras de Mexico (the Faces of Mexico) golf course, because of its� unique and environmentally friendly characteristics. We are very happy with our accomplishment (the first golf course in San Felipe and the first paspalum course in Baja) and also very proud to be a part of the new environmentally aware Mexico.

BIOMEMBRANE SEWER TREATMENT PLANT: They set up a Biomembrane Sewer Treatment Plant in the La Ventana del Mar development to be able to use the recycled water for irrigation, thereby saving the precious water supply. - We have set up a Biomembrane Sewer Treatment Plant in our La Ventana del Mar development to be able to use the recycled water for irrigation, thereby saving our precious water supply. - The plant can be described easily in five different processes; - Pumping, we pump the sewer for (from) three pump stations or lift stations located in La Ventana del Mar. - Separation of solids, in the entrance of the plant as we receive the sewage, it passes through a screening unit. This machine is designed to provide a filtration of water born solids and can remove all materials greater than 6mm diameter. - Oxidation The filtered water is then passed to holding tanks where it is treated with air or oxidation through a mixing process; this is to prepare the water for the next step, the membrane filtration. - Membrane Filtration This is the most important step in the process as the water is passed through microscopic membranes which eliminate bacteria and viruses and all other residual contamination. - UV process, the water passed from the membranes is pumped though UV filters, this process eliminates pathogen contaminants in the water and enable it to be used for irrigation.

GREENSPACE: Throughout the developments, El Dorado Ranch has committed to keeping at least 50% of the land as greenspace. PLANTS: Through all construction of the golf course and housing developments, plants that absolutely must be removed are not run over by a bull dozer, but instead dug out by hand and transferred to a nursery. These are either replanted next to the golf course, or in the housing developments. COMMUNITY: The developer started an organization called the Universal Golf Foundation, which raises money through golf tournaments to support local charities, childrens' groups and organizations in the San Felipe area.

Additional Article:

Will Insulating With Straw Catch Fire?
August 9, 2006;
Wall Street Journal Online Page B1

IN A LABORATORY in Elmendorf, Texas, last month, workers fired up a super-hot gas furnace next to a wall stuffed with straw in hopes of calming skittish insurers, bankers and building inspectors who have been reluctant to embrace big buildings insulated with bales of dried grasses.

Things got off to an inauspicious start for Bruce King, the engineer and straw-bale construction fan who raised the $35,000 for the independent test. Within minutes of being exposed to the 1,700-degree heat, cracks developed in the fire-resistant plaster covering the wall, and the straw inside began to char. But after two hours, the other side of the wall was unscathed.

Then, it survived the second part of the industry-standard test for building-material safety, a high-pressure soaking from a fire hose. "It opens the doors to every realm of construction," says Mr. King, who operates a straw-bale advocacy Web site and is writing a book on the construction material.

So far, a 1980s revival of straw-bale construction -- which originated in the 1890s on the arid plains of Nebraska where the ground was too dry for settlers to build from sod -- has been limited to survivalists and high-end, eco-oriented homeowners. There aren't any official measures of the number of straw-bale buildings, but advocates estimate there are several thousand in the U.S., most of them single-family homes.

But now, responding to the demand for more so-called green buildings, architects and builders are starting to use dried rice and wheat stalks in larger, more public facilities such as schools, churches, wineries and transit facilities. There, the building standards -- and potential consequences of a fire -- are much higher than a single-family home.

Straw proponents believe the successful fire test will persuade more mainstream builders to use straw bales instead of the standard fiberglass or foam insulation. In the absence of a fire test, most insurers have balked at straw-bale construction, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group. American Family Insurance, for example, refuses to cover it at all. "We have concerns with how these homes would hold up in loss situation involving fire smoke and water," says Steve Witmer, spokesman for the Madison, Wisc., company. "There's also cost factors stemming from limited experience from contractors in repairing these types of homes. And we're not sure about the availability of building materials."

Straw-bale buildings look similar to other buildings, though they have two-foot thick exterior walls covered in a stucco-like plaster, often giving them a Southwestern adobe feel with thick curved walls. In most cases, as in traditional construction, wood or steel beams carry the weight of buildings' floors and roofs. The bales are inserted between the studs or beams. Chainsaw-wielding workers trim the straw to fit electrical boxes or architectural features such as curves in the wall. A thick coat of plaster covers the bales, keeping them dry and protecting them from fire. Inch for inch, straw bales insulate about the same as fiberglass, but because they are so much thicker than typical rolls of insulation, they provide a stronger shield against heat and cold. Straw bales often are procured from local farms, reducing pollution that comes from transporting construction materials, a key concern of green-building advocates. Straw is also easier to dispose of because it's biodegradable. A small house would use 150 to 300 bales.

The walls of a transit building in Santa Clarita, Calif., are insulated with straw bales and covered with lime plaster. Designed as a demonstration project for eco-friendly building, there were some problems during construction because of the novelty of the materials, but the architect says it has performed well since opening in April. 

Architects who've worked with both forms of insulation say the cost of using straw bales instead of fiberglass can be about the same to 10% more. While the actual bales cost less than industrial-made fiberglass insulation, labor costs can be higher because contractors aren't accustomed to it. A 24-by-16-by-48-inch bale costs about $3.

The fiberglass-insulation industry doesn't sound worried that straw bales could usurp its place between the walls of buildings. "It's a very specific niche of the market versus being used by big production builders," says Robin Bectel, spokeswoman for the Virginia-based North American Insulation Manufacturers Association. But straw bales are beginning to be found in larger projects nationwide.

The Friends Community School in College Park, Md., is building its new schoolhouse with straw bales. The school for 165 kindergarten-through-8th grade students is due to open this winter. Schools have traditionally been made of brick and steel to lower the fire risk. "We did the research," says school head Tom Goss, referring to some nonofficial fire studies. "Straw bales operate like a mattress.

They're so compacted there's no way for air to get in there." But parents had other concerns, he says. What about mice and rats? "We found out that straw doesn't have food value," says Mr. Goss. "It's the equivalent of wood." And since there are no seeds in straw, there are also no worries about allergies. The school will cost $5.7 million, not significantly more than if it were built using traditional wallboard with fiberglass insulation, says project architect Peter Doo of the Baltimore firm Hord Coplan Macht, Inc.

Local building officials, who had some experience with straw-bale homes in the area, approved the school. It was a different story for Aerzen USA Corp., an industrial-blower manufacturer in Coatesville, Penn. It wanted to use straw bales for a $3.5 million manufacturing warehouse and office, but a local building official didn't want to approve the project without an official fire test. And to boot, the cost came in 10% over budget.

"We can't charge our customers 10% more so we can have a straw-bale building," says Aerzen USA president Pierre Noack. The building, set to start construction soon, will still be eco-friendly, with lots of traditional insulation to conserve energy. "In the end, the bottom line wakes you up," he says. Building-safety officials are conflicted about the fire issue because making straw-insulated buildings fire-safe could make them vulnerable to another risk -- water. T

he Desert Living Center, owned by the Las Vegas Valley Water District, will be the largest straw-bale complex in the country when its five buildings open in 2007. When the architects submitted plans, the Las Vegas building department said because it had been designed with enough emergency exits, the center didn't need fire sprinklers, even though buildings of its size usually require them.

The officials feared that if the sprinklers were set off accidentally, the walls would get wet and need to be replaced. In the end, the local fire marshall insisted on having sprinklers. "That's my biggest nightmare," says Jeff Roberts, the project architect with Las Vegas architects Lucchesi, Galati Architects Inc. "If the walls got wet, they'd have to come down."

Building with straw can pose other challenges. The city of Santa Clarita, Calif., wanted to use a $26 million transit-administration building as a straw-bale demonstration project. "The city saw this as a good opportunity to set the tone, to show local contractors who come in bellyaching about what it costs [to build green] to say, 'Here, we did it,'" says Charles M. Smith, a vice president at Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, the project's architect. Things didn't go as planned.

The straw-bale sub contractor and the architects fought over the design of a wall that supports a long span of windows. Outside experts had to be brought in to mediate. Then construction workers who had never worked around straw mistakenly removed 2 x 4s that kept the bales straight and climbed all over them, forcing the bales out of position, says Mr. Smith. An improperly installed drain on the roof let winter rains soak the bales before they had been plastered. Two-thirds of the bales got moldy and had to be replaced.

Still, the facility opened in April and is performing well, the architect says. "The lessons learned is that with straw bale, everything has to happen perfectly for it to go right," says Mr. Smith. "But it turned out to be a beautiful building."