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The last straw

Area family building ‘green’ home using straw for insulation

By Dawn Schuett

schuett@postbulletin.com

LAKE CITY — Pink isn’t the color of the insulation in the home that Paul and Sara Freid are building in Goodhue County.

It’s golden, like the hue of grain fields at harvest time, because the insulation is actually straw instead of fiberglass or foam.

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(Hold the jokes about the straw house, the three little pigs and the big, bad wolf — the Freids have heard plenty of them already.)

They’re using straw with other materials to construct a "green" home, one that’s environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

"We wanted to build our house and feel good about it," Paul Freid said. "We’re doing all we can."

After extensive research on the use of straw, other aspects of building green and the home-building process in general, they started construction in May. Their two-story home is situated on a 51-acre parcel along Goodhue County Road 5, about five miles west of Lake City.

Once the footings were in place, the Freids built the wood frame themselves and then went to work on the insulation. They stacked straw bales end to end between the frame lumber and covered the straw with deer netting, stuffing more straw between bales to fill crevices. They’ll apply three layers of plaster, made with clay taken from the Freids’ land, over the straw and netting to give the walls the finished appearance of adobe.

The walls will be about 17 inches thick after the plaster layers are applied. Paul Freid said the R value — a rating that refers to the efficiency of an insulation in stopping the flow of heat — will be R-30 for the straw insulation in the house. A typical home has a value of R-19, he said.

Freid said he doesn’t believe the couple’s home will be any more susceptible to problems such as mold compared to a standard-built home. The clay in the plaster will act as a natural dehumidifier, absorbing moisture and releasing it into the air. To prevent water damage on the home’s exterior, the Freids will add lime to the third layer of plaster for its waterproofing capabilities. The couple will have "earth plaster days" this weekend and Sept. 29-30 for anyone who wants to help with plastering or view the home.

The Freids also plan to install 2 feet of metal wainscoting at the bottom of first and second levels on the outer walls and will have 3-foot eaves extending from the room to block rain and provide shade.

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Geothermal energy will provide in-floor heating for the 2,500-square-foot home along with a passive solar design in which there will be large windows on the south side of the home and small windows on the north side. The home won’t be air conditioned. A whole-house fan will be installed in the ceiling of the second floor to draw up cool air at night. The Freids will also use a solar water heater.

Although the Freids have encountered a lot of questions from people curious about construction, Paul Freid said using alternative building practices to improve energy efficiency is more acceptable now than it would have been 10 to 15 years ago.

"Everybody knows this is what we need to do," he said.

The Freids expect to finish their five-bedroom, two-bath home in late spring or early summer of 2008.

"It’s been a fascinating experience," Sara Freid said.

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