Learning to go green through natural building

Yestermorrow's Natural Building Intensive program was featured on WCAX-TV! Check out the video or read the text of the piece included below.

Middlesex, Vermont - August 23, 2010

At the end of a dead end road in Middlesex, nearly a dozen students and instructors from the Yestermorrow Design Build School are putting the finishing touches on a major assignment.

"It is essentially a classroom like a classroom that you would find at any academy except that here you have a hammer in your hand," said Jose Galarza, an instructor at Yestermorrow.

The class is called Natural Building-- one of many courses offered by Warren-based school. Using materials and an approach that is in harmony with the environment, the group helped build the bulk of a 1,700 square foot home.

"Classically when someone thinks of natural building they think specifically of the materials," Galarza said. "In this case we have straw bale construction that is supported by a timber frame structure. I think what we would rather people imagine when they think of natural building is really the integrative design process."

That process includes everything from cutting much of the wood for the framing on site, to the relationships formed with the Plainfield farmer that provided manure, an important ingredient in the plaster mix that goes on top of the straw bales.

"The cow is the absolute best because it's a ruminant; it has four stomachs and there's the addition of this thing called the Rumen which is this glue like substance into the mix that actually creates this wonderful, workable, very, very durable plaster," explained Ace McArleton of New Frameworks Construction.

The home's owners, a Montpelier couple, paid the cost of building supplies and for selected contractors. The student labor comes free.

While adobe and straw bale houses are usually associated with warmer, drier climates like the desert Southwest, the builders say they can also be successful here.

"The benefits of straw bale are things that can be realized in this climate when they are treated appropriately. That's why we work on detailing them in a way that we can protect them from the elements, to allow them to do what they do best-- insulate our homes extremely well with local and natural materials," McArleton said.

And it's those natural materials, says McArleton, that replace a lot of the foams and toxic materials that go into a traditional home that can affect people's health and the environment.

"So paying more attention how we put that into our built environment both for the longevity of the structure but also people living in them, people living near them and people living near the waste dumps where they go eventually is something we try to think about," McArleton said.

The house will use a wood stove as primary heating. The builders say that-- along with the homes super insulation and southern exposure-- it should earn the house an Energy Star rating through Efficiency Vermont's Energy Stars Home program.

The students wrap up their hands-on experience with a graduation and open house at the end of the week.

The public is invited to come see the student's work at an open house and graduation ceremony Friday, Aug. 20, at 4 p.m. The house is located at 400 Notch Road in Middlesex.

The Yestermorrow School is currently looking for their next project for next summer's class. Click here to apply or find out more.

Alexei Rubenstein - WCAX News