- The Award-Winning Wilson Natural Home
- 1 hour north of Toronto
- Near beautiful Hockley Valley
North on Airport Road past Hwy 9 (Mono Mills), West on 5th
Side Road, 248108 5th Side Road (click
here to see the map)
Saturday, August 28, 2004
Time: 12 noon - 6pm
$2 per person or $5 per family
pebbles along straw bale wall on the north?
- These pebbles serve several purposes.
- Since straw bale walls are not perfectly straight it looks
better and is easier to finish by simply laying the pebbles
on the floor. Cutting the tile to this edge would not have
- Below the pebbles we plan to cut holes in the sub-floor
to allow the cool basement air to flow up to cool the main
floor in the summer when the vent in the skylight is opened.
- The space keeps people/kids from rubbing the walls which
can be abrasive.
- It looks beautiful!
did you do straw bale only on the north wall?
- Straw bale construction provides a comfortable home. The
walls provide R50-R60 insulation values.
- They breathe providing better indoor air quality.
- The cold winds in the winter come from the north.
- The complexity of the other sides of the home made straw
bale more difficult although in hindsight we would consider
- Our research showed that there was no reason to be conerned
about fire, pests, rot, or any other fairy tale type concerns.
- Our home uses straw bales within a post and beam construction
so that the bales are not load bearing. Load bearing straw
bale home designs are possible and do exist.
kind of wood is it that you used for the posts and beams
- We used an engineered wood product called Parallam. The
wood fibre is taken from fast growing trees rather than
old growth forest products. The engineered nature of the
product provided better rigidity and strength for the high
roof and heavy weight of a greenroof (that will have eight
inches of soil, plus snow at time), not to mention strong
can I learn how to do my own straw bale construction?
- There are several excellent books books on the subject
exist. Building with Straw Bales is one of the best.
Contact the experts at Camel's Back Construction - http://www.strawhomes.ca/
. The folks at Camel's back have an email list that lets
you join in the construction of a straw bale home as a volunteer.
That way you can learn all you need to know to do it yourself.
much did it cost?
- The cost was approximately $120 per square foot, similar
to a quality custom home built using conventional methods
is the pay back period?
- We expect to pay back our investments in the home in general
within twenty years. Assuming energy prices go up this pay
back period may be significantly less.
you going to do anything with concrete floors?
- The concrete floors in the Living Room, Master Bedroom,
and Basement will remain as they are. This type of flooring
(mass, such as concrete, ceramic tile, slate, stone) is
ideal for collecting and holding the sun's warmth in the
winter. It also transmits the warmth from the radiant in-floor
heating efficiently. In the summer, it absorbs the heat
so that the air feels cooler. We like the natural look and
type of wood did you use in the kitchen and why?
- We used bamboo in the kitchen bacause it looks good and
is a type of grass that grows back after being cut down.
is that big concrete thing north of the house?
- That is a cistern, which is intended to hold rainwater
collected from the roof. It has also been installed to allow
for filling directly from the well. The cistern will hold
water for household use, and also provides a water source
in case of fire.
it get warm in the summer?
- Surprisingly, most of the house is quite comfortable in
the summer. The basement is quite cool, and the main floor
area is very comfortable also. The bedrooms upstairs can
be quite hot on sunny days. We have plans for a shading
structure to be built on the south side of the house, which
will shade only the high summer sun, and allow the lower
winter sun to shine through. A fan will be installed in
the "tower" that will draw the hot air up in the
summer also, pulling up the cooler air from the basement.
- The roof is designed to hold eight inches of soil and
allows us to plant native plants on it. Once we do that
this type of roof can be expected to provide increased cooling
in the summer up to 30-40% which should significantly improve
the 2nd floor temperatures in the summer. In addition, the
extra soil will improve insulation levels for the winter.
the $400,000 include the cost of the land?
- No, that is the cost of building the house only. It is
advisable to own the land outright before beginning construction.
Hydro pay you?
- No, Hydro does not pay us for the power we generate. Our
meter often runs backwards, however to date we have never
generated more than we use in a month. Under the current
regulations, Hydro will not pay us - the best we could expect
in any given month is a $0.00 bill.
- We do however save a lot of money. Last year we spent
approximately $1,000 on electricity before we had installed
the wind/solar power system. This year, based on savings
thus far, we expect we'll save about $500 each year.
all hyrdo meters go backwards?
- No, some models run in only one direction (forwards).
You should be able to have it switched to a model that does
run backwards although that might be an additional cost
straw bale safe
fire, pests, rot, strength
you do it in the city?
- There is no problem with pests, rot, fire or strength.
The concrete stucco coating prevents any pests from entering
and together with the compression of the bales, provides
sufficient strength. The straw bale walls are considered
more fire-retardant than conventional stud walls. Since
the wall breathes (that is, air and moisture pass through
freely), there is no problem with rot. Straw bales are supported
by the building code. A 6000 square foot straw bale home
was built in Mississauga.
you have any problems getting the building permit?
- No, we were fortunate to have a building inspector who
is familiar with straw bale construction. There were some
issues with central composting toilets and rain-water collection.
In the end, the Town allowed both the composting toilets
and rain-water collection, but required a septic field to
be built (along with one flush toilet so that it would operate
properly), and a well to be dug.
you have any problem getting insurance?
- Some insurance companies required inspections because
of the "unconventional construction" of the home.
The only issue they identified was the wood stove, due to
an error made by the inspector. He listed the pipe as single-wall,
when in fact it is double-wall. We had no difficulty finding
an insurance company willing to insure the home at a reasonable
rate, with no issues. Our insurance company ended up being
State Farm Insurance.
you have any problem getting building financing?
- Our bank provided a construction mortgage, although these
are becoming harder to get. Because of the unconventional
construction, the bank required the mortgage to be insured
by CMHC, even though we had a 25% downpayment.
much is the wind turbine?
- The wind turbine requires batteries, a tower (60 feet
in our case), a charge controller, and an inverter (to convert
the DC current to AC for use with conventional appliance
and to supply to the electricity grid). Our system also
included ten Siemens 40 watt photovoltaic solar panels.
This complete system installed was $20,000. We purchased
our systems from Phantom Electron Corporation - http://www.phantomelectron.com/
. Contact Leonard Allen or Bed Rodgers.
the wind turbine make much noise?
- The wind turbine is actually very quiet. In a moderate
breeze, you will hear a quiet whisper, and occasionally
a mild him from the wind turbine. When the wind is very
strong and gusty, you may at times hear a low "growl".
Each type of turbine is different. It is best to check out
the unit your expect to purchase if you can.
was most valuable in your research into how to do Natural
-Toronto Healthy House tour
- book Living Spaces - try GrassRoots store ( http://www.grassrootsstore.com/
)or have it ordered from your local book store.
- Architect Martin Liefhebber - check out his new web site
- Solar Living Center in California - web site: http://www.solarliving.org/
- The Solar House book - look for it at your local
- Natural Home magazine - web site: http://www.naturalhomemagazine.com/
- Natural Home book series
Centre for Conservation - they have a wind/solar power
tour and learning facility as well as a large Living Machine.
you could have done anything different what would it be?
- Reduce the size of the house
reduced cost of construction
below $400,000 to take advantage of GST rebate.
should you do if you already own a home since that is the
majority of people?
- Renovation of existing home is by far the most important
task. First, start by being as efficient as possible
cracks, reorient windows/walls for passive solar design,
use straw bale for additions and even replacement of existing
walls, improve insulation in roofing, install solar photovoltaic
panels with inverter and grid connection ($5000-30,000)
you your roof/yard - contact Phantom Electron Corporation
are you going to grow on your green roof and how are you
going to cut the grass?
- We plan to grow native grasses, possibly setums, and hopefully
some strawberries. The intent is to grow vegetation that
requires minimal maintenance and watering. We don not intend
to cut the grass on the roof. Well, maybe we'll get a goat!
anyone create a green roof on their home?
- The green roof is quite heavy, and requires a very strong
support structure. Our roof is engineered to support the
weight of all the soil, moisture and potential snow.
you get any rebates or do any incentive programs exists
for solar systems?
- Yes. In our area it is possible to get the retail sales
tax rebated. Fore more information see http://www.naturallifenetwork.com/wilson/tax.asp
did you decide to have a green roof?
- The green roof will provide several benefits, the most
significant being to keep the house cool in the summertime
(similar to a basement). It also provides additional insulation
to keep the house warmer in the winter. This type of roof
helps to conserve the natural environment, providing habitat
and food for wildlife. A conventional roof can get very
hot, and heat the surrounding air significantly. Finally,
the green roof has a natural beauty that is unmatched by
any other kind of roof!
is the grey/tin/silver roof/siding and what is it for?
- The material on the sloping south face is Zinc. Zinc reflects
the sun for cooling, and is a natural, long lasting material.
It ages nicely, and reflects a spectrum of colours that
vary with the angle of the sun.
Home Design/Build Team Contacts:
Lifehebber Architect Inc., Web Site: www.martinlifehebber.com
Allen, President, Phantom Electron Corporation. Phone:(905)
430-6512 or check out their web site at www.phantomelectron.com
Richards, Wilson Natural Home Builder, C & R Contracting,
Phone: (905) 880-2732.
Chris and Tina, Camel's Back Construction, straw bale construction
Fiberglass Limited, Windows, Phone: (416) 679-1171, http://www.inlinefiberglass.com/
K & M Bamboo Products Inc.,Bamboo Flooring, Phone: (905)
947-1688, E-Mail: email@example.com
A.C.E.S. Radiant Floor Heating, Phone: 416 463 - 5835 or email
Wolfe, Quality Rooves and Custom Metal, Phone: (416) 239-2200.
did you get a permit to build this house in Mono Township?
easy. We have had to duplicate some of our systems to get
around building code requirements. For example, although
we will have composting toilets, and want to recycle our
grey water, we had to install a septic system, along with
one flush toilet so that it will work properly.
the building inspector at the time was open to new ideas,
and willing to discuss ways to make our objectives possible.
An experienced architect, Martin Liefhebber was able to
explain the technologies and methods directly to the Town
authorities, and work with them and the builder to develop
you worried about pests and fires?
these of no more concern to us than they would be for anyone
building a conventional frame house, in fact, the straw
bale construction is more fire resistant than frame construction.
A special lime compound is applied to the straw, to increase
its fire resistant properties.
are the actual insulation values (R-values) of straw bale
buildings and why do they seem to be so much higher than
insulation value is approximately R43. The R-value comes
from the natural insulation properties of straw bale, which
is basically just cellulose.
is a straw bale building constructed – is post and beam
the only way to build?
are a variety of construction methods that can be used,
in addition to post-and-beam. The straw bales themselves
can be used as load-bearing walls, without any other framing
affordable is straw bale building?
bale construction, by itself, is very economical. Depending
on the seasonal conditions, you may pay $1 to $4 per bale.
Volunteer labour helps to keep costs down too. Other factors
may affect the cost, such as the non-standard design of
the house be warm enough?
the high insulation, good quality windows, well-designed
roof, and ventilation system will ensure a comfortable indoor
environment year-round. An EPA-approved wood-burning stove
will help to supplement the heating on those cold, cloudy
is the sod roof constructed?
sod roof is engineered to sustain the weight of the soil,
plants, moisture and winters' snowfall. A waterproof membrane
covers the plywood layer, which is insulated on the inside.
Other special layers are applied over the waterproof membrane
to channel water off the roof and keep roots from penetrating.
Finally, 8 inches of soil is added, and then planted with
"alpine growth" and local hearty varieties that require
you have to water and mow the roof?
plants are specially selected to withstand dry spells. They
are left to grow naturally.
are the benefits of a sod roof?
main benefit is that it doesn't heat up in the same way
as a conventional roof. On a hot summer day, a conventional
roof can heat up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. A sod roof will
maintain a temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
This has the effect of keeping the home, and even the surrounding
benefits include reduced rainwater runoff, and good insulation
for cold winters provided by a layer of insulation, soil,
and potentially snow.
is "passive solar heat" and how does it work?
warmth of the sun passes through low-e windows and is captured
by the concrete floors. From there it is transferred to
water running through tubing embedded in the floor, and
circulated throughout the house.
are composting toilets and how do they work?
toilets are like a garden composter, but constructed to
decompose human waste using heat, air circulation, and natural
bacterias. The resulting compost can be used to fertilize
non-edible gardens, and is safe for the environment.
the house be difficult to maintain?
house was designed to be low-maintenance. Interior and exterior
finishes are minimal, and much of it will never require
painting or re-finishing. For example, floors are constructed
of concrete, which may be expected to last a lifetime, and
requires minimal upkeep. With no furnace, there is no ductwork
to clean, and no fossil fuel burning needing annual service.
did you go to all the trouble to build such an unusual house
- wouldn’t it have made more sense to build something that
most developers build?
have been easier, but not more sensible. This environmentally-friendly
construction has long-term benefits, such as lower heating
and utility costs, minimal maintenance, and will not be
impacted by rising fossil fuel costs. It has a minimal impact
on the natural environment, leaving a healthier, sustainable
legacy for our children.
did you choose the architect Martin Liefhebber?
familiar with Martin's work through the award-winning Toronto
Healthy House, which he designed. After a few meetings,
it became clear that Martin's experience and creativity
would support the project's principles.
did you find a builder who could manage this project?
to several builders, and selected Colin Richards because
of his considerable experience, very high quality work,
and interest in alternative construction techniques.
are your plans for the garden?
we would like to grow our own food, using organic growing
techniques and permaculture design.
are you concerned about the ability to be self-sustaining?
rising cost of fossil fuels, and their effect on the environment
had us very concerned about the future for our children
and grandchildren. It is well known that non-renewable fossil
fuels will be depleted in the next 50 to 100 years, making
self-sustaining home design a necessity. We want to raise
awareness of the feasability and ease of this type of design,
are the new building materials you chose and what is special
radiant floor heating is constructed of "mass" (stone, concrete,
etc.), which collects and stores solar heat. The heat is
circulated to other areas of the home by water tubing embedded
in the floor.
windows are double-glazed, krypton gas filled, low-e and
fibreglass framed. This offers insulation, while allowing
the heat of the sun to pass through.
roof is covered with soil, which absorbs heat and moisture,
bales are an annually renewable resource, and very inexpensive,
while offering a high insulation value (approximately R43).
flooring is another annually renewable material, which has
the warmth and superior quality when compared to hardwood
post-and-beam structure uses glue-lam beams, which are constructed
of compressed "waste" wood and glue. They are much stronger,
and more durable than conventional wood beams.
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