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Hay Is for Horses, Straw Is for Houses

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In the Napa Valley, one sustainable residence elegantly demonstrates straw bale technology.

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  The blurring of boundaries between outside and inside encourages the Siegel/Subbotin family to enjoy the temperate climate year-round. “My favorite thing to do at the house is to sit in the dogtrot and read,” Kyra Subbotin says.  Photo by JD Peterson.
    The blurring of boundaries between outside and inside encourages the Siegel/Subbotin family to enjoy the temperate climate year-round. “My favorite thing to do at the house is to sit in the dogtrot and read,” Kyra Subbotin says. Photo by JD Peterson.
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  Though visible elements of green design are found throughout the residence—from the recycled-glass and concrete countertops to the energy-efficient appliances—the straw bale that’s cleverly packed to make two-foot-thick walls is perhaps Siegel’s favored sustainable solution. 
A waste product that’s typically burned in the fields after the harvest, straw both acts as an excellent insulator and reduces the amount of wood used in construction. For Siegel and Subbotin, the act of packing the straw into the walls was the perfect excuse for a party. “After the house was framed, it came time to put the straw bales between the framing,” Subbotin says. “So we invited a bunch of friends, brought food and coffee, and everyone got to work and did it.”
Over 90 percent of the baling (described by Siegel as “the modern-day experience of a barn raising”) was done in that one day. Easily inserted into the post-and-beam frame, the bales were cut to size, tied, and literally stacked within the walls of the house.  Photo by JD Peterson.
    Though visible elements of green design are found throughout the residence—from the recycled-glass and concrete countertops to the energy-efficient appliances—the straw bale that’s cleverly packed to make two-foot-thick walls is perhaps Siegel’s favored sustainable solution. A waste product that’s typically burned in the fields after the harvest, straw both acts as an excellent insulator and reduces the amount of wood used in construction. For Siegel and Subbotin, the act of packing the straw into the walls was the perfect excuse for a party. “After the house was framed, it came time to put the straw bales between the framing,” Subbotin says. “So we invited a bunch of friends, brought food and coffee, and everyone got to work and did it.” Over 90 percent of the baling (described by Siegel as “the modern-day experience of a barn raising”) was done in that one day. Easily inserted into the post-and-beam frame, the bales were cut to size, tied, and literally stacked within the walls of the house. Photo by JD Peterson.
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  Ever aware of context, architect Henry Siegel says of his house, “A lot of architects’ buildings look better on a pedestal than in context. Our design would look out of place on a pedestal—we placed it so it really fits its specific site.”  Photo by JD Peterson.
    Ever aware of context, architect Henry Siegel says of his house, “A lot of architects’ buildings look better on a pedestal than in context. Our design would look out of place on a pedestal—we placed it so it really fits its specific site.” Photo by JD Peterson.
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  With temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in the summer, energy-efficient climate control was central to the design.  Photo by JD Peterson.
    With temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in the summer, energy-efficient climate control was central to the design. Photo by JD Peterson.
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  In the winter, radiant heating keeps the house cozy while reducing the costs and the pollutants associated with traditional forced air.  Photo by JD Peterson.
    In the winter, radiant heating keeps the house cozy while reducing the costs and the pollutants associated with traditional forced air. Photo by JD Peterson.

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