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September 18, 2012

For "Gotta Bale," the Off the Grid story in our October 2012 issue, we visit the Santa Cruz, California, home of college professors Bernie Tershy and Erika Zavaleta. Though there's a lot that makes this Arkin Tilt Architects–designed home green, a key feature is the staw-bale insulation on the street-facing wall of the home. Arkin Tilt has a score of straw-bale houses under its belt and the firm shared a few behind-the-scenes shots with Dwell to help us understand just how Tershy and Zavaleta's house came together.

Before setting any straw in the walls, Arkin Tilt had to design a support system tailor made for big bales of hay. They relied on wooden I-joists here on the front of the house spaced at intervals so that a set number of bales (tipped up on their sides) would fit. Photo courtesy of Arkin Tilt Architects.
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It was a community affair getting all the straw bales into place. Anni Tilt referred to it as a "bale raising" in the Amish mode of a barn raising. Tershy echoed the sentiment, recounting how friends, neighbors, and the Arkin Tilt team all pitched in to get the 150 bales into place. Here we see Tershy and Zavaleta manhandling what would soon become insulation. Photo courtesy of Arkin Tilt Architects.
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Here's a view of what the facade looked like when it was made just of straw. In addition to keeping the home warm on chilly Santa Cruz mornings, the straw acts as a highly effective sound barrier between the main living spaces and the street. Photo courtesy of Arkin Tilt Architects.
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The wooden post on seen here is actually a structural support and a piece of driftwood that the family salvaged from the California coast. Much of the ornamentation in the Tershy/Zavaleta home comes from wood they've found in their travels, but here is where it does the most architectural heavy lifting. Photo courtesy of Arkin Tilt Architects.
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Workers install bales in the wall that will eventually make up the divide the living room from Bethany Curve, a charming park that functions as the home's extended backyard. Photo courtesy of Arkin Tilt Architects.
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Once the bales are all in place, Arkin Tilt covers them with a welded wire mesh before they get their finishing touches. Photo courtesy of Arkin Tilt Architects.
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Lime plaster goes on over the wire mesh and seals in all the qualities you want in a good wall of insulation: heavy, thick, nonporous, and able to retain plenty of heat. Add in that this straw is essentially a waste material from rice farmers and you've got a wonderfully green way to keep a home toasty. Photo courtesy of Arkin Tilt Architects.
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StrawBale Joist
Before setting any straw in the walls, Arkin Tilt had to design a support system tailor made for big bales of hay. They relied on wooden I-joists here on the front of the house spaced at intervals so that a set number of bales (tipped up on their sides) would fit. Photo courtesy of Arkin Tilt Architects.

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