Saving the Planet - do we use straw bale?
From: Chris ScottHanson (
Date: Sat, 20 Dec 2003 17:35:15 -0700 (MST)
Ron, et al...

There is much interest in alternative building systems and materials, and has been from the beginning of the cohousing movement (The first successful community in Denmark, c1972, was a solar project). Many groups have had some measure of success, but most often less than what they wished for in the beginning.

As with many cohousing projects, the Winslow project used many advanced energy saving techniques in 1991, even by today's standards. JP Cohousing (now finally under construction) is implementing much of their Green Program, even though some of it was lost in the "Value Engineering" process. Besides the projects that have been mentioned so far, one project in Bend, Oregon is a mix of various straw bale, rammed earth, and I think possibly one earthship, as well. Unfortunately, it is mostly single family detached residences, with little benefit of shared wall energy efficiencies. Most organized cohousing groups find that taking on the development process as a community is quite enough of a leap, and quite enough risk to take.

It should be recognized that tightly clustered townhouses, or better still, three dimensional multi-story apartment style construction is MUCH more energy efficient than anything anyone can do with adobe, straw bale, rammed earth or active solar collectors. Choose an infill site on an existing grid of utilities, with mass transit close by. Adding the factor of community will further reduce the need for and use of the car. It is the reducing the use of the car, after all, that is the single greatest thing anyone can do for the environment, and for the planet.

Many special construction techniques can be used as symbols for our commitment to the environment, or the planet. But the bottom line is this: Straw Bale (or insert your favorite technique) may be cool, or maybe even fashionable in some locations, but... IF your goal is saving the planet, there are MANY other things that are much more cost effective, especially when considering life cycle costing and environmental footprint of your entire way of living, including but not limited to your housing.

A final thought regarding Ron's questions... When evaluating the effectiveness of any building strategy, saving money with standardization allows any community to redirect significant funds to REAL and EFFECTIVE energy efficiency and sustainable building practices. One must always ask - Does is look cool, or does it keep us cool? Are we saving the planet, or making a green fashion statement?

Chris ScottHanson

Cohousing Resources LLC & Ecodevelopment LLC
Ecovillages, Cohousing & Sustainable Communities
Development and Consulting for a Sustainable Future
   based on the Natural Power of Community

(206) 842-9160
(617) 344-8563 FAX

email:          Chris [at]
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On Dec 17, 2003, at 7:48 PM, unno_2002 [at] wrote:

Is there any interest out there for a co-housing project, that does
not impose a standardized home design and construction method?

I've been wondering why I don't see such "neighborhoods", comprised
of earthships, domes, strawbale, etc. in some sort of mix.

Ron G.
Yuma, AZ (But looking for the Tucson and slightly "east" area.)

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