Eco nest – Light straw clay home blends nature and art
Drive in on the long graveled road off Pleasant Valley Road on the San Juan Ridge and suddenly a two-story house with a large front porch appears on a rise. It’s large, yet organic looking, and the color is an earthy red.
From first sight to the finished tour, this “light straw clay” home owned by Glenn Hovemann and Muffy Weaver is an experience for both the eye and spirit.
While the house itself is awesome, the view is even more so, as the house is perched high above the Yuba River like an eagle’s nest.
Santa Fe architects Robert LaPort and his wife, Paula, actually call this design an “eco nest.” Hovemann and Weaver first learned of the architects from an article in the March/April 2002 issue of Natural Home. They immediately signed up for a workshop, taking with them their general contractor, Eric Glazzard of Building with Spirit.
When they saw up close and personal their first timber frame and earthen house, they were sure they wanted one.
“It was warm, homey, comfortable, like Mother Nature wrapping arms around you,” Hovemann said.
Married for 23 years with four children and owners of Dawn Publications (nature awareness books for kids), the couple broke ground in spring 2003, doing a combination perimeter and concrete piers foundation (engineers called for this). Nine months later, the house was finished, and they moved in.
“It’s beyond our expectations,” Hovemann said. “We’re very happy with it.”
Though the name – light straw clay – connotes something airy, and indeed the 2,200-square-foot interior feels open and softly rounded due to its plaster, windows and front door with its welcoming sun and moon motif, the huge timbers used in the house give it a most substantial look and feel.
“Southwest adobe (of sorts) meets northwest forest,” Hovemann said.
The living-with-nature theme shows up in the way they heat the home – a cob masonry fireplace, handling six big logs at a time, radiates warmth for as much as 48 hours. Then there’s the passive solar heating, thanks to the house being carefully positioned with the sun in mind.
Solar provides power, as will the wind generator planned for the future.
Their nature theme also is obvious in the details. Take, for instance, the animals that have been sculpted into the walls. Frogs, quail, and lizards, dragonflies, an owl on a limb, and a family of foxes appear everywhere.
The couple had a lot of help from their friends. Local experts on natural building Barbara Roemer and husband Glenn Miller pitched in. Their son, a welder, actually fabricated the machine that mixes the straw with the clay.
In fact, Roemer said, “Twelve years ago, my fifth-graders built the first light straw clay house in this area.”
But perhaps the most impressive part of this house is the plaster. Technically speaking, it’s soil and chopped straw for the base coat, with a top coat that’s a mix of lime, sand and color for the outside walls. Clay, sand, and color are mixed for the inside.
So says Shahoma McAlister, who with her partner Prasad came from Oregon to teach Hovemann and Weaver how to do it.
“Lime,” McAlister said, “is the best exterior because it is waterproof and actually hardens with age, and, unlike concrete plaster, is self-healing.”
This last attribute requires some chemistry to understand, but it’s a good thing. McAlister, who has worked with concrete plaster on some of the 60 houses she’s done, said it’s a joy to work instead with natural, nontoxic ingredients, all of which are applied with a trowel – labor intensive, to be sure, but personally rewarding.
Of the plastering that took over a month to complete, Weaver said, “It was thrilling doing it in October when it was warm outside and quiet, like playing in the mud.”
As is any custom home, it was not cheap to build. In fact, timber frame adds $50 to each square foot.
In addition to wanting to live in an environmentally friendly home, Weaver said they liked the durability.
“Buildings of some combination of clay and straw have been standing in Europe for 800 years.”
That longevity could translate into more than 20 generations of Hovemann-Weavers using it.
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