Zaller returning to Pakistan – house plans included |

Zaller returning to Pakistan – house plans included

Greg Zaller is returning to Pakistan Saturday to continue his efforts to help house 2 million rendered homeless by an October earthquake.

Zaller, 54, of Nevada City, initially went to Pakistan in November after passing up his annual vacation for a chance to help others. Zaller went with a 12-by-12 wood frame and sheet-metal home design to help Pakistanis get out of tents.

Upon his return, a small team of volunteers rallied to help Zaller, and they have found a new home design using straw bales. About 100 of the original homes have been built and the original wood design is still being used in remote mountain areas pummeled by the quake. But that design called for long hauls of material and a mill on site to construct the homes.

Because of that, Zaller and his team turned to a straw bale design that will take a few days longer to build but costs only $50, compared to $300 for the original homes.

Zaller admits he has no idea how much straw he will be able to find when he gets there and said this week he may have to wait until harvest time to get enough to make much of a dent. But he is undeterred and has pre-shipped three miles of bailing twine to tie the bales together.

“We’ll have to create surfaces out of the bales and then put adobe on them for strength,” Zaller said. The bales have a high insulation value for heat, which will help free children from spending hours looking for firewood. They also bend and shift in earthquakes and are strong enough to withstand Pakistan snow loads, he said.

Zaller has spent the last two months talking to people all over the world about straw-bale home design. He got lucky when engineer Darcey Donovan of Truckee read about his mission in The Union. It turns out she has been designing straw bale homes for the past few years.

“He had some really good basic ideas and I developed them,” Donovan said. “I’ve been working on my Masters (degree) and focused on myself, so I wanted to give back and do something bigger than myself.”

Zaller has been creating small, easy-to-lift straw bales in his basement ever since and experimenting with different materials to fortify them. He wants to do a model as soon as he returns to Pakistan and take advantage of the spring building season.

“I can train people to build these buildings and then send them off into the deep rural areas,” he said, adding that’s where the homes are most needed.

Meanwhile, The Union’s Lake Wildwood columnist Shirl Mendonca has come aboard to help Zaller coordinate efforts and keep track of volunteers. Mendonca is building a four to five-person team that will go to Pakistan in the future to teach people how to make the homes.

“Besides the human need to help, there is also the global implication that if they are very unhappy, it will be easier for them to become enemies of the U.S,” Mendonca said.

“You either grow terrorists or democracy there and you do it through education,” Zaller said. “If we don’t, they’ll become terrorists.”

A fundraiser to further Zaller and his new team’s efforts will be held 6- 9 p.m. Saturday, March 11 at the St. Patrick’s Church Hall, 235 Chapel Street, Grass Valley.

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