A Passive Solar Home: Off the Grid in California

After a wildfire nearly destroyed everything one family owned, construction began on their new home, which uses straw bale and solar energy.

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Drawn together by their mutual questioning of architecture's conventional party line and their search for holistic living alternatives, architects Ken Haggard and Polly Cooper have been designing passive solar buildings on California's central coast for decades. In the late 1970s, the couple recycled buildings to create a home and office complex on an old trout farm just north of San Luis Obispo, where they broadened their practice to include sustainability issues such as the life-cycle impact of materials and the use of small buildings, healthy building materials, and permaculture. But when a wildfire plowed through Los Padres National Forest in 1994, burning 40,000 acres and leveling the complex, Ken and Polly were able to take a good hard look at their own lifestyle.

Once the shock of losing nearly everything they owned wore off, the couple realized that the fire had cleared the slate for them to put many of the principles they'd been studying into practice. The fire had also killed most of the mature trees on their property, leaving a wealth of building materials that wouldn't require transport or industrial processing. Ken and Polly seized the opportunity to mill that lumber on-site, build with straw bales, and go completely off the electric power grid-steps they had been interested in taking for years.

Check out the July/August 2000 issue of Natural Home for more about the off-grid lifestyle, including:

· Solar Energy and Hydropower
· Natural Forms