Mother Earth Living

A Fine Nest: Sustainable Housing in Iowa

A green building pioneer’s straw-clay home proves life-changing for its creator and life-giving to its residents.

The 1,500-square-foot home faces east, following the mandates of ancient Indian sthapatya ved building. John and Caree Connet later encircled it with a bamboo “Vastu fence,” another sthapatya ved requirement. Strong cross-ventilation and large roof overhangs negate the need for air conditioning, while the glass window wall on the south side provides 50 to 60 percent of the home’s heat through passive solar in winter. The long, low cupola on the roof, called a Boston Ridge, provides a cushion of air that intercepts heat in summer and keeps the surface cool in winter, allowing snow to insulate and seal the roof.
Photography By Povy Kendal Atchison
Caree, who adores “anything Japanese,” fell in love with the home’s sliding shoji screens, coir rugs coiled to look like tatami mats, and rice paper lamps, details that dovetail perfectly with the post-and-beam construction.
Photography By Povy Kendal Atchison
His electric car, the next best thing to an Amish buggy, gets him to town, albeit slowly.
Photography By Povy Kendal Atchison
John enjoys a bountiful harvest from the vegetable and flower garden, surrounded by a seven-foot fence to discourage deer.
Photography By Povy Kendal Atchison
Straw-clay walls twelve inches thick allow for deep window wells. The kitchen cabinets were handcrafted using woven Douglas fir and hand-planed cedar frames and finished with Japanese hand-forged hardware.
Photography By Povy Kendal Atchison
The home is constructed using mortise and tenon construction with peg joints. “No other opportunity will allow you to give so much soul to a home as to craft it with a timber frame,” builder Robert Laporte says.
Photography By Povy Kendal Atchison
Laporte used the traditional Japanese method of bracing a timber frame with double beams, an important architectural feature in the living room. Caree says the open floor plan is ideal for entertaining.
Photography By Povy Kendal Atchison
Caree, a former weaver, nurtures her love for “natural things” with a collection of undyed yarn.
Photography By Povy Kendal Atchison

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