Love Story: A Straw Bale Dream House

A home that marries several green building techniques brings its owner-builders closer together as well.

| January/February 2002

One quiet night, just before they began building their dream home, Paula Minucci remarked to her husband, Chris Banks, “You know, honey, most people who build a house together end up divorced.” Replied Chris, “Yes, but we don’t have to be most people.” Five years later, the couple boasts that their relationship is stronger than ever, and for that they offer credit to the 1,780-square-foot home they constructed near Carbondale, Colorado.

But this isn’t just a two-person romance. In fact, bringing a third player into the marriage proved critical. With minimal building experience, “all we knew was that we wanted the roundness and softness of an adobe-style house,” recalls Chris, a musician and teacher in the local schools. Initial research steered them toward straw bale construction, which costs less to build but creates a look similar to adobe and has higher insulating properties. Once they met Cedar Rose Guelberth, a designer and owner of Building for Health Materials Center in downtown Carbondale, the devoted duo became a trio, and the first straw bale house to be built in the area became a reality.

Guelberth was the conduit through which Chris and Paula’s ideas could take shape. “I thought Chris and Paula were fun people, and based on our initial conversation, their choices lined up with what I do,” she says. “These guys knew what they wanted; I simply brought the knowledge, expertise, and information about the environment.”

With Guelberth as designer and project manager and Chris and Paula as builders, construction on the straw bale home began in 1997. Each step of the design and construction was evaluated in relationship to environmental impact, indoor air quality, occupant needs, integration with the landscape, and cost. As a result, construction techniques became a marriage of green building methods, incorporating straw bale, straw/clay, cob, timber frame, earthen plasters, and earthen floors.

A Hybrid Home

The home is located on a secluded 4.9-acre lot overlooking the Roaring Fork Valley. “There are no neighbors and no noise, but we’re still only ten minutes from town,” says Paula.

During excavation, the hillside was cut to shed water away from the structure. Adds Guelberth, “We also wanted the home to be embraced by the hillside and move the energy around it.”

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