Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Adventures in Compromise – that could be this blog’s title.

As we were designing our home and trying to choose environmentally responsible building materials, I realised it would always be about compromises – and I wasn’t particularly happy with that at the time!   But it is the reality – everything we have chosen will never be 100% environmentally friendly – because we can only base our choices on what we know – and we sure don’t know everything ;-).  Maybe living in a shanty made from flotsam and jetsam might be the only way to build ‘naturally’ – and since that is not what we are doing, we are compromising...

I am not at all happy with some of our compromises – but I am at peace with them (maybe that can’t actually be true but it is too hard to think about it just now, and I am happy to remain positive so...)...anyway, here is our list of compromises so far:

-        House design – I would have liked some things different but I am very happy with what we have achieved!

-        Sourcing products and knowing their point of origin – we already know about that – but it is reality that we have to choose what is good quality, in our price range and available!

-        Concrete – I wanted green star (some recycled content) – but was talked out of it  due to concerns about whether it was ‘good enough’ and I wasn’t in a state to argue or repeat the ton of research to counter the talk – so I am living with the ‘regular’ stuff

-        Not building with 100% recycled products – it takes a good few years collecting materials to have enough and also, usually designing your home around what you find – and we didn’t do that, so that is that too (plus with requiring products with our level of bushfire rating, finding recycled is certainly not at all easy)

Interestingly, the strawbales might also be an inadvertent compromise now too!  How is that so – and where are the strawbales anyway?  We are asking these same questions too!!

Here’s the scoop – strawbales in WA are currently in very, very short supply – who’d have thought?!  We have three farmers in the family and thought at least one would be able to find us some straw!   But no such luck!!  Thankfully we do have some leads to follow up, so it is looking ok that they should arrive when we need them – phew!

The main reason for the shortage seems to be that most farmers have new headers this year that cut the grain head off and at the same time, double cut the stalk, effectively cutting chaff (shortish bits) instead of straw (long stalks) – and then they are leaving the chaff in the field instead of baling it up – one because it is much shorter than straw anyway and two, importantly, the stalks can compost down and return nutrients to the soil.  All good for the farmers for sure and I don’t begrudge that at all.  Not good for us and our strawbale home design.

So this is the ‘compromise’ consumers may now have about strawbales – they used to be a waste product that farmers where happy to get off their land (some even burn the stalks instead of cutting it)  - now it is not – and, sadly, it could almost feel like we are robbing the environment L. 

So I had this discussion with Richard, our strawbale building supervisor, and he said, it might possibly mean that strawbale building becomes a ‘boutique’ product – with bales sourced from long-term biodynamic and organic farmers who have already spent years building up the organic matter in their soil, such that they can afford to cut and export straw.   This is way different to the way strawbale building started – from what I understand anyway – as a way to build with a natural, waste material.  And I am not sure that sits comfortably with me...

Much of our home build has been influenced by Christopher Alexander’s book, A Pattern Language (read more here) – and one thing that really struck me from the book was that Alexander believes that people are happiest in a home that they have designed *and built* themselves (it’s all about connection with your environment).  And to me that was a huge part of strawbale building – the community connection of it – online and real with the many hands that usually are part of a build in strawbale.  I will be sad if that will be lost.

Richard and I talked about how you can certainly build a ‘sustainable’ house in other materials, but there will not be the ‘romance’ of strawbale (thick walls, that breathe, organically shaped...).  To me it is even more than that romance – the connection I feel to the strawbales (and they are not even a glint in my eye yet!) is that they are natural – unprocessed, as nature intended, pretty much just popped out of the ground, folded and packaged up – and most other products don’t have that.  Many other environmentally friendly products are plenty processed (waste products that are cut and mushed and moulded, added to, subtracted from ...) – all great environmental credentials, but to me, they lack that ‘connection of still feeling part of the environment’...

Meanwhile, our adventure continues (with compromises)...



Oh, I do love those patchwork ceilings J! 

And Ryan, bless him, is getting used to me saying, “I like the Character, it’s all good!”


1 comment:

  1. Well, that's interesting news about the straw. I'm going to ask my farmer friend, as well, about it. And I love the character, too. It's looking awesome!!