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Passive-Solar, Straw-Bale School

Passive-Solar, Straw-Bale School

For the Waldorf School students in the Roaring Fork Valley of western Colorado, first through eight graders there are learning their reading, writing, and arithmetic (along with drama, drawing, and cultural studies) in the cozy confines of a solar-heated, naturally lit school built from bales of straw.

Straw-bale construction has been around for centuries. In Europe, one can find houses built out of straw that are over 200 years old. In the United States, the idea of building straw houses started in the late 1800s in the Nebraska Sandhills area, a region with no trees to use for lumber.

Besides being a waste product–it’s what’s left after grain is harvested — straw is a renewable resource, grown annually. It’s also extremely energy efficient. Testing indicates that a two-foot-thick bale has an insulation rating (R-value) that beats a standard wood frame wall insulated with R-19 batts by a factor of nearly three.

In the fall of 1996, the school board bought 13 acres in Garfield County, four miles east of Carbondale, Colorado. As the school considered what kind of building it wanted, a long list of requirements emerged: natural, energy-efficient, light, warm, alive, and earth. Passive solar straw-bale construction brought together all of these qualities. Building with straw also brought the added benefit of community involvement.

The building hosts five classrooms as well as administrative offices, bathrooms, and ample storage. Each classroom has south-facing windows for passive solar gain, and a light shelf and skylights for natural daylighting. Overhangs and an east-west building orientation prevent overheating and optimize solar gain. The school has hydronic radiant floor backup heat, and is plumbed for solar hot water collectors. The use of old growth wood was minimized by using Parallam posts, glue-lam beams, truss joists, and prefabricated trusses. The walls in between the classrooms have recycled cotton insulation for soundproofing. The ceiling is insulated with R-50 recycled fiberglass. The straw-bale walls also act as an excellent sound barrier.

Read more: Crafts & Design, Healthy Schools, Materials & Architecture

Adapted from Sustainable Architecture White Pages, by Earth Pledge Foundation.Copyright (c) 2000, The Earth Pledge Foundation .Reprinted by permission of Chelsea Green Publishing Company.
Adapted from Sustainable Architecture White Pages, by Earth Pledge Foundation.

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Annie B. Bond

Annie is a renowned expert in non-toxic and green living. She was named one of the top 20 environmental leaders by Body and Soul Magazine and "the foremost expert on green living." - Body & Soul Magazine, 2009. Learn Annie's latest eco-friendly news on, a website dedicated to healthy and green living.

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+ add your own
9:55AM PST on Feb 6, 2012


4:09PM PDT on Aug 9, 2011

How great is that! Thanks for sharing

3:26AM PST on Feb 20, 2010

thank you

4:01PM PDT on Sep 20, 2007

that's so cool. I wish my school was that energy efficient.

3:10PM PDT on Sep 4, 2007

I live in the Roaring Fork Valley and it's a
wonderful school.

2:08PM PDT on Aug 24, 2007

I'll put it on the map on

2:21PM PDT on Aug 7, 2007


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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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