Energy security in a straw bale home

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11291487772013.jpg’, ‘Photo provided’, ‘Jon and June Haemes’ straw bale home has secured a low-cost energy future for the couple and their son.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112914879930022.jpg’, ‘Photo provided’, ‘Jon and June Haemes’ straw bale home in Stelle, Ill.’);

The current dismal energy situation suggests we should look for ways to build more energy-efficient buildings and dramatically cut our reliance on imported energy sources. How can we be free and secure when energy supplies require a global garrison, are interrupted by political events and natural catastrophes, and political leaders fail to embrace energy efficiency on a scale appropriate to the well-publicized risks of global warming and peaking oil and natural gas?

Although current government policies should be more supportive of individual, family and community well-being, we can reduce our energy dependence through personal actions. Neither denial nor resignation will change current energy realities.

Recent columns have focused on energy savings in buildings and how one family chose voluntary simplicity to escape some energy uncertainties we all face. Here is an example of what was done by another family.

We know of two straw bale homes in Illinois, both built by Jon Haeme of Stelle. Haeme was already a builder when he decided to take a short course in Arizona on straw bale construction. The experience convinced him and his wife, June, of the practicality of the technology and the attractiveness of the homes.

Haeme wanted to avoid the additional cost of a mortgage. His wife was willing and able to support them while he undertook the year-long project of building their home. The 1,600-square-foot house was built for an estimated cost of $25 per square foot about 10 years ago. It has performed well and has secured a low-cost energy future for them and their son.

Haeme tore down an old farm house and saved the basement, cistern and some of the lumber for the new home. He erected a pole building and roof over the foundation, and filled the space between the poles with straw bales. He stuccoed the outside of the straw bales and plastered the inside for a finished appearance. The joy and fun of having a large group of friends pitch in to help position the straw bale walls was an added bonus.

A series of slides showing the overall construction of the building can be found at

The Haemes did not stop with basic house construction. They have a wind generator, a solar electric system and solar hot water. The home is heated by a small wood stove and electric baseboard heaters in selected rooms. They also own a Volkswagen diesel vehicle that runs on biodiesel fuel.

While not everyone has the inclination or skills to build such a home, its potential value to the economic well-being of this country should be considered. What might it mean to individuals, families, local economies and farmers if straw bale construction and the use of local resources became the new construction paradigm for American homes?

As our industrial base erodes and more white collar jobs are performed outside the country, efficiency and renewable energy can help rebuild our economic system. The examples we write about and the presentations given at the Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living Fair last Aug. 13-14 in Oregon provide ideas on coping with energy challenges we face. Individuals can take actions to enhance their energy security.

From the Oct. 12-18, 2005, issue

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