energy

A House of Straw

Dec 23, 2010
The Trumpey house - made of straw
Photo by Steve Charles

Step aside, Three Little Pigs. 

Strawbale buildings have come a long way from the flimsy huts a wolf could blow down.  The Trumpey family in Grass Lake, Michigan, built their 2,000 square foot home from straw, clay, field stones all sourced locally - and timber salvaged from trees killed by the emerald ash borer. 

They're living off the grid - everything they do: washing laundry, firing up the sawmill, watching TV -  is powered by their solar panels (with a small backup generator for those cloudy weeks in the winter).

Joe Trumpey says fire is a considerable risk before you seal up the straw walls with adobe. 

“When you’re building the building all the open straw is a huge fire hazard at that point so we were really careful not to have any smokers around and no open fires. Once it’s coated with mud the fire proofing is really in place.”

You can hear Joe and Shelly talk about the experience of building with straw.

The stats:

  • 1500 bales of straw
  • the 18-inch thick walls are insulated with the straw, plastered on either side with adobe mud - giving the Trumpeys 2-3 times the insulation value of a conventional home
  • 50 tons of field stones, dug from their own farmland
  • 7 years of planning, 2.5 years in the making
  • Cost: about $75 per square foot - but the family did 99% of the labor themselves

Matt and Kelly Grocoff's house in Ann Arbor
Photo courtesy of Matt Grocoff.

The Environment Report has been following an effort to make a Michigan house the oldest net-zero house in America. That means in a year the home will produce as much energy or more than it uses. Lester Graham reports... the owners are at the point where they can reach that goal.

Matt and Kelly Grocoff bought an old house in a historic neighborhood in Ann Arbor a few years ago. Matt wanted to show that making an older home an energy efficient showcase made more sense than building new.  Kelly was just a little skeptical.

“When we first bought the house and Matt was talking about what he wanted to do and what some goals might be, part of me was sort of like yeah, yeah, you know. Matt’s a dreamer. He likes to think big. And it’s really happening.”

 

Find out how to assess your own home's energy efficiency.

Cranes life a wind turbine blade
Stephanie Hemphill / MPR

The Detroit Free Press reports that a large scale wind turbine manufacturer plans to locate in Saginaw.

Northern Power Systems of Barre, Vt., intends to use a facility in Saginaw to manufacture its next-generation large wind turbines, expected to be the first ones built in the U.S. using 100% American-made parts.

Building wind turbines has been touted as a way to diversify a manufacturing base built around the automobile. Many auto suppliers in the state are also building parts for wind turbines. No report yet on how many jobs will be created.

But the future of wind power is uncertain. Tax credits and grants to develop wind energy are expiring at the end of the year. And with an ethic of austerity moving into Washington, there are little signs that they'll be renewed.

Middelgrunden wind farm
Ilmari Karonen

There are no offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes... yet.

The Muskegon Chronicle reports that "the first floating buoy to test offshore wind energy in Lake Michigan is planned for six miles off the Muskegon shoreline next spring."

DTE energy in Detroit
Ian Freimuth / flickr user

The Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) issued a report today on DTE's role in the fires that swept through Detroit during a windstorm on September 7th, 2010. The report found no wrongdoing on DTE's part.

Gas drilling rig in Appalachia
User Meridithw / Wikimedia Commons

What a fracking week on Michigan Radio!

Lester Graham of Michigan Watch and Rebecca Williams from the Environment Report are bringing us a series of reports on what might be a big part of Michigan's future: energy companies moving in and using a practice called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to get at gas deposits buried deep under Michigan.

Just how interested are energy companies in these gas deposits? Graham reports

James Hansen being arrested in Washington D.C.
Rainforest Action Network / Creative Commons

NASA Scientist James Hansen has been arrested in front of the White House. Hansen was participating in a protest against mountaintop removal coal mining. The Associated Press covered Hansen's arrest. The article said Hansen issued a statement saying mountaintop removal...

A map of pipelines crisscrossing the United States
USDOT

Congress held hearings today on the Enbridge oil spill in Michigan. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports that one top official was conspicuously abset from the hearings. Cynthia Quarterman recused herself from the oil spill hearings, because she used to work for Enbridge Energy Partners.

The Detroit Fire Department responds to a fire in 2010. Filmmakers embedded with the DFD for most of 2011.
Patricia Drury

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reports that the Michigan Public Service Commission is "launching an investigation into
DTE Energy's role in the fires that swept through parts of Detroit last week."

Workers fixing Enbridge oil pipeline near Marshall, Michigan
USEPA Region 5

The last few weeks have not been good for pipeline companies.  Coming off a summer that included the mother of all oil spills you had...

Aerial photo of Talmadge Creek after Enbridge oil spill
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

It’s been more than a month since an estimated 800,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge Energy Partners, the company responsible for the pipeline leak, says it has cleaned up about 700,000 gallons of that oil.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done. The EPA is just now starting to find out how much oil is at the bottom of the river.

Erika Celeste / Environment Report

This documentary is an in-depth look at the future of coal in this country.

The Environment Report explores the role that coal plays in our lives and in the lives of those who depend on coal mining for a living.

Can coal truly be a viable option in the new green economy?

Listen to the Documentary:

Open

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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