In West Virginia, A Home Built With Love… and Straw Bales

(Welcome to Julia Brooke Hustwit, one of the finalists for our Green Architect blogger search. She’s writing from Brooklyn. Comment away!)

Thabo Fisher and Michael Weaver were hiking in Uganda when they got into an argument over whether it was still possible to build a house with one’s own hands. The long-time pals, then in their early twenties, knew that they would be coming home from their trip to face the inevitable: friends moving away, getting married, having kids. They wanted a way to keep everyone together, and it occurred to them in that moment that if they could build a home-away-from-home for all of their friends and family, they might be able to do just that…

Shortly after their return to the States, in July 2003, Thabo and Michael began construction on a plot of land along the Greenbrier River near Lewisburg, WV. At first, they planned to build a traditional log cabin, but they found themselves torn over the idea of cutting down so many trees. Seeking a more environmentally-friendly solution, the pair learned about construction with straw bales, which are resource and energy efficient, fire and sound resistant, inexpensive, and easy to use. Over the course of the next year, the two friends worked full-time, building the house primarily from straw bales and salvaged wood with the help of over 100 visiting friends, family, and curious strangers who volunteered their time to the project.

The 1,000 sf home contains a great room, a full kitchen, 2 sleeping lofts, and 2 porches. It is heated by a cast iron cook stove that was purchased from a classified ad and is kept warm by the highly-insulating straw bales. A rainwater catchment system supplies fresh water for use in the house, while a greywater filtration system allows used water to return safely to the land. A composting toilet and second-hand furniture round out the home’s green features. The house cost approximately $16,000 to build.

Five years later, what started as a debate about possibilities has turned into living proof. Michael was right: you can still build a house with your own hands. And the vision of community that these two friends shared has become a reality. Their home-away-from-home is used about 30 times per year by an extended network of gathering friends and family, keeping everyone exactly where they belong: Together.

Thabo Fisher currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and Michael Weaver lives in Portland, OR.

Images: Thabo Fisher