Mark Lung took a long look at the wood frame filling much of the tiny lot on the 1300 block of Boise's E. Franklin Street. He was picturing what will soon be his straw bale home, a rarity in Boise—only three others exist.
"Two hundred bales of hay are on the way," said Lung, shooting a glance down the street, anticipating a first-of-its-kind delivery to the historic Boise neighborhood.
This won't be Lung's first experience with straw bales. When Lung—a Boise native—moved back to his hometown with wife Janice in 2009, the couple wanted their home to be straw bale. However, when they went to Boise City Hall to get permits, officials hadn't received such a request.
"But things have changed since. It's my understanding that Boise has folded in the Straw Bale Residential Building Code into the city code recently," said Lung, adding that Boise regulations now require a certified engineer to sign off on plans for a residential straw bale construction.
There aren't many Treasure Valley builders who are skilled in straw bale construction, however.
"Which is why we're going to invite anyone who's interested to a straw bale workshop here where I'm building the home similar to an old-fashioned Amish barn raising," he said. "Nothing formal. We'll have coffee, put up some walls and talk about what's different and not-so-different."
The first thing homeowners ought to know is that there is a stunning difference in operating costs for a straw bale home.
"It's not two- or three-times lower. We're talking 10-times lower or even less," said Lung. "We built our first straw bale home over on Boise Avenue in 2009. It's a 2,000-square-foot home. The average heating and cooling for a house like that in Boise is about $1,200 a year. Ours was $250. Now, this house will be 980-square-feet and our annual [heating and cooling] bills will be about $65."
The home will have a tankless natural gas water heater, supplemented by some solar heating panels, but most of the warmth will be passive solar energy. The south-facing home will feature two extra-large picture windows streaming sunlight and warmth into the living room and den with vents, fans and a generous amount of open space pushing the heat toward a bedroom, bath and kitchen.
"Amory Lovins, the founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, famously said, that ideally you should be able to build a house that can be heated by the body heat of a poodle," said Lung, with a big smile as his own 14-year-old dog, Maggie, sat at his feet. "Face it, the reason that most people's energy bills are so high is that they heat their house with, say natural gas, but most of that heat leaves your house."
And straw, Lung quickly added is a perfect and economical insulator. Once all the insulation is in place, Lung said he'll give the straw a "haircut," trimming the edges with a chainsaw, cover it with a mud-based finish and, sometime this summer, he, Janice and Maggie will move it.
"And the neighbors can't wait to see what happens," said Lung. "And we want to share this with as many builders and homeowners as possible."