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Scotts Valley, CA

Designed and engineered by Daniel Matthew Silvernail Architect, this two-story strawbale construction home features passive solar approaches to thermal comfort and daylighting. Combined with a 6.2kW dc solar electric system, the design of this home permits the owners to live off-the-grid at levels approaching net zero energy.

This home was designed for a couple who were already living in a passive solar home and believe in walking softly upon the earth. For these reasons they had the conviction that their new passive solar home should be built of straw.

Straw bale construction, as the term implies, utilizes the stacking of straw bales to create adobe-like walls. The result is a thick-walled, sound-proof, cozy home that is extremely well insulated. The advantages of the technology—utilization of an otherwise unwanted agricultural byproduct, reduced reliance on wood as a building material, and superinsulation are among the prerequisites for sustainability. Passive solar and daylighting strategies, energy-efficient devices, and a rooftop photovoltaic array allow the owners to live "off-the-grid.”

The home is located in a forest clearing in the mountains north of Santa Cruz. Its form is the confluence of the owner's lifestyle with natural forces—our sun's annual cycle and daily traverse, coastal morning fog, the topography of a ridge, the lay of a forest clearing... This synthesis carries itself inside, where double-volumed overlooks enliven the interior while facilitating heat-transfer, and earth-toned concrete floors provide both hydronic heat and thermal mass. At its edge are windows recessed into thick, sturdy walls covered in real plaster; at its center, focal points of burgundy, softly rounded corners, sacred niches carved for deities, serenity and calm.

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