FAIRBANKS (AP) -- From the outside, the home of Gerald Goodman and Joan Lessard looks like any other large house under construction in the hills surrounding Fairbanks.
What the casual observer can't see are the 750 straw bales that fill its 2-foot-thick walls.
Not even the combined huffing and puffing of a pack of wolves could blow this straw house down. ''I have steel connecting everything. It has every kind of seismic tie that you can have,'' Goodman said.
A longtime technical instructor, Goodman has spent many years planning and building his dream house. Others in the area have used straw construction, but Goodman has taken his plans to the highest level. Once completed, the house will serve as a research lab for future builders of straw-bale homes in Interior Alaska.
Straw-bale structures have a long history in the United States, especially in the Great Plains.
In Nebraska some century-old straw-bale houses survive, built by farmers in areas where the soil was unsuitable for sod houses. They started stacking straw bales like bricks for shelter, then covered them with stucco inside and out for protection from the elements and insects.
The old building style has undergone a revival as an ecologically smart building method in the last few decades, especially in the Southwest. They are still a rarity in the far north.
John Keys of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center plans to keep his eye on Goodman's progress. He started inspecting Goodman's home about a year and a half ago, just before the foundation was laid.
''I was very impressed with the structural drawings. It is very well-engineered and very well-built.''
To start building an Alaska straw-bale data bank, the CCARC is providing Goodman with sensors that are installed in the walls to measure heat and moisture, as well as monitoring equipment to track daily high and low temperatures outside, wind speeds and fuel consumption.
The home itself is a thoroughly modern dwelling. Goodman estimates the overall cost to build the house at $120 per square foot, not outside the range of what it could cost to build a similar size home with conventional methods.
Its defining feature, of course, is the straw. The home's walls are insulated with approximately 750 two-string barley straw bales from Delta Junction that cost between $3.50 and $4 each. On average, the bales are about 14 inches tall, 18 inches wide and 32 to 40 inches long, Goodman said.
To deter insects Goodman has installed foam treated with a pesticide around the base of the dwelling and Tyvek around the rest of the structure.
The west and north walls of the main floor are underground and are constructed of foam form, a block Styrofoam, reinforced with steel rebar and poured concrete. This combination has an R-26 insulation value and saves a lot of time and wood materials, Goodman said.
Throughout the house, Goodman has substituted steel studs for traditional wood where possible. He estimates he has used 50 percent less lumber than required in a conventional structure of the same size.
The outside dimensions of the dwelling are 46 by 36 feet and inside 42 by 32 feet -- allowing for the two-foot wall thickness. Indoors the bales are covered with a heavy, 6-millimeter polyethylene vapor barrier that is laid tight to the bales using fiberglass batting between 2-inch steel studded walls and covered with Sheetrock.
''The only way you'll know this is a straw-bale house is that it will have deep window wells,'' Goodman said.
He created the plans for the home himself. He drew up the architectural plans and working drawings before approaching Steve Keller and Helena Rueter at USKH Architects Engineers, Surveyors & Planners, for their expertise with the foundation, roof and floors.
They moved Goodman into a spare workstation at the firm where they helped him complete his plans. They did the necessary engineering for him.
Keller, an architect, and Rueter, a mechanical engineer, both have built straw-bale structures and advised and encouraged Goodman every step of the way.
Retired but still teaching a couple of architectural drafting classes at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Goodman has had help with the construction throughout the four-year project from hired contractors and his wife. They even organized a straw-bale-raising party with friends last summer. He and his wife have done all the electrical work, plumbing and framework.
Goodman said his overall objective is to do everything right and make the home a showpiece of energy-efficient building techniques.
''The house is a combination of the old and the new,'' Goodman said.
He used I-joists (wood-engineered beams) instead of 2-by-4s or 2-by-12s to support the floors and the roof. The roof is supported by a 16- to 20-inch diameter, 52-foot-long log. The posts and beams are tied together using diagonal bracing, mortise and tenon joints and a 3/4-inch steel all thread. The wall posts are tied together using engineered 2-by-12-inch engineered wood laminate rim joist, which wraps the entire upstairs and ties all the beams together, he explained.
The house should be fuel-efficient. Goodman doesn't expect to use more than 500 gallons of fuel oil annually in his new home. Most houses use between 100,000 to 150,000.
''I've been interested in alternative energy and building techniques all my life. I just think it is ecologically correct to do all these things,'' Goodman said.
He knows of half a dozen other straw-bale houses in the Tanana Valley, however, none are as elaborate as his.
''You can make simple straw-bale houses. They don't have to be complex like this one,'' he said.
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