Next meeting:
SUNDAY, AUGUST 7, 2005 - Brattleboro Savings & Loan, 5 p.m.

Ecological engineer Tad Montgomery will lead a discussion on alternative sewage and wastewater systems, including composting toilets, constructed wetlands & similar biofilters, and greywater treatment. This is important stuff that affects us all—and not just because of Vermont's new septic laws. Not to be missed! Some of the regular BANG attendees are likely to speak from their experiences as well.

A preview of images from Tad's presentation:

Fourteen of us got together for the July meeting and sat around a big shiny conference table skipping through topics: grid intertied PV systems, co-housing, masonry heaters, earthen floors, passive annual heat storage, the recent natural building colloquium at the Peaceweavers' in Bath NY, heart attacks, and sledding in the snow (an unexpected summer discussion). It went so well that we decided to get together again. Head over to 221 Main St., Sunday, August 7 (the first Sunday of the month), and join us from 5 - 7 pm or so. The bank wants the outside doors kept locked, so try to meet at the back door by 5 pm. If you get there after 5, ring the bell at the back door and someone will come up and let you in. Then it's your turn: go up and let the next person in when the bell rings, and ask them to do the same for the person after them.

Please feel free to tell anyone who might be interested in this meeting about it.

Ellen and Jasmine have been doing lime finish plastering at their strawbale house north of Putney; if you want in on the fun, drop Ellen an email to She doesn't check email every day—patience. See what they're doing with yogurt lids! Check out Sarah's wall fossils! Here's a look at how things have been shaping up:

Other potential related developments include a presentation (fairly soon) by an architect with co-housing design experience, arranged by Tanya. An earthen oven project in Guilford is also in the works.

Sunday, August 7, Brattleboro Savings & Loan, 221 Main St. in downtown Brattleboro, a few minutes before 5:00 p.m.—back door, ring the bell if you're late! This group is intended to be for everybody, whether or not they've ever built anything. It's about learning, empowerment, and—whenever possible—doing. See you there.

I'm a vermont land owner, planning a green homebuilding project in 2006. I'm very interested in strawbale construction and soy-based insulation, and am looking for examples I can see in Vermont. Particularly strawbale. I'm located in the Rochester area. Also, is anyone familiar with sources for strawboard and for soy-based SIP's?

— Peter Jensen,
Jul 19, '05; 1:57 PM

i am just beginning rebuilding after a devistating
fire took my house, built in the 1800s.
i am so excited to learn about the alternative straw bale construction, and have begun to find peace and hope in tomorrow with this new earth,life preserving project. i read in one article that clay needs 3 month setting time before frost,is that impairative?
because i am located in the foothills of the berkshires,mass., also is there any one familiar with bale buildings in mass. whom i could consult with?
~becky tingen~

— becky tingen,
Jul 21, '05; 9:03 PM

Just wanted to know if anyone knows about building codes in vermont. Is it legal to build straw bale? Or Cob? Can they red tag you if you do? Just trying to get an idea of what is doable.



— Jeff Wager,
Jul 23, '05; 6:55 PM

Hi Peter,

There's more than a half-dozen strawbale houses in the Brattleboro area; it's entirely possible that you have more than that up there. I'm not sure who to put you in touch with; the folks at (in Warren; email may have some thoughts. Also check in with (in Plainfield; email

What sort of strawboard are you looking for? There are different types in production - MDF, particle board, insulating panels, etc.

I'm not familiar with any soy-based SIPs. I do have some familiarity with soy-based expanding foam as an icynene replacement.

— Mark Piepkorn,
Jul 26, '05; 10:46 AM

Hi Becky,

Very sorry to hear about the fire.

As long as a clay-using application has time to dry before freezing, it should be fine. But the length of time that will take depends on the application, the local humidity, exposure to the sun, and air movement. A 12"-thick straw-clay wall will take longer to dry than a typical earthen plaster on a bale wall. An earthen floor can take months to dry. Straw-clay stuffed into cracks in a bale wall wouldn't by harmed by freezing. (It's also important to note that clay-using applications need to be protected from getting damp and then freezing even after they're "set.")

One of the authors of the (highly recommended) book Serious Strawbale lives in northern Massachusetts: "Paul Lacinski, GreenSpace Collaborative. Box 107, Ashfield MA 01330. Ph 413.628.3800. Full natural building design, consulting and construction services, emphasizing details that make sense for the northeastern climate. Over 13 years experience building with bales. Workshops, plaster, help for owner-builders, site planning." He may be able to put you in touch with people in your area who have built.

— Mark Piepkorn,
Jul 26, '05; 10:47 AM

Hi Jeff,

Building codes are enforced locally; what you'll have to conform to depends on where you're going to build. The one state-wide requirement Vermont has includes restrictive language about sewage/septic systems. See

There are strawbale buildings in Vermont built to meet local codes, though most are built where no codes are enforced. I've heard rumors of a cob house or two in Vermont, but haven't tracked any down.

— Mark Piepkorn,
Jul 26, '05; 10:54 AM

Your web pages are brilliant. I am quite interested and determined to build a straw bale house....eventually, perhaps, several.... or a small cluster of homes suited for the 55+ age group. My 14 acres are located in Saratoga County, N.Y. I might consider exchanging a building parcel for labour and/or building materials. Anybody interested?

— kathryn gracey,
Aug 4, '05; 2:49 PM

(Saratoga County is about 80 miles straight west of Brattleboro VT; Bennington is just over half way.)

— Mark Piepkorn,
Aug 4, '05; 3:52 PM

I am completing a timber frame with light clay infill walls in Groton, MA. I will need help on 13 August to earthen plaster the lathe exterior. Come check out the project and lend a hand.

Earth from my property
Clay for Shefflield Pottery in Sheffield Mass
Straw from local fields

Start Time: 10:00 am
Where: 179 Mill Street, Groton MA
(about 60 miles straight east of Brattleboro VT)

BBQ and fun to follow. All ages welcome.

Questions and RSVP to

— Mike & Aiyana Currie,
Aug 4, '05; 3:53 PM

I found your website while researching adobe
flooring. My company is currently renovating a
farmhouse in Vermont and the client is interested in
adobe floors for about 2/3s of the house. We are
planning on using radiant tubing (Poly-ethylene) in
the floors. We hope to get the earth from on-site if
A few questions if you have time for some

1. Do you know of anyone who has used
radiant heat in earthen floors in the northeast or
elsewhere? If so, have they had
success (minimal cracking/disturbance to adobe)?

2. Have you heard of applying adobe floors to existing
plywood subfloor? There are areas where plywood is
present (1/2" and 3/4") with 2x10 joists 16" OC. The
plywood was here in the house already, so we are
keeping it. Does
the wood underlayment affect the cracking potential of
the adobe. In the rest of the house the adobe will be
on top of a concrete slab.

3. Is 3" of Adobe enough to keep it stable? That is
all we have planned on.

4. Obviously our biggest concern is the wear in the
adobe. Have you had experience in adding lime/psyllium
husk/burlap/straw to strengthen the layers? We want to
something as green as possible for all parts of the
construction of the adobe.

5. We would like to try lime if possible to strengthen the adobe, any experience
with using lime?

6. Are there any penetrating sealers/strengtheners
that you know of that will help the top layer? I know
of linseed application. Any hardeners that you
know of or increased success with other sealers?

I appreciate any help with these tricky questions,
kind regards, David Orgain

David Orgain
Birdseye Building Company
Living Futures Job Site

— David Orgain,
Jan 15, '06; 8:53 AM


My apologies - I started this response some time ago, and then it rolled up off my screen and I forgot all about it.

Most of the info I have about earthen floors is anecdotal, gleaned mostly from various interminable email lists that I inexplicably follow, and an out-of-print booklet from the Canelo Project. I've been peripherally involved in three or four basic installations, all in the southwest, and all using unstabilized material.

There are people who have used PEX in earthen floors, and I've heard of no ill effects. I can't think of any reason it would be a problem.

Any flex in the substrate will be disaster for an earthen floor; I wouldn't do it over a joisted floor. A low-fire southwestern tile in those areas would fit in nicely with the look of earth floors elsewhere in the house.

I would think that 3" on a concrete base should be fine. (Remember that earthen floors are never going to be great at point loads, no matter how thick they are.)

Add enough building lime (depends on the soil) and you'll achieve a chemical stabilization. It's long been rumored that some road stabilization products contain psyllium, but I've never bothered to follow up with that. Chopped straw is normally used in earthen floor mixes. For floors, burlap is a new one on me; I've only seen it used with plasters.

Most people seem to use a series of increasingly-dilute coats of linseed oil (boiled and raw have different properties, and some oils have additives) on the finished floor to seal it and give it a leathery aspect. Some people have used other oils, and mixed in beeswax and other materials. There's no consensus on what's best. Most of the earthen floors I've personally been on have been sealed with linseed oil, and I have no reservations about the wear. One floor in California I was on used raw linseed, warmed and mixed with beeswax, and it was still sticky months after they sealed it.

So... what *is* best is to do way too many tests with way too many different materials over the longest period of time you can spare. The homeowner can do most of that, and then tell you what they want. Fun for them, less liability for you.

I don't know of anybody who has done a lime-stabilized floor. I do know that there needs to be an appropriate percentage of lime added to achieve stabilization (though I can't quote you the amount, which differs with soil properties) - if it's too little, you end up with this friable stuff that won't be any good at all. Same goes for cement. Personally, I wouldn't use either in an earthen floor. Though some people like Elmer's glue (no kidding - kind of a substitute for prickly pear mucilage).

I hope this has been some sort of help.


— Mark,
Feb 9, '06; 9:06 AM

The commenting function is now closed. Feel free to join BANG's email list — — or contact <mudhome [at] netzero [dot] net>

— Mark Piepkorn,
Feb 28, '06; 6:12 PM

Question? Comment? Discuss?

photos by Mark Piepkorn
and Sarah Machtey