Next meeting:
Sunday, September 11, 2005; Brattleboro Savings & Loan, 4:30

We've reserved the S&L again for the next meeting, which will be Sunday the 11th—the second Sunday of September, since the first one falls on Labor Day weekend. Talented and well-informed timber framer Mike Beganyi, now of Putney, will give us a presentation (with visual aids!) starting at 5:00—"something about tradition and technology meeting in the timberframed home; from salvaging and hand-repairing old structures through recycled wood to new construction and enclosure systems..." Aspects of the presentation will evolve spontaneously based on audience participation.

Mike Beganyi

It might be noted that Mike helped coordinate the natural building track for the 21st Annual Eastern Conference of the Timber Framer's Guild coming up in October, in Burlington. Presenters will include Joshua Thornton ("Applying Building Science to Straw Light Clay Wall Construction"), David Eisenberg ("Update on Straw Bale Construction—What's New and Where We're Heading"), Chris Dancey and Gabriel Gauthier ("Hemp Comes Out of the Closet"), and Chris Magwood ("A Model for Natural Building Education"). That's just the natural building track.

Head over to the back door of the Brattleboro Savings & Loan, at 221 Main St., on Sunday, September 11 (the second Sunday of the month), and join us! Mike's presentation starts at 5:00 sharp; feel free to come at 4:30 for introductions and chitchat. The presentation will end by 7:00, but we have the room until 8:00 for anybody else who likes to straggle as much as some of us do.

The bank wants the outside doors kept locked. 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. Arriving by 5:00 so that nobody has to miss any of the presentation is an act of kindness.

Mark says: Now and then the place I work clears out its duplicate and unwanted publications. I'll be bringing a stack to the meeting for anybody who wants to take any. First come, first served. The excess gets recycled.
  • Architecture Boston (often more interesting than it sounds)
  • BioCycle Journal of Composting & Organics Recycling (large scale composting topics)
  • Building Design & Construction (big buildings)
  • Concrete Monthly (this is just one of the magazines serving the powerful concrete industry)
  • Eco-Structure (wide-ranging content; many interesting ads)
  • Environmental Health Perspectives - Journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (deeply researched, and of more interest than it initially appears)
  • Green@Work (not so tightly focused that there isn't anything usable outside the office)
  • HPAC Engineering (heating / piping / air conditioning; interesting to enough people that it's been in publication for over 75 years)
  • Land Development (neighborhoods and stuff)
  • Land Development Today (another one, but a little deeper)
  • Lessons Learned - High Performance Buildings (little essays by movers and shakers about big commercial projects)
  • Lessons Learned - The First Years - Building Green in Pennsylvania (a CD from PA's Department of Environmental Protection... under Tom Ridge's governorship)
  • Northeast Sun (magazine of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association)
  • Northern Sky News (a newspaper —covering the environment of New England & the Maritimes—)
  • OneEarth (publication of the Natural Resources Defense Council; wide ranging content)
  • Openings (a small book of architectural graphic standards for fenestrations, passages, and other discontinuities)
  • The Practice of Sustainable Development (a book from the Urban Land Institute)

In an interesting and unexpected twist, over half of the people at the Alternative Wastewater presentation by Tad Montgomery at last month's meeting were first-time attendees to a BANG meeting—a couple of them hailing from as far away as Rhode Island. For those who weren't able to attend, you have the condolences of those of us who were. Ask about it next time you see us, and we'll try to recap for you. Some good stuff.

Sarah and Mark went out to the straw-clay house under construction in Groton, MA, on August 13. It actually turned out to be woodchip-clay, a lesser-known cousin technique. It used double-stud frame walls, lathed on both sides and the cavity filled with clay-slip-coated wood chips. The outside is receiving about an inch of earthen plaster (local sandy soil amended with clay, straw, and cooked flour paste) between 1x2 furring, which will accommodate a rainscreen in the form of wooden lap siding. The owner-builders, Mike and Aiyana, were kind and generous. These folks have done a lot of homework, and it shows. Here's a couple photos:

Andrea alerted us to what promises to be a fabulous one-day workshop in early November. It probably will seem expensive for people who aren't architects or engineers—until you consider how much you can save (for your pocketbook and the environment) in the long run.

"Towards Zero Net Energy Homes" will be taught by Marc Rosenbaum, P.E. of Energysmiths, Inc. Learn about the planning and design of environmentally friendly homes that can produce as much clean energy as they consume. Participants will be given a thorough understanding of the methods and details for achieving micro-load homes that require little or no non-renewable energy. Energy supply and the available sources will be presented and evaluated; the magnitude and distribution of solar and wind resources presented and compared. Technologies including biomass-fueled appliances, solar thermal, ground source heat pumps, solar electric, and wind turbines will be presented, with sizing guidelines in order to assess feasibility early in the design process. The workshop includes handouts describing design strategy options. Friday, November 4, 2005, at the Brattleboro Savings & Loan in Brattleboro, Vermont from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. (Break refreshments provided; nearby restaurants available for lunch.) It costs $195 if pre-registered, or $245 if postmarked within 14 days of each scheduled workshop or at the door. AIA Continuing education credits and certificates of attendance will be available. All proceeds, after overhead expenses, will benefit the Vermont Green Building Network and the Vermont Builds Greener programs.

Marc Rosenbaum, P.E. owns Energysmiths, an award-winning sustainable design consulting firm in Meriden, New Hampshire. Marc, an M.I.T. graduate, is a frequent presenter on sustainable design at many conferences, with audiences that include architects, engineers, construction professionals, facility managers, planners, educators, utility professionals, and those working in the public sector.

For more details, see

This is Mark Piepkorn, who writes these webposts, stepping briefly out of the royal we to comment about this workshop. The presenter, Marc Rosenbaum, is on the advisory board of Environmental Building News, a monthly publication read by architects and engineers for over a decade (and where I've been an associate editor for the past couple years). Every time I have a conversation with Marc or attend one of his presentations, I always come out the other side inspired and smarter. The depth and breadth of Marc's knowledge and experience amazes.

Hi Mark, I'm on the board of the Zen Peacemakers in Montague, MA and I'm interested in researching the possibilities for erecting ecologically friendly retreat cabins on the property. Would you please send me your email address or other contact info.


— Margi Gregory,
Aug 16, '05; 11:13 AM

Hi everybody!

My name is Michael and I'm very interested in getting involved in the alternative building scene locally. I've been away travelling for the past couple of years but I just arrived back in the country yesterday assuming that I was starting a sustainable design/architecture program at a university in Halifax, Canada. I found out today that it will be delayed for a year because I cant meet a calculus requirement. Anyway, I'm looking to meet other like minded people and get connected , either for work/internships or just to exchange ideas. Please let me know more about your group and meetings in Brattelboro. I'm living in Harvard MA at the moment. (right near to Groton actually! have you got the contact info of the people whose house you are showing online, I'd like to check it out) Thanks in advance for any info. -Mike

— Michael Stroh,
Aug 17, '05; 5:32 PM

Does anyone know of any natural building groups here in Massachusetts? I am very interested. Please email me at

Many thanks! :-)

Warm Regards,

— Rob Lawrence,
Aug 25, '05; 11:02 AM

Thanks to everyone who attended / participated in the Sept 11. meeting. I had a great time presenting - and am inspired and excited that there is such an interesting group of nat building folks right in our local backyard...

Mike Beganyi

— mike,
Sep 12, '05; 10:55 AM

Hello! It is now January 25th, 2006 and I'm wondering if everyone is hybernating for the time being or if there is any activity regarding straw/clay building, energy discussions, etc. I googled this site and am eager to be a part of the workshops/discussions. I live in Princeton, Massachusetts. My husband and I have been doing lots of reseach on off the grid living and want to have some hands on experience here in New England. Looking forward to hearing from someone! Donna

— Donna,
Jan 25, '06; 11:16 PM


Apologies first - I owed you this response ages ago.

The meetings are ongoing; we're having one at 6 pm this Sunday (February 12) at the Savings & Loan's basement community room in Brattleboro; info at

There hasn't been substantive discussion about straw-clay in particular for some time, and I'm not aware of any nearby activity, past or present, though I think Tanya might be. Mike Beganyi (who is receiving a copy of this email) supplied me with a CD with Joshua Thornton's 148-page, in-depth research report on straw-clay for the CMHC. We can figure out how to get it in your hands. Also, the new book by Robert Laporte and Linda Baker-Laporte ("EcoNest") is out, though I haven't seen a copy - . (There are other survey-type books with information about straw-clay around as well. The best is probably Alternative Construction: Contemporary Natural Building Methods... and there's Robert Laporte's earlier slim volume Mooseprints, which has been out of print for quite a while.)

I've been to the house on the cover of Laporte's new book - it's their house in Santa Fe. I've only been to maybe a half-dozen straw-clay places over the years. I've tossed straw, stuffed and tamped it, and have seen homebrew straw-clay tumblers in action (though they were kind of rickety and I didn't get too close). Some photos of these straw-clay things of which I speak:
(scroll down)
(scroll down)
(EcoNest in the background)
(Two very nice shots way at the bottom. This is Sarah Highland's house in Ithaca; she's a good one to talk to, though I don't have her contact info handy. Sarah and Tanya have it, though. There's some helpful info to be had about her project and her thoughts at some of the hits of this search - )

Another fun thing to do is go to a culture where this stuff is both historic and normal. If you Google the word "leichtlehm" you'll get scads of German pages; use the "Translate This Page" link and puzzle through the pidgin English for sweet rewards.

Congratulations for making it to the end of the message!


— Mark,
Feb 9, '06; 8:34 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; 6:13 PM

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photos by Mark Piepkorn
and Sarah Machtey