A green home to swoon over: Earth Day-inspired living with style
Nestled within a quaint, central Utah community is a residence much like any other, with inviting windows, lush trees throughout the yard and an unassuming front door. It's the core of Russ and Brittany Hopkins' approach that ultimately makes their house their home, and this tale of sustainability and style may surprise and even inspire you. You've never seen a straw home like this before!
Over the course of the last nine years, Russ and Brittany Hopkins have been living an adventure. From cross-country road trips, skydiving, rock climbing, cycling, camping, snowboarding and beyond, it only made sense that their married life (and home, for that matter) lived up to the challenge.
Nearly four years ago, the Hopkins' ventured into one of their most memorable treks to date. They are thrilled with the result and Mother Nature sure can't complain.
"Most newlyweds struggle to choose colors and doorknobs for their first place but we began personal home construction just two weeks after our honeymoon; newlyweds surviving trial by fire," Brittany explained.
Russ had a history of converting diesel vehicles to run on WVO (a vegetable oil fuel), which naturally influenced the couple's decisions when looking into houses.
"Russ' experience with used cars made us hesitant to buy a 'used' home," Brittany said. "Once we decided to build, we wanted to do it right and looked into sustainable construction that worked in the region."
Ultimately, the Hopkins' chose straw bale construction because of its compatibility with very dry climates. "Straw is what's left over after a farmer harvests the grain and is a resource typically used for animal bedding or fall decoration. Most of the straw in this country eventually gets burned. A regular 'stick built' house has an R value of about 15, but our straw bale house has an R value of 45 ('R value' being the measurement of thermal resistance or the transfer of heat). With our walls being so efficient, the heat wants to stay in in the winter and out during the summer, " Brittany explained.
For Russ and Brittany, the straw didn't get burned but rather, turned. From day one, the Hopkins' set "reclaimed" and "local" as top priorities, so the straw made perfect sense — at least to them, anyhow.
"We had the land. We had the plans. We even had the building permits. We just needed one small thing... the money," Brittany said. "The other straw bale builders in the area had already convinced the county to allow construction. But none of them had asked for money to do so. We went to bank after bank to get a construction loan. They all had the same reaction, 'You want to build what? Haven't you heard of the three little pigs?'"
Countless hours of manual labor and intensive planning finally came through. The result is a brilliant, one-of-a kind custom home. At 1,200 square feet, this straw bale beauty features two bedrooms, one bath, a laundry room and an incredibly functional floor plan.
"Everyone who walks in is always stunned by how quiet and 'organic' it feels," Brittany said. "Our home faces south, so we turned the blueprints so that five windows provide half of our heat in the winter months. It's called 'passive solar' — the sun is lower in the sky in winter and shines through, getting trapped in our super-efficient, radiant floor heating system. Essentially, hot water in a closed loop is pumped through tubes in our floor, heating the concrete, furniture, etc.. Heat rises, so it only made sense to heat from the bottom, rather than blowing in hot air which doesn't last too long. And it is so nice to step out of bed onto a toasty floor in the morning! In the summer the sun is higher and doesn't shine through the windows at all."
"We highly recommend living in a straw bale home," Brittany said. "Many of the challenges were embedded in the steep learning curve of construction, as every step along the way was crucial, but one of the hardest decisions in the entire process was choosing which red to paint our main wall."