AKRON, Ohio - The house being built near the corner of North Maple and Hickory Streets fits right in this quiet wooded neighborhood in north Akron. It has a large front porch, energy efficient windows, a heat reflecting metal roof and even an outside sleeping porch on the second floor. Owner Patricia Maher is excited as her house takes shape.
"I'm not sure I even ever imagined that I would build my own house," Maher said.
While plasterers are finishing the interior walls with wallboard "mud" in the bedroom upstairs, workers downstairs are inside finishing the walls with their own kind of mud - real mud.
Construction Supervisor Joe Rogers said the mud is a combination of ground straw, clay and sand.
"This is the way they did it hundreds of years ago and we're doing it now," Rogers said.
Three layers of mud or "earth plaster" are used, each one a finer consistency than the last, to cover the material used as the main form of insulation in this house - straw. About 350 bales of straw were delivered from a Wellington, Ohio farm and used to surround the Akron home's walls.
Maher said the job was difficult, dirty and labor intensive.
"The straw thing was very hard. The bales are not easy to maneuver. We had to make sure they were in the walls correctly," Maher said.
The main architect of this project is Joseph Ferut.
Ferut teaches architectural classes at Kent State University. With this latest project, the goal was to use old world techniques and natural materials to create an energy efficient house that looks like every other home in the neighborhood.
"It's a house that looks like a traditional home with front porches and things like sleeping porches and make it comfortable within its setting," Ferut said.
The main purpose of this type of construction is the incredible energy efficiency. The insulation prevents heat loss during the winter months and keeps the inside of the home cool during the summer. While it costs more up front to build her house this way, Maher expects enormous savings on energy costs. By installing a simple heat pump and using a wood pellet burning stove, she expects her annual heating costs to be about $300 per year. Many neighborhood homes can spend that much on winter heating in one month.
Maher's satisfaction with the project goes beyond just saving on energy costs. Her new home is her statement about creating a way of life that is efficient and sustainable, drawing from things old and new.
"I love that we've been able to mix some really innovative technology, a newer green technology with this old system of building. I love that. And I love how it looks...I just love how it looks," Maher said.
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