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Three Of A Kind, Part 1

Mountain Life

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Imagine such a house as this: It’s made with environmentally friendly products; it’s highly energy efficient; it’s cozy and boasts great mountain views; it passed the eagle-eyed design review committee in a National Historic District; construction costs were half that of neighboring houses; and, this is the kicker, it’s made of straw.

“Straw bale isn’t inherently cheap,” says Alison Gannett, who built Crested Butte, Colorado’s first straw-bale house in the summer of 1997. “My goal was to prove straw bale can be affordable-and functional.”

Gannett, a professional freeskier and home designer, worked as the general contractor on her 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom home. She also served as her own designer and engineer, reworking the house plans 59 times on a computer. When she was done scrounging leftover tile from other jobs, salvaging sinks from a tear-down and painting joist hangers to look sleek, she had built her house for $68 a square foot-about half the going rate in Crested Butte.

Gannett, who hopes to use her expertise to build affordable straw-bale housing in developing nations, pushed the technology envelope. Her walls rise more than 28 feet, which means she had to generate a new way of securing the bales to the post-and-beam structural frame. She even stuccoed the exterior walls with local mud; so far, the surface has held up admirably despite the 15 feet of snow that piled up against it last winter.

Inside, the ground floor ceiling serves as the second-level floor; there’s no subfloor, just beetle-killed pine planks that are finished on both sides. Noise travels easily, but that’s not a problem for Gannett and her boyfriend. If she had children, the design would have been different.

The frost-protected concrete slab that makes up the first floor is dyed, finished and cut to look like saltillo tile. The slab includes radiant heat fed by the hot water heater-there is no furnace, despite the home’s 8,883-foot elevation. Its many HeatMirror windows (with twice the insulating power of regular windows) pull in ample solar gain.

The vaulted roof is constructed of pre-made panels. Its steep slope (10:12) and lack of cross gables ensure that it will shed snow easily. “I didn’t want to shovel my roof,” says Gannett. The high roof allows for large expanses of glass. Sitting on the living room couch, Gannett explains that she built her house around two windows. One looks east to the face of Mount Crested Butte and the other faces northwest up the Slate River Valley to Paradise Divide.

Downsides? Despite an unoccupied guest bedroom, there’s just not enough storage. “We need a garage,” says Gannett, pulling back clothing in a closet to reveal dozens of pairs of skis.

For more information, contact Gannett at

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