Snowed Inn Detailed Description

Bio & Project Description

Owner-Builder

Steven T. Padgitt

Thank you for your interest in my Rustic Asian architectural straw bale plans. I trust that your building of my Rustic Asian design strawbale home will provide you with an enjoyable, intimate and long lasting journey into the world of loving, simplicity and sustainable living. I’ll share with you what guided me into and through creating my dream home. It is located in the mountain town of McCall, Idaho and is McCall’s first and only uniquely sustainable strawbale home.

First, a bit about myself: I retired from my 30 year office based career in 2005 and moved from California onto my 11 acre forested parcel, 3 miles outside the town proper of McCall. I erected a 20’ tipi and 30’ yurt. Living in the tipi year-round I rented the yurt to vacationers (www.snowedinnmccall.com). I had great fun skiing all winter and enjoying the outdoor lifestyle. I had wanted to build a strawbale home for over a decade and finally the time was right to live another dream – building my strawbale home.

The design and construction of my “Snowed Inn” strawbale project has been an evolutionary one. I held my vision with some flexibility and personally nudged it into maturity, acting as the General Contractor, laborer and major conceptual on-the-fly designer. The project was shaped by my love of nature, the history and style of Asian design, and by my trusted architect and builders. I provided the conceptual design, including the on-site design changes and decisions during the building process. I personally did the finishing work, including the design and installation of PV solar electric system, the installation of plumbing and boiler systems, building of cob shower wall and the applications of cob, lime wash, black olive soap and American Clay Plasters.

Realizing my dream began with the desire for an experiential contrast between the unencumbered forest on the outside and a simple, cozy, and aesthetically pleasing internal environment, set apart from the typical rectangular residence. I’m said to live “outside the box” and this design is not only one of a kind, but carbon neutral and environmentally sustainable.

Ecological care and personal intimacy considerations were essential guiding forces in the design process. I wanted Snowed Inn to illustrate how simplicity and earth-friendly can also be intimate and warm. To this end, it was designed to be completely off the grid, yet hold the comfort and efficiency of the 21st century. Passive solar collection and hydronic radiant floor heat, as well as solar generated electricity, were integral to the design. The external environment was crucial, so it was nestled within a naturally existing clearing in a beautifully forested area 3 miles outside town proper in McCall.

Key Design Factors:

Building Design: The structural design is post and beam with strawbale infill. The foundation is integral color concrete slab on grade. I have avoided straight walls and ceilings in keeping with my desire to create a unique Rustic Asian design. Walls are cob and clay plastered.

Internal Wall and Door Design: Wanting an open expansive feel in a small space I have included no internal doors and only one internal wall in the design and building process. The snail-shell shaped/circular shower wall suffices to provide the showeroom user with privacy. Inside the shower is a colorful display allowed for by the ancient Moroccan finishing technique known as Tadelakt. Inside the shower is one of the features of the house that brings Awes! to visitors. The free standing cob shower wall was built to a height of seven feet, covered with clay plaster on the outside and layers of clay plaster, lime wash and black olive soap on the inside. The rough concrete shower room floor was stained and sealed. There are no other internal walls integral to the living area. I have incorporated, two 8’ x 6’ four panel shoji screen hinged, art pieces to serve as a separator between the sun room and main room downstairs.

Stairway Design: To save space moving into the sleeping loft/bedroom, a circular/spiral stairway was integral into the design and stands next to the round shower wall. The log post, treads, spindles and handrail were gathered locally. The treads were milled with an Alaskan chainsaw mill.

Roof Design: As you see from the photos and plans, I chose to keep with a truly swooped Asian style roof lines. My composite roofing shingles were selected based both on durability (50 year) and non-rectangular design.

Building Materials: Where ever possible I chose to recycle building materials. For example, I bought doors, windows, shower room utilities and more from the Habitat for Humanity “ReStore”. My log posts came from local forest collection. Beams and trusses were purchased from nearby vendors, as were other building materials that could not be readily acquired through recycle sources.

Insulation: Tightly packed strawbales were used for wall insulation. Ceiling insulation consists of blown-in cellulose (in shallow sloped ceilings) and spray foam ceiling insulation in the steep ceiling where cellulose was not a feasible application (www.energyseal.net). All insulation used is rated at R40 – R50 and has formed an air tight envelope to provide a highly effective insulation layer to the outside temperatures while allowing vapor penetration through the straw and clay based walls. No moisture shield was necessary, nor desirable, between the straw and clay plasters. To augment the insulation characteristics, the house is topped with Boston ridges throughout, allowing for ample air flow above the ceiling insulation. The insulation along, with the clay based thermal mass, has proved highly effective in maintaining constant internal temperatures and humidity.

Power Design: The house is entirely “off the grid”, with both 12v and 120v solar based electrical systems in place. All lights are 12v LEDs (www.theledlight.com) rendering ultra-low energy consumption. Light switches are radio frequency controlled (no batteries necessary) rather than hard wired (www.lightningswitch.com) with a considerable savings on wire and labor costs. An Outback Charge Controller and Power Inverter are in place to fill the battery charging and 120v power demands (www.outbackpower.com).

Heating and Cooling Design: The heating design uses a 98% efficient Triangle Tube propane boiler for domestic hot water and radiant floor heating, as the primary heat source (www.triangletube.com). A high efficiency catalytic wood stove was installed for supplemental heat (www.blazeking.com). Despite the fact that McCall’s temperatures qualify as severe in winter, about two hours daily of mid day (peak sun) boiler use is sufficient to maintain comfortable temperatures. The propane boiler’s hydronic pumps are powered through the solar system. The house loses about 3-4 degrees at night with no additional heat in mid winter, when nighttime outside temperatures retreat into teens and 20s. It loses about 5 degrees when night time temps are reduced to single digits. The Triangle Tube boiler heats the 60 gallon highly efficient domestic water tank once per day, prior to heating the floor and takes about 10 minutes to reach desired domestic water temperature. The radiant floor heat system is run for the rest of the timed two hours. This serves to warm the floor and inside air, contributing to the “cozy” experience throughout the house. The upstairs loft/bedroom room maintains 4-5 degrees cooler than downstairs for excellent sleeping temperatures. The concrete slab floor, clay plaster interior walls, log posts and beams, as well as the cob shower wall, all serve to support the constant temperatures through their thermal mass value. The cessation of radiant floor heat use in late spring through early fall and the strawbale and ceiling insulation and thermal mass characteristics of the house serve to keep the temperature cool in the summer months. Working the thermal mass in this way minimizes energy use while maximizing comfort.

Solar Design: In designing the house, close attention was paid to both passive and active solar collection characteristics.

Passive Solar Design: The multiple south facing windows, along with the calculated roof line, serve to collect solar energy in cold months, both into the dark tiled window seats and the integral colored concrete floor, while the roof line protects against solar collection during the summer months. The roof extension calculations were handled by the architect and are latitude sensitive. I have recorded a 5 degree temperature increase in 30 minutes during winter.

Active Solar Characteristics: Due to the highly efficient 12v LED ribbon lighting system I have used, the efficiency level of the charge controller and inverter, and use of five deep cycle 12v batteries only 500 watts of 12v solar collection capacity is required to maintain sufficient electrical power for general home use. The panels were placed atop a 14’ pole beyond the north west end of the house with an 80’ run of multi-strand wire carrying the power to the house.

Domestic Water: Domestic water is pumped up from the well about 375’ under ground. A multi-voltage pump and 24v (or better) PV solar system provides ample push to bring water to the surface and store it in four mid sized pressure tanks.

Septic system: Being in septic territory, the tank and drain fields were installed by a local excavator and licensed septic installer.

Walls and Ceilings: All bales were packed and stacked tightly. 2” x 3” welded wire mesh was used to further compress the straw bales and give the clay more effective surface to grab – inside and out. Baling twine was threaded through and tightened against the wire mesh and bales. A three quarter inch layer of light cob (mixture of clay, sand, straw and water) was compressed onto/into the bale walls – inside and out.

External Wall finish – A colored coat American Clay Enjarre Plaster was applied as the first coat of clay plaster over the cob. Next, a colored lime wash layer was brushed on and brush compressed. Finally, a coat of black olive soap solution was brushed on and compressed into the moist lime wash. Water critical walls received an undiluted compressed layer of black olive soap. (This Moroccan Tadelakt technique of compressing black olive soap into moist compressed lime wash serves to water proof the surface and is time tested and provide a beautiful and intriguing finish).

Internal Walls Finish – A color coat American Clay Enjarre Plaster was applied as the first coat of clay plaster over the moist cob. Once dried and remoistened the internal walls were plastered with a colored layer of American Clay Porcelina Plaster. www.americanclayplaster.com.

Ceilings – Dry wall was used to rough-in the ceilings. The ceilings were then painted black and covered, with bamboo sheeting – glued (Power Grab) and micro-nailed.

I have always enjoyed the simplicity of Asian influence. I have followed that theme to its current conclusion, while pressing hard on sustainability, in designing and building my home. Wanting to have and share more than merely a place to sleep I looked for and created unusual decorative treasures to enhance the visual and overall experience for myself and my guests. Again, I trust you will enjoy my creation with your own innovations and that your project leads you in directions that you don’t currently imagine. For purchasers of my plans, I am happy to serve as a consultant. Visitors are welcome for tour by appointment.

Steven T. Padgitt, Ph.D.