Natural Resilience

By Photos by Ezra Marcos (unless noted) | 6/4/2013

A timber frame structure with clay/straw walls, this EcoNest home feels larger than its footprint.


Master craftsman Robert Laporte and architect Paula Baker-Laporte moved the headquarters of the EcoNest Company, their design/build firm, to Ashland, Oregon in 2010. Last year they completed a new nest of their own. Featuring a timber frame, clay/straw walls and extensive use of natural and local materials, the two-bedroom home measures 1,510 square feet, and includes the EcoNest business offices.

Laporte adapted his wall system from traditional timber framing and wattle and daub.

“It’s a versatile material,” he says. “The clay/straw mixture combines the insulating properties of straw-bale and the heat-storing properties of cob in one wall system.” Builders can adjust the proportions according to the solar opportunity; for instance, the south-facing wall contains more clay, increasing its capacity as a thermal mass. Larsen trusses minimize thermal bridging in the 12”-thick walls.

Ninety-five percent of the materials by weight come from within a 100-mile radius, including clay harvested in the Applegate Valley. To minimize concrete, the foundation consists of a perimeter footing in conjunction with a stem wall of Faswall blocks, made from recycled wood mineralized with clay.

The Laportes follow the 25 Principles of Baubiologie (Building Biology), a set of guidelines created by Anton Schneider and others in response to a surge in illnesses linked to hastily built dwellings in post-war Germany. Concern for health and building longevity drive their material choices. Houses made from natural materials don’t off-gas toxic materials or require mechanical systems to import fresh air, says Baker-Laporte.

“The key to longevity isn’t in sealing things up,” adds her husband. “It’s in how well they breathe.”


To view this article as it appears in our May 2013 issue, with sidebars and additional photos, please visit our Magazine Archive.



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