Earth and straw houses are common in many parts of the world, but it is
doubtful any of them have quite the flair of the Leonard's house, outside
of Bliss, Idaho.
To the Leonards, this was
a family project, one they hoped would change the way folks look at architecture.
"That's been one of the
goals," says Joe Leonard, "to do something that sets an example
of an alternative way to live, where you take materials that are grown
and are here and build a house out of it."
The oldest straw-bale houses in the United States are in Nebraska, built
about 125 years ago.The houses are still in use, says Joe Leonard. "They
should last as long as they maintain them. The secret is keeping them
"Straw loves earth as a finish. So the first coat on it is a clay
slip, pure clay... the second coat is sand, straw and clay, about sixty
percent sand... the final coat is about eighty percent sand. That won't
crack and gives a nice smooth coat."
Read some of the Leonard's
thoughts about building with earth and straw.
"There's a difference between clean dirt and dirty dirt," says
Sheila Leonard. "I have a lot of women ask me how I clean this house.
It's the easiest building to maintain and keep up that I've ever lived
Joe Leonard appreciates the sustainability of this kind of structure.
"You've got a product that's not used enough, and you make a house
out of it. You get a thirty inch wall when you're finished, with an R
factor of 60.
"On the outside you've got the expandable clay for protection of
the straw, and on the inside... the wonderful thing is you don't have
to paint it, you don't have to wash it. Once it's up, it's up. It's earth."
"There's definitely a sense of healing and connection and spirituality
in this house that you don't get in a frame house or even a concrete house.
It makes you one with the elements."