PALESTINE, Texas – In this ever-changing world, lowering the environmental footprint of humans is becoming more and more important as resources strain to keep up with demand.
Nick Moser's environmental footprint is almost non-existent as he constructs a house in Freestone County literally made from things most people take for granted.
Currently, Moser is building a house made of hay straw and adobe on his parcel of land near the Butler community.
The straw for his house came from Riesel in nearby Robertson County; the mud for the adobe from the community of Dew near Fairfield and the wood in the house came from Mitchell's Red Cedar located near Elkhart.
"You can say everything in here is local," Moser said. "There's no steel from China or lumber imported from different places, it's all right here."
The house is part of a pilot project Moser is doing to help show other people how they can build their own sustainable structures.
The advantages to such a structure are plentiful, he explained.
"A normal modern house has an insulation R value from 15 to 20," Moser said. "With the straw bales, the R value runs from 45 to 50."
The straw bales, which are 2-feet thick, provide the insulation while the adobe — made from East Texas mud — on the outside provides thermal mass to the structure.
By the time it is finished, there will be 4 inches of adobe on each side of the straw bales, making the walls nearly 3 feet thick.
The adobe, Moser said, is put on in four different layers, with sand between each layer. The sand, he noted, adds a water-repellent quality to the adobe.
For this house, Moser has used the "golden spiral," a method of making the walls in a spiraling shape.
"That method provides the most amount of square footage with the least amount of wall space," Moser said.
The bales are stacked into place with stakes securing them with each other. Once all the bales are in place, a compression plate is put on top and holds the bales in place with tension arms and cables.
The last part to go on the house is the roof, and following the rest of the house, it's in tune with its surroundings.
"The roof will be a living roof," Moser said. "It will be soil with plants in it to soak up the water, which will keep water from running off and getting onto the walls."
A roof of soil and plants also will add a large amount of insulation to the house.
As for the bales, they aren't normal East Texas grass hay; instead Moser uses oat straw bales.
"Grass hay is a food for animals and rodents will get in and eat it, but nothing really eats the oat hay," Moser said. "It's only the stalks, and they are the strongest part of the plant so it makes for a really tight bale."
Once finished, the house is an extremely solid structure, and is extremely cost efficient.
"For a thousand square-foot home it costs about $1,000," Moser said. "A mobile home of the same size may be $30,000.
"My goal of doing this house is to show people how to get things as locally as possible, and what you can do with them."
Houses made of hay bales began being built at the turn of the 20th Century with the advent of the mechanical balers, which made the structure practical, Moser said.
His foray into building sustainable structures really began when he got out of college.
After traveling around South America for a while, Moser learned many different designs and techniques to build efficient homes from available materials.
"It really is an intuitive way of building," he continued. "You don't need to know a lot of engineering to build a house like this.
Throughout the year Moser holds workshops to help show others how to build structures like the straw bale house.