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Building earth-friendly walls

Local author and natural builder Lydia Doleman will share concepts behind her new book “Essential Light Straw Clay Construction” at a book signing event from 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland. Robert Laporte and Paula Baker-Laporte, natural builders who live in Ashland, will be there too, with their books on natural building: “EcoNest: Creating Sustainable Sanctuaries of Straw, Clay and Timber” and “The EcoNest Home: Designing and Building a Light Straw Clay House.”

Book signings by all three authors will follow a short presentation about light straw clay walls.

Ruch resident Doleman said her book stemmed from a lack of resources on the subject matter.

“The book was born mostly out of necessity. I found that I was using light straw clay in a variety of capacities and that there was no literature for other people to pull from,” Doleman said. “Realizing that there is a void in the information that people could get about it, I wanted to fill that void.”

“Essential Light Straw Clay Construction” is a how-to manual for light straw clay building. This particular type of construction is an in-fill system, meaning it works with any type of super-structure similar to the more common types of natural systems such as straw bale or cob. The difference is the straw in this system is loose and gets mixed in with the clay slip.

“Much like cement, it gets poured into a form and then packed in, and then you remove the forms and your wall system dries,” Doleman said. “So, you have a natural, non-toxic, well-bodied energy, breathable wall-system.”

Originally an older European building practice and historically used in timber-framing, the Southwest is the most common place to see this type of building in the U.S. However, the Northwest could benefit from this practice as well. Light straw clay houses are virtually fireproof because clay doesn’t burn and the straw would just smolder, Doleman said.

“So once the wall is dry, you could literally stand there with a blowtorch,” Doleman said. “And for an area that is prone to fire, that, combined with a fire-proof exterior, is good prevention for both indoor and exterior caused fires, depending on design.”

Aside from the benefits of using fire-proof natural building materials, Doleman said most people are attracted to the aesthetics of the finished product.

“The materials themselves are low-cost, low-embodied energy, non-toxic, carbon sequestering, breathable, locally easy to access and very user-friendly to build with,” Doleman said. “They’re also insect proof, and for folks who have chemical sensitivities, you would be eliminating what you get out of most processed materials from just using straw and clay.”

Light straw clay construction will be recognized in the 2018 international building code, and so will become more accessible to more people.

“This is actually perfect timing for a book like this because it allows people to have one more choice,” Doleman said.

The book was released in June and is currently being sold at Bloomsbury Books and the Book Exchange in Ashland, as well as Amazon and the publisher’s website, newsociety.com.

“The more educated you are going into any construction project, no matter what it is, the better off your experience will be,” Doleman said. “My goal for the book is that anybody, at the beginning of a project, could use it as a design tool and would be able to apply light straw clay to a variety of framing systems.”

— Email Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.