Hold the Organics!

organic materials

Organic building materials, such as wood, straw, cotton, and paper – are all potential food for termites and mold. When these materials get damp, inspects and fungi eat them and the problems begin building damage, and even health dangers. The solution is simple—use wood on surfaces inside and out where they can be appreciated, but make the building structure out of inorganic materials like steel, stone, or concrete.  Then insulate with inorganic foam or fiberglass rather than with cotton or cellulose, and use inorganic interior materials wherever there is a choice. Moisture from showers and cooking can cause problems with interior organic materials, so these must be designed very carefully, especially in kitchens and bathrooms.

What About Straw Bale for Walls?

One may ask then, what about using straw bale for walls?  Isn’t that green? The sad fact is that in earthquake country straw bale buildings are always more expensive because the straw walls need to be strengthened with costly additional structural frames. Also, being organic, when the straw dampens (which it eventually will–all forms of waterproofing always fail sooner or later), the straw turns into what the people who demolish these buildings call ”black goo,” a kind of molasses that forms at the bottom of where the straw used to be.  We can achieve the same architectural thick-wall look by using inorganic materials much less expensively than using a straw.  Building inorganically doesn’t cost more; you’ll be healthier, and your building can last darn near forever.

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Bill Fisher

Bill has practiced environmentally sensitive modern architecture for over 40 years throughout the west. Bill's firm, William Fisher Architecture, has studios in Santa Cruz and designs residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional projects of all types and sizes.

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