Tuesday, January 9
WILMINGTON -- Nobody can huff and puff and blow down the straw bale house on Route 100.

Students from Twin Valley High School, however, entered without having to take any such drastic measures as part of a hands-on approach to learning about green building.

In a class turned corporation, seven students are faced with building a green, energy-efficient house for Greg Wilson, their long-term substitute teacher-turned-client.

"As the client, I've given them a set of parameters," Wilson said, including a pool and a personal gym.

To get an idea of the types of designs, wiring, heating and plumbing their "corporation" can offer Wilson, the students have been working with actual businesses like Green Mountain Power and LineSync Architecture, the company that built the straw bale house.

With that early plunge into the real world comes real life knowledge, said main architect Joseph Cincotta, who, along with homeowner Dale Doucette, volunteered their time to explain why they stacked bales of hay the way they did, and then covered them in a homemade clay and limestone stucco mix.

High ceilings, for example, make a small space seem bigger, and large windows let in more light to heat the home.

"Lots of glass is good," Doucette said. "It's also the biggest heat loss at night." During the day, the Doucettes let the sun warm their room and once it goes down, they close the curtains to trap in the heat.

After five years of planning and two years of building, the house was constructed in 2001. It's well known, and was recently featured in the January/February issue of Natural Home.

Doucette said he's getting used to the publicity, and although he was making phone calls for his woodcarving business in between answering questions from students, he said he was happy to take them on a tour and explain how his vision became a reality.

Karl Vollinger, a senior who also has an internship with Haystack Highlands, a traditional home builder, said the hands-on approach is valuable.

"I've learned more from this class than any of the others I have this year," he said.

Cincotta said he hopes more companies around Vermont will be inspired to volunteer some of their time to educate the upcoming generation.

"There are lots of businesses in this community that are very innovative and very forward-thinking, and might consider providing similar opportunities for students in the state," Cincotta said.

Involving companies in schools has potential as an inexpensive way to improve education in the state, and in this case raise awareness about future energy issues, he said.

The hay bale home is eco-friendly and energy-efficient. It uses solar and wind power, and Doucette said he and his wife Michele are contemplating hydro power as well.

"There's not an endless supply of gas and oil, and at some point we need to teach kids in this generation to be socially responsible," Doucette said.

Cate Lecuyer can be reached at clecuyer@reformer.com or (802) 254-2311, ext. 277.