Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Makanda Inn Visit

Last weekend, my wife and I went for a Valentine's weekend away to the Makanda Inn, a straw-bale/green building B&B in Makanda, southern Illinois.  As far as I've been able to determine at present, there are only a handful of straw bale hostelries of any kind in the world, and this is the closest to where we live.  Here are a few pictures and a few impressions of our stay (with a focus on the themes of this blog).

The picture above shows the entry hall, and gives the general idea: this is a beautiful facility.  We had a delightful stay in which the new innkeepers Patty and John Purves made us extremely welcome, and we greatly enjoyed our too-short exploration of the Southern Illinois area (here are a few attractions).

Here's a shot of the exterior of the building from the south-east:

You can probably make out that the ground floor of the building is earth sheltered on the north and east sides.  The ground floor wall on the south side is stone, and the second floor exterior wall is the straw bale part (except for the passive solar windows on the south wall).  I don't have any information on the overall energy performance of the building, but certainly it was very pleasant and comfortable to be in.

Here's a shot of the interior of our room, with a bench built into the straw-bale wall:

and the bed in its own alcove:

Throughout the Inn there are a lot of uses of natural wood, much of which we were told came from the site, and which was treated in the style of George Nakashima (thick slabs of wood with polished faces but naturalistic edges).  For example, here was our bathroom sink:

Here's a shot of the ground floor lounge:

The sun is streaming in through the south facing windows on a sunny day in February and the stone floor and masonry chimney are clearly intended as thermal mass to absorb the heat and then reradiate it later in a classic piece of passive solar design.

The lodge of the Inn is finished but only has four bedrooms.  The owner is presently developing several more cabins on the property, and I peeked in to look at the construction approach:

You can see that this is post-and-beam within the infill straw wall.  This is probably the most common approach to straw bale construction, but there are alternatives including doing a form of stud construction in which each the bales are stacked on end with a stud between each bale, or building a timber frame entirely within a wrapping of bales (thus showing visually).

The building was basically very pleasant to be in - warm, comfortable, quiet and beautiful.  One thing I did note though: I've heard of this interesting sensory effect of being in a straw bale building that because it cuts the exterior noise so much, any remaining noises are really very noticeable (the brain focusses on them because there isn't much going on, whereas in more typical modern environments there's a lot of background noise all the time).  This means that there are some details that it's important to get right: doors to bedrooms need to be heavy and block sound well, for example.  Also, the building had Sanyo ECO-i heat exchangers to heat/cool individual rooms efficiently.  These systems worked fine, and don't produce an unusual amount of noise compared to typical hotel heating/cooling units, but in the straw bale  context, the small amount of noise is really noticeable.  We didn't think our room needed heat and turned it off but, even so, the unit still makes a gurgling sound which is really noticeable when there are no other sounds late at night.

Still, I can highly recommend the inn - either as an interesting example of green building you can go see up close, or just as a great B&B experience for a getaway.

Finally, I am well aware of the irony of traveling long distance via fossil fuels to stay in a green hotel.  Maybe in a decade or so we will be able to drive our electric cars to carbon neutral inns, but that is not an option presently.  In the meantime, I paid $16.03 to Finger Lakes Climate Fund, which is what they say is required to offset the trip.


Lauren said...

Beautiful building - thanks for the links also to product manufacturers.

A Quaker in a Strange Land said...

I have been thinking about building a straw bale work shop... I was thinking about framing, but am now thinking about post and beam.

Is that cement or plaster in the picture of the bench in your room?

Stephen B. said...

Indeed that masonry chimney is meant to act as thermal mass, but, just from the picture, seeing how the firebox is offset from the chimney itself, I'm pretty sure that's a contra-flow masonry heater.

My family's MA house has a Tulikivi masonry heater and I love it. To me, it makes wood heat practical in that I don't have to tend a fire all day. Instead, I light a fire at night, for an hour or two burn time, it stays hot all night. In colder weather I light another in the morning, but often not.

I'm still playing around with that home energy modeling software mentioned a few blog entries back. In that program, I cut my Maine house's oil usage from over 1150 gallons to about 100 by inserting the new windows, basement insulation, and redone wall interiors (I'm gutting the whole thing anyways as it's fairly messy inside), and that in a 9300 annual degree day climate too. That software also has many heat options to pick from, including masonry heaters. By insulating heavily, the program tells me I can cut my furnace output, and hence masonry heater size, from over 63K BTU, to only 13,500 BTU. Indeed, I'll be removing the oil furnace, as even the smallest central furnaces will be too big for this house. In fact, most wood stoves will be too big for this house. The masonry heater, on the other hand, can have a smaller fire built in it, and then heat the house for hours, all without fuss.

Some of the old timers in northern New England, by the way, put mulch hay bales or straw bales all around their foundations in the fall to keep out the cold. Putting an R-10 foam layer for the top 2 feet around the outside of my foundation and putting an R-20 layer over the full interior basement walls, cuts my house's heat energy requirements by about 40 percent according to this modeling software.