House Of Straw
By Kerri Regan
story: Kerri Regan photos: James Mazzotta
The McCall's Straw Bale House
With her effervescent sense of humor, Lynn McCall knew that the jokes were inevitable when her family built a straw bale house. Fortunately, her husband and three teenagers fit into the story perfectly.
“I live with the big bad wolf and my three little pigs,” McCall says with a laugh. “Just call me Little Red Riding Hood.”
Truth be told, it’s actually a house of straw, a house of bricks and a house of sticks – and it’s the envy of her village.
Her husband, Gary, got the idea to build a straw bale home from a home and garden television show. It made perfect sense, Lynn says. “We have very good weather, it’s energy efficient and we have rice straw all over the place,” Lynn says.
An architect converted traditional house plans so the 5,600-square-foot structure could bear the heavier load of the straw bales. Exterior walls are about two-and-a-half feet thick to accommodate the rice straw bales, which are stacked, tied together, lined with tar felt paper and wrapped in chicken wire. In places that Gary wanted the walls to be rounded, he simply took a chainsaw to the hay bales.
The walls “slim down” where the second story starts – that’s where they were stacked vertically instead of horizontally.
The interior walls, like the exterior, are stucco. The McCalls hand-troweled stucco in one room before they decided to have a professional company blow it onto the rest of the walls. “Gary said, ‘I can’t do this whole house or I’ll be dead,’” Lynn says.
It’s not every day that a stucco company is commissioned to blast stucco inside of a home. “The house was kind of experimental for a lot of people,” she says.
Though the countertops look like granite and the floor appear to be a rich hardwood, they are actually concrete. Large terra cotta-colored floor tiles (kept warm with radiant floor heating) lend a southwest feel to the living area. Because the walls are so thick, windows throughout the house all have window seats.
The kitchen is an entertainer’s paradise – it sits in a J shape and features enough counter space for six people to sit comfortably at the bar. A walk-in cooler, spacious pantry and warming oven are just a few of the many features that scream, “The party’s at this house.” And the McCalls couldn’t be happier – they love to have a house full of people. They have hosted Shasta Land Trust events, and they entertained Huell Howser of “California Gold” at their west Redding home when he was in town.
A media room adjacent to the kitchen is equipped with a roll-down screen, so when the kids play Rock Band or friends come over to watch the Oscars, the show is larger than life.
The master bathroom features a tub and a shower with no doors or curtains – since the floor is concrete, the water just drains out and it makes no difference if the floor gets wet. A guest bath is themed after an Old West gold mine, so small gold tiles are interspersed in the walls. The three kids’ bedrooms and bathrooms (along with their own laundry room) are upstairs, and their landing will be a library one day, but now works well as a “hanging out” area. A spiral staircase leads up to one third-story room – about an eight-by-10-foot teen sanctuary. 4 The kids chose their own bedroom colors – 13-year-old Mason’s is forest green, 15-year-old Apryl’s is bright purple and 17-year-old Kevin’s is white and red. Apryl’s room features a small balcony that overlooks the living area – “she saw a hotel with a balcony and asked, ‘Can I have that?’” her mother says. (It’s also handy when they decorate their 25-foot-tall Christmas tree, harvested from Lassen each year.)
A “truth window” in the hallway opens up to show that the walls are, indeed, full of straw. (The McCalls created a little scene inside the window to lend character.)
Outdoors, a concrete barbecue is perfect for Little League parties. Their swimming pool features a climbing rock that kids jump from, and a hot tub that soothes adults’ aching muscles while the kids play.
In addition to the uber-efficient insulation, the home is powered by the wind and sun – which actually makes their energy meter run backwards. A large latte usually costs more than their monthly utility bill. A diesel generator picks up the slack when there’s not enough sun to power their two rotating solar panels.
The state provides a 50 percent tax deduction for energy-saving measures. They figure that in 10 to 15 years, the energy efficiency tools will have paid for themselves, she says.
“We’re conscientious,” she says, adding that her husband used to run his concrete plant on biodiesel that he made from recycled kitchen oils. “We like to see that the planet will be here for our kids.”