It doesn’t even look vaguely like an “earthship.”
Just beyond a curve in Kendig Road in Conestoga, the Pellman family’s farmhouse-styled home rises, a mix of expansive farmland views and rustic tradition.
Get up close to its rough exterior, and you’ll begin to get a glimpse of just how rustic.
The corners aren’t abrupt; they’re curved. The edges aren’t straight; they waver. And the plaster-covered walls aren’t smooth.
They’re rough, like the straw from which they’re made.
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Hauled in straight from a local farm, 827 super-compacted bales of straw, what Jesse Pellman calls “Lego cubes of insulation,” form the 3-year-old home Jesse shares with his wife, Sara, and their children Micah and Claire.
“It highlighted for us the potential, with time, to still do alternative projects,” says Jesse, who founded Longview Structures with partner Mike Stoner.
Jesse did much of the work himself — noting that it was “wildly labor-intensive” — but says that extensive research into the age-old technique of bale houses, along with careful planning to find local sources of everything from foundation stone to brick to wood, convinced him that “all these ways of building are still viable, and they all are still marketable.”
One thing the Pellmans knew is that they didn’t want the architectural style of their house to look out of place with its setting south of Lancaster city.
“Bale homes might have an ‘earthship’ image” that scares off some people, Jesse says, “but we tied this to the farmhouse vernacular.”
So the home reflects a modified farmhouse design, with a traditional pent roof halfway up the home that helps shed water away from the building and provides structural shade.
They used locally milled wood for exterior posts, trim and moldings; salvaged brick for the back porch floor; found a local foundry to form supports for porch posts; sourced salvaged barn wood for the porch ceiling; and used stone from a neighboring barn slated for demolition to form the foot-thick foundation.
One of the few supplies that isn’t from the Lancaster region is the stucco that covers the home’s exterior.
Made in France, the lime plaster “is just outrageously cool stuff,” Jesse says. “It’s not as brittle as Portland cement, it’s more flexible; it’s naturally pest-resistant.
“When you go to Europe and see old, old structures, that’s what’s used.”
10 don't-miss features of this straw-bale home:
1: 18-inch thick, solid insulated exterior walls — 26,300 pounds of compacted insulation in all.
2: 827 straw bales used.
3: Saint-Astier French lime plaster, uses about a quarter of the production energy compared to typical concrete stucco. Also used on the interior for the finished walls.
4: Custom, locally milled exterior trim and moldings.
5: Cedar shingles are natural, nontoxic and free of petroleum and asphalt. They’ll be fully compostable/mulchable at the end of their useful life cycle.
6: Kitchen garden and native landscaping reduces need to water and fertilize.
7: Stone foundation uses materials from local barn set for demolition.
8: Reclaimed antique flooring inside finished with nontoxic, no-VOC sealer.
9: Salvaged brick used for the back porch floor.
10: Traditional pent roof at the midspan sheds water away from the building and shades windows from direct summer sun.