When Arjuna da Silva, who, along with a handful of others, started Earthaven, an ecovillage located outside Asheville, 25 years ago, “the vision was to care for the land, care for the people and to make sure that everyone gets a fair share,” she says.
So when it came time for da Silva to build a house, she took that first tenet to heart. Da Silva lives off the grid in a 900-square-foot house built primarily out of wood, clay and straw. The house follows passive solar design, which means that the building faces south to absorb the heat of the sun. “That starts to inform you that on the south side of the building you want materials like brick or stone that absorb heat,” explains de Silva. In the course of a day, da Silva says, her 2-foot-thick clay walls will radiate heat into the home’s interior. “On a cold sunny day, I don’t have to build fires,” explains da Silva. “The sun does all the work.”
On the north side of the building, which faces away from the sun, da Silva used straw bales to construct her home. “Each piece of straw has air in it,” explains da Silva, “and air is the great insulator. If you stack the straw bales like bricks, you have a wall that wind can’t get through.”
But while da Silva’s home is certainly beautiful, da Silva is clear that natural building isn’t for everyone. “It takes time and patience and some expertise,” she says. “Most people who want to build a house want to get it done. My house was an art project.”
Editor’s note: As part of our monthlong celebration of this region’s commitment to sustainable ways of living and working in community, Xpress is highlighting some of those who are making a difference by taking action on a variety of creative and inspiring initiatives.