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I Take a Natural Building Class at Fox Maple School to Get Ready for Eagle House

I drove up to Maine and took a class in Natural Building with Steve Chapell of the Fox Maple School. The school is located in a beautiful area of white pines, balsam firs and sugar maples, near the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Steve Chapell is a wonderful teacher, part mystic surfer, part builder-sorcerer. He weaves a great story, intermixed with lessons, wisdom and powerful content that every natural builder needs.

It was a weekend to learn about working with clay, clay wood chip, clay slips, clay straw, cob, clay plaster and yes, a little bit about straw bale construction too.

Right off the bat, Steve let us know that he wasn't a big fan of straw bale construction. Even if he hadn't said anything about it, our first morning that was spent in the Library of the school community was enough to get me to shy away from it. The entire building reeked of cold mildew, despite the pleasant late spring temperatures. The straw basically absorbed moisture from the surrounding air and then were perfect mold producing factories, delayed only by constant heat sources like a woodstove, to dry out the air and keep the walls dry inside. In a seldom used Library building, it wasn't working out too well.

Anyway, he explained how the molecular structure of clay let it actually keep moisture out of the walls or surrounding material, especially if everything is coated with a thin layer of clay. So, clay coated straw or clay coated wood chips was the way to go. Evidently you can use clay coated peanut shells or similar stuff like that, to create the interior wall insulation, and that was okay too.

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