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Architectural House Plans

Natural Habitat Featured Home Plan

Natural Home Magazine
July / August Issue, 2004

"Natural Home" is collaborating with Architectural House Plans (formerly Healthy Home Designs) to offer home plans that enable readers to build a healthy, environmentally responsible home from the ground up. Architectural House Plans has been providing detailed construction drawings for healthy and green homes since 1994. In each issue we’ll feature a different plan, created by an award-winning architect, available for purchase at


Natural Habitat

This modest 1,860- square foot, passive solar, straw bale home illustrates creative solutions to ecological living. The compact three- or four-bedroom plan allows for a future office addition in the cupola. Recipient of the 2003/2004 AIA/Sunset Western Home Award for Earth-friendly Design, Natural Habitat is a model for green, healthy design.

Although the home is oriented on a north-south axis, the interior temperature stays within five degrees of sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit year-round without additional heating or cooling. The polished concrete floor provides thermal mass for the passive solar design, supplemented by a hydronic radiant heating system. The roof is insulated with cellulose (recycled newspaper) and sheathed with Meadowood rye-grass strawboard. Thick, well-insulated straw bale walls, reminiscent of an Italian villa, are finished with PISE (pneumatically impacted stabilized earth) and balanced by fiber cement-clad walls in appropriate locations (i.e. plumbing, bays, and the high cupola walls). The home’s post-and-beam construction could easily accommodate traditional wood framing.

Inside, an open floor plan and a sixteen-foot-high great room make the home feel much larger than its square footage suggests. The clerestory windows over this space bring in abundant natural light and provide passive ventilation for the entire structure. A structural wall of exposed framing provides ample storage for books and art while dividing the living and sleeping areas. Bedrooms feature bed-sized window bays, and the two children’s bedrooms are separated with movable wall panels, enabling three- or four-bedroom flexibility of design. Equally clever are built-in kitchen composting and recycling areas. Hatches in the backsplash allow recyclables to be placed in bins that are accessible from the outside. Other ecological features include high-efficiency lighting, salvaged cedar beams for interior trim, cabinets made of formaldehyde-free particleboard, low-VOC finishes, Fireslate countertops, and salvaged doors.

What Makes This Home Healthy?

Meet the Architects
David Arkin and Anni Tilt
Arkin Tilt Architects
Berkeley, CA

David Arkin and Anni Tilt of Arkin Tilt Architects specialize in energy and resource-efficient design. Their projects embody a marriage of thoughtful design and ecology, creating spaces that are comfortable and lyrical.

What were you looking to achieve in this home design?
From the outset we envisioned a simple, rural home that looked and felt comfortable in its setting. We were also required to pack as much program into the smallest package possible. The great room was the perfect solution, and smallish bedrooms with bed-bays together and integrated storage solutions allowed the house to be space efficient while feeling capacious.

What were the owners specifically interested in?
In addition to the criteria above, they wanted their home to be an ecological model, breaking new ground in the emerging world of green construction.

What are your favorite features of the home?
DAVID: This project demonstrates the first use of PISE (gunnite-applied soil cement) over straw bales as a structural skin without an additional layer of cement stucco. We constructed a test panel, which demonstrated its superior strength, and the beauty of the troweled and grout-washed interior walls speaks for itself.
ANNI: The clerestory is critical to the success of this house, both for its contribution to the rural character as well as for passive solar gain, the play of light, and the sense of spaciousness.

This article refers to the "Natural Habitat" home plan available on this site.