Sister Jane Omlor's dream of living in a passive solar house with straw bale insulation has become a reality. And now she's scheduling tours of her home.
"One very interesting thing is how well the passive solar concept is working," Omlor said. "On these very cold winter nights, we are very, very comfortable and we are using minimal heat. That's pretty significant."
She and Sister Janet Hay moved into the house in December.
PHOTO BY VICKI JOHNSON
Sister Jane Omlor (left) and Sister Janet Hay show their new home to a visitor in December at the Sisters of St. Francis campus. The two women moved into the straw-bale house just before Christmas.
Also known as Project STRAW (Saving Today's Resources in Awesome Ways), the project has been under way since 2008 and ground was broken in summer 2010.
Designed by Mark Hoberecht of Columbia Station, a certified natural builder, the passive solar concept uses placement of the house and other criteria to make maximum use of the sun's rays for warmth in winter and to shade the house from the sun in summer.
There's no furnace or air conditioner, but an energy recovery ventilation system circulates air.
"The reason we're building it is to save energy," Omlor said during an earlier interview while the project was under construction. "We're creating a model, a demonstration facility where people can see what the future may look like and how they can install some of this technology in the house they are already living in."
The house is modeled after passive solar houses being built in Europe.
"Europe is on the cutting edge," she said. "I think that's a really important thing. Europe has really made a commitment to building standards. We think it's important to introduce it to northwest Ohio."
And not only to northwest Ohio, but to Ohio and to the Midwest.
The house's electricity is provided by a wind turbine, acquired through a grant from Southwest Wind Power of Flagstaff, Ariz., through the company's Wind for Schools program.
"The nice, windy winter is supplying lots of electricity," she said last week.
A recent electric bill was $27 for the month, which includes heat, LED lights and plug-ins for anything else electric.
The wind turbine and the solar array are to be used in educational programs as well.
The St. Francis property has 16 kilowatts of solar panels ready to be completed and provide electricity not only to the house, but to the Franciscan Earth Literacy Center and other buildings on the St. Francis campus.
In the future, Omlor hopes to get a solar energy class from one of the area colleges to work on putting together the array.
"All of our dreams are coming true, so that one will, too," she said.
The house was Omlor's brainchild and she's happy to see it almost completed.
"For me, it's knowing that this house is not leaving much of an environmental footprint," she said.
Care of creation is just a basic part of the St. Francis mission.
When the weather gets warm and conditions are right this spring, Omlor said work will begin outside the house to create an outdoors space of usable and beneficial plants rather than a yard full of grass.
Known as "permaculture," plantings in the outdoor area around the house will be useful as food or beneficial for other purposes.
In September, she said, an eight-day permaculture design course is planned at the Franciscan Earth Literacy Center. Students are to learn about the topic, get hands-on experience and become certified.
Also this spring, a formal dedication and open house are planned.
Finishing touches are being put in place now. Donated stained glass windows have been installed in one area upstairs, the "truth window" is being completed, as well as several other small projects.
Omlor said people have shown a lot of interest in touring the house and she's scheduling group tours. Individuals who request a tour are placed on a list until she gets a group together.
To schedule a tour, call (567) 207-5393.