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THE FAT OF THE LAND : Homes of straw, recycled steel or old rubber tires are options being explored. Water conservation, solar energy and edible landscaping are viable. The professionals of the Orange County-based Eos Institute pursue habitat alternatives that are in balance with natural resources without depleting them.

April 10, 1993|KATHY BRYANT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Off Bluebird Canyon in Laguna Beach, there is an 800-square-foot house that is made primarily from recycled materials. The house has a solar heating and cooling system and a year-round organic garden and orchard that act as an extension of the small indoor area. There is always something to eat from the garden, and right now the loquats, lemons, grapefruit and radishes are ready for picking; even the bright orange and red nasturtiums can be tossed into a salad for color and a distinctive taste. Meanwhile, a bunch of green bananas hangs in the kitchen ripening in the sun, watched by the cat, Sophie, from her favorite spot on the counter.

This ecologically integrated setting is home to Lynne Spitalny Bayless, who believes in paying more than lip service to the idea of living in an environmentally responsible way.

She is a leader in an Orange County organization that has dedicated itself to creating sustainably built environments--meaning ones in balance with natural resources without depleting them. The Eos Institute, organized in 1990, is focused on design professionals--architects, designers and planners--but its lectures, workshops and publications are also available to the public. While there are about 100 regular members (dues are $30 a year), nearly 700 are on its mailing list. In 1988 Bayless had been the program chairman for Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility/Orange County Chapter when they worked with the Permaculture Institute of Southern California on a public lecture series titled "Sustainable Living."

Interest was so great that the lecture series led to the creation of the Eos Institute, named after the Greek goddess of the dawn. Based in Laguna Beach, Eos received federal nonprofit status last year.

In Orange County, where suburban sprawl is the signature housing style, the home Bayless lives in represents an alternative that many may not have thought possible.

This house--which its builder named Sprout Acres--was started in 1978 as an ecological experiment. It was built by Bill Roley, also active in Eos, out of materials from a house that was being demolished. The kitchen cabinets, the wood siding and the tiles were all salvaged materials. The house and grounds--about half an acre on hilly terrain--embody many of the tenets first formulated in the 1970s for sustainability: an energy efficient building; use of alternative energy sources; recycling; control of water pollution, and nature preservation.

To these the '90s have added good indoor air quality, and, most importantly, the relationship between sustainability and urban design. As an example, if a house is ecologically sound, but its occupant has to drive an hour in the car to get to it, the purpose is defeated because the car and its use of fossil fuel is still the world's largest polluter.

"Sometimes everyone is pointing his or her finger at everyone else," Bayless said. "Developers say there's no market for an ecologically appropriate house, while consumers say they can't buy one because builders won't build it. Architects say developers won't let them design one, while developers say there are no decent architects. Then they all blame city planners."

Interest has continued in developing alternative living solutions, mainly because they promise to be not only better for the environment, but also cost-effective. The Eos Institute is among groups across the country trying to find solutions with widespread application.

"We have very simple, wonderful technologies available to us right now. We just need to use them," Bayless said. Among options being explored are the building of homes out of straw bales, recycled steel and even old rubber tires.

One of the projects that Eos is working on is the creation of a 2,500-square-foot display house for the Home and Garden Show at the Anaheim Convention Center in August.

During the show, Eos will erect a post-and-beam, straw-bale house with energy and resource efficient interiors and demonstrate water-conserving landscape. It will have stucco on the outside and plaster on the interior.

For this project, Eos has put together a team of architects, designers, energy efficiency experts, lighting experts and others.

"We're trying to use things like refrigerators, toilets and so on that are on the market and available. Since we won't have real plumbing, we can only illustrate so much, so to demonstrate it more thoroughly we would like to move it to a permanent site and use it as an educational facility. We are looking at several potential places right now."

The group got some firsthand experience in building a straw house last month when Eos sponsored a lecture and workshop by Matts Myhrman and Judy Knox, founders of Out on Bale, a company set up to educate builders in straw-bale construction methods. During the workshop, about 25 people helped build a one-room straw-bale structure at the Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano over one weekend.

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