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'Healthy' House Built of Newsprint, Straw : Conservation: Oregon utility funds experiment to construct futuristic dwelling with some recycled materials. Project is also energy-efficient.


PORTLAND, Ore. — Is it the house of the future?

It's built with such unorthodox materials as recycled newspapers, ryegrass straw and tiles made from fluorescent light bulbs.

It blends energy efficiency with a concern for the environment.

Debbi Palermini, director of the nonprofit Sustainable Building Collaborative, calls it "the first whole-concept house."

Backed by Portland General Electric Co., the collaborative built the HERE Today house to demonstrate that new concepts and materials can be used without sacrificing appearance or affordability. (HERE is an acronym for Healthy, Environmentally Responsible, and resource and energy Efficient.)

Use of non-traditional building materials added about $8,000 to the cost of the $235,000 house, but "overall the house will use less than half the energy of a conventional house," Palermini said.

"We took the concept to PG&E and they agreed to foot administrative costs and develop marketing materials," said Palermini, an environmental consultant.

The utility liked the project because it promotes clean electric heat and appliances and energy conservation and addresses environmental responsibility, spokeswoman Martha Crawford Richmond said.

Homeowners Michael and Andrea Burke, who worked with architect Greg Acker, said they were surprised that so many of their personal concerns were met.

Part of the Burkes' concern stemmed from Michael's allergies. The couple also have three young children.

The design incorporates a sophisticated electrostatic air filter system that eliminates impurities from air coming into the house, controls humidity levels, and actually pressurizes the house--a technique used in many laboratories--to keep dust, pollen and other air pollutants out.

Walls, adhesives, paints and finishes used inside the house are less toxic than standard materials. None contain formaldehyde, Palermini said.

"We hope we can inspire people in that direction, families who are concerned about their health and how their home environment affects that," Andrea Burke said. "I don't think people think about it very much."

The 2,500-square-foot house is so well-sealed and insulated that it could be heated with nine hair dryers, but 30% of its surface is glass.

An argon field between the panes of glass slows the transmission of heat and cold, and a special coating blocks most of the ultraviolet rays, said Mary Anne Butters, spokeswoman for Pella Inc., which supplied the windows.

The house has both a solar water heater and a backup unit powered by natural gas. Both are located in a breezeway to the garage to keep gas fumes outside the house.

The flooring in the home's entryway is vibrantly colored tile made from recycled fluorescent light bulbs. In the hallway and breezeway areas, the flooring is a type of pressed board made of recycled ryegrass straw.

The interior walls of the house are FiberBond Drywall, made by Louisiana-Pacific Inc. of Portland. Standard drywall is made of gypsum; this drywall is made of recycled newspaper and gypsum. The home's cellulose insulation also is made from recycled newspapers.

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