After 20 years of living off the grid in a home above Highway 227, Melonie Jorgensen was ready to build a new house. She and her husband, Rich, both retired teachers, began searching for rural property two years ago with one thing in mind: They wanted to live in a way that was in harmony with the environment.
While looking for land, they found the locally beloved Trail "hay house," ready and waiting — and for sale — along Elk Creek Road. The 1,800-square-foot home, loaded with both charisma and earth-friendly features, was everything they wanted.
"It felt like we built it in our hearts long before we moved there," says Melonie.
The house was built using what is known as the Nebraska-style, straw-bale construction technique. The Adobe-style structure features a passive solar design — facing south to avoid summer heat and capture warm rays during winter.
Entering the home, the first thing you see is a "truth window" — a small glassed-in view to the straw inside the walls, which is a common feature in strawbale homes. Even without a truth window, the greenness of the home's soul would be evident.
Walls are hay-bale thick, with uneven sides adding character and texture. Windows are plentiful and trim-free, lending an inviting feel to an open floor plan. Colors in the main kitchen, living and dining areas are light and dark avocado, sunflower yellow, chocolate and brick red. Two bedrooms are painted in light cream with cozy wood furnishings.
The ceiling is painted bright white to reflect heat. A concrete slab floor, stained in a red-brown mocha color, provides thermal mass, staying warm in winter and cool in summer.
For heat, the living area is flanked by a refractory wood stove with winding chambers that pipe heat throughout red, brown and yellow-shaded soapstone. Radiant floor heating with five separate thermostats supplies emergency heat for the painfully cold days. A cupola at the center of the vaulted ceiling traps heat during the summer and draws it out on warm afternoons.
Built by "green" architect Lawrence Schecter, the home is abundant in light and comfort. Just two windows in the home have coverings — one in the study that uses heat-reflective blinds, and another in the kitchen that has curtains for a soft touch.
Appliances are all Energy Star-certified, and the couple is currently focusing on eliminating "phantom power" that is leaked through appliances in "wait" mode.
While their electric and propane bills peak at $50 in a bad month, the couple usually generates more power than they use, via an extensive solar panel system, often resulting in a check from the power company.
For hot water, a solar heater warms well water as it enters the home. If necessary, the water is further heated by an on-demand heater. Any power they do take off the grid comes from Pacific Power's Blue Sky renewable energy program to minimize environmental impact.
"In all our decisions, we try to vote with our dollar and live as green as possible," Melonie says.
The Jorgensens get their water from a small well, supplemented by two, 2,000-gallon holding tanks. Gray water is sent out of the home into a special pond system, where it is filtered by trees, cattails and duckweed.
Perhaps the home's most inviting touch is that the outdoors blends seamlessly with the interior. The house is surrounded by cozy patios, and all the landscaping requires minimal water.
During the devastating Timber Rock fire of 2002, the home's previous owner lost 90 percent of tree coverage. A reforestation project is currently in place to put back all that was lost. In the meantime, plum trees, lavender and colorful wildflowers provide an appealing landscape and usable harvest. A greenhouse alongside the garage is flanked by a span of grapes.
"Living here has made me even so much more aware than I was before," Melonie says. "Everything is so interconnected. If you just live with it, instead of against it, everything just goes so much more smoothly."