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December 2009 - [Sustainable Concepts] Building With Whole Trees and Recycling After Christmas
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Sustainable Concepts )
Design Forward Newsletter December 2009, vol. 81
in this issue
  • Building With Whole Trees
  • Christmas Tree Recycling
  • Feedback
  •        

    Greetings!

    Welcome to the December 2009 newsletter from Design Forward. Please take some time to enjoy this month's features.

    Quote of the Month: "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."
    - John Muir


    Lisa A. Swan

    Building With Whole Trees

    Roald Gundersen, an architect who may revolutionize the building industry, shinnied up a slender white ash near his house here on a recent afternoon, hoisting himself higher and higher until the limber trunk began to bend slowly toward the forest floor.

    "Look at Papa!" his life and business partner, Amelia Baxter, 31, called to their 3-year-old daughter, Estella, who was crouching in the leaves, reaching for a mushroom. Their son, Cameron, 9 months, was nestled in a sling across Ms. Baxter's chest.

    Wild mushrooms and watercress are among the treasures of this 134-acre forest, but its greatest resource is its small-diameter trees - thousands like the one Mr. Gundersen, 49, was hugging like a monkey.

    "Whooh!" he said, jumping to the ground and gingerly rubbing his back. "This isn't as easy as it used to be. But see how the tree holds the memory of the weight?"

    The ash, no more than five inches thick, was still bent toward the ground. Mr. Gundersen will continue to work on it, bending and pruning it over the next few years in this forest which lies about 10 miles east of the Mississippi River and 150 miles northwest of Madison.

    Loggers pass over such trees because they are too small to mill, but this forester-architect, who founded Gundersen Design in 1991 and built his first house here two years later, has made a career of working with them.

    "Curves are stronger than straight lines," he explained. "A single arch supporting a roof can laterally brace the building in all directions."

    The firm, recently renamed Whole Tree Architecture and Construction, is also owned by Ms. Baxter, a onetime urban farmer and community organizer with a knack for administration and fundraising. She also manages a community forest project modeled after a community-supported agriculture project, in which paying members harvest sustainable riches like mushrooms, firewood and watercress from these woods, and those who want to build a house can select from about 1,000 trees, inventoried according to species, size and shape, and located with global positioning system coordinates, a living inventory that was paid for with a $150,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.

    According to research by the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, run by the USDA, a whole, unmilled tree can support 50 percent more weight than the largest piece of lumber milled from the same tree. So Mr. Gundersen uses small-diameter trees as rafters and framing in his airy structures, and big trees felled by wind, disease or insects as powerful columns and curving beams.

    Taking small trees from a crowded stand in the forest is much like thinning carrots in a row: the remaining plants get more light, air and nutrients. Carrots grow longer and straighter; trees get bigger and healthier.

    And when the trees are left whole, they sequester carbon. "For every ton of wood, a ton and a half of carbon dioxide is locked up," he said, whereas producing a ton of steel releases two to five tons of carbon. So the more whole wood is used in place of steel, the less carbon is pumped into the air.

    These passive solar structures also need very little or no supplemental heat.

    Tom Spaulding, the executive director of Angelic Organics Learning Center, near Rockford, Ill., northwest of Chicago, knows about this because he commissioned Mr. Gundersen to build a 1,600-square-foot training center in 2003. He said: "In the middle of winter, on a 20-below day, we're in shorts, with the windows and doors open. And we don't burn a bit of petroleum."

    "It's eminently more frugal and sustainable than milling trees," he added. "These are weed trees, so when you take them out, you improve the forest stand and get a building out of it. You haven't stripped an entire hillside out west to build it, or used a lot of oil to transport the lumber."

    Mr. Gundersen had a rough feeling for all of this 16 years ago, when he started building a simple A-frame house here for his first wife and their son, Ian, now 15. He wanted to encourage local farmers to use materials like wood and straw from their own farms to build low-cost, energy-efficient structures. So he used small aspens that were crowding out young oaks nearby.

    "I would just carry them home and peel them," said Mr. Gundersen, who later realized he could peel them while they were standing, making them "a lot lighter to haul and not so dangerous to fell."

    Mr. Gundersen, who built most of the house singlehandedly, also recognized the beauty of large trees downed by disease or wind, and used the peeled trunks, shorn of their central branches a few feet from the crook, as supporting columns in the house. "I thought they were beautiful, but I didn't think how strong they were," he said

    Article Anne Raver, NY Times. Picture Paul Kelley, NY Times
    Comment on "Building With Whole Trees" on Lisa's Blog

    Christmas Tree Recycling

    What Are Your Recycling Choices?

    After the holidays, don't throw your natural tree away! Here are some tips on what to do with your tree after the holidays. In general, you have these options:

    1. Curbside pick-up for recycling - Most areas will collect trees during their regular pickup schedules on the 2 weeks following Christmas. There are often requirements for size, removing ornaments, flocking, etc.
    2. Call for an appointment to have a non-profit in your area pickup your tree. Some boy scout troops are offering a pickup service for a small donation (often $5).
    3. Take your tree to a drop off recycling center. Most counties have free drop-off locations throughout the county. Usually, you may take up to two trees to any of the following drop-off locations at no charge.
    4. Cut the tree to fit loosely into your yard waste container.

    Other tips and ideas

    * Removing the tree: The best way to avoid a mess removing your tree is to place a plastic tree bag (which are available at hardware stores) underneath the stand when you set the tree up! You can hide it with a tree skirt. Then, when the holidays are done, pull the bag up around the tree, stand and all, and carry it outside. Obviously, you will want to remove the stand before recycling the tree. If some needles do scatter inside, it is better to sweep them up; as needles can clog vacuum cleaners.
    * Tree Recycling / Mulching programs are a fast-growing trend in communities throughout the nation. Check below on this page or with your local department of public works for information. They chip and shred the trees, then make the mulch available for use in your garden. Your hauler will notify you of pick-up dates in your area. There are a few things you must do to make your tree ready for RECYCLING. Here are some general tips - but be sure to check with your local hauler - these are just general guidelines! To find your local hauler:
    If it is Waste Management Inc (WM), click here to find your Local WM Service Provider's Website - or click here to contact your Local WM Customer Service Center by Phone - find the 1-800 number of your Local Customer Service Center
    If your local hauler is AW / BFI (Allied Waste) - Click here to locate the contact information for your local hauler.
    * Soil erosion barriers: Some communities use Christmas trees to make effective sand and soil erosion barriers, especially at for lake and river shoreline stabilization and river delta sedimentation management (Louisiana does both).
    * Fish feeders: Sunk into private fish ponds trees make excellent refuge and feeding area for fish.
    * Bird feeders: Place the Christmas tree in the garden or backyard and use it as a bird feeder and sanctuary. Fresh orange slices or strung popcorn will attract the birds and they can sit in the branches for shelter. (Make sure all decorations, hooks, garland and tinsel strands are removed). Eventually (within a year) the branches will become brittle and you can break the tree apart by hand or chip it in a chipper. See this article from Perdue University for more information.
    * Mulch: A Christmas tree is biodegradable; its branches may be removed, chipped, and used as mulch in the garden. If you have a neighbor with a chip, see if he will chip it for you.
    * Paths for Hiking Trails: Some counties use the shredded trees as a free, renewable and natural path material that fits both the environment and the needs of hikers!
    * Living, rooted trees: Of course, next year, you could get a rooted (ball and burlapped or containerized) tree and then plant it in your yard after Christmas (It's a good idea to pre-dig the hole in the late Fall while the soil is still soft, then plant the tree into that hole immediately after Christmas.) NOTE: Living trees have a better survival rate in mild climates, than in a northern area.
    * Important: Never burn your Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove. Pines, firs and other evergreens have a high content of flammable turpentine oils. Burning the tree may contribute to creosote buildup and risk a chimney fire.

    Article pickyourown.org
    Comment on "Christmas Tree Recycling" on Lisa's Blog.

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    Revised June 1, 2010