2009 - [Sustainable Concepts] Building With Whole Trees and Recycling
2009, vol. 81
Welcome to the December 2009 newsletter from Design
Forward. Please take some time to enjoy this month's
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
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 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
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
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
"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
on "Building With Whole Trees" on Lisa's Blog
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
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,
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
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
4. Cut the tree to fit loosely into your yard waste
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
* 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
on "Christmas Tree Recycling" on Lisa's Blog.
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