This interview is episode two of a two part series featuring sustainability practitioners in Utah. My guest is Emily Niehaus, Founding Director of Community Rebuilds. Community Rebuilds is a Moab based nonprofit that aids income qualifying families in building affordable and energy efficient straw bale homes. The program has been carefully crafted to address several issues and create positive systemic change.
Lower income Moab residents have been hit by a one two punch in regards to housing. Because of Moab’s popularity as a destination town, second home ownership and high property values are common to the area. In addition, there is a plethora of pre-1976 mobile homes which are often the only affordable housing option for those seeking home ownership. But there’s a catch. Pre-1976 mobile homes do not qualify for conventional loans. If a would be home owner manages to purchase a mobile home, the leaky structure is likely to create high utility bills and the dubious construction techniques can lead to health concerns from poor indoor environmental quality. In response to this situation, Community Rebuilds focuses their efforts on replacing pre-1976 mobile homes with high quality, energy efficient straw bale homes.
But alleviating energy efficiency, long term wealth building capacity and health concerns for low income residents wasn’t enough for Emily and Community Rebuilds. If her radical idea was to take root, Emily knew she had to break the mold in a big way. First, build as sustainably as possible. Straw bale construction creates a valuable use for agricultural by-products, the baled stalks of grain products, by using the bales as building blocks to create a highly insulated wall assembly. The finish work includes natural plasters made from local earthen materials. Rounding out the straw bale construction techniques with as much recycled content as possible, Community Rebuilds creates very sustainable, affordable, healthy and energy efficient homes. Second, Community Rebuilds has created an internship program where pre-professionals provide construction labor in exchange for education, housing and food during the fourth month build process. The internship program keeps the cost of construction low while developing a skilled workforce of natural builders. What’s the point of building a few straw bale homes without developing a workforce capable of creating a growing industry? Many former interns pursue careers in natural building. Others have gone on to do a variety of beneficial work in the field of sustainability. Most are outspoken advocates for straw bale construction and sustainability – expanding the impact of the Community Rebuilds program far beyond the canyon walls that surround Moab. I should know, I am one of them.
Our interview aired on Radio Boise 3-31-2015. You can listen to live shows by tuning in to Radio Boise Tuesdays @ 3 PM on 89.9 FM or 93.5 FM in the Treasure Valley. Or stream online @ http://www.radioboise.org. To listen to a podcast of this show use the player embedded below.
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