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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Three Smart Little Piggies

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Ruth Page updates the three home-building pigs in the children's fairy tale with wonderment at houses currently being built of straw, rubber tires and even compressed trash.


CURWOOD: Conventional wisdom can be misleading, especially when it comes to material goods, says commentator Ruth Page. Consider for instance the fairy tale of the Three Little Pigs.

PAGE: That little pig who built his house of straw wasn't so dumb after all; he just didn't finish it off properly, and so allowed its destruction by wolf breath. In Nebraska's Sand Hills Region, where there are no trees, early settlers built with straw. And today their descendants are doing the same.

Sierra Magazine says the builders use waste straw that would otherwise be burned. They stack straw bells in staggered rows, like bricks, on an ordinary concrete foundation. They cover the straw walls with plaster, stucco, or cement. The homes are environmentally sound, they have enormous insulating capacity, and no expert knowledge is needed to build them. A recent Newsweek mentioned a straw and stucco home in Alabama that cost only $15,000, a terrific cost saving that also helps the environment. Hooray for the first little pig!

In some areas homes are being built from old tires. They're solid, secure, and marvelously insulated. You just stack your tires, fill them with earth, cover them with cement, and in you go. I wonder how property tax assessors deal with those.

Architect Michael Reynolds of Taos, New Mexico, builds tire homes that he calls earth ships. They're attractive and you'd never guess their building blocks were the tires off our old pickup trucks. Tire walls can be up to 4 feet thick. During the day they absorb the sun's heat. During the chill Southwestern nights they release it. Sierra claims the combination of thick walls, thick windows, and correct orientation to the sun reduce heating and cooling needs close to zero. As in Bermuda, the house roofs are designed to catch rainwater for the family's use, and photovoltaic cells provide electricity. Photovoltaics aren't cheap, but presumably if you built your house of trash you can afford that expense in order to protect the environment from the damage of burning coal, wood, or gas.

Years ago I read that in Japan, home and office trash was compressed into solid building blocks, a brilliant way to avoid landfilling or burning. Nice to see we Americans are not laggards in the trash recycling arena.

The Three Little Pigs need an update; they could all outwit the wolf nowadays. One straw and mud house; one used tire house; and one compressed trash house. The frustrated wolf would then be tenderly airlifted by World Wildlife to a northern forest where he could howl and hunt with others of his kind.

CURWOOD: Commentator Ruth Page lives in Burlington, Vermont, and comes to us from Vermont Public Radio.



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