Saint Francis in the Redwood Episcopal Church
66 East Commercial, Willits, Mendocino County, California
(707) 459-3066

Building Our Straw Bale Church

Ground breaking

Our old church. Very humble but it served us well for 12 years. A nearly windowless, cinder block built, ex-utility pay station. Note the new church to right. We had reserved that spot on the corner for the new church for years.

Ground breaking

The new church. That much space took some getting used to.

The Saint Francis in the Redwoods Congregation

Much of our congregation is gathered under the arbor in our garden. The arbor is a memorial to a much beloved young woman who was tragically killed in an automobile accident.

Garden Before

The garden before construction. Looking across US Highway 101 (running right to left) and Commercial Street. You can barely see our present church behind the red car, and the mural of Saint Francis on the wall facing the garden.

Ground breaking

The Beginning. The official groundbreaking procession. Rose our youngest acolyte could barely hold the cross with Betsy our total ministry priest assisting her. Jerry Lamb our beloved and now retired bishop. Debbie Royals a special friend and priest who said a Native American ceremony. Barry Beisner our awesome current bishop holding the shovel. Mary Fisher our beloved retired priest. Harry Allagree our regional missioner. The rest of the congregation and many well wishers are following.

Building Pad

You begin a church with a strong base. Note the Saint Francis mural and our church in the background.

Construction Pic 1

The skeleton of the church is well underwway. This will be what is called "straw bale infill", the straw bales do not support the church, but are filled in later, much like other insulation is added later. The difference is that the straw bales are strong and rigid themselves, adding to the structural strength of the walls, as well as much of the siding both inside and out.

Saint Francis holds up the walls

One of the gable end walls of the church with Saint Francis appearing to hold it all up with a smile. This mural was painted years ago by a member of our congregation, Malaki Schindel, when he was only 18. He is an amazing artist and has gone on to paint a number of murals throughout the county since then.

Garden View

Tom Allen and his crew are wonderful people and incredible craftsmen. Ken who owns Hava Java across the street asked me at this point, "Bill, I have been watching these builders. They always measure twice, sometimes three times. Are they really that good or are they afraid of the boss? I told Tom and he laughed, "Maybe both" I have never experienced a happier crew considering their work. They were so good to us. they decided to build the roof trusses themselves. Must have weighed a ton each. Here they are about to raise them. It was tricky - notice how one end is through the doorway.

Garden View

They also welded all the heavy brackets, I suppose just to demonstrate their awesome expertise.

Garden View

A view through the remains of the garden at the construction. We hope to reclaim parts of the old driveway so that the net loss to the garden will be minimized.

Garden View

The whole roof for the center portion of the church was terribly late in coming. We had no choice but to go ahead with the straw bale walls. So the builders covered the center roof with poly tarps. It caused a lot of anxiety. Had a windy storm come the light tarps would probably have been torn apart. But with the Holy Spirits help all the rain that came in the interim had no wind attached.

Tarping the roof

I must say those tarps were beautiful! So translucent and slightly rippling in in the wind. Lovely while they were up.

Tarping the roof

The reason the sanctuary roof was delayed is because we employed a radically new type of roof, quite green in a strange way. The roof is made up of 7" of styrofoam sandwiched between two pieces of plywood. They are called SIPPs and have an excellent weight-to-strength ratio, are fairly cheap, and provide R-40 insulation.

Tarping the roof

SIPPs are quite light but span the 25-30 foot spaces between our beams. While styrofoam doesn't seem to be "green" we can never recycle enough of it, so why not get some mileage out of it?

Tarping the roof

SIPPs are pretty easy to attach as well. They kind of dovetail into each other, and then are simply nailed to the beam. The installers were able to use a nail gun a lot to attach them.

Tarping the roof

So the SIPPs were up but they had to be protected against the rain that was coming. Tom used up one of his professional favors to get this husband/wife team from Potter Valley to give up their first weekend in months to cover our roof. I suppose miracles like that can happen in the city as well.

Tarping the roof

They came back the next day to finish the job and brought their whole family to help. It was marvellous to watch them.

Tarping the roof

Our final roof is metal. Not only is it maintenance free almost forever, but it is pretty good at reflecting back summer heat energy. Those SIPPs make this less of an issue, and our church sure is insulated. The heat is very reluctant to leave, and a pretty hot summer was controlled by opening two or three of our small high windows.


About Alternative Building

About Saint Francis in the Redwoods Episcopal Church

About Bill and Betsy Bruneau



Bill and Betsy Bruneau
18001 Shafer Ranch Road, Willits, CA 95490-9626 USA
Copyright 2008, William Bruneau