Straw Bale House on the Prairie

Jane Koger designed her home in the Flint Hills of Kansas using a number of sustainable strategies, from building with salvaged lumber and limestone to insulating with bales of native Indiangrass.

| September 30, 2010

The following is an excerpt from The Hybrid House by Catherine Wanek (Gibbs Smith, 2010). With eye-catching photography, Wanek illustrates how reducing home energy consumption can be cost-effective, healthful and luxurious as she profiles 12 inspiring, contemporary homes from diverse climates across the United States, Canada and Europe. This excerpt is from Chapter 6, “Midwest.” 

Location: The Flint Hills of Southeast Kansas
Owner: Jane Koger
Architect: Stephen Lane, Lawrence, Kan.
Builder: Jerry Keller
Interior finishes: Jann Jaggard
Year built: 2000
Square footage: 1,600
Climate: Hot, humid summers, cold winters, windy year-round
Site specifics: Rolling grassland, 32 inches of average annual rainfall
Bedrooms/baths: 2 bedrooms/1 bath, plus loft bedroom
Approximate cost: Not available
Sustainable strategies: Salvaged lumber and limestone from an old barn used for structure, trim, floors and stone walls. Native Indiangrass from the land was baled for the wall insulation. A 2-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) solar system and a 1-kilowatt wind generator provide electricity. Fifteen solar thermal panels provide hot water; graywater from showers and sinks waters plants in the attached greenhouse; composting toilet. (See lots of photos in the Image Gallery.)

Fourth-generation rancher Jane Koger’s roots are deeply planted in the Flint Hills of Kansas. “I came back to Chase County to buy land and ranch,” says Jane. “I was ranching on land that someone else held the lease on, and I wanted to have a little more ‘control’ over my future.” After selecting a tract of rolling prairie land, she discovered during the title search that her great-grandparents, Emma and Ezra Beedle, had originally homesteaded the property in 1882. She had come home.

The beautiful, rolling Flint Hills contain some of the last remaining tallgrass prairie in North America. The vast prairies of the Midwest were first grazed by millions of buffalo before becoming a productive breadbasket for an emerging nation. This southeast corner of Kansas was mostly spared the plow because of limestone just below the sea of green grass. With mere inches of topsoil, the land was too poor and rocky for farming.

When it came time to build her own house, Jane had already decided on straw bale walls to insulate her from the harsh, windy winters and the sweltering summers. To create the structure, her eyes fell on a neighbor’s barn that was falling into disrepair. Put into service in 1910, the barn had a caving roof and the owners didn’t need the barn anymore — what they wanted was a garage. Jane and friends deconstructed the large, historic barn — a dusty, dirty and heavy job — and salvaged the materials for her future home. She then replaced the barn with the needed garage.

Their sweat and toil was rewarded with a large supply of used lumber — still with a lot of life left — and hand-cut limestone from the foundation. Long beams and planks of yellow pine were incorporated into the structure, floor, walls and trim of Jane’s new house, adding instant history and character.

6/30/2017 5:57:12 AM

6/30/2017 5:57:06 AM

1/16/2015 11:48:03 AM

2,700 acres is going to cost a good chunk of money. The cost for the custom built and designed house is probably close to 1/2 a million. I purchased 25 acres of clear cut pine forest 9 years ago, put up a small 600 square foot barn and some fencing for my pack llamas. All the wooden material came from blow down along the perimeter which was crown land and had no ownership. I built a small 20' yurt to have a nice place to stay, circumventing stupid local bylaws. My residence is now a 32' yurt with a straw bale basement. Lot of the money came from cashed in retirement fund, the rest from the sale of my house in town. All the work was done by myself and with the help of a chain saw powered woodbug sawmill. I worked at a local sawmill and did piece work for 30 years, shard work, but good money. 2.2 kw solar array, 400 watt wind mill and Blaze King wood stove for heat, solar water pump provides well water from 850' away, well was already on site. all my helpers never showed up. Retired for 6 years.

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