FREEPORT – Freeport’s Nord Samuelson has heard all of the possible comments about his family’s house.

From the outside, the eight-year-old, two-story, four-bedroom stucco home on Stevens Farm Road seems perfectly normal. It’s what’s inside the walls that sets it apart. The home is insulated with bales of straw, a technique that has been around in Europe for centuries and was even a key building medium in the Great Plains states of the U.S. during the westward expansion of the 1800s.

But it is the image from a classic children’s story that comes to most people’s minds when they hear about the straw house that Samuelson shares with his wife and four children.

“It conjures up pictures of the three little pigs, I guess,” said Samuelson with a laugh last week.

This Saturday, local residents will get the chance to check out the Samuelson home for themselves. It is one of the six homes featured on the Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce’s Freeport Kitchen Tour. According to Carolyn Krahn, the chamber’s member relations manager, the tour allows the public to get some ideas about changes they could make in their own homes.

“It is a fun way to explore and get ideas if you are thinking of building or renovating your kitchen,” she said.

Krahn said the self-guided tour runs from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and the $20 ticket price includes a guide book, which gives the details of the homes on the tour and detailed maps to allow participants to go from house to house at their own pace.

A portion of the proceeds from the event will benefit Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland, Krahn said.

Besides the Samuelsons’ straw bale home, the tour will also include the Elm Street home of Linda Bean, granddaughter of L.L. Bean and the owner of Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine restaurant in Freeport. Krahn said Bean’s 1941 home still has the kitchen appliances from that era, and as an added bonus, Bean will be serving lobster roll bites during the tour. Other homes on the tour include a timber frame cottage that is completely handicapped accessible, two seaside cottages and a home in South Freeport.

Guests on the tour shouldn’t head up Stevens Farm Road looking for a big pile of straw bales. In fact, save for a small window on the front porch intentionally cut to allow a view of the straw, the inside of the house doesn’t give away the fact that there are bales of straw stacked behind the walls.

Samuelson said that, except for the straw bales, the house is quite conventionally built.

“We use straw bale as the insulation medium and so it really is a post-and beam construction house,” he said. “Basically in between the beams, you stack straw bales and on either side of the straw bales, there’s a wire mesh layer that is used to hold stucco, and so the inside and the outside of the straw bale is surrounded by an inch and a half of stucco. So what happens is, the straw bale is used (solely) as the insulation.”

Margaret Samuelson said the house is pretty much like any other house.

“It’s really like a regular house,” she said. “You have running water, electricity, bedrooms and bathrooms, the big difference is how we heat (it).”

The big attraction on Saturday will be the kitchen, of course. Like the rest of the house, Samuelson said, the kitchen was designed with efficiency in mind. While it has some high-end amenities, such as energy-efficient appliances and a professional-quality stove, the open kitchen is small, but with counters lining three sides and a walk-in pantry, there is no wasted space, allowing it to be more than enough for a family of six.

“I think there a few things about the kitchen of the house that may provide a little bit of a unique perspective versus maybe other homes that you may see on the tour,” Samuelson said. “One of the things that I think is something that we focused on in both building the kitchen as well as the house itself, is really trying to build small. We tried to be as efficient about the space as possible.”

Samuelson also said that the materials used in building the kitchen were selected with an eye on being as “green” as possible. For example, what looks like wooden countertops is actually recycled cardboard. He also said that all of the wood in the kitchen is locally sourced, which lessens the impact on the environment.

The “green” theme of the house continues from the kitchen to the way the family heats their home. The straw insulation retains enough heat to allow the family to heat their house with just a wood stove, using the oil furnace simply as a backup to their solar hot water system.

“It’s warm (in the winter),” Margaret Samuelson said. “In the summer it does stay cool. It definitely does its thing in the summer, as well. It’s pretty fantastic.”

“From an insulation standpoint, the house has performed incredibly well,” Samuelson said. “It’s been a very good experience.”

Samuelson said he got the idea for the straw bale house from the nearby Merriconeag Waldorf School, which uses straw bales as insulation in its early childhood center, as well as from the Common Ground Fair.

The design of the building allowed it to be a family project.

“When we actually put in the straw, our family and a number of friends came and we stacked up the straw bales, which was fun and a real community effort, which was great,” Samuelson said.

Samuelson said he was not worried about dry straw inside the walls being a fire hazard.

“It is very good in terms of fire resistance because of the dense packing,” he said. “There have been a number of (fire performance) tests on straw because it’s more common in the western U.S. Many insulation mediums tend to compact quite a bit over the years and you wind up getting up these rather large cavities in your walls (which contain air that could feed fires).

“Straw, when densely packed, is incredibly fire resistant in the performance tests. When you combine that with the heavy amount of masonry that you’re putting on both sides of the wall, the wall itself is actually more fire resistant than the standard wall,” he said.

The open kitchen in the Samuelson home in Freeport, which is one of six the public can tour Saturday, was designed with efficiency in mind.    
The back of the Samuelson home reveals the solar panels on the roof that the family uses to heat its hot water.


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