News Brief

Bales and Earth Protect Real Goods' New Retail Center

The roof is supported by locally manufactured glulam beams on concrete columns. Extensive daylighting and solar gain studies informed the roof shape.

Photo: Real Goods Trading Company
Real Goods Trading Corporation is a leading mail-order retailer of renewable energy equipment and environmental accessories.

Real Goods’ new “Solar Living Center” in Hopland, California will demonstrate the philosophies of energy independence and living in harmony with nature that the company preaches. Real Goods hired Sym Van der Ryn’s Ecological Design Associates to design the Center, and worked together with the architects to take advantage of the environmental opportunities.

Many facets of this project exemplify the principles of ecological design espoused by Van der Ryn and project architect David Arkin. (See An Elegant Introduction to Ecological Design for some specifics.) For example: Due to its energy-efficient design and extensive use of photovoltaics, the Center is expected to export electricity to the utility grid; the building and site were designed to promote interaction with natural flows; materials were subjected to detailed ecological analysis; and extensive reclamation of the ecologically damaged site was integrated.

About 400 linear feet (120 m) of wall are 8’ high straw-bale walls covered inside and out with several inches of pisé (a pneumatically applied earth/cement mixture) by Rammed Earth Works.

Photo: Real Goods Trading Company
Much of the 12-acre site is in the floodplain of Feliz Creek, a tributary of the Russian River, and has been abused and neglected by previous owners.

Knowing that no construction would occur in the floodplain, Real Goods’ staff elected to initiate stream­-bed reclamation and intensive landscaping in that area as design work on the building just getting started.

This head start has be fortuitous for two reasons: first, the plantings will be well established when the Center opens to the public this summer; and second, the landscaping budget didn’t get shortchanged in later negotiations. “With the budget constraints we experienced later, we never would have invested as much in the landscape if we hadn’t done that first,” says project manager Jeff Oldham.

Bank financing of such an innovative project was not a simple matter. The sympathetic appraiser, Dean Strupp, MAI, decided to ignore the on-site energy generation entirely for financing purposes. Even with the relatively low cost of these systems to Real Goods, it looked better not to consider the PV panels an integral part of the building (which would have added significantly to its cost), and not to try to take economic credit for the anticipated lack of electric bills. From the bank’s perspective, using the potentially problematic floodplain and wetlands for landscaping, parking and driveways was helpful, according to Strupp. In addition, for bank purposes the straw-bale walls were called “wood-framed walls with straw-bale insulation,” even though the bales are partially load-bearing. Grand opening of the Center is scheduled for the Summer Solstice, June 21-23, 1996.

For more information:

Jeff Oldham, Project Manager

Real Goods Trading Corporation

555 Leslie Street

Ukiah, CA 95482-5507

707/468-9292, 707/468-9394 (e-mail)

David Arkin, Project Architect

Ecological Design Institute

10 Libertyship Way, Suite 185

Sausalito, CA 94965

415/332-5806, 415/332-5808 (fax) (e-mail)

Published January 1, 1996

(1996, January 1). Bales and Earth Protect Real Goods' New Retail Center. Retrieved from

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