Build With Nature combines the best of prefabrication and passive house building methods with one of the most renewable, carbon-sinking materials available—straw. The company has set high ambitions for itself: regenerating the North American construction economy in a way that bolsters ecological harmony.
Those ambitions are centered on a partnership that Peter Jensen, director of Build With Nature, formed with colleagues and old friends at the Slovakian manufacturing company, EcoCocon, to offer their proven straw-based panels as a prefabricated option for builders and designers across the United States and Canada. Although the EcoCocon product and building system, which is based on rigorous testing, certifications, and hundreds of high-quality builds in 21 countries, has grown in renown throughout the world since 2010, the straw panels had never crossed the Atlantic, until now.
Jensen, who is originally from Denmark, had spent the previous 15 years passionately seeking and implementing the most sustainable building practices in various climates around the world. He is now living with his family in upstate New York, harnessing his vision and hard-earned expertise to create new opportunities for the U.S. market.
In the fall of 2019, getting right to work on Build With Nature’s mission, Jensen designed and built the first EcoCocon prefab building in the United States. The 350-ft² house was set up as a case study and spec home to offer a tangible domestic example of this innovative method. Under the leadership and design direction of Jensen, the project was organized as a cooperative effort of 18 different companies, and was documented in a Discovery Channel feature on the television show “Living off-Grid” (Season 9, Episode 8, Hudson Valley Retreat).
This house, which was built for off-grid living, is so well insulated that it can be heated by the energy produced by a 3-kW PV system, which also supplies the rest of the house’s electrical draw. The whole build was completed, foundation to finish, in 20 working days with a small crew of carpenters, despite multiple interruptions during the TV filming process. Since its completion, the house has been sold and relocated—a task that was greatly simplified by its modular design that allowed for breaking down the building into six wall sections.
“We are here to create an accessible way of building real cradle-to-cradle buildings, made from minimally processed, locally sourced, and highly renewable materials,” says Jensen. “Our buildings will last for centuries and can be returned safely to nature after use, leaving a minimal ecological footprint. We want to show the world how well-known natural materials such as straw, wood, wood-fiber insulation, and clay can constitute the elements of environmentally friendly construction. We hold the opinion that comfort, efficiency, and well-being should be a natural choice. We aim to revolutionize the industry by delivering construction systems that can effectively create a world where a sustainable lifestyle is widely accessible, giving people the means to realize their ideals of responsible, healthy, and energy-independent living.”
Build With Nature has created a collection of kit-home designs, both one and two stories and ranging in size from 1,046 square feet to 2,312 square feet, using the straw panels. These designs have been optimized for efficient building and living and can be found on the company’s website along with product specifications and other case studies.