Homes to help . . . | SierraSun.com

Homes to help . . .

Sierra Countis
Sierra Sun

Courtesy photo

With the devastation of the 7.6-magnitude earthquake in Pakistan in October 2005, rebuilding in the aftermath of the destruction was a challenge Darcey Donovan chose to embrace.

“In life, you’re presented with opportunities and you have the choice of picking them up or not,” Donovan, principal engineer at Eco Engineering in Truckee said about her decision to travel to Pakistan to build straw-built homes.

Donovan received an e-mail from Greg Zaller, a licensed contractor in Nevada City, via the California Straw Building Association, who helped build temporary shelters shortly after the earthquake. She said Zaller needed assistance with straw bale design and construction on his next trip.

Having expertise in the construction of straw-built homes Zaller needed, Donovan wanted to give back and help teach Pakistanis the building techniques so they could continue the construction process after she left.

The death toll from the Pakistan quake now stands at 73,338 with 2.8 million people left homeless, according to Pakistan government statistics from USAID.

Donovan spent “the quickest four weeks of my life” in May in the mountainous village of Jabori, north of Mansehra, constructing a one-room, 22 feet by 18 feet women’s vocational training center, using straw bales and earth plaster ” a mixture of clay, soil, sand and straw.

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Upon arrival, Donovan said she was taken aback by the circumstances she encountered.

“It’s so incredibly poor,” Donovan said. “Everything there is made in Pakistan because they can’t afford to import anything.”

Donovan said the straw bale construction technique suited the conditions in Pakistan. The materials are readily available, the construction less complicated, less expensive and the straw provides excellent insulation.

“Essentially your walls breathe,” with a bit of plaster upkeep to fill any cracks caused by weather conditions.

The construction of a straw house takes about two months “once they get the system down.” The Pakistanis adapted to the new building method well and accepted her as a woman and as a foreigner, she said.

With a small tool belt cinched at her waist, long-sleeved shirts and pants, and a scarf tied around her head, working in the traditional attire wasn’t always easy.

“I was fighting my scarf the whole time,” she said, after describing a Danish woman who seemed “very natural” with the clothing while she worked.

Donovan said she plans to go back to Pakistan in October with a goal of setting up a training program to teach more Pakistanis the straw-building method.

“They’re motivated to work hard,” she said. “This really needs to be their project.”

This Thursday the Tahoe Donner Association Clubhouse will host a fundraiser to raise money to cover the travel and lodging expenses to make another trip to Pakistan. Funding is also needed in order to fabricate the equipment to make the straw bales used in construction since the Pakistanis don’t have any baling machines, she said.

Donovan’s goal is to raise $20,000 by the end of September, but with just $1,500 in the bank so far, “we’re going to need some big money to make this happen.”

– The Pakistan Earthquake Relief Fundraiser will be held at the Tahoe Donner Association Clubhouse, 11509 Northwoods Blvd., on Thursday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. with a slideshow of Darcey Donovan’s trip and a description of straw-built homes.

Darcey and Bill Donovan are building a straw-built home of their own in Tahoe Donner.

Darcey Donovan said having engineering knowledge to know how to build a load-bearing structure to handle the Sierra’s winter climate has been beneficial in designing their home.

The two-story, three-bedroom, two-bath 1,950 square-foot house has been an ongoing, two-year project built by Bill that the couple hopes to move into by this winter. Darcey Donovan said the house needed no special building permits because it is “framed like a post-and-beam system” to carry the vertical weight of the snow load.

She said they wanted to use “environmentally-friendly” building materials: two thermal panels on the roof to heat drinking water, Eco-shake fire-resistant roofing made with recycled rubber and wood fiber and radiant infloor hydraunic heating. The couple will mix their own chemical-free paints, she said.