Real Goods Solar Living Center

Location: 13771 S. Highway 101, Hopland, CA
Type of building: Educational Facility
Size (Sq. ft.): 5,000
New construction Project
Date completed:
 May 1996
Cost: Not Available
Owner: Real Goods Corporation, John Schaeffer, Founder and CEO
Designed By: Architectural team is headed up by sustainable design architect Sim Van der Ryn with David Arkin as Project Architect and Jeff Oldham of Real Goods, managed the building of the project.

Sustainable Building Strategies:

The Solar Living Center (SLC) was designed as a model of sustainable building practices, including renewable energy and energy efficiency, self-sufficiency, and the use of environmentally friendly building products and recycled-content products.

Straw bale building with innovative passive solar heating and cooling, daylighting and energy efficient lighting and equipment, a utility grid with photovoltaic and wind electricity generation, an outdoor oasis cooled by evaporation immediately adjacent to the building, greywater irrigation and resource efficient and recycled content healthy building materials. Project also focused on restoring a damaged ecosystem, recreating distinct landscape ecosystems, using water features for cooling, noise screening, water retention, and integrating renewable energy technologies and sustainable design.

Project Description

Completed in April 1996, the 5,000 square foot building may be the largest straw bale structure in the U.S. The SLC is located on 12 acres, sandwiched between the Russian River, Highway 101 and Fetzer Vineyards.1 The building serves as the showroom for Real Goods Trading Company and a learning center for sustainable living practices. The campus for the Institute for Solar Living is located in the center as well as classrooms for instruction in such diverse subjects as organic gardening, straw bale construction, and building a renewable energy home.

The SLC’s curved roof is the ideal shape for evenly distributing the reflected daylight. The expansive glazed south facade provides both passive solar gain and daylighting. Excess solar radiation is controlled during the hot weather months through a combination of overhangs and manually controlled hemp awnings. Reflective light scoops are used throughout the building to balance light levels and reduce the need for artificial light. The rear wall is built using straw bales coated with PISETM which offers an exceptional insulating value (R-57). An acronym for pneumatically impacted stabilized earth, PISETM is produced by combining cement, water, and earth which is sprayed onto the walls with a gunite process.

The building is powered by a series of wind generators and photo voltaic panels, which generate excess power to sell back to the utility. Solar powered evaporative coolers serve as a backup air conditioning system and are used to flood the building with cool night air and to store the “coolth” in the building’s six hundred tons of thermal mass (walls, columns and floor).

All construction materials are nontoxic and recycled or sustainably harvested. Construction materials were also selected for their efficiency and educational value.

Examples of Reused and Recycled-Content Building Products

  • Interior/Exterior Wood: Most of the wood used in the SLC is recovered redwood from an old lumber mill or from old wine barrels. (Recycled Lumberworks, Ukiah, CA).
  • Cellulose Insulation: The blown-in “NatureGuard” attic insulation is 85 percent postconsumer newsprint (Louisiana Pacific Corporation, Portland, OR).
  • Trellis for Outdoor Arbor: The trellis is made from salvaged redwood from an old lumber mill (Recycled Lumberworks, Ukiah, CA).
  • Showroom Display and Architectural Fixtures: Recovered redwood from old wine barrels from the Serashio Winery of Healdsburg, CA provides a rough hewn texture to the shelving. In addition, recovered Douglas fir and pine was used for interior work (Recycled Lumberworks, Ukiah, CA).
  • Wainscoting in Bathrooms: The bathroom walls are tiled with old toilet tank lids (Recycletown at the Sonoma County landfill).

Examples of Sustainably Harvested or Environmentally Friendly Building Products

  • Rice Straw Bales: The north and east walls are made from 800 bales of rice straw (California Rice Industries Association, Sacramento, CA).
  • Exterior Finish: The rice straw bales (north and east walls) were covered with PISETM, a mixture of soil and concrete (Rammed Earthworks of Sonoma, CA).
  • Exterior Finish: The white exterior paneling (south and west walls) is Hardipanel, a sustainably harvested fiber and cement panel
  • Glulams: The large beams that support the roof of the building are glulams from sustainably harvested fir. Glulams, made from several pieces of wood, use 50 percent less wood for the same load bearing function compared to solid-sawn beam (harvested by the Institute for Sustainable Forestry and manufactured by Standard Structures, Windsor, CA).
  • Fascia: The exterior fascia is made from sustainably harvested redwood glulams (wood from Ukiah Recycled Lumberworks and manufactured into glulams by Standard Structures, Windsor, CA).
  • Soffits: The soffits are also made from Hardipanel, a sustainably harvested fiber and cement (James Hardie Building Products, Fontana, CA).
  • Concrete Floor Finish: The concrete floor finish was treated with an environmentally friendly iron oxide wash rather than an acid wash. Most concrete had 10-25 percent industrial waste content (fly ash) to reduce the amount of portland cement. (Otto Design Group, San Rafael, CA).

Notes: The identification of individuals, companies and products in these materials does not constitute endorsement by California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) and is provided for informational purposes only. CalRecycle is distributing this information in an effort to increase public awareness and knowledge about this important topic.

1. Fetzer Vineyards is winner of the CalRecycle’s Waste Reduction Awards Program (WRAP).


Real Goods Solar Living Center Case Study: Real Goods Trading Corp. Builds a Really Good Showroom for Trend-Setting Eco-Design (Publication #422-96-054)

For more information contact: Office of Public Affairs,