Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 80 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft and offers a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design. Now in its 35th year, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our hands-on 1-day to 3-week workshops, certificate programs and semester programs are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country. For people of all ages and experience levels, from novice to professional.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Learning to go green through natural building

Yestermorrow's Natural Building Intensive program was featured on WCAX-TV! Check out the video or read the text of the piece included below.

Middlesex, Vermont - August 23, 2010

At the end of a dead end road in Middlesex, nearly a dozen students and instructors from the Yestermorrow Design Build School are putting the finishing touches on a major assignment.

"It is essentially a classroom like a classroom that you would find at any academy except that here you have a hammer in your hand," said Jose Galarza, an instructor at Yestermorrow.

The class is called Natural Building-- one of many courses offered by Warren-based school. Using materials and an approach that is in harmony with the environment, the group helped build the bulk of a 1,700 square foot home.

"Classically when someone thinks of natural building they think specifically of the materials," Galarza said. "In this case we have straw bale construction that is supported by a timber frame structure. I think what we would rather people imagine when they think of natural building is really the integrative design process."

That process includes everything from cutting much of the wood for the framing on site, to the relationships formed with the Plainfield farmer that provided manure, an important ingredient in the plaster mix that goes on top of the straw bales.

"The cow is the absolute best because it's a ruminant; it has four stomachs and there's the addition of this thing called the Rumen which is this glue like substance into the mix that actually creates this wonderful, workable, very, very durable plaster," explained Ace McArleton of New Frameworks Construction.

The home's owners, a Montpelier couple, paid the cost of building supplies and for selected contractors. The student labor comes free.

While adobe and straw bale houses are usually associated with warmer, drier climates like the desert Southwest, the builders say they can also be successful here.

"The benefits of straw bale are things that can be realized in this climate when they are treated appropriately. That's why we work on detailing them in a way that we can protect them from the elements, to allow them to do what they do best-- insulate our homes extremely well with local and natural materials," McArleton said.

And it's those natural materials, says McArleton, that replace a lot of the foams and toxic materials that go into a traditional home that can affect people's health and the environment.

"So paying more attention how we put that into our built environment both for the longevity of the structure but also people living in them, people living near them and people living near the waste dumps where they go eventually is something we try to think about," McArleton said.

The house will use a wood stove as primary heating. The builders say that-- along with the homes super insulation and southern exposure-- it should earn the house an Energy Star rating through Efficiency Vermont's Energy Stars Home program.

The students wrap up their hands-on experience with a graduation and open house at the end of the week.

The public is invited to come see the student's work at an open house and graduation ceremony Friday, Aug. 20, at 4 p.m. The house is located at 400 Notch Road in Middlesex.

The Yestermorrow School is currently looking for their next project for next summer's class. Click here to apply or find out more.

Alexei Rubenstein - WCAX News

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

WANTED: Treehouse Project in the Mad River Valley

Yestermorrow is seeking a few good trees and a client with imagination. We are reaching out to local organizations and individuals interested in hosting a site for a new treehouse. The project will be built during our adult design/build class starting September 4th, use minimally invasive techniques and built with surroundings in mind. Uses for treehouses are only limited by what one imagine.

Yestermorrow is committed to working with and improving the local community. We do this by offering time and skills in building and collaborating on a range of construction projects. The client for this project must be at most a 35 minute drive from the campus in Warren and be ready for immediate construction in September 2010. While we provide the labor, clients are responsible for the cost of materials and overhead. For more information and guidelines regarding the project, please contact our Community Outreach Coordinator at or at 802-496-5545.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Upcoming Unveiling for Yestermorrow/Hubbard Park Community Project

Construction is underway for Yestermorrow’s collaborative community design/build structure for Hubbard Park, in downtown Montpelier. Working with the Montpelier Parks Commission, eight Yestermorrow students are designing and building a unique moldering toilet structure set to be unveiled Friday, August 13 at 4 PM. The public is welcome to see the latest Yestermorrow public creation.

Led by instructors and design/build mavens Steve Badanes, Jim Adamson and Bill Bialosky, students meet with a client, work with site constraints, propose a design, build a full-scale project and install it on-site all within a two week timeframe. Past projects have included park pavilions, trail shelters, bus stops, and village green bandshells. The project is part of Yestermorrow’s mission to support non-profits and community organizations by providing design and building skills through its class projects. Yestermorrow is always interested in new opportunities to work with communities in the area and welcomes ideas and proposals for future design/build projects.

Directions to Hubbard Park: From Elm St. (Rte. 12) take Winter St. into the park, at the Y stay right, and keep straight on the gravel road. The project location is at the end of the gravel road at the “7” Fireplaces loop. See map below.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Natural Building Intensive 2010

This year’s Yestermorrow Natural Building Intensive engages students in a truly innovative project and course of study. Over the past three years we have worked with clients in the Mad River Valley to build a variety of structures—a barn, a garden folly and a music studio. This year’s project takes the program to a whole new level, building a home for a young couple in Middlesex, Vermont. The project achieves very high standards of efficiency in heating, cooling, daylighting, and overall energy use, all while maintaining a beautiful, custom, hand-crafted finish with a minimal use of petro-chemically-derived materials.

The Natural Building Intensive (NBI) brings together a collaborative group of experienced and enthusiastic instructors with students in an in-depth, hands-on experience in natural building, from the design and planning stages through the finishing touches. Over the course of a 12-week curriculum, students in the Summer 2010 program are helping to design and build a complete home from start to finish – a building handcrafted from natural stone, straw, timber, and clay along with more modern building materials, emphasizing an integrated approach to natural building systems for a northern climate.

This year’s clients, Bryan Redmond and Kate Clemente, live in Montpelier, Vermont and for years have dreamt of building their own home. Three years ago they purchased a piece of land on a hilltop in Middlesex abutting the Green Mountain National Forest. They cleared trees, put in a driveway, and started to think about the design of their future home. Bryan enrolled in Yestermorrow’s 6-day Timberframing course in 2007 and met instructors Josh Jackson and Skip Dewhirst. After finishing the course he was convinced he wanted to build a timberframe home, and started to work with Josh and an architect friend to develop a design concept.

Bryan and Kate were starting to think about the process of building their home last summer when they went to hear Ace McArleton, natural builder and Yestermorrow instructor, give a presentation. Having initially dismissed the idea of building a strawbale home, they were intrigued by the images and past projects Ace showed in his slideshow. After further conversation the topic of the Natural Building Intensive came up. Having taken a course at Yestermorrow, Bryan was familiar with the School, and realized that many of the builders he talked to were also instructors at Yestermorrow and taught in the NBI program.

After meeting with a variety of potential clients last summer, Yestermorrow staff selected Bryan and Kate as the clients for the 2010 NBI program and hired José Galarza as the NBI Program Director and Designer. Throughout the winter José worked with Bryan and Kate to refine their design ideas and put them onto paper and into digital 3-D models. He also worked closely with the different instructors in the program to coordinate the curriculum components and determine what elements the students would build. Due to the scope of the project (a 1700 square foot home) they determined early on that it was not be possible for the students to complete all aspects of the building in 12 weeks, and it would be necessary to collaborate with additional contractors to complete other aspects of the project. The client Bryan Redmond took on the role of general contractor, hiring the crew of New Frameworks ( for the main components of natural building during the NBI program. The partners of New Frameworks are Ace McArleton and Jacob Deva Racusin, both experienced Yestermorrow faculty members (Jacob was the former NBI Program Director in 2008 and 2009). Their crew includes a variety of Yestermorrow instructors as well as alumni.

On May 30th the eleven students in the program arrived on campus to kick off their 12 weeks with a 5-day introduction to natural building, then a 3-day survey of Permaculture and site design. Next they went out in the woods for 2 days of Stump to Sticker, looking at forest management, harvesting and milling. The class worked on site in Middlesex to fell trees and cut them in a portable bandsaw mill for use in the structure. Next they came back to campus for 6 days of Timberframing, culminating in a raising day on June 19th.
From then on, the students were on site every day, learning basic carpentry skills while installing the roof and interior walls, laying the strawbale walls, and applying natural plasters to the bales. The program concludes with work on stone masonry, super-insulation with cellulose, electrical and plumbing rough-ins, and many finishing touches in the final week leading up to graduation and an open house on August 20th.

At the end of the program, the clients will still have lots of work to do to finish the interior of their new home, but the majority of the building envelope will be complete. The design of the home includes many unique features which demonstrate a strong commitment to sustainability, high energy performance, craftsmanship and beauty. In addition, the house will achieve an Energy Star rating through Efficiency Vermont’s Energy Star Homes program, and the clients hope to engage in long-term monitoring of moisture content, indoor air quality, and energy performance so that the project can serve as a demonstration of high performance natural building systems.

The home is designed with a southern orientation to take advantage of passive solar heating. A large percentage of the wood in the structure was harvested on the building site and from local sawmills. The foundation is constructed of insulated concrete forms made Durisol, a product made of recycled concrete and wood chips. The roof is constructed with 16.75” of cellulose insulation (made of recycled newspapers) for an estimated R-value of 60 (assuming R3.6 per 1”). The walls are strawbale infill around a timber frame, with unique knee braces framed to the interior for ease of plastering. The strawbale wall envelope is finished with a coat of lime-stabilized clay and manure plaster for moisture protection and initial air barrier, followed by a lime-sand-manure top coat for durability as well as vapor permeability. The manure was gathered from neighboring horse farms by the clients, utilizing a local waste product. Interior partition walls are constructed with woodchip clay infill for sound deadening. The standing seam roof is made of recycled steel and the wood floors and trim are made from local, native wood.

The building envelope features exceptional detailing for contiguous air barrier, contiguous thermal barrier, and implemented a comprehensive moisture management strategy throughout design and construction, addressing head-on the issues of moisture management in a vapor-permeable, organic-based wall system. Passive solar heating will be supplemented by a high efficiency Euro style woodstove with a direct vent propane back-up. The mechanical systems include heat recovery ventilation, a necessary component to mechanically control air exchange in a super tight and well insulated structure. The building also features WaterSense certified fixtures and a high efficiency toilet.

One of the key elements of the success of the NBI program is its emphasis on team building. A major focus is on building relationships between the key players involved in this project on a macro scale (instructors, contractors, client and the School) and also within and among the students themselves as a team. The curriculum also emphasizes the individual development of each student to strengthen and support the skills-based learning of the program.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Yestermorrow Partners with the Canova Association to Rebuild an Abandoned Village in Italy

For three weeks in July and August, Yestermorrow has been conducting the first of what is planned to be an annual course in the Ossola Valley of northern Italy. Yestermorrow is collaborating with the Canova Association, an organization dedicated to the appreciation and preservation of vernacular stone architecture in this region of the Alps bordering Switzerland. The course is being taught by Mac Rood and Thea Alvin from Yestermorrow and by a talented group of Italian master masons and architectural historians. As with most Yestermorrow courses there is a blend of studio design work, field trips and of on-site construction. The construction project is the restoration of a small water powered grain mill, including the traditional granite roof, weighing 830 pounds per square yard. Students learn how to make the “shingles” by splitting two inch slabs from blocks of granite. The mill walls were repaired and the timber roof structure rebuilt using recycled beams before the roofing was installed. The course has been very successful in the eyes of the local municipal officials. Although initially skeptical of the likelihood of a student powered construction team finishing an important piece of historic preservation, they are now excited to have Yestermorrow come back next year. Television and press will be on hand August 6 when the completed mill will be celebrated.

This course and other study abroad opportunities are important for Yestermorrow because they broadcast the value of the school to a much broader audience, allowing students the opportunity to work with other types of building construction and reinforcing the program taught at the main campus in Waitsfield which attracts over one thousand students per year to the Valley.

For more information and photos from the course in progress, visit: