Home Energy Management Straw Baled Las Manos Bed and Breakfast Thriving Off the Grid

Straw Baled Las Manos Bed and Breakfast Thriving Off the Grid


BUENA VISTA, COLO.—You can huff and you can puff but you will never be able to blow down the walls of the Las Manos Bed and Breakfast in Buena Vista, Colo. The walls are made of straw. Well, mostly. They are actually constructed from bales of straw and covered with concrete stucco. They are solid, fire proof, and have an energy efficient insulation value of R-50.

The unique exterior wall structure is just one of the fascinating elements of the B&B set within view of Colorado’s majestic 14,000-foot peaks. The 2,600-square-foot home, which includes two large suites ranging from 600 to 700 square feet, is owned and operated by William McQueen and Colleen Finley. The couple bought land for the B&B in 1999, started building in 2001, and opened the business in July 2005. Why did it take so long to build? They built it themselves.

All of the wood visible in the house was locally harvested from standing-dead blue-stain/beetle-kill pine. The interior walls and two of the floors are made from adobe. More than 45 tons of earth was excavated from the inn’s front yard to make the walls and floors. Cabinets in the B&B were made from pieces of recycled wood and even the bed frames were made by the owners from sustainable wood.

In addition to the straw bale insulation, the ceilings are insulated with R-50 recycled blown-in cellulose made from old newspapers. McQueen says that in the summer, when the temperature is above 90 degrees, the temperature in the inn remains in the low 70s. The B&B does not have an air-conditioning system.

Solar, Wind Systems Implemented

Early in the development stage, the owners learned that it would cost $20,000 to run electric lines to the inn. They decided to run their business off the grid with the assistance of solar and wind generators. These cost $21,000. The solar system generates 1,400 watts of power and a wind generator produces 1,000 watts. These two systems supply almost all of the B&B’s electricity needs. Propane-powered generators kick in when the property needs a power boost—typically when it is cloudy and the wind is not blowing.

“Batteries used with the solar system store up to three days of electricity,” McQueen says.

The B&B’s hot water is preheated by an active solar collector and piped to a 50-gallon storage tank prior to being heated by an on-demand water heater. In-floor radiant heat is used on the first floor and gas fireplaces are available to guests upstairs if additional heating is needed.

The Las Manos Bed and Breakfast was designed to maximize the use of natural lighting. The windows themselves were obtained from a house that was being remodeled. They open to allow in Colorado’s fresh air. The two suites are appropriately named the Sunrise Suite and the Sunset Suite because of the directions they face.

To further save energy, towels and linens are dried the old-fashioned way—on clothes lines, even in winter, McQueen says. Glass, plastic, cardboard, tin and aluminum cans, magazines, news and office paper are all recycled.

“All of our cleaning products have no additives,” McQueen adds. “We clean windows with vinegar and water. All of our soaps are handmade locally.”

The B&B recently was included on the “10 of America’s Greenest Hotels” list by ForbesTraveler.com and also was featured in Inn Traveler Magazine.

“We are so excited about how things have worked out,” McQueen says. “We have had people come from all over the country to see us. There is a rapidly rising tide of travelers who want to be green.”

Go to the Las Manos Bed and Breakfast.