Picture this: No house payments for 25 years; comfortable, two-story
2,800 square foot home; and low-cost heating because the
sun provides most of the energy. Its possible. In fact, Bruce
and Winni Allison are living testimonials that it really can happen.
The Sandy area couples story starts back in the 1960s when
these two Portland city dwellers started dreaming about moving to
the country and building a New England saltbox house.
Bruce was born on a dairy farm in Coos Bay and spent summers there.
He missed trees and open spaces. Winni grew up in the city. I
loved it, she says. I was used to buildings, but I always
had wanted to live in the country. We both wanted animals and children.
In 1969, they bought five wooded acres on contract east of Sandy
near Mt. Hood, and Bruce started designing their future home. When
I was young, Mom encouraged me and my brother to draw, Bruce
says. I started drawing houses in high school. Later, the
jobs I had required babysitting machines - sitting and watching
them - so I would pick up a clipboard and draw.
They started the 936 square foot basement to use as a temporary
home while they built the rest of the house. They still lived in
Portland, so for two years Bruce worked a regular day job, and then
traveled 24 ½ miles to their land, worked on construction of the
basement and traveled back another 24-½ miles to Portland. In 1971,
they moved to their land. The basement was primitive, but home.
In 1978, the Allisons were ready to order plans for their long-desired
Saltbox home when an energy crisis hit Oregon. Long lines at gas
stations (and sometimes no gas) as well as higher electrical and
oil heating bills plus a south wind blowing cold air into
their basement home - helped the Allisons decide to go solar instead.
Solar heat is not new. Thousands of years ago early Americans used
solar heat to warm their dwellings. Todays passive solar house
uses the renewable energy of the sun through the right windows,
careful site orientation to the south and energy-collecting building
materials to warm and cool the structure. Additional elements such
as tile or concrete floors, water bladders and or piping systems
add backup heat sources and hot water supplies.
If constructed properly, a passive solar home can result
in heating costs 80 to 95 percent lower than for that of the average
home. It also can significantly reduce air conditioning costs,
Bruce says. Bruce and Winni built their house slowly as and when
they could afford the materials and labor. They hired out jobs they
could not do and friends pitched in to help, too. Over the years,
both Bruce and Winni have done everything from insulation to sheet
rock to building cabinets - and their two sons helped haul and gather
materials as well.
In 1981, a friend helped me frame the house. Another helped
me draw up the plans. We spent three months in here framing,
Bruce explains. When he could not find something he needed to do
a job, this creative inventor designed it himself. For instance,
after the house was built, he needed to tow firewood and a dumpster
filled with heavy debris. Bruce took an old Datsun hood, flipped
it upside down and welded straps on it, and then with a truck, towed
the newly dubbed little Mt. Hood carrier to its official
Because Bruce believes in conservation, the Allison house is full
of historical cast offs, like the former Salem post
office doors dividing the living room from an entry, and a front
door originally from a Klamath Falls hotel. He rescued old growth
fir beams from a salvage shop. Each 3x14x22 beam weighs about
210 pounds; he used forty-five of them in the house. The 16-foot
tall windows in the loft are eight used sliding glass doors which
Bruce bought for $15 each.
I am a user of BSJ Basic Sound Junk. I was and am
concerned about the environment so I decided to use recycled materials
as much as I could. It helps reduce stuff going to landfills,
Bruce explains. His wife has a sense of humor about all this.
Winni was standing on the front porch many years ago making
mention of all the different things our place was made out of,
Bruce jokes. She said, Someday all they will know this place
by is ALLISONS FOLLY. I liked the idea so much I made
a paper poster with that on it and had it on the upper porch for
several years. So I guess our style might be Folly.
If it is, others dont mind. This house almost has taken
on a life of its own. Its beyond a house, Winni explains.
My dreams for this house were for peace, safety, hospitality.
Over the years, lots of people have lived with us and it has been
a place of recovery for them.
We also have noticed that people come along at the right
time, when we are needing them. For instance, when they were
ready to lift and put up those heavy old growth beams, the carpenters
had planned to do it themselves. But a man came who had a crane
and he offered to do it, and even added eight feet more bar to the
lift. It took him eight minutes to lift each long and heavy beam
into place. The Allisons note that their home is a work of art still
All of it was done piecemeal. At the beginning, I decided
it was a 30-year project, he explains.
Bruce Allison offers solar cabin and modular starter home design
plans through his independent energy business. For information,
write him at Simple Solar Works, PO Box 644, Sandy, OR 97055 and
send a self addressed, stamped envelope. Or visit him at www.simplesolarworks.com
or in person at the SolWest Renewable Energy Fair in John Day, Oregon,
July 28 and 29, 2001.