Pittsburgh Blogger Guest Post: Green in Pittsburgh

Today’s post comes from Michelle, who blogs about running and sustainability at SOLE for the Soul, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers. You can see my post over on The Steel Trap, where I mention a few of my favorite places in Pittsburgh for a family day out, date night, and me-time.

Writing about sustainability has its advantages; sometimes you get to visit some amazing places and chat with incredible people! Today I’d love to share one of my most interesting adventures: a tour of Sota Construction near Avalon, PA.


When Ernie Sota, president of Sota Construction, decided to redesign his business’ headquarters, he knew he wanted to do something different. He also knew he wanted his business to have a small footprint and big goals! In the spirit of green building, he set a goal to decrease material costs by utilizing as many local and natural resources as he could. Well, what does western Pennsylvania have a whole heck of a lot of? Straw! Yep, the picture above is a building constructed of steel beams and straw bales. Believe it!

Pittsburgh is full of forward thinking green business owners. I know this because, as it turns out, Ernie Sota is one of them. Not only was his straw purchased locally (it’s actually a really long process; the straw bales have to be dried in a barn for several years before they can be used), but he purchased the clay and sand that was used as a mixing medium in the walls from Greensburg, PA. Additionally, Sota chose to use organic insulation created from mushroom spores.

While it may sound like this building has a short shelf life, it’s actually quite the opposite. The steel beams that frame the building are rust-resistant and less likely to warp than conventional wood studs. The interior walls are cobb, which is a combination of straw, clay, and minute amounts of sand. The cobb combined with the straw bales create walls that end up being between 8–10 feet thick and very well insulated! Straw also naturally decreases the humidity in the space.

Inside, Sota was able to integrate some recycled building materials into this renovation, such as cabinets that were salvaged from a lawyer’s office. The counter-tops are paper-based, made from recycled materials. They were able to use some of the extra wood for doors as well.

As you walk through the building, there is an openness in the design of the building. In fact, there are several vents between the first and second floor, which naturally provide airflow without using energy. They also pull sunlight from the skylights in the roof. Essentially, the skylights in the roof are passively lighting the first and second floors!

View of vent from first floor.

If you’re into the geeky side of green building like I am, read on!

One of the coolest things in the building is a monitoring system that senses the temperature and humidity both outside and inside the building (according to five orientation zones). This system will flash a red or green light that notifies occupants when conditions are ideals to open the windows/skylights. For example, if the humidity outside would cause less than ideal working conditions inside, you get the red light!

Getting sticky in here!

The structure is heated radiantly using geothermal coils that are in the floors and covered in poured concrete, which in theory is meant to save on energy costs. The six geothermal wells are drilled 450 feet deep. The extensive network of compressors and the pipes/returns are located in the basement, but highly visible, which allows for detailed monitoring.

I hope you enjoyed this mini-tour of Sota Construction, a local green building. If you want to talk more about sustainability, pop over to SOLE for the Soul and leave me a comment! It will get me talking about something other than the Pittsburgh Marathon for a change!


Here’s a list of participating #PGHgbe blogs. Go check them out, and see more of the awesome Pittsburgh has to offer:

Sean’s Ramblings

Small Town Dad

Sole for the Soul


Tall Tales from a Small Town

The Firecracker Blog

The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog

The Steel Trap

West of Mars

Ya Jagoff

Yinz R Readin


Yum Yum PGH


I am doing two fundraising events this year.

The first is the March of Dimes March for Maddie. I’ll have the privilege to walk with the Pittsburgh team that I (and my two girls) walked with last year.

My personal goal is to get $250 to add to the pot. It’s not much, but every little bit counts. You can donate here, at my March of Dimes page.

The second event is a new one for me, Walk Now for Autism Speaks. My husband first did this about two years ago — I don’t think he did it last year. I’m hoping we can do it as a family this year.

If you are interested, I would love to start a Pittsburgh bloggers team. I’d like to call it Pittsburgh Bloggers for A Boy. (I’ll explain later, and frankly, I probably need permission to do that.) With the rates of autism at 1 in every 166 children, it’s likely that you know someone on the spectrum, whether a friend or family member.


In both of these cases — premature infants and autism — my family has not been directly affected. My children, my girls, are healthy and what is called “normal” by society. (Gabriel was not premature, he wasn’t even at risk. He died for unknown and, probably, unknowable reasons.)

But Dan works with families whose lives have been touched by these factors. I have friends with children who are on the spectrum.

I can’t do much. Love, acceptance, support. And show my love, my support, for these families and my friends and their families.

If you want to come out, information about the Pittsburgh team for Maddie is here. (Maddie is Madeline Spohr, who was premature, and who died last year, at 17 months. Her mother writes, movingly, at The Spohrs are Multiplying.)

If you are interested in being on a team for Autism Speaks, let me know in the comments (or shoot me an email at albamaria30 [at] verizon [dot] net. I’ll start a team.

And then I’ll start harassing you all on Twitter and Facebook to donate to these worthy causes. You’ve been warned!

Walk Revisited: Now with Aftermath

I wanted to say a lot more about the walk on Saturday. About how awesome it was to meet so many other fabulous Pittsburgh-and-otherwise bloggers, some parents and some not. The children who walked with their parents were all awesome, too. About how proud I was to be part of Team Pittsburgh, which — Maddie Spohr’s parents’ team aside — raised the most money nationally. Over $5200, yo.

But a lot of other people have already said so much, and Burgh Baby is compiling posts and pictures over at her place. Go there to see more and learn more about the awesomeness that is Pittsburgh Social Media.

Which reminds me that I should try to find some more Tweeter peeps. Or, tweeps. I did not make that up.

Also, as you look around at all the other pretty pictures, please note how often one of my children appears in a photo with someone other than me. The team effort went a lot further than just raising more than $5000 for March of Dimes.

Exhibit A: Uncle Crappy discussing the finer points of ducks with Monkey:

Exhibit B: ClumberKim shows Bun the view from up there:

Thanks, everyone.

While it is true that I could have easily walked 3 miles on my own (I’m not that out of shape), the fact of the matter was that I “walked” with my two independent-minded and/or slow children. Team RPM came in dead last among the March for Maddie team; I think we were trailed by a few other walkers. But not many. Monkey had to pet every puppy she saw and pick a few flowers; and if Bun wasn’t strapped in that wagon or being carried, she was walking her own way to the beat of her own drummer.

Afterwards, we ran off to bounce in the bouncy castle, pet goats (not fainting goats, alas) and other animals, and ride ponies. Then there was that wagon to return. We were seriously trailing by the time lunch rolled around. I feel bad that the original site of lunch was closed down somewhere between the time Burgh Baby made reservations and Saturday (WTF, BTW), but I am glad we ran into the rest of the team walking back from there right by Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36. That place gives me another reason to totally love The Bus.

And then after lunch (which, despite my children’s hunger and exhaustion, actually went pretty well), I took a wrong turn leaving the North Shore.

I did not realize that the parkway to the airport was closed. I could have been home by the time I had my panic attack if I had taken 65 to 51 out of the city. But nooooooo.

I bailed on 79N after the split at 79N/S turned into a parking lot. I could not handle the not-moving in my car. It’s been a long, long time since I had a panic attack like that. I think I freaked the kids out a little bit. (This indicated by Bun’s repeatedly asking, once I got my schmidt back together, “You happy again now, mama?”)

It was some combination of my physical exhaustion, my desire for nothing more than being alone and getting in the shower, the not-movingness of everything, and my frustration at all of the above. I got myself off the highway, took some deep breaths, put some gas in my car, and made some phone calls. Once my shorted-out brain could once more connect the dots between A (where I was), B (my SIL’s house), and C (home, where I wanted to be more than anything in the world), I felt much, much better. I took a breather at point B, and then headed home — not via the parkway.

We got home around 5:00. I fed the children, had a beer, and my parents, in town on other family business, came over to feed me and DearDR. Conveniently enough, they were staying with us overnight for Mother’s Day brunch, too.

It was an exhausting day, to say the least.

Thank goodness DearDR was such a hero on Mother’s Day. Thanks, again, babe.