Let’s talk about straw bale construction! Hey, wait, before you zone out, straw bale construction is pretty darn cool, and renewable building materials are something everyone who’s interested in owning a home or building some day should think about. At least a little. What’s so great about straw bale construction in particular?
For one thing, straw is what’s left over when grains – like wheat, rice, barley, oats, and rye – are harvested, so it’s not in short supply. Sometimes fields of straw are just burnt, releasing not insignificant amounts of air pollution. And since straw is a secondary waste material, its embodied energy is low. Straw bales are great insulators, which means less energy spent on heating and cooling.
If you’re worried about fire, don’t be. Researchers at the University of Bath determined through testing that straw bale homes have fire resistance as good as houses built of conventional building materials. The main worry that straw bale construction enthusiasts worry about is moisture, but fungus or mildew growth can be avoided with smart building practices.
Sounds good, right? And straw bale construction doesn’t have to look like some wacky eco house. There are two flavors of straw bale construction: load-bearing and in-fill. Load-bearing straw bale construction doesn’t require a frame – weight from the room is distributed on the bales themselves. The drawback to this flavor is that you’re limited to a relatively simply one-story structure. With in-fill straw bale construction, you have more design flexibility because the bales are integrated into a wood frame.
In either case, you’re not simply looking at straw, whether you’re inside or out – walls are plastered and covered with a variety of materials. Straw bale construction can result in some very beautiful homes, a la the eco-friendly country home above.
Two books I recommend looking into are The Straw Bale House and Strawbale Home Plans. The first is a great comprehensive guide to the whys and hows or straw bale construction – basically, it’s a great primer for anyone interested in eco-friendly building. The second contains 30 inspirational pictures and plans to help anyone who wants to delve deeper into the world of straw bale construction take the next step.
P.S. – Speaking of homes and housing, go check out my post about the Small House Revolution on Manolo for the Home!