Straw Bale Construction , A Sustainable Alternative
What Is Straw Bale Construction?
Straw bale building construction is a very sustainable, earth friendly type of building method that has been around for a long time. It was popular in the plains states in the 1800 and 1900s because it utilized an available material and was easily done.
Straw is the dead stalk material that is left after wheat, oats, rye or other grains are harvested. It is used mainly for bedding for livestock, mulch for gardens, or allowed to rot back into the soil. It is not at all like hay, is not a living product and can not be used interchangeably with hay. Do not use hay bales for your straw bale construction!
Types of Straw Bale Construction
There are two types of straw bale construction, load bearing and non-load bearing.
This is the most popular type of building project and the easiest to finance and get permits for. Basically in a non-load bearing construction a post and beam frame is erected and the straw bales are used as infilling material to create walls. All of the weight of the structure is supported by the post/beam framework and this means a very sturdy, long lasting building.
Load bearing construction is when all of the weight of the roof and structure is supported by the bales. Over a period of time the weight can compress the bales and cause structural problems. Even so, there have been many projects created by this method which are still standing and structurally sound.
The Benefits of Straw Bale Construction?
The benefits of straw bale construction are many.
- It is a sustainable material, which means it is very earth friendly.
- Certainly low cost is an attractive benefit, houses have been constructed for as low as $10 a square foot.
- Straw bales provide wonderful insulation and sound proofing, keeping your home comfortable and quiet year round.
- Best of all, for those of us that like the idea of doing it ourselves, straw bale construction is easily mastered by unskilled labor and with some help from family and friends can be done without the services of a contractor.
- At this point research seems ot show that termites don't like straw bale construction..a big plus for the homeowner.
- Leftover construction materials are not a problem, just open the bale and use the straw as livestock bedding.
Like any other construction process there are some problems that can occur.
- The straw must be kept dry throughout during the building process or it will start to rot from the inside, causing not only problems with the structure but a nasty smell as well.
- Depending on where you live the straw bale construction might be hard to find mortgage insurance for, or a mortgage company willing to finance the loan.
- Also, building inspectors must be willing to give permits for the home as it goes up and if they do not know much about straw bale construction they may need to be educated.
- You will have to time the building carefully, the straw will cost much more in the spring than it will in the fall when there is plenty of straw.
- The walls need to be sealed carefully (more about that later) or they can become infested with rodents or insects.
The Walls Are Up, Now What?
Bales can be stacked flat or on edge, depending on the requirements of the building. Flat is the sturdiest method.
Once the bales are in place the walls must be sealed with stucco or plaster. This can be done by the owner, or a cement stucco can be done by a contractor. The first is more inexpensive but takes much longer and it is important to the longevity of the home that the plaster be done very well. Once the stucco is on the house will look like almost anyother southwest style adobe home, with the invitingly deep windowsills and thick walls.
Once the house is up and stucco applied it is much like any other home. The energy savings will be huge because of the superior insulating quality of the straw, and upkeep with be simple.
As alternative building techniques become more and more mainstream the prices of these homes will begin to rise, they are a great investment.
A Sustainable Home For the Future
Straw bale constuction is truly a home for not only the present but the future as well. In parts of the midwest 100 year old straw homes still stand, a testament to their longivity. This construction makes a warm, comfortable, and even beautiful home- an alternative to using up trees and other slow growth products. There are many books and websites on the subject, as well as companies offering straw bale kit homes. Easy to learn, easy to implement, easy to live with. You can't ask for more.
Straw bale building
- Sourcebook Straw Bale
Straw bale construction uses baled straw from wheat, oats, barley, rye, sacaton grass, native meadow hay, wheatgrass, tumbleweed, buffalo grass and others in walls covered by stucco. It is important to recognize that straw is the dry plant material
- straw bale houses
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Straw bale construction and house plans by ecoville architechs. Learn how to build with bales and natural building techniques
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