Straw Bale Homes - An Earth Friendly Choice
Nearly half of the houses on our planet are made from stone, mud and straw. In the industrialized areas of the world it is common practise to use plastics, foams and OSB. These materials can be bad for your health, bad for the environment or both. Building with natural materials offers a healthier choices for your home and your health.
This idea is not a new one, straw bale homes were birthed out of necessity. During the late 1800's in the sand hills of Nebraska; the settlers were faced with flat prairies and a sparse supply of trees with which to use for lumber. What then to build a home with? They baled the prairie grass that was in abundant supply; stacking them like bricks to form the walls of the house. Some of these early homes are still standing and became the model for the straw bale revival that began in the 1990s.
Today as we are striving to be an environmentally sensative culture - straw bale construction is being viewed as a sensible option. Not only for the earth that is our home but our health as well. Sick house syndrome is said to have a direct link with poor air quality. Gassing of conventional building materials in our home and workplace can cause symptoms such as headache, dry itchy skin, fatique, eye, nose, throat irritation and sensitivity to odors. A properly built straw bale house has breathability providing cleaner air and eliminates toxins that cause sick house syndrome.
What is so great about a straw bale house?
Glad you asked.
- Energy efficiency - A properly constructed straw bale house has superior insulation properties consuming about 1/4 the energy of a conventional home.
- Non-Toxic - All natural materials are used to provide a healthy living environment.
- Beauty - They provide a unique aesthetic quality and can be built in a wide variety of styles to suit individual taste.
- Affordable - A single family home can be built for 30,000 - 130,000 depending on how elaborate your design is and how much work is contracted out.
- Environmentally friendly - using local natural materials means less energy is used in providing the products for the construction of the home. Straw is a leftover product from hearvesting grains, wheat and rice - much of the time it is burned polluting the air. Using the straw bales cuts down on air pollution also.
Tip for Steel Framing
Caution - When using steel frames be sure to wrap it in water proofing material such as roofing felt. This prevents condensation on the steel from transfering moisture to the straw bales.
Two Methods of Construction
- Load Bearing - This is the most environmentally friendly way - using much less wood and typically a simple design. Downside is that you're limited to one story and banks have yet to finance on this type of construction. Some codes require the use of rebar to secure them in place.
- Post and Beam -Basicly bales are stacked in brick like fashion on a foundation around framework. Wood or steel is used for the framing.
After the bales are in place earthen plaster or stucco is smeared on (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inch thick) as evenly as possible to cover the bales on both sides. Mesh is sometimes used to shape the walls and window frames. Finishes can vary but traditionally water resistant applications are NOT used as it is vital that the straw bales have breathability to prevent trapped moisture and eventual rot. Care in the design is essential as a hastily built straw bale house can perform poorly with high energy bills. You can hire a professional who specializes in straw bale construction or do the research yourself and safe thousands of dollars. Most straw balers save on labor too by doing much of the work themselves. Many have a bale raising party when it comes time to stack the bales. Much like a barn raising it is a time of consolidating work forces of friends, family, perhaps one or two professionals with volunteers of all ages finding useful tasks to get it all done efficiently.
Green Construction for a Cleaner Earth
As mentioned earlier a wide variety of styles are available to the builder. How a straw bale house is constructed can vary also. Aside from the straw bales the there are many other materials that go into building the house. The choices are many and your prioritities are will determine what you choose. The concept of an environmentally friendly house calls for a majority of natural materials. However, many builders find that design is a high priority and will mix conventional with more green materials in their structure.
Foundations: Slab, walk-out basement, full basement, fly ash concrete, riprap and rocks.
Flooring: Wood, stone, earthen. and bamboo are popular choices.
Roofing: Tiles, shakes/shingles, compostition, tiles, metal, recycled rubber slate or a living roof.
Common Questions About Straw Bale Homes:
- Fire! Fire! - Myth, Myth. Not only are straw bales too dense for a fire to consume it ( lack of oxygen) but when straw bales are stacked and encased they are virtually non-combustable. Four years of testing has shown straw bales are naturally resistant to fire. However, caution should be taken during construction as the bales of straw laying around on the building site are a fire risk.
- Varmints and Creepy Crawlies - Isn't straw a source of food and nesting material for little critters? In a barn yes, but in a straw bale structure the plaster/stucco seals the bales creating a barrier against pests. Conventional wood frame houses are much more inviting to rodents and insects providing walls packed with soft batt insulation.
- Cost - The average straw bale house costs $40 - $70 per square foot to construct. The biggest chunks of money go to permits, materials, tools ( including rented equipment) and hired professionals.
- Decomposition - Any organic material requires oxygen and water in order to decompose. When proper construction techniques are implimented, water will not enter the building thus creating decomposition.
Single Mom Builds Straw Bale House for $50,000
- Strawbale Construction
Energy efficient and sustainable construction
- Sourcebook Straw Bale
Statistics and Resources
- Straw Bale House Construction
Simple overview of straw bale house construction including materials, techniques, and lessons learned.
- T h e L a s t S t r a w - ( w w w . t h e l a s t s t r a w . o r g )
In quarterly publication since 1993, TLS is the subscriber-supported, reader-written international grassroots journal of strawbale construction. Real Estate and properties available.
A comprehensive website with practical applications for Straw bale construction. Workshops and free online bla bla
- Straw Bale House Building - How We Did It.
Interested in building a green home? Straw homes are a great option! Share our straw bale house building experiences and learn about straw bale home construction.