ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Straw Bale Construction , A Sustainable Alternative

Updated on February 28, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

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.

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

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.

An interesting straw bale home
An interesting straw bale home

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.

Berkley Marina Recreation Center
Berkley Marina Recreation Center

Potential Problems

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.

Kruggel Residence, Dining room, Nashville Indiana
Kruggel Residence, Dining room, Nashville Indiana

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.

Sealing

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.

Energy Savings

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

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      My husband and I helped some neighbours build a load-bearing straw bale house last year. We've long loved straw bale construction and made little things like a hen house, but this was our first big project.

      Our new house is next. :)

    • Bldg an Architect profile image

      Bldg an Architect 5 years ago

      I've always been fascinated by straw bale construction. Seems like a great way to build cheaply and sustainably (if you can get the permits). You have to be careful with it though since it only works in some climates.

    • profile image

      mico 6 years ago

      mildew is a factor i would be worried aboout

    • LifesStudent profile image

      LifesStudent 6 years ago

      We have just completed a home extension using straw bales and it is load bearing. I'm in Australia and live in a small community and there are now THREE homes of straw here. Our local council is getting very well versed in building green with straw!

    • solar.power profile image

      solar.power 7 years ago from Brisbane

      As long as you have a post and beam construction technique and the straw walls are NOT loadbearing, engineering will not be an issue, however certification against local bi-laws may be a problem

    • profile image

      ahudson 7 years ago

      My husband and I are trying to find a price rang to build a straw bale house and are having problems finding one.

    • profile image

      shauna farmer 7 years ago

      Curious about the possibility of using strawbale construction to insulate an already standing 900sq ft home. Is it possible to add strawbale to existing exterior or does one have to demolish existing walls and then fill them in?

    • profile image

      katey culver 7 years ago

      Straw bale construction is a viable building method for a home that lasts a long time. There are straw bale buildings over one hundred years old. For the frequently expressed concerns - mold, rot, rodents and fire - there are answers. Mold/Rot: both require moisture, straw bale walls are designed to stay dry. Rodents/Insects: straw walls are plastered, not a friendly environment for critters especially if lime is a part of your natural plaster. Fire: plastered straw bales are a Class A fire resistive material (highest fire rating).

      Katey

    • profile image

      William McCracken 7 years ago

      Fine post. You wrote about using adobe on the outside, but said nothing about "mudding". What can you tell me about that?

    • profile image

      Sandwich Panels 8 years ago

      I would really think the straw bale would rot? How can you effectively seal the wall to keep out moisture or rodents? For the savings you get - is it worth the risk of having a wall that needs to be torn apart and corrected for moisture and mildew?

    • profile image

      jw 8 years ago

      this is cool

    • johnr54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 8 years ago from Texas

      I haven't seen this approach before. Certainly seems cost effective, but I wonder how easy it is to keep it dry enough to keep from mold inside the walls.

    • JustinCase profile image

      JustinCase 9 years ago

      Interesting post Marye, I have been an advicate of this type of contruction for over 15 years now. It is high time we Americans started applying some alterntively friendly building techniques. Another that I am a fan of sandbag construction. While strawbale is great, it has some drawbacks in some areas, especially if a body is slow to build and get it covered. In those cases I would suggest sandbagging it.

      Great stuff.

    • Router Maniac profile image

      Router Maniac 9 years ago

      Great post, I would have never thought of this as a viable alternative. very nice work. I wonder if you could use this in florida??

      Ken

    • profile image

      Heck Yeah : Straw Bale Homes Rule 9 years ago

      Its incredible that this techology of construction and design has always been around but the commercialization of home building would never have until now. Its amazing how market demand and energy awareness brings media awareness of great technologies left on the backburner. Great Post!

    • Marye Audet profile image
      Author

      Marye Audet 9 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Barranca- What are some of the things he likes best about it? Having never lived in one i am curious what his experiences have been.

    • barranca profile image

      barranca 9 years ago

      My brother built a straw bale house in Arizona. It worked out beautifully and has stood the test of time, about 15 years. I do remember how mortgage companies looked at it somewhat quizzically. But it looks like any other house except that the walls are thicker and it is far better insulated. Excellent hub.

    • Tim Hollis profile image

      Tim Hollis 10 years ago

      As a former builder this is intriguing. Thanks for turning people on to this method. These are the kinds of things we need to think about.

    • Marye Audet profile image
      Author

      Marye Audet 10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      true! I think as we think in terms of sustainable building materials overall we will be able to find new materials and use them wisely.

    • cgull8m profile image

      cgull8m 10 years ago from North Carolina

      I never heard of this construction before, I wish they would do more of this especially in third world countries, where there is plenty of raw material available.