A house made of straw

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Robin F

Nov 25, 2008
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What's everyone's take on using non-traditional materials for construction? There's a group in my city that creates sustainable housing for low-income families, and also works to make the homes energy efficient and more eco-friendly. One of their main materials is straw, which they use to build the walls. I was surprised, because you'd think that a straw house would be extremely flammable, but the opposite is apparently true: straw walls are far less flammable than traditional wood walls. The material is a by-product of farming, so it's apparently abundant and cheaper to obtain than wood. It's also a great source of insulation. And- having seen some of the end-products of the construction- I can attest that it can make for a very attractive house in the right hands.
Straw buildings have an excellent R value. I would be interested in seeing a picture of the houses that you have seen down there, as I have only heard of straw construction. Eventually I think my dad wants to build a new farm shop out of straw but we have no plans yet.

Can someone explain how straw is less flammable than wood?
Waaait a minute. Didn't anyone see the three little pigs story? :D
LOL, You're right Tom:
Thing is the little pig's house was made only of straw whereas, the new ones are stuccoed inside and out making them more like the brick house the last little pig had.
The Mother Earth News is really high on straw bale construction. They ran a feature story on one in the last couple of years.
One has been built near me at a Convent but I haven't seen it yet. They are very proud of it though. Stay on the light side Man, its good for the heart.
Hello Tom:
The downside:
The straw must be kept completely dry
The bales take up a lot of floor space
The roof has to have a special attachment, which I don't remember.
I have heard that the bales are sprayed with a fire retardant. It is a novel idea. And the R-value is around 50 I'm told. Yeah, you can't build them everywhere because of moisture issues with the straw. I'm thinking if it gets wet the house is shot. The downside that I see is resale value. Not a lot of people are going to want a straw bale house, not because it isn't good, but because it's such a novel idea.

Josh Jaros (Jaros Bros. Construction)
Straw bales homes have been around for centuries and are built where there are no other available materials.

There are a very few "noteable" homes that have been built and publicized, but the bottom line is they are not economically sucessful and require many sacrifices elsewhere in addition to having poor resale value.

Might be OK for utility buildings if you have excess straw and time. The next challenge is structural and holding down the roof. For tornadoes, it might be half as good as a 8" reinforced block wall.
Bale construction I have seen is quite cost effective.

What I have seen is essentially a "pole barn" type construction, often steel beams. Then the straw bales are bulit up between the beams. The bales are used for the external walls, then more traditional framing is used inside. Simliar to log home construction.

The bales are tightly compressed, which makes them resistant to fire. I don't know about fire retardents. They are compressed densely so that there is no place for air infiltration. No air means no fire.

The outside is typically covered in chicken wire and stuckoed over, while the inside is then plastered.

Here in the west they offer a lot of benefits. In a wet climate I would imagine there would be some serious drawbacks due to moisture. If something happened and moisture got into the bales, it would take forever to dry (MOLD!!).

My opinion is that alternative materials and construction techniques are not used because of lack of knowledge by the builders and local inspectors. First, some alternatives require special knowledge to do it right. Finding a builder that can do the job is difficult or impossible in many areas. Then even if you can get the work done, the local codes inspectors may not have the knowledge about the materials and will be very reluctant to allow the construction to go on. Put these two together and you create a very high barrier to alternative construction and all but the most determined people will pursue these options. Of course this leads to significant costs in construction