How to Build
an Eco-Friendly, Straw Bale House: Benefits of Construction
Why build a
straw bale house? Besides the obvious that you are building an
eco-friendly house firmly based in green architecture, there are many
other benefits of having a house constructed using this easily
obtainable sustainable material. By using straw you are able
to build something very quickly, you are contributing to a cleaner way
of building, you are building an energy efficient home as the thermal
qualities are very good, and aesthetically,
the finished product looks pretty damn fine! But best of all, you can
build your own house a lot easier than if you were using bricks and
I remember seeing people first build a house of straw while
watching the BBC's Grand Designs with Kevin McLeod, and I was rather
fascinated. This particular episode focused on a rather hapless British
couple who hadn't had much luck living in France, and this was their
second attempt at owner building.
Whether they were more successful second time around is
inconsequential, but I was rather intrigued to see that their choice of
material were straw bales used as a filler for a large steel frame. In
the end their straw house looked rather nice, and you couldn't tell
from the outside that it as any different to the more conventional
houses surrounding it. However, the steel frame bothered me. If you are
going to go for a green build, then you should use natural materials,
and a wooden frame would have been my choice.
The Benefits of Building a
Straw Bale House
Which brings me back to my first question? Why do people go down the
route of building a straw bale house rather than conventional brick and
mortar, stone or wood?
Well, first of all straw
has 5 times more insulation capacity than
brick veneer, which reduces your need for artificial
building in straw is far cheaper
than bricks and mortar, or even wood and
can build such a house using straw in
half the time.
straw has great acoustic insulation, making it a
very quiet house even if you are built close to a busy
perhaps one of reasons why people build straw bale houses is because it
is an eco-friendly way of building a house. It is better for the
environment, and for the climate as a whole.
year, millions of tonnes of unused straw is burnt, releasing
immeasurable amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Building with straw saves the straw from burn-off and
lessens the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere.
Another advantage of building with straw is that is is a non-toxic
product. It is just like wheat, barley, oats or rye.
How to Build an
Eco-Friendly Straw Bale House
strawbale form the framework of the home and are compressed until they
are virtually airtight. After they have been placed, they are then
As the bales have been compressed every home that has been
built using straw bales also means that it is a good resister to fire.
In Australia, for example, straw bale houses are given a 2-hour fire
Picture courtesy of John
When you have a conventionally built house you aways
have a cavity wall between the outer and inner bricks. When
you have a
fire in the house the fire uses the brick cavity as a path to travel
along, whereas, with the compressed straw bales there are no free
spaces for fire to travel along within the wall structure.
With straw bale houses you don't have to build
it off a concrete floor like a conventional build. Because the finished
walls of a straw bale wall is 500 mm this allows you more leverage as
to the type of floor you want to build off as its load is spread over a
For those of you who care about the environment you would be opting for
the wooden floor option. And I would agree. Not only because wood is a
sustainable resource, but also because wooden floors are certainly a
lot easier on the knees than concrete, and it is cheaper to build!
Typically "field-bales", bales created on farms with baling machines
have been used, but recently higher-density "pre-compressed" bales (or
"straw-blocks") are increasing the loads that may be supported. Field
bales might support around 600 pounds per linear foot of wall, but the
high density bales bear up to 4,000 lb./lin.ft., and more.
The other decision you will have to make is whether you want to build
the house like the couple in France with a steel frame, or even a
timber frame, and using the bales as infill, or using the bales as
Green Build Methods of
Method 1 of Straw House Construction
There are various methods of construction. For the first method, the
weight of the roof is supported by a ring beam, which extends around
the perimeter of the building and does away with any lintels needed
later on for window and door openings. Beams and posts are held upright
by bracing and then the bales are are inserted into the structure.
Method 2 of Straw House Construction
With the second method the straw bales carry the load of the roof. Here
a timber top-box is built which extends around the perimeter of the
building, not just across the straw bale walls and includes lintels for
any door or window openings wider than 1.5 m. It is this that the roof
is fixed to.
Method 1 of Straw House Construction
The third method involves a structural infill. Here the weight of the
roof is supported on posts and beams, but there is no permanent bracing
to support the structure in place. Instead it relies on the straw bales
to keep the structure upright. Any bracing that is put in place is only
temporary and is removed once the building is secure.
Of course each method has its own merits and some are more expensive
than others, with the load bearing method, being the cheapest of the
three options. But only you would know which method would suit you and
meet your needs.
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