Strawbale Construction

Strawbale Construction
As the story goes there were three little pigs who each built a house either from straw, sticks, or bricks to escape the big bad wolf. In the end, however, they all had to seek shelter in the house built from brick and mortar because the other two were completely blown down. Not so today! Houses made from straw cannot be blown over so easily. I’m talking strawbale construction.

Compared to conventional methods of building there still aren’t too many strawbale built homes. With the exception of Arizona and Mexico for Northern America, the rest of the country, and the world for that matter, are finally catching on. Strawbale construction isn’t really a new way of building. It originated in Nebraska back in the late 1800’s when there weren’t too many trees but lots of straw! So the ingenious pioneers began to build with it.

The straw is taken from the stalk that’s leftover after grains such as rice, barley, wheat, and oats have been harvested. About 140 million tons of straw is produced each year, and the only way we would dispose of this natural material was to burn it! Burning straw produces more carbon monoxide in the air than some power plants! States across the country are starting to implement regulations banning the burning of straw; harvesting all the straw completely from the land isn’t good for the soil either. Leaving behind straw provides some nutrients and adds organic matter.

Strawbale homes are primarily built by do-it-yourselfer homeowners or “owner-builders” as we call them in the trades. There are basically two styles of homes: Load Bearing which is also known as Nebraska style and In-Fill . Load bearing construction means the straw walls are built and arranged in a way to support the load of the roof. This method is probably the easiest and most used way for owner-builders. The In-fill method requires a frame structure be built first from either metal or wood. The bales are then stacked inside the framing. This process requires skilled labor if framing is new to you. The straw walls in this case are non-structural. This method is also the one mostly accepted by building departments as of yet.

Building with straw has so many benefits that it could almost be seen as the perfect building material. It’s fire resistant, super energy efficient, has a high R-value for insulation, quiet, and, most importantly, it’s cheap! The biggest drawback that can’t be stressed enough is that it must be protected from moisture and the rain, especially when the walls are exposed. The US Department of Energy has some great information on it’s website regarding all you may want to know about strawbale construction.

There are also many places offering hands on classes on the weekends for those who are actually going to build their homes or are just curious. In California the Solar Living Center offers classes for all levels of experience.

The Solar Living Center was built with approximately 600 bales of donated rice straw! It is a wonderful place to visit if you are ever in Northern California. It’s located about 95 miles north of San Francisco.

Straw is in such abundance. There are few materials as forgiving, versatile, and inexpensive as straw. I personally like it because it allows owners the opportunity to build their own homes. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface in this article with the ins and outs of this type of construction; but since it’s so easy to learn, the many books that are out their can teach you a lot. There’s really no way you can mess up. Happy Stackin’!

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