I came across a few architects that specialize in straw bale construction and was surprised by the beauty of the architecture. Straw bale construction is just that, building with straw bales – yes, just like the ones you see at a pumpkin patch as decor. Basically, you build a foundation and frame on a house just like you would any house (although the supporting beams are possibly farther apart to fit in multiple lengths of bales), but instead of installing drywall, cement and insulation, you install straw bales.
Sounds ridiculous, right? The thing of it is, straw has been used as a building materials for ages – long before drywall was ever invented. Straw bales are strong enough to support load-bearing walls and offer better insulation than traditional home building materials. Straw bale homes are also healthier homes – they absorb carbon and aren’t covered in chemicals. Surprisingly as well, rodents and vermin aren’t at all attracted to straw since it offers no nutritional value.
Once the straw is installed (there are a few steps required here including using a mesh wire or bamboo strip support system), plaster is used to coat the interior and exterior of the house. The plaster is “breathable” to allow moisture from the bale to work its way out. It’s also important to select a “breathable” paint as well.
The one drawback that I’ve read about straw bale homes is making sure there’s no moisture around the bales, as this can cause them to rot. Yet, if the bales are selected properly and the construction is done correctly, this shouldn’t be a problem at all.
What about the electricity and plumbing? The electrical wires can be installed using conduits to make sure wiring isn’t touching the bales and plumbing is installed in a non-straw bale wall to prevent moisture from getting near the straw.
After reading a few different sites from people who’ve built their own straw bale home, cost varies. If you have contractor friends and are willing to take a group training course, you and your buddies can build a modestly sized home for pretty cheap. For example, Carolyn Roberts built a 995 sq. foot house for $51,000 with the help of some friends and outsourcing a few details. She calculated that the price per square foot averaged $45. (This doesn’t include land, mind you.) Yet, more elaborate homes can cost the same per square foot as a typical house.
Many examples of straw bale homes use recycled materials for floors, banisters, and the like truly making it an eco-friendly solution to housing. And, since most of these homes are owner built and designed, you won’t find them on any real estate listing making them one of a kind. (With some exceptions – there are a few websites out there that list “green” homes for sale including straw bale.)
I don’t know if I’ll ever build my own home, but straw bales homes are definitely an interesting idea.
What do you think? Are straw homes intriguing or do they remind of you of the three little pigs?