18 Mar 2011 04:44
The wisdom and beauty of straw bale homes.
I am currently in the process of building a home made essentially of straw.
I know that for most, this conjures up images of the three little pigs.
However, this is the second structure I have built using straw bales and I must say straw bale construction is remarkable. Used primarily as fill around the perimeter of the building, between the posts of a post and beam frame, which supports the roof, straw bales provide an insulation value of an amazing R 40. For those not familiar with standard insulation values in “normal” construction, a typical 2x6 frame wall provides a maximum insulation value of R 19. Since the bales are 14” thick and comprised mostly of air their insulation value far surpasses that of conventional construction.
Concerns have been brought up regarding the flammability of a straw bale construction but extensive testing has shown that a straw bale wall covered with plaster is far less combustible than a conventional 2x6 wall covered with sheet rock.
Another concern was the possibility of the infestation of the straw with critters or insects. However, since straw contains little or no nutritional value, and is mainly used for bedding, critter and insect infestation has been nil.
The thickness of the walls provides large attractive spacing around windows and doors making it a simple process to include window seats and luxurious door openings. And the regular cubical shape of the bales makes stacking as simple as playing with giant leggos.
The corners of the building take on a lovely rounded appearance which gives the entire structure a soft earthy look.
There are some drawbacks with the straw bale construction however. The one I find most troublesome is the inability to nail or fasten objects to the wall unless some wood supports have been placed in the wall during the stacking process. Unfortunately, this means that one must consider, in advance, where a picture, mirror, or cabinet will be hung. (planning ahead like this is not one of my strong points)
Fortunately, the structure I am building has roof / ceiling supports of vigas, which are basically logs stripped of their bark. These vigas run the width of the house and are exposed so it is possible to attach cabinets and other objects.
Another drawback or feature, depending on your point of view, is the irregular surface of the bales. The walls take on a non-smooth appearance and even after being plastered and painted still display an uneven surface. This can either be seen as earthy or shitty depending on your preferences.
All in all, the warm feel and heat and cool holding capability of the straw bales provide excellent heating control in the winter and coolness control in the summer.
18 Mar 2011 05:06
as ive told you before Ive always had a fascination for ppl that can build things with their hands, whether its a set of drawers or a complete house. What has proved to be the most challenging in this project?
Where you live, is planning permission a factor?
would love to see some pix sometime :)
18 Mar 2011 16:38
Reply to amazing... by Tracy!
Since I am working alone on most phases of the construction, getting the logs for roof supports, the vigas, up on the walls was the most challenging part so far as each log weighs at least 300 lb. To do this I used an electric wench and some creative levering techniques.
When people first began using straw bale in this area, there were no codes written yet and county building inspectors were at odds as how to proceed. As research continued eventually codes were written and enforced.
18 Mar 2011 17:03
Off the grid
Reply to re by *Steve*
Since I moved up here 10 years ago I have not had access to the local electricity. I have pieced together a simple solar system which consists of several photovoltaic panels and a couple deep cycle batteries for electricity. For the periods when the sky is overcast for an extended time, pretty rare where I am, I use a small gas operated generator.
The water table here is 450 ft. down and I chose not to dig a well but I have accessed a spring further up the mountain and run water through a hose down to a 700 gal. cistern placed under the house. From the cistern, I use a small pump to supply the faucets. The house has running water, hot and cold. For the hot water I use an instant water heater which operates on propane and only heats the water when there is a demand.
21 Mar 2011 23:45
First one I heard of was in Nebraska, USA. Built100 years ago. Nebraska is mostly plains and farm land. Not many trees, not many rocks. They had to grow straw for their animals anyway so they had plenty around. The house is still standing and still being lived in.
02 May 2012 19:17
That type of construction wouldn't be economically feasible in a lot of areas, since homes are appraised and taxed partly by square footage, which is measured by external house dimensions. So this would cause homeowners to be paying taxes on bales of straw, year after year!!
04 May 2012 22:56
Sounds really nice, i've stayed for some years in houses with straw roofing, easy to warm in winter and nicely cool in summer, sounds like cool work you're doing.
But you seem to have addressed all eventualities except the Big Bad Wolf, ?
05 May 2012 10:03
your vote counts.please vote