If strawbale houses conjure up images of the big bad wolf getting ready to blow down the house of the three little pigs, it is time to think again. Strawbale houses offer a realistic alternative to traditional housing combined with many important energy saving features.
What is a Strawbale House?
A strawbale house, as the name suggests, is constructed from bales of straw. There is a resurgence in interest for houses constructed in this manner because they are built from a sustainable material and have excellent insulation properties -- both of which make them an interesting choice for someone interested in green living and environmentally friendly housing.
Houses made from strawbales or natural resources are not new. Many ancient civilizations would have formed houses and shelter from whatever materials were at hand. Many farmers use straw bales to build shelter for cattle and other animals.
The resurgence of interest in strawbale housing started with the natural housing and sustainable building movement, however it is slowly creeping into mainstream life with many environmentally aware builders offering this as an alternative to traditional builders.
How is a House Built from Strawbales
A house that is constructed from strawbales isn't simply formed by popping a few bales on top of each other and making a simple children's toy building brick style home. Instead much of the technical aspects of building a traditional home are employed, for instance digging good and solid foundations to the depth required to support the house, ensuring that a frame is built that will form the structure of the house and that all building regulations are met.
What are the Benefits of a Strawbale House?
Strawbale buildings have many significant benefits including:
- Insulation: The straw provides excellent insulation and therefore offers significant energy savings for both heating and cooling a house.
- Ease of Building: A strawbale house isn't actually much cheaper for a builder to make as much of the cost of housing is labor. One benefit of strawbale housing is that it is relatively easy to do and therefore is an attractive option for self builders as little or no bricklaying or other specialist skills are required.
- Creative Design: As strawbale housing is something a little different, many builders and architects are designing innovative and unusual designs offering finished houses that are a long way from the mainstream 'norm.'
- Easy to Look After: While a house made from strawbales does require maintenance - so do all houses or eventually they will start to deteriorate The maintenance for a strawbale house is straightforward for most people to undertake.
What Are the Drawbacks of a House Made From Strawbales?
There are drawbacks with strawbale housing. While many people think that the biggest risk to a strawbale building is fire, the biggest threat is in fact dampness. If water or condensation gets into the straw it will start to rot and this will cause damage to the building. Therefore good waterproofing on both sides of the bales is paramount and this needs to be regularly checked. One of the benefits, however, of strawbale buildings is that it is relatively easy to replace a rotting bale.
Another concern regarding these houses is that mice and rats may get in to the bales and nest or eat the straw. This is largely ill founded as there is no nutritional value in straw (hay would be a different matter) and therefore the mice and rats would look elsewhere for food. However mice and rats might well nest in the straw if they were given the opportunity which is why the bale walls must be cared for and regularly checked for damage.
The Internet offers a wealth of resources for someone interested in sustainable building. There are many excellent websites including the ones listed below. The Internet is a moveable feast and new websites and blogs are appearing all the time so regular searching will keep you up to date with all the latest news.
- StrawHomes.ca - excellent FAQ's
- GreenHomeBuilding.com - lots of information about green home building
- StrawBale.com - includes a free e-course
- NaturalHomes.org - includes a list of existing strawbale properties
- SolarHaven.org - informative website including plans
Additionally, YouTube.com has many videos about different aspects of strawbale housing. Simply type 'strawbale house' into the search box and browse through the videos.
If well looked after, a strawbale house can last many years. There are examples of strawbale buildings that have been in existence for over 100 years and which are still lived in today. With modern technologies combined with this sustainable building resource, the future for strawbale buildings is an exciting one.