Building A Straw Bale Home

by heather

Take a look at the picture on the right. It looks like a cozy, Spanish-inspired home that you’d enjoy spending time in right?

Photo courtesy of StrawBale.com

Photo courtesy of StrawBale.com

Sure it does. And you’d probably never guess that it’s made out of straw.

Straw Bale Homes

Many people have never even heard of straw bale homes, but building with straw is actually one of the oldest ways to construct a house. Straw bale homes built by early pioneers out west are still standing today, which just goes to show how strong they are.

The Benefits of Living In A Straw Bale House

There are tons of benefits to living in a straw bale house.

1. Energy Efficient

Andrew Morrison is a straw bale home builder; he also runs StrawBale.com, a comprehensive resource on how to build straw bale homes. According to him, straw bale homes use 75% less energy than traditional homes. The reason is because the densely-packed straw bales are natural insulators. They keep indoor temperatures very stable, and very little energy is needed to heat or cool the inside

2. Sound Proof

Think about it: in a straw bale home, your walls are not filled with fluffy insulation; they’re filled with hard packed straw bales. Thick walls= no noise.

Straw bale homes are very, very quiet. If you live by an airport, highway, or close to town, a straw bale home will shield you from all that noise.

3. Fireproof

Ok, this might be met with skepticism by some of you. It’s straw right? Wouldn’t these homes go up in seconds?

The answer is: no. Andrew Morrison says that it would be like trying to burn a phone book; even though paper is flammable there’s no oxygen in between the pages, which makes it almost impossible to burn. Well, the same thing is true in straw bale construction. Because the straw bales are sealed so tightly inside, they’re very difficult to burn. Andrew says that straw bale homes have three times the fire resistance of traditional homes.

Case in point: one of his client’s homes was exposed to a wildfire outside of Los Angeles. Although the surrounding vegetation was burned, the straw bale home escaped practically unscathed.

4. Environmentally-Friendly

Believe it or not, but straw is considered a waste product. Each year, 200 million tons of straw is burned, which puts tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Photo courtesy of StrawBale.com

Photo courtesy of StrawBale.com

By using this “waste product” to build your home, you’re reusing something that would otherwise get destroyed. Plus, you’re using fewer energy and resources than you would if you built a traditional home.

5. Healthy

Using straw bale means that you don’t have to use fiberglass, which has formaldehyde, a known carcinogen (see my post “Purify Your Indoor Air On A Budget” for more information on this). It also means you don’t have to use plywood. The glue that’s used to hold plywood together off-gases into homes for years.

6. Beautiful

To put it simply, straw bale homes are beautiful. Because of the small bales, homes can include soothing, curved designs, nooks and crannies, and cozy window seats that aren’t often found in traditional homes. They’re truly remarkable and soothing to live in.

For people looking for a “green home”, straw bale construction is a great choice. They’re energy efficient, low impact, and incredibly inexpensive to live in.

Types of Straw Bale Homes

There are two types of straw bale homes: load-bearing and non load-bearing.

Load-bearing straw bale homes do not have a frame; in this design, the straw bales are supporting the

Photo Courtesy of StrawBale.com

Photo Courtesy of StrawBale.com

weight of the roof structure. Load-bearing is the most cost-effective way to to build a straw bale home, but it’s vital that the home to constructed properly. If the bales aren’t set well, they can shift over time and threaten the structure and integrity of the home.

Load-bearing straw bale homes are usually small, simple designs.

Non-load bearing (also called post and beam construction) means that a traditional house frame is put up, either with wood or steel, and then the straw bales are packed around the frame. In this model, the wood or steel structure is supporting the weight of the roof.

Non-load bearing homes can be quite large, and include multiple stories.

Costs of a Straw Bale Home

It’s hard to say how much it costs to build a straw bale home, simply because there are so many variables.

Do you want a simple, one room load-bearing structure? Do you want a large, elaborate straw bale home?

SolarHaven.org has a great plan for a simple, 312 square foot straw bale home. They do a great job outlining the costs, and estimate that it would cost around $11,000, at most, from start to finish. But, this is if you do most of the work yourself, and use recycled materials when you can.

Other sites have estimated that larger, non-load bearing straw bale homes equal, if not exceed, the cost of a traditional home. The reason is because there is so much plaster work involved; this adds significantly to the costs since applying the plaster or stucco is so time consuming.

Won’t the Straw Bales Rot Over Time?

Andrew Morrison says that properly constructed straw bales home will not rot over time. The reason is because organic materials need air and water to decompose. In a well-constructed straw bale home, both of these are sealed out with the plaster or stucco covering, making decomposition impossible.

Durability of Straw Bale Construction

Photo courtesy of StrawBale.com

Again, I turn to Andrew Morrison’s expertise to answer this.

He says that in wind tests, structures saw no movement at 75 m.p.h., and only 1/16 inch movement at 100 m.p.h. So, they’re pretty darn durable.

Resources

If you’d like more information on building and living in a straw bale home, please visit Andrew Morrison’s excellent site, www.StrawBale.com. He’s got an extensive library of informative articles up there, as well as some really inspiring pictures of some straw bale homes he’s built recently.

You can also check out this informative article put out by the El Paso Energy Association. They make the case for straw bale construction, and have a great list of resources you can check out.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen Harvey November 10, 2008 at 1:08 pm

I am interested in some designs and the cost. Sincerely, Karen Harvey

heather November 11, 2008 at 2:09 pm

Hi Karen,

Thanks for your comment! If you click on any of the builder green links in the article, they’ll take you to that builder’s site. Some of them (like Tumbleweed Tiny Homes) have plans for sale (prices seem to be around $600 for house plans).

Also, you can visit this link: http://www.smallhousestyle.com/small-house-plans/

They have a list of builders who have tiny house plans for sale.

Good luck in your search!

Heather

QUEEN May 2, 2009 at 1:25 am

I LIVE IN LONG BEACH CA AND WOULD LIKE A ONE RM STRAW BALE
STRUCTURE IN MY BACKYARD
CAN YOU REFER ME
THANK YOU

LaMar December 13, 2009 at 11:17 am

Straw bale homes require steel or wood structural supports for safety.

Shipping containers are designed to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes.

I combined the two for a super strong and well insulated home!

Video here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Cc1QyUNt-A

LaMar

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