Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An interesting variation on a straw house

I'm sure many readers are familiar with so-called 'eco-friendly' building methods, using mud brick, straw, and other materials to build simpler, cheaper homes that are said to be more 'in tune' with environmental concerns. I've not been impressed by many of the illustrations I've seen of such homes . . . until now, that is. The Daily Mail reports:

A farmer is about to move his family in to a new dream home - Britain's biggest straw house.

Work is nearing completion on the five-bedroom detached country house in Rushall, between Marlborough and Devizes, Wiltshire.

It has three en-suite bedrooms, a family bathroom, living room, dining room, spacious entrance hall, double garage and a huge kitchen with wood-burning range.

The roof is thatched roof and the building has no foundations - it rests on stones which keep the bales dry and off the ground.

The house was built with 1,200 straw bales around a timber frame, pinned together with hazel stakes and rendered inside and out with lime.

The straw is packed tightly to reduce the risk of fire. It also has the benefit of creating great insulation as does the straw-thatched roof and the bales in the space under the roof.

. . .

Architect Nigel Keen said the home had been a challenge for local carpenter-builders Steve Pullen and Marc Powell.

'Everyone has been fantastically supportive of this project, from the planners and building control officers at the local council to members of the community, who have been fascinated to watch the house develop,' he said.

'Although the house is unorthodox, the owners will not have to slum it. All the mod cons and more, that you would expect in a brand new property have been integrated into the design, including environmentally-friendly air-sourced under floor heating, low energy lighting and water sourced from a borehole.'

There's more at the link.

You know, if a straw home can be built to that level of excellence, it might indeed be a feasible replacement for mainstream construction methods. I wonder what the cost is like, compared to typical frame-and-siding construction? I'd like to find out more.

Have any readers had experience with straw houses, particularly 'higher-end' buildings like this one? If so, would you please tell us more in Comments, and perhaps provide links to other Web sites for more information?



West, By God said...

There is a good book titled "More Straw Bale Building: A Complete Guide to Designing and Building with Straw" by Chris Magwood, Peter Mack, and Tina Therrien.

It is worth checking out for more detailed info. The book covers everything from history of staw bale building, to project budgets, to actually how to do the construction.

ZerCool said...

MrsZ and I considered building a house instead of buying, and straw bale was one of the construction methods we looked at. Super-insulated (something on the order of R-40+ in all exterior walls!), relatively inexpensive, fire-resistant, pest-resistant, unique... It really does have quite a bit going for it. Apparently the biggest issue in most areas is getting a codes officer to sign off on it.

A few resources we used:

John Peddie (Toronto) said...

Interesting, but two questions:

1) Would the cost of transporting straw to the building site (if a considerable distance) not be prohibitive compared to other materials? Straw is bulky!

2) Long-term esterior maintenance costs of the straw walls? Or does the parging / "stucco" protect sufficiently, even in a moist climate such as England?

ZerCool said...

John, to (try to) answer your questions:

Straw is readily available in most areas within reasonable transport distance. It *is* bulky, but it's also light, meaning a tractor-trailer load is only limited by dimensions, not weight. Just using very rough numbers, a 53-foot flatbed should hold a bit more than 600 bales (using 18x18x36" bales and a 53x10x10' load); at 40lb/bale that's 24,000lb and well within the load capacity of a semitrailer.

A third truck could deliver all the necessary framing beams and infrastructure items.

Would it cost more than going to a supply store and having the materials for an entire house delivered? Perhaps. I don't think so, though.

As to weather-resistance: if the bales are drawn tight (they generally do have to be re-packed, from what I've read), and properly "mudded", water penetration is a non-issue.