AT On… Straw Bale Construction

AT On… Straw Bale Construction

Last summer we attended a weekend long workshop on straw bale construction – which really meant we helped someone actually build their straw bale house. We were hoping to use straw bale construction for a new project and figured what a better way to find out more about than actually get knee deep and hands on with it. Find out more about our experience, what we learned and whether or not we actually used it after the jump...

The experience of the workshop was great and we learned a lot in a short amount of time. Straw bale construction is not only a great natural building product, but it creates beautiful homes. We love the deep window recesses, curved openings, and niches that area possible with straw bale construction.

Why Build With Straw
- Straw bale provides a renewable material as a main component in a home, while providing a super high r-value for thermal insulation – about R35-50 compared to a standard R-13, and provide a great amount of sound installation.
- Straw bale is a byproduct of agriculture, is an abundant resource in rural areas and is therefore inexpensive.
- Installation is fairly easy and can be installed without the use of skilled labor.
- Straw bale walls are, contrary to popular belief, fire resistant. The combination of dense straw bales and plaster coverage make it very difficult for straw bales to go up in flame – they will instead smolder and burn very slowly. Straw bale construction has been tested and approved by several agencies.

Straw bale walls create deep window recesses and are the perfect for built-ins and niches.

Types of Straw Bale Construction:
- Load Bearing: In load bearing construction the weight of the roof and shear pressures are actually carried by the bales themselves. This type of construction is typically limited to one-story buildings.
- Non-Load Bearing: In non-load bearing construction the bales serve as infill construction. Straw bales are teamed with post & beam construction and the bales actually reduce the amount of timber required for construction. Non-load bearing is typically not restricted in height.

Straw bales walls are actually stitched together with chicken wire and thread.

When To Use Straw Bale:
- Southwestern states such as Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and California are more accustomed to this building technique (as opposed to the Midwest) and many of their municipalities already have straw bale construction referenced in their building code.
- Rural areas that may have fewer and less restrictive building codes.
- Areas close to farms where straw bales are abundant and inexpensive.
- New construction is much easier than a renovation. Retrofitting straw bale is very difficult because of its depth, and in general the building technique is very different than standard stick build construction.

We unfortunately did not end up using straw bale for the project it was intended for. Straw bale is still a somewhat new building concept, and we had to jump through a series of hoops with the local city building department. Additionally, none of the contractors we were working with familiar with this building technique and were therefore charging a premium to use it. Because of the number of roadblocks we faced we opted to save this construction technique for a future project.

Images: Rachel Wray

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