Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Why living in a straw bale house is worth considering

There is nothing as calming and beautiful as a straw bale wall in a home. Straw bale walls are gorgeous and houses made of this agricultural by- product will save you money year after year. Besides, working with straw is fun.

If you have never thought before about living in a straw bale house maybe now it is the time to consider this option for at least the two reasons mentioned above. There are more advantages though and experts are optimistic about this construction trend, but they also show the downside of this type of building.
First of all straw bale construction is affordable. Straw bale homes cost almost exactly the same amount of money to build as traditional stick-frame homes.

Straw bale homes are more fire retardant than traditional stick-framed homes. The idea behind the material’s resistance to fire comes from the concept that the bales are so tightly packed that oxygen cannot enter in between the straws and fuel a fire. However, there are still numerous factors that will allow a straw bale house to burn, especially during construction.

Building with straw helps the planet in many ways. For example, straw is a waste product that is either burned or composted in standing water. By using the straw instead of eliminating it, we reduce either air pollution or water consumption, both of which impact the environment in general. Straw is an annually-renewable resource, not at all like lumber which can take decades to produce.  It takes almost no extra energy to harvest bales, as opposed to the transportation costs of lumber. Compared with other building products like wood, concrete or steel, bales are extremely light and easy to transport from the field to the construction site.  And unlike lumber, concrete and steel, straw is produced in almost every state of the union, thus saving fuel costs and less travel time to a work site.

Straw houses will save you money, year after year. A well built straw bale home can save you up to 75% on heating and cooling costs. The walls are thick and will give you a cool house in the summer, a warm house in the winter.  It has a natural “trombe” effect, in other words it soaks up the coolness or the heat of the inside and stores it and releases it like a giant heater or an efficient refrigerator.

Well insulated homes

Although it may seem difficult to believe, straw bale walls are very well insulated, when built correctly. The quality of insulation that a straw bale wall provides depends on a number of factors including the way the bales are stacked, the way the bales mesh with the roof’s insulation, the type of post-and-beam structure, the type of plaster used, the quality of the plaster work, and the design of the house itself, among many others. But if the bales aren’t stacked properly, there can be small gaps in the walls that create thermal break-points in the otherwise well insulated walls.

The use of straw as insulation means that the standard insulation materials are removed from the home. Standard fiberglass insulation has formaldehyde in it, a known carcinogen. Bale walls also eliminate the use of plywood in the walls. Plywood contains unhealthy glues that can off-gas into the house over time.

The other side of the coin

Building with straw is not fully-accepted as method of construction in many countries.It may take more time to acquire a building permit for a straw bale structure than it would for a conventional one.This is more to do with the social conception of the material, rather than the material itself.

Straw bales will harbor both insects and mold. Of course, a conventional house will also easily host insects and is susceptible to mold, too, if not built right.  But straw is more sensitive to such things than wood-constructed and fiberglass-insulated structures.

Because of the thickness of the bales, you will lose square-footage inside a home. So that extra-thick wall will indeed eat up some of your interior space. But designing the house a bit bigger will add some costs to the construction of the house: you’ll need some extra concrete in your foundations, for example, and you’ll need to make your roof trusses a bit longer.