The EU-funded project to develop the straw houses was led by the University of Bath and specialty architecture firm ModCell. The first houses to hit the market are a row of seven town homes in the city of Bristol. And one wouldn’t know on first glance that they’re made of less-than-conventional materials.
The houses are constructed from a prefabricated timber frame and straw-filled wooden panels, with the each property then encased in brick to maintain the area’s traditional aesthetic. The straw-bale provides an exceptional level of insulation that the University of Bath believes will reduce energy costs by up to 90 percent for each home owner.
Related: USGBC members and families build Nashville’s first straw-bale house
Image by Photograph: University of Bath/PA, via The Guardian
Not only that, but the construction method makes use of a widely available resource; the BBC reports that just under four million tonnes of this leftover straw is produced every year by UK agriculture in the form of left over stalks from cereal crops. It takes just three tonnes of straw to build a three-bedroom house, so—in theory—the UK alone produces enough excess straw to construct half a million homes each year.
Furthermore, contrary to the lessons we were all taught by the three little pigs, straw is a rather durable building material. Speaking to the Guardian, Prof Pete Walker, who led the project to develop and test the construction method, said “We have conducted a number of fire tests that have demonstrated that fire resistance from straw bale construction is remarkably good and better than many contemporary forms of construction.” Additionally it also proved itself able to fully endure harsh weather, withstanding even hurricane strength winds.
At most stages of production and deployment, straw-bale looks to be a remarkably sustainable building solution. Craig White, director of Modell explained to the BBC “the more we can build out of renewable materials like straw and timber, the less carbon will be in the atmosphere, so we can reduceclimate change effects,” while Walker added ““As a construction material, straw is a low-cost and widely-available food co-product that offers real potential for ultra-low carbon housing throughout the UK. Building with straw could be a critical point in our trajectory towards a low-carbon future.”
Now it just remains to be seen who will be the first owners of the UK’s first straw-bale homes.
Straw bale image via Shutterstock, all other images courtesy of ModCell and The Guardian
Despite what you might think at first, straw homes are a really good idea. They're energy efficient as this excellent article states, and they're made of easily-available building materials that are environment-friendly. Think about it, the straw even take CO2 out of the atmosphere as it grows - negating the effect of greenhouse gases in the short run. And cutting electric bills by 90%? Can you imagine turning up the heat in your house as high as you want, for a fraction of the cost? It's like a dream come true, especially during the winter. But if you're not willing to buy a brand new straw house just to save on energy, there are still other ways to save on your electric bill by using less energy. For example: use fluorescent lightbulbs, use energy-efficient appliances, turn the heat down a bit (brr...), turn off the lights when you leave a room, or maybe take shorter showers. Generating your own electricity is also a great way to save money year-round. Check out http://energysimple.org for more details. You can even eliminate your bill completely and get paid by the power company!
Excellent -- Straw bale homes can be very efficient as long as all the details of air sealing at every junction are planned out. In a colder climate, you would not want timbers to penetrate the wall panels, since softwood timbers have an R-value of about 1/inch, and you'd want to eliminate any thermal bridging from inside to outside. A Larsen Truss wall and cellulose can also work extremely well. I live in a ~1500 sq.ft. straw bale home in northern Vermont (USA) where we have about 8,000 heating degree days, and we heat with 2 cords of wood only -- that's pretty good.