When one thinks of houses made from straw, typically an image of wolves, pigs and less than stellar construction methods come to mind. But in Bristol, UK, the nation's first straw-bale houses have just gone on sale—and not only are they perfectly sturdy, but their superior levels of insulation can reduce energy consumption by 90 percent.
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.
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 reduce climate 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.