Straw is a renewable resource. In fact, we produce 200 million tons of straw that is wasted every year, after the wheat or other grain is removed. A bale of straw costs just a few dollars. Bales are sturdy, thick, and come in uniform size. They make wonderful insulation. Together, this makes it the perfect material for building homes.
In the story of The Three Little Pigs, a home built of straw was supposed to convey the idea of weak materials and shoddy construction. But it wasn't the material, it was the preparation of the material that was weak. Properly baled straw can be used just like bricks to build a environmentally-friendly home at a fraction of the cost of wood or brick. And you can make a straw home as rustic or as modern as you like.
Simon Dale built his Low Impact Woodland House in Wales using bales of straw to insulate the floor and create the walls and roof before adding earth to the outside. The finished home looks like a hobbit house! Construction took about four months and cost Â£3000. The process of building the home is documented in pictures at his site.
Continue reading for more straw homes that may surprise you.
Steve James is serious about the environment. He built his own home near Dumfries, Scotland out of natural and recycled materials for a total cost of about Â£4,000. Now he's helping other people learn about alternative building methods.
"Actually, you could make it for less than that," James says. "I'd cut the wood myself next time instead of going to the sawmill. That would knock off a thousand." He finds the whole concept of mortgages quite amusing.
The walls are made of straw bales, and the roof is turf with flowers growing on it. It has a rainwater collection system, a composting toilet, and a woodburning stove. With the help of friends, he built it in about ten months. See more pictures at James' website.
Glen Hunter built his environmentally-friendly home in Ontario using straw bales, although you'd never guess by looking at it. Architect Paul Dowsett had never done an off-the-grid house before he tackled the Hunter project. It became a throughly modern-looking straw bale home. Features include a solar roof that powers electricity and water heating, a wind turbine on a nearby hill for additional power, and three exterior walls made of straw bales.
Kara and Dave built a straw bale house that was unveiled in August of 2007. The process of building it is documented in their blog Stonehouse Straw House.
Straw homes are often personal projects, but they can be mass-produced. First Response Structures has developed a method of building temporary homes for disaster victims out of straw-filled panels. The panels are made of compressed wheat or rice straw covered with recycled paper using no toxins, so that when the shelter is no longer needed, the panels can be disposed of without damaging the environment. See a video of a temporary home construction.