Straw-bale construction is becoming a new phenomenon in the UK. Unlike the common misconception that houses constructed with straw will be “blown down,” presumably by a wolf, this method of construction has actually been proven to be both energy efficient and cost effective for self builders.
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What is Straw-bale Construction?
Straw-bale construction is a building method that uses bales of straw as structural elements or building insulation. Loadbearing and infill are the two main types of straw bale contrition. Loadbearing construction consists of bales of hay being stacked like bricks and takes the weight of the floor plate, joists, and roof.
When using the infill construction method, the weight of the roof and floor is carried by a timber, steel, or concrete framework with bales providing the infill and key for plaster. Both systems are protected with breathable lime or clay render.
There are a number of advantages when it comes to straw-bale construction. The first is the efficiency in energy. Homes insulated with straw have a higher tendency to lower your heating and cooling costs up to 75% according to buildingwithawareness.com. Even in the hotter seasons/climates, the need for mechanical air-conditioning is much less, because enough cool air is kept inside due to the straw.
Straw-bale homes are also surprisingly very fire resistant. When the bales of straw are stacked with the clay plaster around them, there is not enough air inside the walls for the bales to burn. This also makes it impossible for mice or rats to nest in your walls as the straw is so densely compressed, there’s no space for them!
The walls are very thick in straw-bale homes due to the width of the bales of straw. In conventional construction, thick walls can be expensive because they add aesthetic value to your home. Also, every window in the house can have a window seat or shelf. But most importantly, these thick walls make an extremely soundproof space.
Finally, you will get the satisfaction of using waste products. The stocks are disposable to farmers so when the straw is bailed, a new life is given to the material.
Straw-bale construction also comes with some disadvantages as well. The first is that it’s a specialist construction technique so skilled labour will be required. So if you wanted a DIY project, you may not have the essential skills required to do a proper job.
Straw-bale building may not be a part of your local building control guidelines and it can be a complicated and timely process to get your plan approved. However, a good, well chosen architect/design team will take control of this process and make it as quick and painless as possible.
If there is ever flooding or the walls get wet, this can be an enormous and costly problem because straw and many other building materials have a susceptibility to rot. Moisture coming from the roof above into the bales must be avoided. Locations with extreme humidity or rain will also be more vulnerable of course. Again, it’s important to get a good architect to make sure the details are “water-tight”. If the bales do not get any water damage, they will last as long as long as other modern construction methods.
An advantage, which can also be seen as a disadvantage, is the thickness of the walls in homes with straw-bale construction. More of your overall square footage will be unusable due to the thickness of the walls.
Finding the right architect
The key to a successful self-build is good research and planning and it’s wise to get your architect involved as early as possible to help with this. Choosing the right architect for your self-build is a critical first step, but we know that finding the right one can be a bit of a minefield. This is exactly why I set up this website in the first place! Register your project below and we’ll help you to find the right person for your project in no time…
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Oh yes, I remember seenig the programme showing Ben’s progress with that build and when the TV crew returned (a year?) later he had a partner and child. Beautiful home.Tony Wrench’s roundhouse at Brithdir Mawr, Wales is kinda cute but unfortunately it can give the impression that strawbale house build isn’t more mainstream. Some of the other examples thankfully show us that this method can be applied in a more practical sense.