Up until now, the most famous thing about houses made of straw was that the residents end up as dinner for a big bad wolf. However, an engineering research project led by the University of Bath and specialist architectural firm Modcell in Bristol may change the perception of straw bale houses for good.
Fire, wind and wolf resistant
The construction sector aims to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent and energy consumption by 50 per cent, before 2050. Drastic measures are needed to achieve that aim. So when you first heard of straw-bale homes, your first thought was probably that such measures may have become a bit too radical
While a straw-bale house would indeed fulfill all the requirements of the perfect eco-home, it also offers greater resiliency than you may think. Professor Walker of the University of Bath claimed that a series of fire tests, laboratory tests and accelerated weather tests revealed straw-bale construction to be extremely durable; more so than most other forms of contemporary construction.
As part of the project, seven straw-bale houses were built on a street of traditional brick-built homes and clad in brick so as to not look out of place. Beneath that façade, however, are timber-framed walls filled with straw bales. These are not the first homes in the UK to be built of straw, but they are the first to be made available on the market – with a 20% reduction in build costs and a 90% reduction in fuel bills to boot.
Straw-bale homes as eco-homes
The production of wheat flour in the UK leaves up to 7 million tonnes of excess straw, half of which is usually discarded as waste or used as animal bedding. Researchers determined that about 3.8 million tonnes of straw could instead go towards the construction of 500,000 new homes, with a three-bedroom house requiring around 7.2 tonnes of straw.
This makes straw a readily available, low-cost building material that is also clean and energy efficient. Straw is ultimately a product that is derived from food production, meaning that increased production as a result of higher demand would have numerous benefits. The UK is not the only country to see straw’s potential, as China, Australia and the US have also experimented with straw-bale construction.
The legend of the three little pigs ensures that straw bale homes may take awhile to catch on. Once they do, however, people will benefit from increased resiliency, energy-efficiency and affordability all under one roof. The use of straw in house construction may seem more reminiscent of a medieval peasant's hut rather than a modern home design, but sometimes more advanced technologies present us with new ways to improve upon older methods.
Who knows, it might not be too long before you see straw-bale houses on property listings in a neighbourhood near you.