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Intro to Straw-Bale Home Construction

Have you ever seen buildings with thick walls and smooth rounded corners which seem to blend into the landscape seamlessly?  There is a good chance that this structure is made of organic material, or what is known as an "eco home".  

Eco homes can be made from a variety of materials:  Wood, clay, glass bottles, tires, cans, loose straw, and straw bales.  They can look like a regular home, or if the architect is really inventive, he/she can design a unique organic shape that is sure to impress! 

Straw-bale building dates back to the Paleolithic era and is still used widely in parts of Africa, Asia, and is gaining in popularity in Europe, North / South America and Australia due to its sustainable qualities.  The technique was popular in 19th-century American Mid-West when the mechanical hay baler was invented and wide spread.  It was especially popular due to the lack of trees and the need for an alternative building material at a low cost.  These are two of the several reasons that attracts people to this building method today. 

The basics

Straw bale building is a method of using dried organic straw as both a structural and insulation element.  It is sustainable technique as materials are found locally and vary depending on which grasses are grown locally.  

The walls are thick and a house does not require much energy in heating and cooling due to the excellent insulation that the straw naturally provides.  The thickness of the walls also make the structure fire-retardent when covered in clay.   On the downside, there is a slight susceptibility to rot.  Grasses naturally decompose and if any moisture seeps into the walls disintegration is inevitable.  This rarely happens if the structure is built well and home owners often check the moisture content of their bales to avoid this problem.  

How its done

Rows of straw bales are stacked on a raised foundation to eliminate contact with moisture.  Between each row of bale 'bricks,' a moisture barrier is laid, again to reduce the possibility of rotting.  These layers of straw bales are held together with either rebar, bamboo, or wood for structural support, and are often covered with a coating of plaster, stucco, or wood.  In wet, or nordic climates where there is heavy snowfall, further attention is required to the outside of the structure to minimize contact with water and ice.  In these climates, the straw acts more as an insulation and the house needs a hearty shell to withstand the weather.  This is known as a 'hybrid'. 

Many people prefer 'green' buildings as you have the freedom to create any shape you want.  Designs are more free-flowing and you can let your imagination run wild!  Your home can also be your art project.  

 

 

image from flickr.com

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About avocado

I am a globe trotting visual artist who is also vegan. I've been living in Bali for the last few years and am currently in back in Canada learning how to stay warm.

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