Straw Now Offers a Simple and Effective Home-grown Solution to the Uk’s Housing Needs

Don’t be surprised if the Big Bad Wolf comes calling

Hey, fancy buying a straw house? Straw-bale construction is a building method that uses bales of straw as structural elements and building insulation. These environmentally friendly homes use prefabricated timber-framed walls that are packed with straw bales and are the result of an engineering research project led by the University of Bath.

Straw houses have been built on the African plains since the Paleolithic Era and are on sale on the open market for the first time in the UK after becoming eligible for standard mortgages.

Don’t be Surprised if the Big Bad Wolf Comes Calling

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Though straw walls might be most readily linked to a story of pigs making the wrong construction decisions, the team behind these homes says the material offers real potential for ultra low carbon housing throughout the UK.

Compressed and Plastered Straw Bale Walls Are Also Resistant to Fire

UK's first straw houses to be offered on the open market in Bristol

UK’s first straw houses to be offered on the open market in Bristol

Researchers stressed that it is a safe and robust construction material, boasting environmental advantages such as insulation efficiency that reduce energy bills by up to 90%

Building with Straw Could Be a Turning Point in Our Trajectory Towards a Low Carbon Future

Until now the Straw homes have been used for bespoke building projects and financed through specialist lenders but now a row of straw houses in Bristol have become the first to secure building certification making them eligible for a standard mortgage.

You Can Huff and Puff but These Houses Won’t Blow Down!

“I believe there’s a lot of misconception about using straw — stories about the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf,” Professor Pete Walker told the BBC.

The only hint this new construction method is a ‘truth window’ in each property where a section of straw wall will be visible through a window. Although these are not the first houses in the UK to be built using straw bales, they are the first to be built for any buyer on the open market.

The researchers worked with specialist architectural firm Modcell.

The houses are on a street of traditional brick-built homes in Bristol and are covered in brick to fit in with the surroundings. The team says this development should help move building with straw to the wider market.

As part of this EU-funded project, Prof Walker and his colleagues have systematically tested and refined the technology – including testing its structural and weight-bearing properties, and its thermal insulation.

Facts

  • Straw is the leftover stalks from cereal crops
  • Four million tonnes of this leftover straw is produced every year by the UK
  • According to the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board it takes about seven tonnes of straw to build a three-bedroom house
  • There is potential to grow the material for more than half a million new homes every year in British fields.

These are the first straw-bale homes built speculatively for the open market a very exciting time for this building technology, as the more we build out of renewable materials like straw and timber, the less carbon will be in the atmosphere, so we can reduce climate change effects.

About Dean Jones

Dean is an Associate in AECOM’s Programme Leadership Practice. Dean joined AECOM from Care UK, the UK’s largest independent provider of health and social care, where he was a Programme Manager and delivered a £250m investment growth programme over 2012/15 which increased Care Uk’s number of homes circa 33%. Dean was also Programme Manager for a £60m Suffolk programme to build ten new care homes and ten day clubs, bringing much needed additional nursing and specialist dementia care to the Suffolk community.

  1. I’ve long hoped to see the Straw Bale construction method gain greater prominence, too. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw-bale_construction You have many of the same advantages: good seismic stability, good insulating qualities, relatively low cost of materials, with the added bonus of a renewable main material.

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  2. It’s a really interesting sector – I read a few years ago that a group in Austria tried to create a certifiable straw bale as a building product, and promptly fell out with the rest of the EU strawbale community who thought they were therefore excluding self-builders by making a product out of a supposedly readily available resource! Whereas I’d hazard a guess they were trying to address building compliance issues… maybe I am naïve to the market drivers therein! It’s quite difficult to find any engineering tests on straw bale; I’ve seen of compression loading test done in Australia, but the conclusion was that the render was providing structural integrity not the straw; however I personally believe there is a unique and under researched compressive strength in fibrous materials. There are also some pretty impressive fire testing videos around the internet. A friend of mine has a straw bale garden house here in Oxford; and I’m off to visit a rumoured canal side strawbale cottage nearby this weekend – Good luck Mike, keep us posted on the project would love to see how it goes!

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  3. Well “Blow me down”! That’s a great idea for house insulation and construction. Now, if you can just tell me how to insulate this old 1967 mobile home of mine, I would warmly appreciate it!
    Thank you for visiting my blog site and for enjoying my “Work In Progress”. You have interesting articles. I’ll be back soon.

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  4. Having done a number of these on the prairies (a dry climate which is probably the only climate where we should use straw), I can tell you I am not a big fan. They take longer to build, they usually cost more (unless you get your neighbors and friends to help, which is what we normally see here), and for the wall thickness, the R/RSI value is not great (less than R2 per inch). Testing in California finally showed that a number of years ago. We went thought our straw bale phase here and don’t see it too often anymore.
    Straw is best left on the ground as anti-drying material for next year’s crops.
    It is what we call a boutique bldg material, like cob or tires (earth ships). The only good thing about it is it does store carbon.
    We have much better wall systems that we developed here for our net zero energy projects (full of cellufibre, a waste product). Please contact the writer if you have more interest in this matter (or would like more critique or discussion on straw bale construction).

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  5. Yes indeed. But keep your fingers crossed for the owners that, when they wish to sell, they don’t come up against a nitwit with surveyor qualifications who says “I’m knocking 25% off the valuation because I haven’t seen one of these before”. I live in a ‘non-traditional’ house and that happened to my next door neighbour.

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