We were interested to see the venerable Economist magazine write about straw bale houses earlier this month. When such a conservative, mainstream publication notices a trend – albeit a decade or two late – that can only mean the trend has become firmly entrenched in our culture. So we welcome this article, even though it’s belated and somewhat uninformed.
Straw bale construction has, indeed, experienced a renaissance and has become popular with people looking to build strong, relatively inexpensive, ecologically sound houses and other structures using local, renewable materials. The material is very low in embodied energy, cheaply produced, non-toxic, and biodegradable at the end of its lifetime. Straw is an abundant, annually renewable resource often treated as waste by farmers. Well-constructed straw bale homes are durable, with some having survived for hundreds of years. They can also be very attractive because the materials lend themselves to rounded corners and other shapes.
Natural Life Magazine has been covering straw bale construction for almost 20 years now. Here’s the earliest straw bale article that we have archived on the website. In 1996, we held a two-day straw bale construction workshop as part of the Natural Life Festival. Ottawa-based architect and straw bale specialist Linda Chapman and her group of enthusiastic students built a small structure in the backyard of our rural home/office. One of Linda’s designs was featured on the cover of our May/June 2000. Linda and her partner, through their company Fibrehouse Limited, have been researching and building with straw bales since the early 1990s. With the help of CMHC, they have tested 18-inch wide stuccoed straw bale walls and found them to be sturdy under extreme stress.
A list of some of the articles we’ve published in Natural Life Magazine on straw bale, straw clay and other types of sustainable construction is here.
Linda Chapman’s website has a great deal of useful information, as well as a gallery of straw bale homes.
And last, but not least, the International Straw Bale Registry Project has almost 1,500 straw bale buildings on its site.