They’re incredibly energy-efficient, fire-resistant, quiet, and have a cozy, organic feel to them. They’re straw bale homes, and though building them fell out of fashion in the 1920s, they’re making a comeback.
One of the most appealing aspects of a straw bale home is that the bales themselves are made of a naturally occurring recycled material. Straw is the waste by-product of crops like rice, wheat, and barley. Rather than burning them and releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, straw bale builders are capturing and using the material.
From Mother Nature Network:
After carpenter ants literally ate Philip Higgs’ studio in Boulder, Colo., he decided to rebuild anew — only this time, with straw.
“I wanted to build something that was going to be efficient and use passive solar techniques so that it wouldn’t use a lot of energy,” says Higgs.
Higgs is hardly alone.
Straw has been used as an insulating material for many centuries, and many bale homes built in the 1800s still exist in the U.S. and Europe today. Though building with straw fell out of favor with consumers around the 1920s, straw bale buildings’ popularity has surged in the past 20 years.
The buildings are especially popular in drier areas such as California, Arizona and Mexico. They also can be built in more humid regions, with the proper precautions.
According to straw bale experts, the material is as pest-resistant and waterproof as wood framing. And, contrary to popular belief, straw bales are actually quite fire-resistant due to the tightness of the bales, which keeps out oxygen, a necessary component for fire.
One reason that straw bale buildings are incredibly energy efficient is because of their thick walls and tightly packed bales. One industry Web site claims that a typical straw bale wall is roughly three times as energy efficient as a conventional wall.
Building with straw bales also finds a use for what would otherwise be a waste material. Straw is the inedible stalk from crops like rice, wheat, barley and rye. Because the material doesn’t decompose quickly, farmers can’t simply plow the straw back into the ground, so instead they typically burn it, creating blackened skies and releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide.