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Straw Bale Homes - An Earth Friendly Choice

Nearly half of the houses on our planet are made from stone, mud and straw. In the industrialized areas of the world it is common practise to use plastics, foams and OSB. These materials can be bad for your health, bad for the environment or both. Building with natural materials offers a healthier choices for your home and your health.

This idea is not a new one, straw bale homes were birthed out of necessity. During the late 1800's in the sand hills of Nebraska; the settlers were faced with flat prairies and a sparse supply of trees with which to use for lumber. What then to build a home with? They baled the prairie grass that was in abundant supply; stacking them like bricks to form the walls of the house. Some of these early homes are still standing and became the model for the straw bale revival that began in the 1990s.

Today as we are striving to be an environmentally sensative culture - straw bale construction is being viewed as a sensible option. Not only for the earth that is our home but our health as well. Sick house syndrome is said to have a direct link with poor air quality. Gassing of conventional building materials in our home and workplace can cause symptoms such as headache, dry itchy skin, fatique, eye, nose, throat irritation and sensitivity to odors. A properly built straw bale house has breathability providing cleaner air and eliminates toxins that cause sick house syndrome.

Straw bale construction circa 1900

Straw bale construction circa 1900


What is so great about a straw bale house?

Glad you asked.

  1. Energy efficiency - A properly constructed straw bale house has superior insulation properties consuming about 1/4 the energy of a conventional home.
  2. Non-Toxic - All natural materials are used to provide a healthy living environment.
  3. Beauty - They provide a unique aesthetic quality and can be built in a wide variety of styles to suit individual taste.
  4. Affordable - A single family home can be built for 30,000 - 130,000 depending on how elaborate your design is and how much work is contracted out.
  5. Environmentally friendly - using local natural materials means less energy is used in providing the products for the construction of the home. Straw is a leftover product from hearvesting grains, wheat and rice - much of the time it is burned polluting the air. Using the straw bales cuts down on air pollution also.

Tip for Steel Framing

Caution - When using steel frames be sure to wrap it in water proofing material such as roofing felt. This prevents condensation on the steel from transfering moisture to the straw bales.

Two Methods of Construction

  1. Load Bearing - This is the most environmentally friendly way - using much less wood and typically a simple design. Downside is that you're limited to one story and banks have yet to finance on this type of construction. Some codes require the use of rebar to secure them in place.
  2. Post and Beam -Basicly bales are stacked in brick like fashion on a foundation around framework. Wood or steel is used for the framing.

After the bales are in place earthen plaster or stucco is smeared on (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inch thick) as evenly as possible to cover the bales on both sides. Mesh is sometimes used to shape the walls and window frames. Finishes can vary but traditionally water resistant applications are NOT used as it is vital that the straw bales have breathability to prevent trapped moisture and eventual rot. Care in the design is essential as a hastily built straw bale house can perform poorly with high energy bills. You can hire a professional who specializes in straw bale construction or do the research yourself and safe thousands of dollars. Most straw balers save on labor too by doing much of the work themselves. Many have a bale raising party when it comes time to stack the bales. Much like a barn raising it is a time of consolidating work forces of friends, family, perhaps one or two professionals with volunteers of all ages finding useful tasks to get it all done efficiently.

Green Construction for a Cleaner Earth

As mentioned earlier a wide variety of styles are available to the builder. How a straw bale house is constructed can vary also. Aside from the straw bales the there are many other materials that go into building the house. The choices are many and your prioritities are will determine what you choose. The concept of an environmentally friendly house calls for a majority of natural materials. However, many builders find that design is a high priority and will mix conventional with more green materials in their structure.

Foundations: Slab, walk-out basement, full basement, fly ash concrete, riprap and rocks.

Flooring: Wood, stone, earthen. and bamboo are popular choices.

Roofing: Tiles, shakes/shingles, compostition, tiles, metal, recycled rubber slate or a living roof.

Community Building Made With Straw Bales

Community Building Made With Straw Bales

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Common Questions About Straw Bale Homes:

  • Fire! Fire! - Myth, Myth. Not only are straw bales too dense for a fire to consume it ( lack of oxygen) but when straw bales are stacked and encased they are virtually non-combustable. Four years of testing has shown straw bales are naturally resistant to fire. However, caution should be taken during construction as the bales of straw laying around on the building site are a fire risk.
  • Varmints and Creepy Crawlies - Isn't straw a source of food and nesting material for little critters? In a barn yes, but in a straw bale structure the plaster/stucco seals the bales creating a barrier against pests. Conventional wood frame houses are much more inviting to rodents and insects providing walls packed with soft batt insulation.
  • Cost - The average straw bale house costs $40 - $70 per square foot to construct. The biggest chunks of money go to permits, materials, tools ( including rented equipment) and hired professionals.
  • Decomposition - Any organic material requires oxygen and water in order to decompose. When proper construction techniques are implimented, water will not enter the building thus creating decomposition.

Single Mom Builds Straw Bale House for $50,000


Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on November 07, 2013:

Great information here. I intend to build some kind of earth friendly house in the next couple of years. This hub gives me food for thought.

Amy Kat on June 08, 2012:

Colorado has been financing Straw Bale construction for several years now.

mcdroid from United Kingdom on March 21, 2012:

If i ever get the time and money to build a house, this is how ill do it. Thanks!

dalemcleod from USA on August 15, 2011:

Very interesting hub and great information here!

eclecticeducation on May 04, 2011:

I was just reading about these earlier! Thank you for all the useful information. :)

RandomLife from Nashville TN on February 11, 2011:

One of my favorite hubs I've visited lately! Thanks for such a great, informative hub. I currently live in an apartment and am yet to have my first house so I really enjoy looking at how many options there are out there as far as materials go, especially more earth friendly types! Thanks again!

Energy Guild from Ripon, WI on December 13, 2009:

Great hub. This is a great green concept.

Ms Re from Memphis, TN on October 23, 2009:

Awesomely informative!Great idea from Christa to build one as a playhouse. I was just thinking how I am in the process of "turning my husband out" to the green movement...this may be a bit over the top for him. I could definitely convince him of this as an idea for a playhouse for the kids. Thank you soo much. Can't wait until the summer.

KEckerle from Currently near Surprise, AZ on September 11, 2009:

Great green alternative --- I've actually seen one of these and they are really incredible.

Judy on September 02, 2009:

Wonderful information. Love the pictures from HEARTLAND on August 16, 2009:

GREAT "ONE STOP" place for STRAW BALE INFO! A great way to GREEN UP! As a fabricator of sovereign stand alone designed steel frames - this is a great way to combine sustainability with durability to help close the loop of waste on material use... steel being very durable AND almost totally recyclable... GREAT HUB!

Laurel from Germany on July 24, 2009:

Great hub. We definitely need to create a demand for environmentally friendly housing. I recently renovated my condo and found it challenging at times to find eco-choices that weren't super expensive.

idealjanoo on June 02, 2009:

very good collection nice hub

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on May 01, 2009:

It's wonderful how they are coming up with new or old ideas for building that are sustainable, efficient and inexpensive to build. Great hub as this is a facinating subject. I recently wrote a hub about Earthship that use old tires to build homes.

There's nothing like a new technology to spur the economy. And the idea of using what we think of as trash to build, it's just wonderful.

BirteEdwards on April 11, 2009:

This is great information. Eco-friendly, pockey book friendly. It has everything going for it.

I have a friend in Australia who is in the process of building a straw baled house. I will be sure to send her a link to this hub.

DarleneMarie from USA on March 31, 2009:

Great Hub Tomato! Love it! Economical and earth-friendly - two super advantages!

C. C. Riter on March 30, 2009:

Great hub dear. I've watched these being built and we have several in my location. Thanks for the read and thanks for enjoying my poems my dear. I'll still be around and try to keep up with things. It's trying since i am so tied up with things. See ya soon

joarline on March 29, 2009:

This is a great hub! I have always dreamed of doing this. I have seen some unbelievably original and energy efficient homes. They all say the same things - check with the local building codes first. Some places do not allow this type of building. ( I do not understand that stance). Thankyou for spreading the good word. JO

The Real Tomato (author) on March 28, 2009:

Hey BristolBoy- I came across a few straw bale homes that where completely off the grid and drilled a well for their water which was gravity fed. I loved the whole idea of sustainable living even before I knew how important it was for the environment. Now there is more reason than ever to be excited about it!

Thank you for your input.

The Real Tomato (author) on March 28, 2009:

Jama - I havn't seen the PBS special you mentioned. I would love to see the process from start to finish. And I know what you mean about those niches, a homebuilder can get so creative!

BristolBoy from Bristol on March 28, 2009:

I have always liked teh idea of a straw bale home. Probably the one thing I would do if I had a lot of money would be to buy a plot of land and build a sustainable lifestyle. This would of course, considering my background, include a large proportion of renewable energy sources, but it important to note that often buildings houses produce lots of environmental damage in their construction. As such the local straw bale is a much more sustainable alternative, especially if it comes from an organic source. If a natural coating is used, such as lime this is even better and this will also provide protection for the straw bale from the elements. all in all a great hub!

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on March 28, 2009:

TRT, I'm *thrilled* to see you chose straw bale homes for a hub! I've been sold on them since watching the PBS series on which one was built. Hay bales are plentiful where I live, but the trick here would be getting enough rain-free days in a row that they'd be completely dry before B-day (building day)! But wjhat's not to like? Natural insulation against weather and sound, fireproof, critter proof, *and* those cute niches that can be put in the oddest places!

The Real Tomato (author) on March 27, 2009:

camm0 - Glad you stopped by and enjoyed reading.

The Real Tomato (author) on March 27, 2009:

Christa - A couple of things come to mind.

1. The earthen plaster must be at least 1 1/4 thick

2. Some people use paint on the inside of the walls which is a BIG no-no. It defeats the breathability of the walls, trapping moisture.

3. Rooms like the kitchen, bathroom/shower area should have a good quality fan in the ceiling to pull warm moist air up and out.

4. Another mistake I have heard about is applying a moisture barrier next to the straw bales before they are coated. Another no-no, as this also traps moisture.

Here is a link to an expert in the field. He has helpful videos on YouTube and a good website as well (link on the YT site).

In addition- below are links that are very informative if you want to do furthur research.

Lastly, I wanted to mention in case you hadn't thought of it already. Since your in a moist climate it would be good to keep the bales raised up from the ground. Cinder blocks I think are the easiest as they don't need to be treated like wood.

Hope this helps!

The Real Tomato (author) on March 27, 2009:

Hi Teresa! If you weren't so far away I would dig in and help you build it!

The Real Tomato (author) on March 27, 2009:

Princessa_ I think anyone would be concerned about fire. It was first put to me this way - If you light a piece of paper it is sure to burn, but if you light a thick phonebook the density will keep the fire from consuming it. The bales are very dense and packed tight plus almost 2 inches of earthen plaster covering it.

I was glad to hear you had not heard of Straw bale homes, one of the reasons I wrote this is to bring more awareness to this eco friendly option. Thanks for your comment!

camm0 on March 27, 2009:

I really found your hub very interresting. It is really informative.

Christa Dovel from The Rocky Mountains, North America on March 26, 2009:

I love the idea of a straw home and have long been a proponent of such building methods (even before 'green' was a recognized term). I would love to put up a straw or log-end shed this summer, as either would be an excellent play house for the kids and inexpensive to complete.

On the issue of decomposing, what about condensation? I live in a very moist area, and know that several of the straw homes in this area have had trouble. I do not know if poor craftsmanship is the problem or the natural moister levels. When I lived in an RV I had to bleach the walls weekly to prohibit mold growth, because of condensation.

Sheila from The Other Bangor on March 26, 2009:

Great hub. It's time, isn't it, to start building these in earnest everywhere. If I ever manage to sell my house, a plot of land and an eco-friendly house will be the way to go. . .

Wendy Iturrizaga from France on March 26, 2009:

Interesting. First time I hear about this type of building and just as I was wondering about fire risks I came to the FAQ section of your hub.

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