As technology begins to become more advanced, so has the construction of homes in recent days. However, one such construction that has been around since the Paleolithic era has become increasingly popular again, and that is the straw bale house. But what are straw bale houses, and why are they so popular?
Straw-bale houses are homes built with straw materials such as wheat, oat, rice, or rye straw. It is considered an excellent building method for anyone who is environmentally conscious as straw is a sustainable material that, when built well, can last for over 100 years.
So, why aren’t a lot more houses built with straw bale as materials moving forward? In this article, we’ll discuss more on the pros and cons of a straw bale house as well as other must-knows on everything related to straw bale houses.
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Advantages of Straw Bale Houses
While it has seen a revival during the last decade, straw bale houses have been built since the early stone age. It was also a popular material for homes built in Germany over 400 years ago, while homes in East Asia and Northern Europe have always sported straw-thatched roofs. But why have straw bale houses become so popular again, and why do people continue to build them?
One of the top advantages to straw bale houses is that it’s made of a biodegradable material. It is made by harvesting the edible parts of the grain like rice or wheat before being bailed together and sold to home contractors. Constructing straw bale houses thus effectively reduces waste and helps farmers with their livelihoods.
Straw bale houses also offer great insulation values of up to R-30 to R-35, or sometimes even more. Houses built with straw bale often sport thick walls, which add to the aesthetics and sturdy construction of a home. Thanks to the thick walls, sunlight is often reflected around the room and can create a naturally warm environment for living.
Easy to Use
Subsequently, it’s also easy for novice contractors to pick up on the skill of building houses out of straw bales. In case of rushed home building projects, reputable contractors can hire more workers to hasten the job of making livable straw bale houses within a short period.
Fire Resistant Materials
When using straw bale as a material to build houses, many homeowners would worry about how well it could withstand a fire disaster. Contrary to popular belief that it is highly flammable, straw bale homes may be better than wood-frame homes when it comes to withstanding fire damage. This is as the straw bales are packed densely, thus effectively being more fire retardant.
What Are the Disadvantages of Straw Bale Houses?
While that all sounds almost too good to be true, there are also some drawbacks to straw houses that make this material less appealing to some home builders.
Hard to Get Permits
The difficulty of obtaining a permit from your local council to build a straw bale house may be one of the biggest headaches. Because straw bale houses may not always be a part of the local code, obtaining permits can be a long and exhausting process. Of course, this does vary from state to state but has turned many homeowners away from using straw bale as a construction material.
Of course, you may contact an experienced architect or engineer to pre-stamp your plans to quicken the process of obtaining a permit. This, however, may add to the building cost of your straw bale house and may not be achievable by every homeowner. There is also no guarantee that your permit will be approved through this method.
Hard to Keep Moisture out
To keep the straw bale houses safe, it’s also important to keep the walls as dry as possible. This, in particular, makes the construction process more difficult as you’ll have to keep the straw bales dry.
It’s important to ensure that moisture does not enter the walls from the roof. If there is too little control over moisture, a straw bale house may become unsafe and rot prematurely. The walls must also allow moist air to penetrate and pass through the outer coaching. Otherwise, moisture will accumulate within the construction and result in rot and fungus, which can render a house unliveable.
How Much Does It Cost to Build a Straw Bale House?
The cost of building a straw bale house is one of the most common questions that specialized contractors receive. However, there are no straight answers to this except that it depends. Various factors go into the cost of building a straw bale house, such as the design, the location, the intended size of the home, and other miscellaneous tasks.
Factoring all the necessary tasks when building a straw bale house, you should expect to pay between $60 to $150 per square foot to construct a straw bale house. Although this may seem like a steep number right off the bat, there are often many ways you can bring down the costs.
For instance, sourcing for free or cheap materials and having volunteer labor is a great way to cut down on a straw bale house’s building costs. Do note that there may be some disadvantages to this, such as having to train the volunteer labor, which may delay the construction process.
Many people may assume that building a straw bale house is cheaper than a conventional house, but this is not entirely true. Depending on the build quality and the R-value of the straw bale home, there is a possibility that the construction maybe somewhere between 10% more expensive or 15% cheaper than a traditional house.
If you’re planning to build a straw bale house, the best way to find out the final cost of building your dream home is to approach several architects and contractors for quotes. This is a great way to have your home ideals discussed, and you will have a more concrete idea of how much you’ll need to invest in your dream home.
3 Common Problems of Straw Bale Houses
So, what are some of the common problems that owners of straw bale houses face?
Straw Bale Houses Are Susceptible to Rotting
As mentioned, due to the biodegradable nature of straw bale, houses made of straw bales are often at risk of rotting if they are not taken care of. While most straw bale houses can last for over 100 years with proper care, premature rotting can occur in the walls if it is constantly exposed to moisture. This also makes straw bale houses more difficult to build and maintain in high humidity areas and areas with heavy rainfall.
You May Be at Risk for Straw-dust Related Allergies
Some homeowners may not realize until later that they are allergic to straw. The symptoms are eye irritation and watery eyes or constant sneezing. Unfortunately, there are no ways to stop straw-dust related allergies, so you’ll have to ensure you’re not allergic to the material before putting it to use.
Thick Walls Mean Less Usable Home Space
Although the thick walls of straw bale houses offer great insulation, they can also mean less usable home space overall. As a comparison, regular homes have walls that are approximately 6 inches thick while straw bale homes have walls that are 18 inches thick.
While you may build a bigger home to compensate for the thicker walls, this could add to the overall construction cost.
How to Finance and Insure a Straw Bale House
Finally, you may wonder how to finance and insure a straw bale house. Due to the construct and nature of straw bale houses, financing and insuring an unconventional home can be difficult but not impossible.
To acquire financing for your straw bale house, you’ll have to approach your bank with a well-thought plan, complete with blueprints, building costs, and other necessary documentation. This provides the bank with confidence that you’re working on a feasible project, and that you will afford to pay your loan in the long run.
Do note that not all banks offer a financing plan for straw bale houses and some may offer a loan only for material purchases. It may worth it to ask around numerous banks to see which company can offer you the best financial assistance.
This is the same for insuring straw bale homes, although there may be fewer hassles for approval. Acquiring an insurance policy for your straw bale house should work the same as insuring a conventional home although some insurance companies may require higher premiums as they may perceive straw bale houses to be high-risk structures.
What’s important when securing financial assistance and insurance for a straw bale house is to have your documentation ready in hand. It may also be helpful to have your architect or engineer with you, as they can accurately describe the construct of your home as well as assess the risks of the building clearly to the bank and insurance companies.