Eco-builders are clutching at straws

Full article here.

The comments on the twitter thread are a hoot.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bryan A
December 23, 2019 10:18 pm

Straw, sticks or bricks, which little piggie will you be?
Straw can by very insulating though you wind up with walls 2′ thick.
Perhaps layers, like an onion, bricks on the outside for resilience, sticks (2×4) on the inside for ease of finishing (even Lathe and Plaster) and straw in between for insulation. Then all 3 little pigs would be satisfied.

Reply to  Bryan A
December 24, 2019 8:40 am

I hope they don’t have hay fever.

Reply to  beng135
December 24, 2019 11:44 am

As usual with dismissive headlines, they get the facts wrong.

It’s straw, not hay. Don’t know the difference? Don’t try to be smart.

Straw has excellent thermal properties, tightly bound straw bails have good mechanical load bearing properties, though you probably want a wood or metal armature if you are going to build a first floor.

Despite what you might think are quite hard to set on fire.

Reply to  Greg
December 24, 2019 10:56 pm

An architect I know made two straw walled houses. The roofer did manage to set the straw on fire with his blow torch while fitting some zinc flashing. The fire did not spread and, after getting the OK from the fire crew they finished the house without rebuilding the wall. The damage was minimal.

Reply to  Greg
December 26, 2019 8:13 am

Greggy, word-police much? You do this habitually, and it’s boring. I guess you don’t have or know anything about hay fever — most that have significant hay fever will be bothered by both. It’s allergies to many types of pollen & plant matter, not just hay or straw.

Reply to  Bryan A
December 24, 2019 10:59 am

I’m the air-crete piggy 🙂

That stuff looks interesting and is way easier to work with than concrete. I’ll have to give a try sometime for some structure. Tool shed or something like that to start with.

Joel O'Bryan(@joelobryan)
December 23, 2019 10:29 pm

Obviously a gimmick. But then Britain is such a dry climate.

Don’t they have building codes for habitable structures that prevents that?
Any leaks or moisture would quickly bring mould and rot in the walls that would be unstoppable.

Randy Wester
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
December 23, 2019 11:20 pm

Moisture inside any wall is bad news. Building with straw is well known technology, probably predates the hay baler. Like wood, it chars slowly but won’t easily burn through, It might stand up well to a nuclear blast.

Building with hay would be unwise. It has too high a food and monetary value. If you don’t know straw from hay, building with it is not for you.

Reply to  Randy Wester
December 24, 2019 1:37 am

Spot on.

Reply to  Randy Wester
December 24, 2019 1:38 am

If you don’t know straw from hay …

LOL. We used to tie wisps of hay and straw to peoples’ feet because they didn’t know left from right. hay foot, straw foot That wouldn’t work now, or be necessary even. People know left and right, but most can’t tell the difference between hay and straw.

Reply to  commieBob
December 24, 2019 12:32 pm

I like the turn around, maybe we can used the same technique to teach people the difference between hay and straw.

Seriously, there is nothing worse that someone trying to be smart and condescending only to realise they do not know the basics of what they are trying to mock.

“Moisture inside any wall is bad news.”
Indeed. Dry-wall is aptly named because if it not kept dry , it is no longer a wall.

Reply to  Greg
December 26, 2019 2:57 pm

Obviously you are uninformed about moisture/mold resistant wallboard.

Reply to  Randy Wester
December 24, 2019 3:40 am

A guy in England build a house using straw for insulation in the walls. Worked well, but apparently you get a big mouse problem.

David Chappell
Reply to  Hivemind
December 24, 2019 5:36 am

Rats, too.

Reply to  Hivemind
December 25, 2019 6:45 pm

We had a huge rat problem with rats wanting to live in the blow in insulation in our regular home made of wood and drywall with a stucco exterior. Any place they can burrow and nest is game. It isn’t just a problem with straw.

Not really a strong argument.

Carbon Bigfoot
Reply to  Randy Wester
December 24, 2019 3:52 am

“It might stand up well to a nuclear blast”–you can’t be serious. It would not even stand up to a gale force wind, hurricane or tornado. I hope you just forgot the sarc tag.

Randy Wester
Reply to  Carbon Bigfoot
December 24, 2019 4:46 am

Compred to sticks covered with vinyl siding, yes it would stand up better to the heat flash. The overpressure and shockwave might be better absorbed by the material.

Carbon Bigfoot
Reply to  Randy Wester
December 24, 2019 5:39 am

Randy your comments are the most Intellectually Bankrupt I’ve ever seen on these pages.
You are one of those guys that knows nothing and speculates about everything and has do get in the last stupid word.
If you want to learn something about building techniques see my comment below about modern structurally sound home building.

Randy Wester
Reply to  Carbon Bigfoot
December 24, 2019 6:46 am

My house has an ICF basement, but not built by you since it has only double glazed windows.

I’ve used 4x4x8′ bales to build temporary shelter walls. ICF with rebar might be tougher than block or dimensional lumber against any realistic possible weather, but I doubt it would take the sharp blow of a shock wave or a sledgehammer as well as four feet of straw. Probably the roof would be pushed in anyway, and hopefully they just keep using up the enriched uranium to make electricity.

I’ve seen a picture of a Canadian built house after hurricane Katrina. It lost a few roof tiles, but all that was left around it was slabs and what may have been a glulam or thouroghly nail laminated beam from one of its doomed neighbors. The builder gave up fighting with blinkered, pig-ignorant politicians over building code and went home.

I hadn’t realized that anyone took this sneering, derisive ‘article’ seriously. Didn’t know hay from straw…

Reply to  Carbon Bigfoot
December 25, 2019 1:46 pm

It will clearly sand up better than brick or vinyl because the material offers more flex. It stands up well to extreme heat and won’t burn as easily as wood structures. Many of the homes left standing after large forest fires in the American West are the ones that are made of straw bales and have a metal, ceramic or stone roofs.

Straw bale houses that use post and beam construction with the bale encased in plaster on the interior and exterior walls are getting more common where I live. They tend to be built by people who want non-toxic materials because owners are sensitive. Some builders would make the first floor using straw bales and build an upper floor using the more traditional approach. Others build both floors using the same technique.

The primary issue is not the performance of the materials but the way that the structures look. Usually, you see thick plastered walls with few sharp corners. External sounds are dampened by the straw and the heat losses are small. If you have a metal roof, your house should be safe even if everything outside is burning.

I think that you guys need to be a bit more open minded because not everything that the environmentalist types do is irrational. My issue with building with straw bales in the UK is the moisture. Moisture the enemy of cellulose, which is why walls need to be covered with plaster and the house is built in an environment where humidity is not high all of the time. But if I lived in an area that was dry and experienced extreme temperatures I would have little problem building a house using straw. If the area were vulnerable to fire, I would just add a metal roof and made sure that the windows were set back enough to protect the frame and glass from the flames. That is easy to accomplish with straw bale construction, which is why the houses tend to stand up so well to fires.

Reply to  Randy Wester
December 24, 2019 10:20 am

In regards to your comment concerning straw having too high a food and monetary value. We currently waste enormous quantities of food (corn) for fuel production so it sounds completely consistent for these whackjobs to waste more viable food stock for building material.

Randy Wester
Reply to  Brad-DXT
December 25, 2019 9:58 am

No, I said ‘hay’ not straw. The original poster seemed to be ignorant of the difference. In straw almost all the food energy has been transferred to the seeds and the plant is dead cellulose before it is cut down. Hay is cut green, with all the nutrition in the leaves and stems.

But since you mentioned it, non- food ethanol can be produced from grain that is unfit (contaminated, frozen, spoiled) for human or even livestock consumption.

If you could make $3 worth of tortilla chips from a half pound of corn you wouldn’t last long in business making it into a few cents worth of ethanol, would you? ‘Food vs. Fuel’ is such a red herring.

Vangel Vesovski
Reply to  Brad-DXT
December 25, 2019 1:48 pm

Sorry Brad but you are not reading what others are writing.

Russ Wood
Reply to  Randy Wester
December 31, 2019 3:48 am

Does the UK still have the old, square hay balers? (I remember as a kid helping to load up a barn with string-tied rectangular bales). These days, all I ever see are the huge round things, that need a fork lift on the tractor to pick ’em up! Once upon a time, at a summer solstice festival in Somerset (Arr!), the fair had a “throw a hay bale” competition!

B d Clark
Reply to  Russ Wood
December 31, 2019 4:39 am

Conventional small bales are still made, theres the large round silage bales, and large square bales ,both need front end loaders to pick up. And you can make small round bales you can pick up by hand.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
December 23, 2019 11:22 pm

And how quickly would a fire spread?

Reply to  Richard
December 24, 2019 1:56 am

Which loses its strength more quickly in a fire, wood or steel? You must protect steel beams from fire and you don’t have to protect wood beams. link Steel has the nasty habit of collapsing when exposed to fire. link

Just because something looks obvious …

The biggest hazard in modern fire fighting isn’t construction materials, it’s the building’s contents. Modern houses are full of stuff that burns readily. sobering You have much less time to escape a house fire than you used to.

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  commieBob
December 24, 2019 3:55 am

Sorry bout that, ….. commieBob, …… but your cited test appears to me to be a phony marketing claim.

A fire test conducted in 1961 at the Southwest Research Institute compared the fire endurance of a 7×21-inch glulam timber with a W16x40 steel beam. Both beams spanned approximately 43.5 feet and were loaded to full design load (approximately 12,450 lb.). After about 30 minutes, the steel beam deflected more than 35 inches and collapsed into the test furnace, ending the test.

A 43.5 foot manufactured SOLID wood beam …. Verses …. an open girder steel truss beam.

Reply to  Samuel C Cogar
December 24, 2019 5:01 am

And yet the building code is really clear on the matter. Steel girders must be protected.

Reply to  Samuel C Cogar
December 24, 2019 5:07 am

The other thing is that both beams were designed to support the load. It’s not like they over built the wooden beam.

Anyway, the point is that the naive would say that steel doesn’t burn so you don’t have to worry about it.

Reply to  Samuel C Cogar
December 24, 2019 10:53 am

I do believe they invented a paint that expands when in a fire thus insulating the steel beam, Could be wrong

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  Samuel C Cogar
December 25, 2019 4:04 am

And yet the building code is really clear on the matter. Steel girders must be protected.

And I will bet my farm that those fabricated “wood” beams are protected via a “fire inhibitor” impregnated within their construction.

Randy Wester
Reply to  Samuel C Cogar
December 25, 2019 6:40 am

Plywood heat shields are used on some apacecraft. The outer layer chars but transfers little heat to the next layer as it burns.

The only additive would be the few percent moisture that is naturally in the wood.

A tightly packed straw bale that you don’t want, is easy so singe, difficult to burn. It takes a long time and very slowly chars. Where they”re stacked with some air space there’s a chimney that drafts the smothering ash away. It gives a lot of time to escape before collapsing.

Reply to  Samuel C Cogar
December 25, 2019 10:41 pm

Sparko, you are wrong. I’m in construction and have never heard of such a paint product in +40 years. Steel structured buildings required to have the steel structure fireproofed … there are a few ways to do so, encasing in plasterboard products like Fyrecheck or spraying with vermiculite which is messy and requires ongoing maintenance.

The building codes are strict on fireproofing and flammability of building products issues given the Grenfell Tower (UK) disaster and I would be dumbstruck if the authorities would be relaxed about building with straw bales and no outer non-flammable application.

Reply to  commieBob
December 24, 2019 6:28 am

You don’t have to protect wood beams from fire? The protection is additional sprinkler systems required for wood construction. The reason you don’t have to spray fireproofing on wood is that if the risk was high enough to require it then wood isn’t permitted in the first place.

Alan the Brit
Reply to  commieBob
December 24, 2019 8:22 am

Primary timber structural elements, such as beams & columns, are designed to resit heat/flame through what is know as the charring factor, as once timber starts to char it tends to resist more heat through protection via the charred timber outer surface. Hardwoods & softwoods char at different rates understandably, obviously hardwoods resisting fire better than softwoods! However this only lasts for a short term, as once the timber finally catches hold with flame it will burn nicely! Steel requires special protection & intumenscent paints do a splendid job, but again up to a point. Fixed rigid cladding to steelwork does an equally splended job but is prone to dislodgement in explosive sistualtions, e.g. the Twin Towers in New York being a prime example, where due to the explosive power of the fuel combusting rapidly, blasting the rigid cladding protection away thus exposing the steel structure beneath! Can’t speak about the US, although my Institution of Structural Engineers did invite Leslie Robertson over to talk about the 9/11 disaster, a wonderful dignified man & an inspirational engineer! The whole object of fire-engineering is to buy time for occupants to escape to safety as quckly as possible through designated protected pathways! Most of the time it works, thankfully!

Reply to  commieBob
December 24, 2019 10:48 pm

Steel has the nasty habit of collapsing when exposed to fire.

NIST reports tell you that steel structured buildings turn into pancakes when they gets hot. But I suspect they may be lying.

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  commieBob
January 6, 2020 4:09 am

Meanonsunday [ ] wood isn’t permitted in the first place:

You’re telling me.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
December 23, 2019 11:48 pm

Building with straw in the Uk is very well established. also many thatch roofs are made of straw or reed and have been for thousands of years. Straw-used properly-is a good building material.

Hay is a different matter


Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
December 24, 2019 6:33 am

Damp hay can also spontaneously combust….

December 23, 2019 10:30 pm

One has to subscribe to the publisher to read the entire article. Too bad as it would have been interesting.

Bryan A
December 23, 2019 10:31 pm

At around 4000 – 4500 hay bails per 1500 square foot home and around 500 bails per acre, it would take, depending on annual rain amounts, from 9-10 up to 15 acres of hay grass per house 50′ x 30′ x 10′.

Phillip Bratby
Reply to  Bryan A
December 23, 2019 11:10 pm

It is straw, not hay. Hay is used solely for animal fodder, whereas straw is a waste product from growing grain and is mainly either burnt or used for animal bedding, helping to make manure.

Bryan A
Reply to  Phillip Bratby
December 24, 2019 9:54 am

You could have your house and eat it too

David A
Reply to  Bryan A
December 23, 2019 11:24 pm

Assuming commercial bales” 21 in wide, by 16 in high, by 3 to 4 ft long;
your 168′ perimeter would require no more then fifty-six 3′ bales. Stacked six high that is 336 bales.

Your math appears to be off.

guido LaMoto
Reply to  Bryan A
December 24, 2019 3:43 am

Average hay yield per ac is more like 100-125 small square bales. You get ~200 bales of straw / ac from wheat. Cost of either is running $5’/bale here in WI. up a little lately. You make hay while the sun shines, and we’ve had one of the wettest years on record– alotta good grass, not much hay. Those 50x30x10 walls would take ~300 bales.

Reply to  Bryan A
December 24, 2019 4:20 am

and? thats a fast renewable crop the grain fed animals so it served two uses
and straw bale homes are quite fire resistant if well plastered or rendered
with decent verandahs around moisture isnt an issue and for damper areas then a concrete raised foundations effective if you gravel infill that and run lowpressure soalr coils from roof you get underfloor heating and wall protection as well. they require minimal heating ofrcooling.
if a bale of hay is 5$ but replaces 50 bricks in the same area of a double brick house using less overall fuels to mine clay fire it n transport it then its a good deal all round.
far larger home for less outlay
use a concrete ring beam for the top like they do in mudbrick homes and the top of the walls is sealed from vermin damp and fire as well.
in Aus we have a company using pressed straw panels for transportables theye fire resistant for 2hrs termite and cyclone proof as well and very affordable and owner build is easy enough.
either option is far more appealing than woodplank homes or the crappy doublebrick ones that we have too many of. and that burn so well.
hebel aerated concrete is good too BUT very overpriced.

December 23, 2019 10:32 pm

A bit of advice…never let the mice or rats/squirrels and other vermin get access into the stacked hay bales. Or insects, moisture or ignition risk when hot. This was a trend 20-30 years @Motherearth straw bale houses. Maybe a solution for real poor people on temporary basis. I’ve lived in ‘haystacks’ before when I was a young buck a half century ago.

Alan the Brit
Reply to  Earthling2
December 23, 2019 11:01 pm

As has been pointed out, this is just an eco-gimmick. As a structural engineer & have worked on a couple they are similar to “cob” houes which are traditional construction down here in cream-tea country of Devon (shire)! They like cob, rely upon the inherent mass for their strength having none of & in themselves. Cob was used because bricks were very expensive & therefore only for the rich! Relying upon the inherent mass results in thick walls of, as pointed out above, of around 2 feet thick, this also gives reasonable thermal mass for insulation purposes. However, straw houses, (straight-faced, honestly), rely heavily upon a good lime-putty based render to protect them from the wind, rain, & snow, & adequate vermin protection is essential! My very own small-town house in Crediton has front & rear cob walls, like most properties over one hundred years old! My personal view is thermocrete construction in an insulated concrete block format, strength with insulation built in! Merry Christmas & a Happy & Peaceful New Year to all my WUWT friends!

Reply to  Alan the Brit
December 24, 2019 1:59 am

Nothing like cob which is mud/straw matri. This is straw bales and they are not load bearing but in-filled. There are 100 year old strawbale houses in the US. Steve Millroy is just flaunting his ignorance. Gimmicks don’t last a hundred years

Reply to  Loydo
December 24, 2019 11:20 am

flaunting his ignorance… he may well be.

but you pointing it out would be analogous to swalwell pointing out, with disdain, every other public farter.

Another Ian
Reply to  Earthling2
December 24, 2019 2:57 am

This was a recent topic here

Apparently rice straw is the go

December 23, 2019 10:41 pm

I hope they’re hauling in tons of sand for the foundations.

December 23, 2019 10:52 pm

Yes its a new alternative method of building, therefore must be feared and ridiculed.

There are some real plus attributes to straw bale construction. The bales are pinned together with rebar, the bales sit on a concrete foundation, The walls are sealed with Tyvek, then stucco, insides are plastered. The thermal insulation value of the bales is super high. Sound insulation should be fantastic.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Michael
December 23, 2019 11:07 pm

Yeah, building with straw is “new”!
Just like wind power and using the Sun.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
December 23, 2019 11:19 pm

Maybe in a few thousand years some of these innovators will discover how to build using mud to made an artificial stone-like material, and perhaps even learn how to use actual rocks that have been “carved” to specific shapes to do build stuff with, and forgo the use of such eco-friendly materials as “Tyvek” home wrap.
Some types of rocks could even be used for roofing material.
And if these straw builders get really good at what they do, perhaps someday techniques could be developed to use the material from somewhat larger plants to build with…perhaps trees even.
They could be dried out, these trees, and the resulting material sliced into smaller pieces and assembled using even smaller pieces of wood, thus making structures that have a property called “better”.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
December 24, 2019 3:57 am

Made me chuckle!

Such baleful 🙂 ignorance of history on display!

No offence to Michael or even Loydo intended. Well ok, maybe Loydo.

No, just kidding Loydo, Merry Christmas to all!

Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
December 24, 2019 7:46 am

Wind power was never meant to provide constant levels of power and cannot be maniulated. It is a 16th century power source. Now we find that wind turbines have a net WARMING effect due to the enormous amounrs of concrete and steel that are used for construction. Without subsidiess, no one would ever build a wind farm. Solar is also a deficient power generator, even with expensive batteries, which do NOT guarantee any manner of constant power. Solar rooftop has some usefullness, but NOT if the house allowed to dump power onto the grid withut controls. Molten salt nuclear is what every county with common sense is pursuing and is the future of power – cheaper than wind or solar can ever be.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  ColMosby
December 24, 2019 10:09 am

“It is a 16th century power source.”

Were windmills used for power? Apart from operating some machinery within the structure?

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
December 26, 2019 12:08 am

Are you asking if there were portable windmills? If so, ya sorta they were called sails.

Reply to  ColMosby
December 26, 2019 12:14 am

Seriously? “Wind power was never meant to provide constant levels of power and cannot be maniulated.” Ever hear of sailboat? They did that in the 16th century. Perhaps you would like to define “power” differently?

Phillip Bratby
Reply to  Michael
December 23, 2019 11:15 pm

It can only be used for specialist houses. Just as cob or wattle and daub have been in the past.

Reply to  Michael
December 24, 2019 5:08 am


None of what you said is “eco” 😐 concrete, plaster, rebar… good for keeping the heat in, rubbish over all for saving the planet from the great evil co2 monster

B d Clark
Reply to  Sunny
December 24, 2019 5:11 am

I agree also you cant put foundations down under sustainable living you would need full planning permission so what would be the point,building something that’s going to rot..

December 23, 2019 11:00 pm

Won’t comply with the building code. As far as I am aware, the Brits can still get an exemption for traditional thatch, if anyone is still collecting and preparing the raw material.
Looks like those two have little regard for workplace health and safety.
They are short of a couple of materials. Straw had a place in traditional “wattle and dawb” walling, eg make a weave of hazel or similar, mix the straw with cow shit.

B d Clark
Reply to  Martin Clark
December 24, 2019 5:05 am

In some areas of the UK sustainable building is allowed, eg building with straw bales, the regulations allow for building in this manner, however there not classed as permanent structures, they can not be sold or inherited as such, there are also minimum requirements, not to be built within 30 meters of the highway not under a approach or departure runway, no more than 3 meters in hight, so the example above needed another tier of planning. And again not classed as a permanent structure eg no foundations, and has to be justified in some way, more sustainable to live than drive to and from every day, have animals ,crops ect, or be a place of work, eg charcoal burner. This practice has evolved over the years .there is also another similar law that if you build ,restore a derelict or put a caravan on your own land without permission and you can prove you have lived there for 7 years without being challanged ,you cant be thrown off although again you cant pass the dwelling on, you would need retrospective planning permission to do that.

Jake J
Reply to  B d Clark
December 24, 2019 1:56 pm

Why is straw “sustainable” but timber isn’t? Asking for a child.

B d Clark
Reply to  Jake J
December 24, 2019 1:59 pm

You can tell the child I never said timber was not sustainable

December 23, 2019 11:00 pm

For me, this is an unusually melodramatic article for WUWT.

We’ve had village cottages shrouded with thatched roofs in the UK for centuries. OK, they’re difficult to insure against fire, but that’s down to the owners who wish to take the risk. As for straw bale walls, if packed tightly and coated with a good lime based cement, they have excellent insulative properties and less of a fire risk than wooden clad buildings – or blocks of London flats that the green zealots felt would benefit the planet once they slapped foam boards on the outside.

Just saying.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  GeeJam
December 23, 2019 11:22 pm

Sure, it is all fine and dandy…right up until a bag bad wolf wanders along.
And he huffs, and he puffs…

December 23, 2019 11:12 pm

Sounds like the perfect solution with global warming……../

Nicholas McGinley
December 23, 2019 11:12 pm

In another “new” alternative method, some people who have returned to an agrarian lifestyle after generations of city living have discovered with a bit of training and some specialized hardware and strapping, certain large animals can be induced to do the same work as Klimate-Krisis spewing tractors and combines!
Gosh, they may be on to something.
And certain fibers, from various plants and even animals can be collected and transformed into a “new” kind of clothing, without the use of any of the poisonous fossil fuels that are destroying the human race and killing us all way before our time.

Mike Jonas(@egrey1)
December 23, 2019 11:31 pm

Straw is used quite a lot in Australia. There’s a lot more to it than just stacking bales of straw on each other. There is a thorough building code, and it works very well. Yes the walls are thick, but they make comfortable houses.

The oldest straw-bale house in Europe was reportedly built in 1921 and is still going strong.

And while we’re on the subject of building methods, we built our last house with mud-bricks, and it was brilliant to live in (we downsized recently). Others must have appreciated its qualities too, because we sold it for the highest price to date attained by any house in our village.

Roger Knights
Reply to  Mike Jonas
December 24, 2019 3:21 am

“we built our last house with mud-bricks”

Did you use “rammed earth” tech? I’ve read that it is excellent.

John Endicott
Reply to  Mike Jonas
December 24, 2019 11:40 am

we built our last house with mud-bricks

what happened? Did a big bad wolf come along and blow away your two previous houses 😉

December 23, 2019 11:48 pm

Sky City Convention Center in Auckland was unfinished two months ago and it had straw in the ceiling as a gimmick for green insulation .
It caught fire and it burnt for three or four days .
It was extremely hard to extinguish and the massive building was almost destroyed.
At first they blamed the work men who were using blow torches to melt bitumen to seal the roofing had left a torch unattended but they have now said that they don’t think that caused the fire .
What a combination straw under bitumen and blow torches .
Not a lot of brain power shown there .

Matthew Sykes
December 23, 2019 11:54 pm

The hay is then covered in chicken wire and given a lime render, so it is a kind of reinforced concrete skin on a hay interior, like a foam sandwich. This is strong of course, but also very good insulation.

December 24, 2019 12:51 am

Hard to get a mortgage on such a property. Built with timber frame as the load bearing structure and straw bale infill, not so bad. So lets not just grab any little headline and lampoon it without a little more understanding WUWT… no the first time is it? Differentiate between a principle and its execution.

If it were me I’d want a breathable vapour barrier on both faces, inert external cladding (no timber) and fireboard/double plasterboard layer on the inside (rather than smearing the walls with lime render), a whole house MVHR system to moderate internal moisture levels and some form of conventional construction to well above DPM – two brick courses above DPM would be too low.

Very few built in the UK that are more than 15 years old, so long term performance in a damp temperate climate is unknown. Insulating values for straw bales are not really that high per metre depth, vary widely with moisture content and bale density, it’s just very thick. 450mm wide bales might not be enough to meet the desired U value.

Conclusion? Unless you want to brag to your eco-loon mates over hummus and quinoa, or have very little money with which to build, don’t bother!

Reply to  Pumpsump
December 24, 2019 4:28 am

you really DO miss the point
NO internal linings are required and the lime render is as smooth as a plaster wall if done well
in Aus we use whats called double dumped hay bales ie super compressed and quite a lot heavier than a satndard bale but they sure won budge when combined with reo stakes in em as well.
wire mesh wrapping keeps vermin out and water and other in/oulets are well sealed as well.

Reply to  ozspeaksup
December 25, 2019 2:57 am

Key phrase ‘If it were me’. Lime render is acceptable, I’d rather have a more regular dry lining of fireboard as it’s a manufactured product, moisture and fire performance is more consistent.

I know that individuals who choose straw bale construction are more likely to be exacting, hands on clients, but they are subject to the inconsistencies of trades, some excellent, some not. Not many plasterers are skilled with or even want to undertake lime rendering, most can tack up and skim properly.

Principle and execution, a good idea badly done is still bad.

Carbon Bigfoot
Reply to  Pumpsump
December 24, 2019 4:29 am

Insulated concrete formwork (ICF) solves all issues and can be built in record time. Add a structural timber frame roof covered with Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) and standing seam metal roof or slate and you have the most energy efficient fire retardant building that will last for centuries.
Typically you have R-40 walls and roof and with triple glaze windows from Stanek you will have minimal utility and carbon based fuel usage.
Yes I built homes using this system as an avocation.

Reply to  Carbon Bigfoot
December 24, 2019 9:50 am

I have done done some ICF construction, and as you say, combined with some big timber frames for floorings and roof, you will have one solid home that no wolf will ever blow down. I have also worked on straw bale houses, actually with the guy who wrote the book that was the bible for straw bale houses 30 years ago, and if done properly, they can work but I was not really impressed. Long story…I was there doing an energy survey for off grid small hydro development and wound up helping this woman who was working for the Suzuki Foundation who were building straw bale house on Indian reserves to show off sustainable building technologies. They are not that sustainable, since 300 bales per house were hauled in on a flat deck semi’s from 500 miles away. Have to be the perfect bale of the right kind of straw at exactly the right moisture and density content. If not done properly at any step along the way, then a real disaster for the future. That was 25 years ago, and all the houses wound up being condemned within 15-20 years. Basically a waste.

If you are going to go to all that work, an insulated concrete form house is the best way to go, as they can essentially be made hurricane and mostly tornado proof, in addition to being fire resistant if designed properly. If I were to build one more house, it would definable be an ICF timber frame home. Will last for hundreds of years if done correctly, but not so much for a straw bale house. Also, depends a lot on the climate as to how long the straw will remain undamaged due to humidity. ICF has none of these issues,

Carbon Bigfoot
Reply to  Earthling2
December 24, 2019 1:16 pm

Earthling2 great information. My house built as described in the above comments withstood a microburst which deposited a 100′ x 30″ diameter oak tree on its roof. The dog and I survived. Shifted the timber frame a half inch out of plum. Easily corrected with com-a-longs and some reinforcement. Some roof patching was needed but it survived the impact.
Straw bale walls would not have survived the wind shear, the resulting roof uplift and the oak tree would have crushed me and the dog.

December 24, 2019 1:07 am

Straw can be the basis of quite acceptable building materials.


Oriented structural straw board

Cellulose insulation

Cellulose insulation is fireproof because it is treated with borates. It is also fungus and mold resistant. Rodents don’t like it because it makes their eyes uncomfortable. Cellulose insulation can be made with straw but mostly it’s made of recycled paper products.

Cellulose is, surprisingly, more fire resistant than fiberglass. That’s because fiberglass in walls can melt and form a chimney.

Reply to  commieBob
December 24, 2019 3:54 am

Stramit board, yuk. Feel sorry for the poor electrician who has to rewire a property with that crap in the walls.

Carbon Bigfoot
Reply to  commieBob
December 24, 2019 1:47 pm

commieBob in Pennsylvania where I live we have strict building, fire and zoning codes. Cellulose is not used by most tract builders but some do use OSB. In fact SIPS are made with Oriented Strand Board. Adobe is a desert SW material because you have the labor that understands the process. Straw bales with skim-coat do not hold up to the 400-600 black bears that occupy most of the State and destroy more suitable building materials.
Reinforced concrete walls inhibit flame migration better than cavity walls. Fire separation with fire-rated drywall eliminates most “chimney” effects in cavity walls.
Bensonwood/Unity Homes has a factory panelized home construction that utilizes cellulose in its pre-fab wall/roof panels. It might have a patented formulation.
Bensonwood is the premier Timber Frame fabricator/builder on the East Coast. Founder Ted Benson and a few others are credited with the revival of the Industry and the Timber Frame Guild.

Ben Vorlich
December 24, 2019 2:08 am

For wetter and windier than SE Englandin the rest of the UK can I suggest the reinvention of the Blackhouse.

john cooknell
December 24, 2019 3:16 am

Straw is used for Thatch in the UK for centuries.

However and as any firefighter will tell you once the Thatch starts to burn or smoulder, it doesn’t matter how much water you chuck on it you just cannot put it out, so each fire engine in rural areas is equipped with long thatch rakes to pull the stuff off. I am sure they have thought it through!

Its the same with densely packed paper, when paper documents are stored in vast warehouses the sprinkler protection required becomes highly technical, and often a choice is made to let the thing burn as it is just too hard and expensive to put out.

Chris Sampson
December 24, 2019 3:19 am
Randy Wester
Reply to  Chris Sampson
December 24, 2019 7:16 am

Thank you for the link!

…and that’s how you build a house for 67,000 Pounds…

Didn’t read or hear anything in that full article or interview that sounded ‘eco-nutter’ so I suppose I must be one of ‘them’.

December 24, 2019 3:44 am

Meanwhile in the West of England we have fight on our hands with a prolific Eco Bully called Dale Vince who wants to build a new Wooden Football Stadium on a greenfield site very close to our family home.
More information is coming to light about how he’s just obtained the planning permission and this is now being referred to higher Government.
It deserves a WUWT thread on its own, but I would urge any UK experts on planning to get in touch and help us.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  TimBo
December 24, 2019 5:09 am

Won’t happen, not since Bradford in the 80’s.

john cooknell
Reply to  TimBo
December 24, 2019 5:18 am

I would imagine you have pointed out the history of wooden stadiums.

Follow the money in the section 106 agreement, ask questions who gets it who decides what to do with it, if they tell you its confidential then start smelling rats, go to the press, attend council meetings ask questions make it painful every step of the way. Put Swampy up a tree Extinction Rebellion down a hole in the way of the builders, they might think it not worth the effort.

Reply to  john cooknell
December 24, 2019 6:19 am

The Green Party Councilor voted in favor of this!!!! and yes where are Extinguish Rebellion when there is a real cause.
Thankfully, although planning permission is granted it looks like we have just won a public enquiry and all of this sleazy corruption will be outed

Reply to  TimBo
December 24, 2019 7:01 am

Afaics the planning application has been approved and a lot of people, including the local MP, are requesting the Secretary of State to intervene. The SoS will only intervene if he/she decides the application has a national significance. Generally only 10 – 12 applications are approved every year. (More now because of the newish neighbourhood plans). If the call-in is approved the SoS appoints an Inspector who examines the issue in public. Dale Vince will arrive at the inquiry with an army of barristers, and enough paperwork to sink a battleship. Timbo I hope you have some serious financial backing to fight this, as it will cost in the order of £50 – 100K. I doubt the district council will want to be involved except as a ‘witness’, as they have already approved it. Good luck – you will need it.

Reply to  JBW
December 24, 2019 7:33 am

The application tears the heart out of one town and that is against the new Tory Policy
Yes Dale Vince will try to fight this, but we have mounting evidence of the process being not quite as it should be let’s say.

And as Dale Vince was one of the main funders of legal cases in an attempt to thwart Brexit and current one against Boris Johnson then perhaps crowd funding legal backing would not be so difficult.

Thanks for you insight, T

john cooknell
Reply to  TimBo
December 24, 2019 1:01 pm


The planning inquiry rules are not there to help the objectors, you will have a chance to put your case but in reality the presumption is in favour of the applicant.

The best chance you have is that the inspectors report goes to Sec of State for final decision, do not listen to any body who tells you the process is objective, this will be a political decision made on political grounds, so you must get your MP on side and hope he or she has influence.

Reply to  john cooknell
December 24, 2019 3:07 pm

Good point. The SoS will finesse the decision by delaying or other obfuscations. As this application is not seeking to build lots of homes there may be a chance you will be successful, but don’t hold your breath.

Captain Climate
December 24, 2019 4:38 am

Sanity check. The straw is plastered over so it’s completely insulated and hermetically sealed and extreme low risk of fire. Straw is an excellent insulator. We should be doing more to allow people to legally build with it. It would significantly lower the price of housing, albeit at the expense of good looking buildings.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Captain Climate
December 24, 2019 8:02 am

I think you might want to check on the definition of the word “hermetically”.

john cooknell
Reply to  Captain Climate
December 24, 2019 12:49 pm

I say only one thing Grenfell House.

Extremely low risk of fire? if it burns then there is always a risk of fire. If it was Asbestos (Crysotile is the stuff NOT Crocidolite) then it would be fine, but asbestos and common sense never appear in the same sentence.

December 24, 2019 5:37 am

Here is a commercial building made from straw bales in Helena MT.—>
It’s a very nice building. Nothing cheap about it.

My granddad was a farmer and he made a number of sheds from straw bales for his calves and lambs.
They were pretty good for what they were. They kept the critters out of the weather and were warm.
They were semi temporary type, used for a few years and torn down and rebuild with new bales.

His main barn was stone and lumber , sturdy but cold.

Jake J
Reply to  Dan-O
December 24, 2019 2:24 pm

The Montana office has walls filled with straw, as opposed to straw being exposed to the elements. No one ever mentions the cost relative to a standard stick-built structure with fiberglass or foam insulation. I see that it also has a ground-source heat pump, and solar panels. I’d love to know what a) the capital cost of all this was, and b) What the all-in power costs per kWh are relative to traditional construction + air-source heat pumps.

2-1/2 years ago, we had a house built in the WA State countryside. I looked into every alternative I could find, on both the materials and HVAC fronts. The criteria were a) The solution had to work as well as traditional methods; b) It had to be available; and c) It had to cost out. We wound up with a stick-built house, a heat pump, a backup propane furnace, and a propane-fueled on-demand water heater.

The alternatives turn out to be quirky and more expensive. There’s a whole lot of hype out there, not to mention scads of articles about this or that innovative concept that turns out to be an unavailable architectural school project. It’s impossible to be too cynical.

Reply to  Jake J
December 24, 2019 7:43 pm

Here’s a link from the designers of that project—–>

The original builders went broke in a few years.

The heat pump system is a good idea if you have the
equipment to diy it. I build a new home in that era and went
with sprayed foam stick/timber frame. I heat with a wood gas boiler, we enjoy
very long hot showers this time of the year. 🙂

We heat with a radiant slab that will keep the house warm
for a couple of days burning a wheel barrow load of wood.

Jake J
Reply to  Dan-O
December 26, 2019 12:27 pm

Two dozen 200-foot wells for the ground source heat pump? Just the well-drilling bill would be at least a quarter-million dollars, not to mention the cost of the pumps. Let’s see: They claim to save $250/month in utilities, which means they can recover the well-drilling costs in 83 years. I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. No wonder “the original builders went broke in a few years.” LOL

Randy Wester
Reply to  Jake J
December 26, 2019 1:59 pm

The Drake Landing Solar Community has used in-ground solar heat storage in Okotoks, Alberta with 270 foot deep wells for years.

The cost is less than natural gas, and they don’t have to buy and maintain a gas furnace in each house. I doubt they spent a million dollars drilling the thermal wells. Or they would have just drilled one well, 2700 feet deep for gas.

December 24, 2019 6:00 am

All those straw houses must be working. Sea ice in the arctic has grown to a greater area and extent than the past several years.

Chris Smith
December 24, 2019 6:02 am

Just to throw a new thought out there from south carolina.Has anyone considered using bailed pine needles.

Reply to  Chris Smith
December 25, 2019 6:39 pm

I would imagine – due to to the volatile organics in the leaves they would be an incredible fire hazard

Steve Richards
December 24, 2019 6:12 am

To view a tv program on a british couple building a straw bale house in France see here:

Lovely countryside.

PS concrete foundations, timber framed, straw bale insulation, plaster and plasterboard to cover.

December 24, 2019 6:16 am

An intense Social Media Campaign by myself and others has resulted in a small and very significant hard fought victory for us against this EcoBully!!!
They think it’s all over!
No, it’s going to Extra time and a VAR decision…
The new Tory MP is referring this ludicrous decision and the corrupt process to the Secretary of State for a Public Enquiry..
Good old BBC keeping up the Greenwashing and pushing the Wooden Stadium bit – Dale Vince is one of the Enviro Darlings !!!

Reply to  Timbo
December 24, 2019 7:30 am

Don’t get too excited – see my comment above. The guidelines on call-ins are worth a read.
Call-in’s don’t happen in isolation. There are two parties to a call-in. Dale Vince on the one side and A.N Other. That could be the local community, local parish council, or other opposing body. So who will be representing your side? Who is going to pay for the expert opinions on planning and other environmental issues that will be needed to satisfy the inspector? (Always assuming the SoS grants the application of course).

Reply to  JBW
December 24, 2019 8:32 am

Thanks for your insight and yes I have.

A very long battle ahead, but at least we have some traction against Dale Vince who’s made millions out of Green issues, declares a climate emergency one minute and wants to concrete over a 100% greenfield site to build his stadium which is not in the Local
Or Regional building plan strategy.

Reply to  TimBo
December 24, 2019 9:54 am

Thanks for the replies. Sadly, because something is not in the local plan does not count for anything. If the plan is silent on a matter then there is nothing to stop is happening (read the NPPF carefully!)
I wish you well with calling the application in. Has a formal request been lodged yet?

Reply to  JBW
December 24, 2019 1:26 pm

It’s a fast moving and fluid situation, the new Tory has just stepped in today – The Call In not granted yet, but literally this development in the last 12 hours…
It will be and there is loads coming out now and the dominoes are starting to fall…

Tom in Florida
December 24, 2019 6:35 am

The real question is:
If you use all that straw to build homes how will you make bricks of mud without straw and keep up the tally?

December 24, 2019 6:44 am

Straw bale houses are better insulated, quieter, much more fireproof, and more environmentally responsible than conventionally-built houses. Any construction and wiring problems were solved years ago. I visited the oldest bale house in Wyoming a number of years ago and spoke to the owner / builder, who told me how, when temperatures rose to uncomfortable levels in the days before A/C, neighbors would come to his house, where it was cool all the time. His utility bills were nominal all year, since heat generated inside stayed inside during the long Wyoming winters. The house was substantial in feel and light inside. Bale houses may not be for everyone, but they’re a nice alternative to stick-built houses for people who can jump through municipal code hoops.

Tom in Florida
December 24, 2019 6:46 am

Do straw houses come with tin foil roofs or do the inhabitants were tin foil hats individually?

Reply to  Tom in Florida
December 25, 2019 6:35 pm

Aluminum rooves are also quite in Vogue. They last forever and are good radiant barriers – especially with cool paint. They can be seemed or even made to look like existing shingles.

They make a perfect accompaniment for a bale structure.

December 24, 2019 7:18 am

The Original Nebraska Straw Bale Buildings – The Sustainable Home

Jake Cross took me to see the Martin/Monhart house, a home that was built in 1925 out of baled late-season hay. It was formerly owned by his wife Lucille’s parents. What struck me most about this house is how normal it looks. Modern straw bale homes emphasize the straw, with rounded corners, unique plasters, and often slightly wavy or uneven walls. My first thought was that the inside of the Martin/Monhart house had drywall over top of the bale walls, they were straight and flat and covered with wallpaper. This could have been my grandparents’ house. Jake had me stand right beside the wall and look down its length; from this vantage point a slight wave could be seen where the wall meets the ceiling- what I mistook for drywall was the bale wall itself. Only in the windows could the depth of the walls be seen, showing the tremendous insulation value of nearly two feet of baled hay. Lucille told me the story of the day a tornado roared through the town, tearing up trees, blowing out windows and sounding like a freight train running through the middle of town. As soon as the tornado had passed Lucille went to check on her parents only a block away from the path of destruction. “We found them playing cards,” she recounted, “they had no idea a tornado had passed, they didn´t believe us at first.” Bales are a great insulator against sound as well as temperature. Standing there surrounded by the old furniture, I could imagine the couple peacefully playing cards, blissfully unaware of the destruction that came so close.

Kip Hansen(@kiphansen2)
December 24, 2019 7:45 am

Straw bale building is OLD NEWS — and has been around in the Homesteading world for 30 years or more. When I was young and had little kids, we considered building a bale home in upstate NY. The attraction was that one could self-build a tight, easy-to-heat home shell from fairly inexpensive local materials.

Like all building methods, straw bale homes have their advantages and disadvantages. They are certainly no magic bullet.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Kip Hansen
December 24, 2019 8:04 am

Every building material has pros and cons.
If one material or technique was clearly superior in every possible way, as some here seem to be trying to claim, everyone would use it.

Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
December 24, 2019 9:16 am

Just treat it with CBD oil. I am sure that would make it perfect in every way and cure any and all defects.

Fabio Capezzuoli
December 24, 2019 9:26 am

Now I am convinced that wood structural elements don’t fare so badly compared to steel ones against fire, but these tests concentrate on the structural performance in case of fire inside the building.

But when combustible buildings are clustered together, the risk of firestorm increases and I don’t think regulatory tests cover that.

As sidenote, I have seen straw / hay depots catching fire, and while it’s true that the material burns pretty slowly, it also smokes a lot and it is difficult to extinguish once on fire. Usually firefighters have to slowly dismantle the whole pile and thoroughly soak the material with water.

December 24, 2019 11:24 am
Donald Schmitt
December 24, 2019 6:04 pm
December 24, 2019 6:45 pm

Clay encapsulated straw huts are well insulated. Perhaps these are first-wave Profits, who predicted catastrophic anthropogenic global cooling (CAGC).

Vangel Vesovski
December 25, 2019 1:56 pm

I love the article because it shows that readers here are just as irrational and closed-minded as the people that we make fun of for being irrational and closed-minded. Straw bale construction has been proven to be viable for some areas where high humidity is not a problem. Straw smoulders slowly and does not burn easily, which is why fire departments use straw bales to create smoke for training purposes. Post and bean construction using straw bales that are plastered with the appropriate compounds results in very durable structures that are easy to heat/cool and to maintain. Add to that a large resistance to fires and there is a lot to recommend it for some applications in some areas. Dismissing the approach out of hand and pretending that proponents are saying that it should be used everywhere is deceptive. We should be better than that.

Reply to  Vangel Vesovski
December 25, 2019 8:52 pm

You can make house walls out of lots of materials but whether it’s efficient to do so or indeed more environmentally friendly is another matter. Feel free to experiment outside the square to your heart’s content but just be aware you might strike unintended consequences when you do-
I wonder if those dots are connected eh?

December 25, 2019 9:33 pm

My grandfather was born in a sod house built in Dakota Territory during the later part of the 19th century. Its walls were 18 inches thick. Unless periodically well maintained, the walls of such houses won’t stand against natural weathering for more than a century.

Johann Wundersamer
January 6, 2020 3:57 am

What’s wrong with houses of straw & clay.

Called Adobe, built Ur, Babylon, the assyric empire, wells and sewers and the hanging gardens of semiramis.

This things are water-, fire- and weatherproof.

%d bloggers like this: