What is Straw Bale Construction?

Malcolm Tatum

Straw bale construction is an environmentally friendly way to use natural materials to create buildings, such as houses and barns. The bales are usually composed of dried barley, wheat or rice that would otherwise be discarded or used as bedding or pulverized into landscape material. Buildings that are created using straw bale construction are sturdy, relatively inexpensive to build, and can be completed in less time than structures that are built using traditional methods.

Man with a drill
Man with a drill

While straw bale construction is considered a staple of green living today, the concept is not new. Building a straw house was a relatively common approach in many areas where wood and other building materials were difficult to obtain. When covered with stucco, the homes were able to withstand even harsh weather conditions with relative ease. While the idea of straw bale construction fell out of favor in the early part of the 20th century, the renewed interest in sustainable living in the 21st century has led many people to revisit this option and in some cases build a straw bale home of their own.

There are two common approaches to straw bale construction. One approach is to create a traditional wood frame for the home, then fill in the frame with the use of the straw bales. However, it is possible to forego the creation of a frame altogether. With the latter approach, the bales are stacked into position, and kept in place with the use of stucco. When constructed properly, the structure will easily support a roof and last for many years with nothing more than routine maintenance.

One of the other advantages of using straw bale construction is the simplicity of installing doors and windows into the structure. The bales are simply cut to fit into the design, making it much easier to design windows or doorways in a number of different configurations. Best of all, moving doors and windows is equally simple. By cutting out a section of wall, and in turn filling in the old wall or doorway, the process can be completed in very little time without major problems for the overall structure.

Because of the increased interest in energy conservation, straw bale construction has caught the attention of many first time homebuilders. Along with using what amounts to waste materials for the majority of the construction, straw homes are naturally well insulated. This can make the cost of heating and cooling the interior relatively low when compared to homes constructed with more traditional materials.

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