Hold on, isn’t straw a flimsy and flammable building material? No! In fact, there are several advantages to building with straw that make it a superior, green, and safe part of your home’s construction. You don’t use the straw as the primary building material, but you use compressed straw bricks as insulation that you cover it clay. This material rivals any traditional insulation. Besides, you can locally source straw which cuts down on its CO2 emissions during transport and the straw itself is a carbon sink, unlike traditional materials that require some form of oil to be made. Plus, straw is inexpensive!
So you’re worried about fire, moisture, mould, and rodents. Not to worry, a modern straw home won’t suffer from any of these risks. The straw is super compacted, laid in walls and then covered with clay. This roof above is in the pre-clay stage.
The compaction of the straw doesn’t leave any room for oxygen, a necessary ingredient for fire. The clay prevents moisture from seeping into the straw, which is dried thoroughly before pressed into cubes. Insects and rodents won’t have access to the straw through the clay covering. They won’t even be able to smell it!
As a insulation material, straw far surpasses many conventional materials and competes with the best. It also has an excellent noise-cancelling rating. Why ship in synthetic materials when your nearby farmer has an excess of this incredible material? Of course, the hay has to be very fresh to prevent any moisture from developing, so you’ll need to make this arrangement with a farmer or other supplier well in advance of your build or renovation date. You can find Canadian companies who specialize in this process, such as harvesthomes.ca or straworks.ca, if you want some guidance.
If its such a miraculous material then why are we just discovering straw now? Well, Americans have been using straw in their constructions since the late 19th century, when wood became scarce. Home-builders in Nebraska were looking for a less expensive material and even came up with the method of covering the straw bales in clay. Wood has never been such a rarity in Canada. Besides, many people were concerned about the safety of straw buildings before we had modern tests to determine its safety and insulation ratings.
In the modern era we’re faced with a new kind of building challenge. It’s not about scarcity of wood anymore, but climate change. Straw homes can actually achieve passive heating, where they don’t require traditional heating methods. Depending on how far north you are, of course, you may need a back-up heating method for the coldest February days. An eco-designer can tell you if you'll be fine with straw alone, or if there is another environmentally friendly heating system you'll need to pair with this insulation.
The combination of clay and straw is actually creates hypoallergenic conditions. Clay absorbs moisture from the air quickly, along with heat, and will give back quickly when things get too dry. This kind of balanced humidity will be a blessing for those with irritated sinuses.
Allergic to straw? Don’t worry, while you might want to get as far away from the construction process as possible, once that straw is under the clay you won’t be able to smell it at all.
Straw is cheap from the field, and pressed together with agricultural equipment that any farm that's growing straw will already own. The clay needed to seal the material is also cost-effective, especially when compared to the synthetic fibres that are the standard for contemporary home insulation (especially the environmentally friendly stuff!).
The savings that will probably appeal the most to Canadians are the huge heating bill reduction you'll see with this material. While this straw is better at maintaining heat than keeping it out, it will also lower your air conditioning bill-- just not by as much.
If you're inspired by the image of soft, cosy straw lining your walls you may feel inclined to use it as a decor inspiration. Other natural building materials like wood and stone would be a great choice for a straw home. You could also use plush, soft furniture in country styles, along with barn-like rafters and wall design. Really, straw is an ideal material from cost, to practicality, to design.
For another cost-effective and green design consider prefab houses-- they're way more beautiful than you think!