How to Build a House of Straw

A single mom and her teenage sons learn how to build a house of straw, making an energy-efficient home for about $50 a square foot.


| April/May 2003



Labor-intensive work went into creating the straw home foundation.

Labor-intensive work went into creating the straw home foundation.


CAROLYN ROBERTS

A mother and her sons show you how to build a house of straw for about $50 a square foot.

I've always enjoyed making things more than buying them. I sewed many of my own clothes as a teenager, constructed wind chimes out of seashells and even attempted to make the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks once, before the invention of fast-drying glue.

In the early 1990s, I saw a TV show about a family without exceptional building skills who were building their own house with low-cost, natural materials that harmonized with our planet's ecosystem. My do-it-yourself genes jumped for joy. I became obsessed with the idea of building a house made of straw bales, an abundant byproduct of grain production, and finished with earthen plasters made from clay, sand and chopped straw. It couldn't he all that hard to stack up some bales and cover them with mud, I figured. This would be the ultimate craft project, save money and give me a beautiful home at the same time.

How to Build a House of Straw

The cost of raising a family skyrocketed in Hawaii in the '80s and I simply couldn't afford to live there. My two boys and I eventually found ourselves in Long Island, New York, where my husband and I managed a photography franchise at a shopping mall. My days were filled with chaos, strain and more bills. Homes were less expensive than in Hawaii, but the cost to heat and cool them made up the difference. I also could see the haze in the air from the excessive burning of fossil fuels to heat and cool these increasingly large houses.

After we moved from New York to Tucson, my dreams refused to have anything to do with the burgeoning subdivision homes that surrounded me. I wanted to live simply, yet with beauty and dignity; thoughts nobler than the constant nagging of how I was going to pay my bills filled my mind.

I kept studying everything I could find about natural building. It all made sense: By placing large windows on the south side of a house, we could use the low winter sun for heating and lighten our dependence on gas or electricity. By building walls with straw bales, we would have an R-50 insulation from the summer heat — more insulation than most homes even have in their ceilings. Of course, we would have to insulate the ceiling, too.

sylvia wulf
4/10/2010 5:26:58 PM

I saw a special on TV about building a house like this. I know it works well in desert areas, but I live in the North East. How well would such construction handle the wet/cold Spring and winter of the Catskills? Just curious! ;-)


lmchamberlain
12/20/2007 11:28:15 AM

It's an interesting concept. It would be nice to be able to print the pictures also. She was a very determined woman and I applaud her.






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