Building a Straw Bale House

Stuffing walls with straw bales can save cash and promote energy efficiency.

| October/November 1993

If you want to build a new house out of wood, you're in for sticker shock when you reach the lumberyard. Lumber has doubled in price in the last year alone, and prices may continue to rise as old growth forests dwindle and/or more areas are declared off-limits to loggers in order to protect endangered species. A 2 x 4 that cost approximately $1.50 last summer now runs as high as $3. Faced with an increase like that, a builder must choose between waiting out the building season or constructing a much smaller house for the same price. A growing number, however, are driving past the lumberyard to pick up their housing materials at the local feed store-stuffing their walls with straw bales and avoiding wood when they build their new homes. In the process, they are saving a wad of cash.

You can build a home for as little as $4,000 by using plastered straw-bale construction techniques instead of wood in your walls. In many parts of the country, straw bales can be bought off the farm or feedlot for as little as 504 per bale, especially in areas of the country where straw is considered waste and is burned every year. Building techniques are simple, forgiving, and easy to learn. In fact, the most difficult part of straw-bale construction may be getting past the mythology of the "Three Little Pigs," which maligns straw as a shoddy building material.

Nebraska Roots

Matts Myhrman and Judy Knox know all too well about people's skeptical reactions. These plastered straw-bale construction pioneers publish The Last Straw, a newsletter that reports on techniques and tips for building homes out of straw bales. The two travel the world talking the praises of these homes, taking inventory of straw-bale houses built around the world and directly addressing people's questions and concerns.

In their travels the two discovered that buildings have been constructed with straw bales in this country ever since necessity spawned experiments in Nebraska at the turn of the century. In the state's Sandhills, located in northwestern Nebraska, early settlers turned to an abundant resource (straw) to replace a scarce resource (wood) for their homesteads. At the same time, hay balers were just coming into common use on farms in the area.

Most of these homes were like the one built by Leonard and Tom Scott—a three bedroom, two-bathroom, 900-squarefoot house with a 600-square-foot basement that was finished in 1938. Many homes in Nebraska towns such as Alliance, Arthur, and Dannebrog that have been built from straw bales are still standing today.

Plastered straw-bale construction was also used for other structures such as farm buildings, schools, offices, and grocery stores. However, many Nebraskans were concerned that they weren't living "civilized" existences in straw homes; so when wood became easily attainable again in the area, home builders resorted once again to traditional stick houses.

6/23/2007 1:36:26 AM

I always wondered about mice or other critter problems, since they seem to get through anything.

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