23rd April 2015

Homes of straw

Straw houses will no longer be the preserve of little pigs and self-builders this week, as the first straw houses offered on the open market go on sale.

But these homes won’t be blown away and could keep the energy wolves at bay by cutting fuel bills by up to 90%, say team behind the project in Bristol.

The team behind the project insist that straw houses could help to meet housing demand in the UK sustainably. The homes are the result of an engineering research project led by the University of Bath and specialist architectural firm Modcell.

The seven houses, on a street of traditional brick-built homes in Shirehampton, Bristol, are clad in brick to fit in with the surroundings but their prefabricated walls are timber-framed, filled with straw bales and encased in wooden boards.

Prof Pete Walker, who led the project to develop and test the construction method, said: “The construction sector must reduce its energy consumption by 50% and its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, so radical changes are needed to the way we approach house building. As a construction material, straw is a low-cost and widely-available food co-product that offers real potential for ultra-low carbon housing throughout the UK.”

As part of this EU-funded project, Walker and his colleagues have systematically tested and refined the technology, including testing the structural and weight-bearing properties, fire and weather resistance and its thermal insulation.

Although these are not the first homes in the UK to be built using straw bales, they are the first to be built for any buyer on the open market. According to the researchers, up to 7m tonnes of straw remains after the production of wheat flour in the UK. Around half of this is effectively discarded due to its low value and is used as animal bedding.

The remaining 3.8m tonnes of straw could be used to build more than 500,000 new homes, as an average three-bedroom house needs 7.2 tonnes of straw.

There has been a steady increase in straw bale construction around the world, with buildings found in countries including the US, Australia and China.

Let’s hope there is not too much huffing and puffing!