Straw bale homes – the future of sustainable housing

Editor:  The following is a guest post from Elisabeth Winkler, a writer / communications expert and the Publications Coordinator at Low Impact.org.

Straw baleStraw bale housing – the dream abode of the eco-warrior – has gone mainstream. Straw bale homes are scientifically proven to be robust and sustainable and, for the first time in the UK, are now commercially viable.

Because the housing shortage in the UK is dire, affordable straw bale housing is a win-win solution to this problem and to climate change.

Made from carbon capturing, renewable materials such as timber and straw, bale homes are good for the planet. They bank more carbon than what’s emitted in making them.

Straw bale homes are prefabricated

Straw bale homes use prefabricated factory-made panels to aid in onsite rapid construction

The seven sustainable straw bale homes, with their unique design, represent the future of affordable sustainable housing. These first UK straw bale homes are mortgageable and insurable, making them more accessible to the general public.

Last month, this efficient design was awarded the prestigious PassivHaus Component Certification. PassivHaus is the most rigorous energy standard in the world, reducing the need for heating or cooling to an absolute minimum.

Bristol-based company ModCell’s unique design of straw bales sandwiched between timber frames has been rigorously tested over years by the University of Bath. Battered by simulated hurricane-force winds, drenched in water to replicate flooding and exposed to blazing fires, straw bale homes have been found to be storm-proof, fire-proof and safe.

Seen here under construction, 7 straw bale homes were produced in only nine days

Seen here under construction, 7 straw bale homes were produced in only nine days

Absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows, with minimal processing straw is easily turned into carbon-storing building materials of straw board and straw bales.

Many factors contribute to the affordability of these homes.

  • Rapid construction is one. The seven straw bale houses were built in only nine days, thanks to its use of prefabricated factory-made panels precision-made to slot together perfectly.
  • The homes produce virtually all the energy they need to run.
  • Rainwater harvesting cuts water and sewage bills, while LED lights, solar panels and an air-source heat pump reduce light and heating costs.

Making sustainable housing accessible to the public was vital to eco-developer and social entrepreneur, Martin Connolly. A social landlord providing emergency accommodation and food for homeless people in Bristol for thirty years, Connolly is also concerned about runaway climate change.

Interior view of a straw bale home

Interior view of a straw bale home

“Straw bale housing does not cost the earth – either financially or environmentally,” he says.

Priced slightly lower than local average house prices, Connolly believes that costs could be cut even further – if every link in the housing chain would co-operate.

“For instance,” Connolly says, “planning reports could be simplified and local authorities could give low-cost loans for finance. If everyone – the community, developer, landowners – worked in co-operation we could do so much more for less. We could do it differently – and better.”

The straw bale homes use Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery (MVHR) – the green ventilation system that cleverly swaps a home’s stale heated air with fresh air. This drastically reduces a home’s heating bills and carbon footprint.

University researchers found the super-insulated yet airy straw bale homes can reduce energy bills by up to 90%.

These straw bale homes in Bristol, England, will be sold on April 13th

These straw bale homes in Bristol, England, will be sold on April 13th

As Yoko Ono says: “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”

Straw bale homes represent the collective forces of developer, designer and academic researchers to produce a genuinely affordable negative-carbon solution to the UK housing crisis and global climate change.

The next development of 49 homes, planned for later this year, will incorporate the certified straw bale building system. The current straw bale homes are set to be sold in the southwest of England on April 13th.

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3 Responses

  1. Old technology, used unbridled southwest for several decades and in N. Africa for centuries.

    Sent from my Sprint phone.

  2. Straw bale is a traditional housing material, it is true. But one that got superseded in the west with bricks and mortar – which is hugely unsustainable. This new generation straw bale design is state of the art – quick to construct, super-insulated, robust, storm-proof and fuel efficient.

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