North Kesteven - Straw Bale Houses
In April 2010, North Kesteven District Council in Lincolnshire officially completed on four properties. Of course, there is nothing new in that. So why does Ecohouseagent care? Well obviously there is an environmental reason behind our interest. The four houses in question have been constructed using tightly packed bales of straw.
Straw doesn’t sound like your typical building material and it certainly didn’t last long when confronted by the big bad wolf but in actual fact straw has been used in construction in North America since the 1870s. According to their studies, straw has been found to be a much better insulator than more modern substances used in regular walls.
R-values are the ranking used to determine a substances resistance to heat transfer. It is based on a scale of R1-R100. Homes constructed with straw bales for insulation have a ranking of around R28 as opposed to regular home walls that have a value of about R14, making straw twice as effective at keeping heat inside the property.
With straw building, almost all means of heat loss is prevented by the density of the tightly packed bales. As the bales used in the construction of the walls are so heavy, they have a considerable thermal mass. This means that they take longer to heat up but also longer to cool down resulting in the home in question having a much more consistent, even temperature.
Past research by Canada’s CMHC, has suggested that straw insulated homes use 20% less energy than regular homes meaning the price of fuel bills will also be considerably lower and will also reduce that homes’ reliance on non-sustainable means of generating power.
Straw of course, is entirely renewable and sustainable. Grown every year out of our necessity for food, it is a by-product of farming. As population’s increase, and indeed the need for more food, there is a surplus of straw available that can be used in construction. Straw is easily baled and is a fraction of the cost of more modern, less effective forms of insulation. Not to mention that it is entirely natural unlike materials generally used in cavity wall insulation. The UK Energy Saving Trust suggests that 45% of heat loss in a solid walled, un-insulated house is through the walls so the use of straw really does tick many eco-friendly boxes.
Amazonails, the Company behind the Kesteven Council homes, is a good place for any potential eco conscious homebuilder to start. In 2009 they were the winner of the RICS East of England Sustainability award and are the only building professionals in Europe who specialize in the reduction of timber by using straw as a loadbearing material. (amazonails.org.uk) Not only do they act as Consultants but they also offer courses in building with straw so any interested parties can attend, learn the basics and the methodology but also get the opportunity to talk to their straw building experts. Don’t be mistaken in thinking that environmental means boring either, Amazonails also won the Grand Designs Eco-home award for 2008
Insulating your home will help you to heat it more efficiently. This in turn, uses less energy and therefore reduces carbon dioxide emissions (CO2). Carbon Dioxide of course, is one of the biggest causes of climate change.
Perhaps, for the future it will be more environmentally and economically viable to look to the past.
Author Amy Cook
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