How Long Will a Straw Bale Home Last?

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When built well, 100 years or more, providing top-of-the line insulation performance = energy savings the entire time. Not to mention… it’s the most natural building material we use.

Straw Bale Simonton House, Purdum Nebraska , 1908

Straw Bale Simonton House, Purdum Nebraska , 1908


Nebraska

In the United States straw bale homes came into being in the mid 1800s shortly following the advent of the hay-baler. Like many American innovations, need drove the development of this type of shelter. With the key development of the Industrial Age the creation of hay for transport quickly served the purpose of generating straw bales as well insulated units of building material.

The requirement for keeping an allotted portion of land was to establish a structure on it or risk losing the blood + sweat investment. Settlers stacked bales then built a roof on top of them to hold them in place as they compressed. Early accounts state that many of the homes weren’t meant to be permanent, only temporary structures while people waited to build stick frame houses.

Haslow House, Nebraska. A load bearing straw bale home with no internal framing beyond windows and doorways. The roof rests atop the bales and has since 1913. Read full article here: http://thesustainablehome.net/the-original-nebraska-straw-bale-buildings/

Haslow House, Nebraska. A load bearing straw bale home with no internal framing beyond windows and doorways. The roof rests atop the bales and has since 1913. Read full article here: http://thesustainablehome.net/the-original-nebraska-straw-bale-buildings/


The winters of the Northern Plains can be bitter cold, -20 or less some winters, and don’t forget the wind chill.  Some of the homes built in the early 1900’s stood strong, nearly 100 years now. By the spring and snowmelt, the solid iced-over mud turns into “gumbo,” mud so thick it’s like clay, capable of ripping boot from foot, and probably wheel from wagon while trying to move three feet in any one direction. A church in Arthur Nebraska shows that gumbo was originally applied to the outer wall of the shelter. Mixed with some sand and lime, this becomes structurally sound yet capable of breathing.


Life Cycle

A straw bale home constructed using the remaining product from a grain crop cycle benefits local farmers with additional profit.

Hay is for horses

Straw is for houses

- Mark L. (Ron) Hixson

Unlike hay commonly used for feeding livestock or as deep mulch in gardens, straw has long been considered a waste product from grain production (rye, wheat, rice). Rather than burn the remaining, some farms till scraped straw back into the soil to provide nutrients through micro-organisms that feed on the material as it breaks down. Whatever portion of straw isn’t being used to generate nutrients for the soil can be baled and turned into this excellent building material.

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Mark Lung with  Eco2Librium  in collaborative community partnership.

Mark Lung with Eco2Librium in collaborative community partnership.

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How it Works at EarthCraft

  1. Passive Solar orientation of the building to capture and work with sunlight.

  2. Post and beam support atop footings and slab on grade floor to hold heat through the cold months when the sun warms it, and cool temperatures in the summer, when the sun is blocked from the inside of the home.

  3. Stack bales in the interior.

  4. We coat the bales with earthen plaster, a mix of earth, lime and sand, a natural stucco, holding most moisture out while allowing the bales to breathe from within. In regions that experience less than 80% humidity there is little concern for mold.


If built correctly a straw bale home can last 100 years at least. When it’s life cycle is complete, a structure stripped of all but the walls can be tilled back into the earth. That can’t be said for stick frame homes using modern insulation.


Straw bale insulation is technically a densely packed cellulose fiber. It has an R-value ranging between 30-50, providing cost savings for the life of the home. With energy costs expected to rise this means added relief from a critical utility bill for generations.

Mary K Johnson