Multi-Generational Straw Bale Homes

Used with permission by the homeowner of  this Air BnB , located on the Boise Bench.

Used with permission by the homeowner of this Air BnB, located on the Boise Bench.

A multi-generational home is one where grandparents, young parents, grandchildren and young adults who return home after college years can choose to live together. There are many reasons families in high numbers are returning to this way to live. These included sharing the costs of living, raising young children, and helping aging family members or those who need help.

Each age-group is experiencing a significant challenge that straw bale construction can help to address, the most natural building element EarthCraft works with. People have good reasons to look to such a living solution.

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The costs of living continue to rise. There is a significant lack of available housing in the Boise area for lower income families and college-age young adults. For working families, where both parents are engaged daily in keeping a roof over their family’s heads, childcare is a challenge. Over 2,700 children in Ada County do not have access to licensed child care, second to Canyon County where 3,885 children are without available care according to an April 14th article in the Lewiston Tribune. Multi-generational homes are a way to address that gap proactively. Doing so can create a significant reduction in the annual cost of childcare ranging from $6,300-$7,296.

Elder family members living with younger family members can benefit from help with transportation, not to mention navigating societies ever-increasing reliance on digital forms of communication (and support services sourced there). Above all, elders can rediscover a sense of value and purpose by being involved in the growth of the family.


AARP lists housing as the first concern in a liveable community. For the aging members of our community, the ability to age in place is critical. According to a study conducted by AARP in 2000 86% of Americans over 45 who own their home hope to be able to continue living in their home as they age.

Some families who are not blood-related will be more likely to choose to live together based on shared values and goals. In either case, straw bale housing provides some excellent solutions to multi-family and multi-generational homes.


First and foremost, energy efficiency for the LIFE of the home. Although a straw bale home costs roughly $10 more per square foot to build, the initial investment can be recovered in as few as seven years in energy savings. For those on fixed incomes this provides incredible security as energy costs continue to fluctuate. Add to that shared costs of living, including childcare, and you’re looking at a return on investment in as little as even 7 years, depending on the size and location of the home, and whether or not it is a separate addition or a new home.

Additionally straw bale construction positively addresses increased sensitivity to indoor air pollutants like Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) common in modern construction. We refer to the American Lung Association construction guidelines for healthier living environments in our design/build process. Elder citizens and young children are considered especially vulnerable to VOCs because they tend to spend more time indoors. Many older people have been diagnosed with asthma, lung disease, or compromised immune systems.

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EarthCraft Design/Build has built three straw bale homes in the valley, utilizing a renewable resource capable of excellent insulation, and qualified as a natural home environment building material. We even source our straw from Meridian farmers, supporting a vibrant farming community, simultaneously providing a significant portion of the home structure from a crop that renews each year, from within a few miles of the city.

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To lower costs further EarthCraft can engage volunteer and/or educational/workshop labor to help reduce costs to an overall budget. This applies to this project as well as future projects for older clients.


Speaking from the basis of what we do, construction, using straw bale for insulation provides an R-Value of 50. According to Energy Star R-Value is a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it. Homes built in the Boise Valley since 1990 can lose up to 35% of their heat through the walls daily, creating a high cost for families.

In addition to temperature control, straw bale offers noise insulation. This means that in addition to creating an excellent and incredibly effective envelope to a home for containing heated or cooled air, unwanted noise can also be eliminated. For multi-family or multi-generational homes this is critical! One adjustment to a home design can include an internal straw bale wall, allowing for the different noise levels of different age groups to peacefully co-exist under the same roof!

Mary K Johnson