Straw bale construction

Hello.
Does anyone have any experience with straw bale construction? I'm pondering options for a self-build at the moment and a wooden framed house with bale infill looks interesting (mainly due to low U-value, speed/simplicity of use and cost).
Has anyone here built a straw bale construction? (Or even better, worked out how to fit one into the building regs!) There's a great deal of enthusiastic information online from straw bale advocates but some more dispassionate opinions would be nice.
Asher.
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asher http://domestic1.sjc.ox.ac.uk/~ahoskins /
asher AT crumbly DOT
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The only thing that really worries me on these types of buildings, is how do you make them fire proof? I don't mean from electrical or chip-pan fires, I mean from water droplets hanging around when the sun shines, or from lightning strikes etc.
How much does it cost to make all that straw fire resistant? Or does it come pre-prepared and treated, and with discount quantities?
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BigWallop wrote:

Daub is probably the answer... IIRC there was a Grand Designs self build that used that technique. Once up the interior was daubed / plastered and ended up looking much like any other wall. Can't remember what they had outside. As the OP said good insulation and very cheap (handy if you set out the house design in multiples of bale length though!)
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Cheers,

John.

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On Wed, 01 Jun 2005 15:11:19 +0100, John Rumm

Lime plaster of course :)
I'd love to build a strawbale house too. A lime plastering friend of mine who lives in North Wales has worked on several strawbale houses via Barbara Jones (who is the Queen of strawbale in the UK)
Buildings with a structural timber framework and straw infill are easier to get planning permission for cos the calcs are easier to do but I prefer buildings where the straw bales are loadbearing
Anna
~~ Anna Kettle, Suffolk, England |""""| ~ Lime plaster repairs / ^^ \ // Freehand modelling in lime: overmantels, pargeting etc |____| www.kettlenet.co.uk 01359 230642
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Anna Kettle wrote:

My feelings exactly.
Are you sure the loadbearing calcs for straw are not available?
Building in straw should be lioke building in blockwork.
And I should think expanding foam to hold door and window frames in woould be appropiate.
Not sure how to arrange for a wterproof skin though - breathable membrane, air gap, metal lathe and render maybe?

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wrote:

No, they could be available by now but weren't a couple of years ago when a loadbearing bale house was built in ... um Devon I think. I expect that a building control officer with experience and confidence is a prerequisite and I think the Devon house was "experimental" so if it failed the buck didn't stop with the BCO. Of course it didn't fail.
Round here (Suffolk) I suspect a strategic first move would be to get Ralph Carpenter on board. He is the architect who has won awards for a batch of eco-starter homes in Haverhill.

I shan't rise to that bait :)
Anna
~~ Anna Kettle, Suffolk, England |""""| ~ Lime plaster repairs / ^^ \ // Freehand modelling in lime: overmantels, pargeting etc |____| www.kettlenet.co.uk 01359 230642
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Anna Kettle wrote:

Andrew Firebarce are giooid on structural calcs. The BCO will take their word for it.

Well you know Anna, there are two ways to do things: let the damp in and arrange for it to get out outwards, or not let it in at all barely, and let it migrate inwards and have a bit of internal heating and ventilation.
Your way is number one, but I see no problem with modern ways to insulate/heat/ventilate and put a waterproof skin outside- you need that anyway to get rid of the water that humans give off.

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wrote:

Don't know them but will squirrel the name away for future reference. Where are they based?

You got me thinking about the differences between the two building methods and I came up with
Traditional: Breatheable Slightly flexible Eco friendly ... man
Modern: Impermeable Rigid High embodied energy
Straw bales sit firmly in the traditional zone on the ecofriendly front, being bio and degradable. On reflection I can't see a problem using them under an impermeable skin so maybe there is potential for crossover there, but the design would have to be thought through with care if they are to be loadbearing cos they will definitely not be rigid and impermeable is only any good if it stays that way
Anna
~~ Anna Kettle, Suffolk, England |""""| ~ Lime plaster repairs / ^^ \ // Freehand modelling in lime: overmantels, pargeting etc |____| www.kettlenet.co.uk 01359 230642
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ventilation.
Modern homes are impermeable? Please.

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Anna Kettle wrote:

You see Anna, I am an engineer, and I use whatever is to hand, that's suitable and cheap.
400 years ago it was oak and wattle and daub and thatch. It looks nice, but it has structural limitations.
Today we have a huge range of plastics, steels and other materials available.
I am neither a traditionalist, not a modernist.
I don't like buildings with steel exoskeletons 'celebrating the use of modern materials' any more than I like a house with no damp proof course, no foundations, and which absolutely requires a breathable skin to eradicate the rising damp. ;-)
I suppose if you gave me an unlimited budget I might come up with a house thatched with carbon fibre :-)
I am by no means sure that slaked lime takes any less energy to make than portland cement by the way.
Arguably we have more oil left than oak trees as well.
BUT we certainly have a LOT of straw around right now. And its engineering properties are actually, in large bulk, pretty reasonable for houses.
As far as breathable/not breathable goes, houses with humans generate water. That has to be eradicated somehow.
In older houses with lower insulation, the water got to the walls and condensed, making them damp, and the walls needed to breath outwards to get rid of it. The walls got damp also because they had no DPC's. They needed to be flexible because they subsided as they had no foundations.
They got round all that by having open fires with chimneys that sucked out warm sticky air, in order to cause smog and pollution in the cities and towns, and by having draughty doors to let fresh air in, and wearing woollens - sometimes the same set - all winter. And by using flexible breathable lime rendering on their flexible wattle and lathe ..
Today we go far far deeper with rigid steel reinforced foundations, so our houses don't move, and with open fires being a bit polluting, we have efficient boilers and hot water heating, and sealed double or triple glazed windows and sealed doors and pack the walls with insulation.
The net effect of that is what water IS inside, stays there and will condense on the coldest part of the house - generally just behind the insulation. So we install vapour barriers on the inside.
And then punch holes in the structure to achieve enough 'background ventilation/air change' to let the sticky fug out in a controlled way.
We probably use far LESS energy to heat our houses than we used to actually.
As I said, I am not arguing particularly for or against either method, as both on their way work, and both are adapated to the resources available.
My complaint about modern houses is their soullessness. My response has been to construct a house to modern standards using a mixture of whatever worked properly and looked good and felt right. I've got single glazed leaded light french doors in a steel encased frame. For example. The look and feel is Lutgyens, the construction is post war steel..in this case. I've got an oak and softwood frame stuffed to the hilt with rockwool. I've got a slate floor with UF heating. And open fires. And fully wired Broadband and TV...
The appearance is very traditional, and the sound of a door slamming tells me I am in a timber house, BUT I don't have the cold, damp and fungal smells associated with most of our local ones, and the house is rigid enough not to need flexible plastering, and ventilated enough not to need breathable walls.
I really do think that there is a sensible discussion to be engaged in about what is the overall best way to build a house today, and I don't thing the building trade has a monopoly on the right ideas any more than either of US do, and certainly the governement is only interested in metting self imposed target that take very little account of the quality of life to be had inside the little hutches and kennels that they are committed to supplying us with.
OTOH I am really for the *most* part a very firm supporter of current building regualtions. Apart from the Part P and disabled ones which are politically instigated, and not a reflection on 'best practice' as such.
The best of the old and the best of the new is my motto.

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wrote:

All materials have structural limitations and the structural limitations of these materials are not nearly so important as
1. The economic balance has changed from expensive transportation costs and cheap labour to cheap transportation costs and expensive labour
2. Big business cannot patent it so there will never be the marketing push to sell it, improve techniques etc

And very useful they are too

It doesn't have to be heated to nearly such a high temperature. There aren't the economies of scale, but that is more to do with money than energy

That was true in the early middle ages too, so they took up tree planting which is one of the reasons there are so many late medieval and Tudor timber framed houses in Suffolk and why Henry and Elizabeth could build fleets of ships. Trees are easy to plant
On a tangent, although some people are planting oaks today, I don't think anyone is bending the saplings to get curved timber. If I were planting oaks I would plant some bent ones

The oldest houses were built in the optimum places where there were no underground springs or problems with water runoff. That just wasn't possible in town centres and everywhere from Georgian times onwards so dealing with ground water became more of a priority.
My house is old enough to have no damp course and no rising damp. In fact I am excited cos yesterday I pulled off the last bit of external cement render (hurrah!) to expose the original 500+ year old sole plate. If there were any damp problems it would not still be there

Yes foundation technology is much better today

And lots of these things are improvements

Oh I agree, except that they economised on energy input by living in much less comfortable houses than we would be prepared to put up with now

The things I do to my house are constrained partly by it being a listed building but more importantly by what I do for a living. I want to understand the complete medieval building system and that means dealing with the building repairs in a medieval way.
Mind you I'm also keen on electricity, central heating, chimneystacks and glass so I'm not a complete purist :) and interfacing old and new technologies is interesting to me too, hopefully combining 21st century comfort with using materials which have low embodied energy and low energy running costs in preference to fashionably hitech products which are heavily marketed. Things which are not advertised require more searching out and understanding, but thats OK, I like doing that

I do too, but strawbale construction will never hit the mass market cos it takes up too much space. Insulating with hemp batts is probably more realistic.
I'm getting interested in linseed oil paint which according to the enthusiasts is very long lasting on external window and door frames (15 years before repaint is needed) and only went out of fashion after the last war cos cold pressed linseed oil was unavailable and boiled linseed oil doesn't work so well. I will let you know the result of my researches in 15 years time :)

Luckily, there are a lot of people for whom the way their house is built is not important, it just has to be there and to be reasonably comfortable
Oil prices are generally heading upwards and as they do, the low energy input options will appeal more to housebuilders. I just like to be ahead of the game :)
Anna
~~ Anna Kettle, Suffolk, England |""""| ~ Lime plaster repairs / ^^ \ // Freehand modelling in lime: overmantels, pargeting etc |____| www.kettlenet.co.uk 01359 230642
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Not only does lime burning require a much lower temperature than Portland cement manufacture, the carbon dioxide driven off in the limestone to quicklime reaction is reabsorbed from the atmosphere as the lime mortar sets by carbonation. So, overall, lime mortar has a lower climate change impact than Portland cement.
Oak trees are growing faster than they are being used, in Britain and across the Continent. I'm growing some bent ones for you Anna - hope you live to 150! It's no good saying there is more oil left than oak. Oil doesn't grow on trees and the best guess is that oil production will peak very soon, if it hasn't already, and from then on supply will fall short of demand no matter how high the price goes. See http://www.peakoil.net /
Linseed oil paint is lovely to use. It is the only paint I use on the oak windows that I make, if they get painted at all. Get the Sweedish Allback paint from Holkham Paints: http://www.holkham.co.uk/linseedpaints / or Peter Maitland-Hood makes it at The Real Paint and Varnish Co: http://www.realpaints.com /
Interesting stuff about copperas at: http://www.eng-h.gov.uk/archcom/projects/summarys/html97_8/2059.htm
We use straw to heat our house. It costs us 60p per bale delivered to our barn.
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snipped-for-privacy@biffvernon.freeserve.co.uk wrote:

I stand corrected then.

I dont dispute that, my point being that actually BRICKS and STRAW were probably materials we had more off.

That actually sounds expensive.
I cleared about an acre of general ahwthron and maple and mirabelle scrub, and two sycamores, and that looks set to last about 6-9 years for 'addiotional winter heating' in open fires. Would work well in stoves.
I believe that coppiced willow is the fastest way to 'grow energy' ...
You can get industrial strength chippers and feed it to fan blown furnaces...
I wish I had installed a heat pump and acres of plastic pipe in the garden too.
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go.
About that, yes. Have been looking at either driving the compressor from our stream to avoid losses (and costs) from using an alternator followed by an electric motor but lots of other problems to overcome.

Agreed - I think I'm one of Secondsandco's and Optiroc's best customers.

That's what they used to say on the period property website but I am quite happy with the results. You can't 'hug the stone' inside but you don't freeze to death looking at it anymore either. Flooring still looks the same but there's huge amounts of Optiroc and lime underneath and the roofspaces, though still adequately ventilated all have effective U values of under 0.075 at the bedroom ceilings.
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You want an example of bent oak? Go here: http://www.greenoakcarpentry.co.uk / and click on Museum Gridshell There's a rather nice oak bridge on that website too.
I don't know of methods of preserving softwoods without messing up the environment - why not just use the naturally durable softwoods such as larch, Douglas fir, Western Cedar and, interestingly, that much beloved of subusban gardens, Leylandii?
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paint ?
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Poor at preserving timber (it's just a skin - penetrate that and it rots just the same). It's also horrible environmentally - most paints, and pretty much all of the external ones, are either toxic resins, toxic pigments, or full of solvents.
Personally I like to use larch, if I'm not using oak. Pick the right board and the stuff's damn near pure plastic resin anyway.
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wrote:

Then ensure it doesn't. In any case the paint on some of the frames on the farmhouse I am doing up looks like it's been there a very long time indeed without attention.

Modern ones quite possibly. If you make your own then far less so.

True. Though there are non-temperate zone woods which do the trick as well.
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On 6 Jun 2005 14:55:55 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@biffvernon.freeserve.co.uk wrote:

Hardly timber framing though, is it - that's as much Mecanno as it is joinery.
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paint ?
Interesting point - I was thinking of the 'preservative' fungicides. Of course the trouble with most modern paints is that they form a waterproof layer untill they inevitably crack and then they let in and trap water in the timber hastening its rot. Thus paint can do more harm than good by not allowing timber to dry out. Real linseed oil paint does not give rise to this problem.
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