more Christians, straw houses

Kirk Johnson newkirk at
Thu Oct 22 18:46:21 EST 1998

Hello, just thought I'd pass along some info for anyone interested. The
articles below are just three of many I came across with a quick search on
the subject of straw houses and alternative building materials.

Kirk Johnson

By Laura Horne in Tucson, Arizona


          Habitat for Humanity goes low-tech with big results.

With gray clouds overhead and a biting wind whipping across Tucson's
desert hills, many Arizonans early this Saturday are indoors, sleeping in.
Yet, the roar of a concrete mixer beckons a hardy group of volunteers who
huddle against the chill while drinking coffee and hot cocoa at a house
construction site in a new development.

Ladders and scaffolds, piles of sand, bags of cement, and debris crowd the
house construction site. The walls of the home are up, and the stuccoing
is about to begin.

Before the work day starts, however, the group convenes in the backyard,
away from the din of the mixer, and forms a circle. They bow their heads
in prayer, asking for safety during the day's work and for blessings upon
the house and the family that will occupy it.

It is a familiar Habitat for Humanity construction project, save one
thing: You won't find lumber scraps and leftovers. That's because the
blueprints didn't call for 2-by-4s, but for 22-inch-thick straw bales for
the walls. In fact, the straw makes up 13 percent of the construction

The straw-bale home, constructed by volunteers with Habitat for Humanity,
Tucson, is part of a model project to demonstrate how straw can be coupled
with solar energy to build better homes at a lesser cost for low-income
families. Habitat Tucson was chosen by the city government to partner with
the Tucson Urban League for the model super-insulating, straw-bale home
effort. Habitat also received a grant from the National Urban Consortium
to help with the construction costs.

                       LOW COST, LOW MAINTENANCE

A house of straw? It's no longer just for the three little pigs. As modern
research has discovered, straw-bale homes provide temperature insulation
three times greater than conventional new homes. Heating and cooling costs
can be as much as 75 percent lower in straw-bale homes than conventional

There are other advantages. Construction is simpler. After the foundation
is poured, the straw bales, with a reinforcement bar running through them,
are stacked bricklike, one on top of the other, to create the exterior

Straw-bale homes are environmentally friendly, waterproof, and fire
resistant. The straw itself is an inexpensive, renewable resource. Paul
Huddy, a physicist and Habitat board member, says, "It's a nice,
inexpensive source of super-insulation. The thermal grade is R-55, which
by far exceeds the city energy code of R-20."

After completion, the temperature inside the house is stabilized, and very
little additional heating or cooling is required, except in extreme
conditions. The homes use a passive solar design so that, in the summer,
the sun is kept out. But in winter, the sun's power is used to heat
certain floor areas so that radiant warmth keeps the home comfortable.

Huddy compared the straw-bale constructions to the old-time barn raisings,
where everybody has a great time while working together. "That's just as
it should be. Habitat's first mission is to build families and communities
and to bring people together," Huddy said.

Dick and Billy Agricola of Lewisville, Colorado, are just two of the many
volunteers. They work not only with Habitat Tucson, where they winter, but
also with the Habitat group near their summer residence in Colorado.

"We like the physical aspect, and we like being outdoors," says Billy.
"This is also an opportunity for us to serve. When we serve others, we
really serve the Lord, and that's what we really enjoy about it." Genie
Gekas, volunteer coordinator for Habitat Tucson, says her work recruiting,
planning, and organizing is worthwhile because Habitat is "not only giving
a home to a family, but seeing the unique mix of people that will never
ever come together otherwise--doctors, lawyers, construction workers,
teachers, and families all working together."

Chris Wimberly, who will become the owner of the straw-bale home, said
local volunteers were not the only ones helping to build his family's
home. More than a dozen German Christian youth, visiting Tucson, pitched
in as well. "A lot of people have been involved in building our house.
It's just been great. It really gave us a sense of community."

Popular Mechanics, OCTOBER 1997

                          STRAW HOUSES RETURN

EGAN, MN--Despite what the three little pigs might think, straw houses
really do have a future.

Straw, chaff and residue collected from wheat fields after harvests are
now being converted into flooring underlayment using a formaldehyde-free
manufacturing process. Developer Naturall Fibre Board says the
underlayment, which is marketed as SureFoot, exceeds ANSI testing
requirements and has the HUD and FHA approvals that are required by
housing lenders.

This piqued the curiosity of Michael Jantsch, an architect in Kansas City,
Missouri, who ran a series of tests. "We found that it is very
water-resistant, light and flexible," he told PM. "The edges resist
chipping out and breaking, and it holds wood screws extremely well."

But the big advantage, says Jantsch, has nothing to do with its technical
characteristics. "Our clients who are concerned with environmental issues
are pleased to have a renewable source that is environment-friendly," he

U.S. News & World Report; January 12, 1998

                       STRAW HOUSES: NOT SO DUMB

The first little pig in the children's story may not be the fool we take
him for: Straw houses are making a comeback. Environmentalists, who are
pushing straw as a building material, say today's straw houses aren't
terribly easy to blow down-or burn, provided they're tightly baled.

Straw houses were popular 300 years ago in Europe, and almost a century
ago in western Nebraska. They had a modest renaissance in the
back-to-nature 1970s but "didn't really catch on in terms of widespread
interest until the early '90s," says David Eisenberg, coauthor of The
Straw Bale House (Chelsea Green Publishing). Now there are more than a
thousand straw houses in the United States.

Straw has much to recommend it as a building material: It's cheap,
virtually noise-proof, and energy efficient. These advantages proved
irresistible for Barry Ford, 54, whose family just celebrated its first
Christmas in a new two-story, 2,000-square-foot straw home in Lancaster,
S.C. Ford estimates that the house, which he built himself for about
$7,000 (including some new furnishings), would have been 10 times more
expensive had he used conventional materials.

Eisenberg predicts the number of straw-bale houses will double within two
years. More growth may depend on convincing zoning officials, insurers,
and consumers that straw houses are safe and practical. Advocates hope new
national and international housing codes, due in two years, will include
straw standards and spur wider interest.

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