English 26

Straw Houses

In the story of the three little pigs, the one who built his house of straw did not fare well; the big, bad wolf huffed and puffed and blew his house down. But builder Michael Furbish, who made his own home, and an elementary school1 from bales of straw, says in reality, straw houses are not only sturdy but also good for the environment.

 In fact, more people are discovering that straw baled into rectangular blocks are2an inexpensive building material.

It is a common misconception that3 bales of straw are light: each one weighs about 40 pounds. They are stacked like bricks and then sprayed4with plaster on the inside walls to form a coat one-and-a-half to two inches thick. Then they are surrounded by stucco on the outside. So a straw building is really like a fortress; it will not5 rot as long as water is kept out of the bales.

There are two ways to make this kind of structure: You can build load-bearing walls with them6, which means the walls support the roof, or one can build7 a post-and-beam wooden frame that supports the roof and then fill in the walls. Either way, the walls are there to stay. On the other hand8, they provide great insulation, helping keep straw homes in cold climates cozy in winter and those built in hot places like the desert cool in summer.

Straw is considered a green building material also9 because it is a renewable resource: A whole new crop can be grown and harvested every year, easily renewing10 the supply. In addition, planting and harvesting straw requires relatively little energy. Furbish explains that most other building materials require a lot of electricity use when they are produced and manufactured11 at a factory. However, with straw-bale construction, a building is produced without them using much energy12. Furbish used about 900 straw bales for his family’s two-story, three-bedroom house. [13]

When asked if there are any drawbacks to living in a straw house, like mice nibbling on the walls14, Furbish points out that the straw is completely covered with plaster and stucco. Besides, he has a couple of cats on mouse patrol, just in case. “It would be hard to find a wall system that will outperform straw,” he says. [15]