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Straw bales as a building material

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Straw Bales as a Building Material
Richard Chapo

If you are considering building your own home, you might be looking to alternative building methods. Straw bales present an option that is becoming more and more popular.

If you are thinking about building your own house, you have many different construction materials to choose from. All of these materials make great places to live in, but there are certain drawbacks, including expense and ecological unfriendly pollutants. One way to get around using these traditional materials for your structure is to think differently. Straw bale building materials are a popular option that is popping up all over the world.

Straw bale structures were first built by settlers who moved to Nebraska during the expansion westward in the United States. When these pioneers arrived in Nebraska, they found their typical building materials of wood and stone in short supply. So the settlers decided to build their homes with compressed bales of hay and straw – the only items they could find in the rather bleak landscape. After a bit of trial and error, straw bale construction resulted in warm, secure structures. Turning to modern times, the straw bale construction process was rediscovered by researchers looking for more eco-friendly building ideas. Now, there are straw bale structures being built all over the world.

Straw bale structures are built by creating a frame (out of wood, usually) and stacking bales of straw as if they were cement bricks in order to create walls. These straw bales are then plastered over on both the inside and outside of the bale to create walls that are strong and insulated. Depending on your preferences, the walls can be covered in a manner that hides the straw bale construction or reveals it. Straw bale structures with walls made out of these bales are also great at providing sound insulation, a fire barrier strong enough to be used in a commercial building and reducing energy consumption for heating and cooling by as much as 40 percent. Straw bales also adapt easily to existing architectural patterns, foundations and roof structures. Using straw as your chosen wall material can also save you tons of money, up to 50 percent off of the cost of traditional wall materials.

How popular are straw bale structures? Of all places, China is starting to take the lead in straw bale construction. With massive population issues, housing in China has always been an issue. Now the country has cost and pollution issues given an exploding economy. With this in mind, China is looking to alternative building resources to address the problems. Working with American architects, China is now building straw bale homes in test communities. In Northern China, straw bale structures are being built in the provinces of Jilin, Liao Ning, Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia. The primary attractiveness of the process is cheap building costs and 50 percent less energy use required to heat the homes. If the initial efforts go well, China intends to use straw bale construction on a massive scale.

Straw bale structures are being embraced by people who enjoy green living throughout the world, as well as people who want an affordable alternative to traditional building materials. Straw bales are very renewable as a resource, and the fact that they cut down on energy consumption is definite positive.

Rick Chapo is with Solar Companies - a directory of solar energy companies. Visit us to read more articles on renewable energy.

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