Straw Bale Homes

THINK WARM. THINK COST EFFECTIVE.

Reduce your day to day running costs and breathe easy with a smaller carbon footprint and cosy thick natural walls. Infinitely flexible design and finishes made simple by the all natural straw bale base and earth render covering.

Straw bales are a natural carbon sink. They are most often a waste by-product of rice, wheat or barley crops, with no feed value and, as such, regularly get tossed on gardens, used as base in stables or burned. However, used as a building material, straw bales offer amazing value. They have off the chart insulation R Values, are breathable, cost effective and flexible.

In the Southern Highlands the advantage of high insulation is a real bonus on the quarterly energy bills. In winter, when temperatures regularly stay in the single digits, a straw bale home offers a warm haven while the heat of a 30+ degree summer afternoon is held at bay by walls that are approximately 450mm thick. With good passive solar design and double glazing, a straw bale home will save tens of thousands in energy bills across its long life.

Then there is the ascetic value of a straw bale home. When teamed with natural renders like clay and lime, straw bales make good sense pocket wise and structurally. Add natural timber, raw bush poles or dressed and oiled, stone and local clay colours, a straw bale home can really express the owner’s individuality – naturally.

We live in a Straw Bale Home in Bundanoon. Why? Please read our story below.

The Lead Up to Choosing a Straw Bale & Earth Render Home

With 3 growing very energetic boys, my wife and I decided it was time for a country change. Thus, in 2010 we embarked on the journey that has led us to Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands just 90min south west of Sydney.

The climate in Bundanoon is very much in keeping with its Scottish Heritage. Although, we get 4 seasons. Where some could argue that Scotland skips Summer most years. Bundanoon experiences a hot dry Summer and last Summer reached the record 47 degrees that most of the Australian eastern sea board survived. Winters are cold, with plenty of rain (not too much… you know, just right) and overnight temperatures usually drop to zero leaving a regular morning frost.

Our location on the western side of Bundanoon is exposed to the Snowy Mountains and can bear the brunt of an icy wind that will blow in at any time of year and make you want to leap for your coat and scarf. With all that in mind and a near perfect block found and purchased, the design stage began.

The block of land is 2000m2 and reasonably narrow with north facing towards the street. It slopes gently towards the south west with the best views towards the North West (at the high end of the block) and the South West (at the low end of the block).

The budget to build was extremely tight, as will be the budget for running costs after completion.

After exploring a number of options, both man made and traditional, including mud brick, koolwall and other products with high thermal properties, straw bale was the winning medium for construction. It won out, to put it plain and simple, because it’s awesome.

Ok, you want more details?

First and foremost, its thermal properties are out of this world. There is no other product, natural or man made, that can match straw in the “thermal properties” department. For this climate in particular, it will work efficiently to keep cool in Summer and warm in Winter – especially if we are in the position to fully orient the house to the North, which we are.

Secondly, it suits the Budget. Straw Bale homes are not a part of main stream building. And, for this reason, they can seem exotic, expensive and something you only do if you’re going to be on Grand Designs. The reality is,

  • The materials are extremely cheap (some are even free!)
  • The build is fast (ie. Save on labour costs)

There’s no mortar between layers and stacking a strawbale on top of a strawbale is a whole lot faster than a brick on a brick. And guess how you make your wall straight…yup, that’s right, no levels needed here, just a chainsaw and a happy face required.

No Experts Required (ie. Save a little more on labour costs)

You can literally throw a BBQ and invite all your friends for a couple of fun weekends to help you build your home. My wife became chief grippler. My mother-in-law became chief bale tie-er-up-er-er and my brother (a doctor) along with his mate (an artist), became chief external renderers.

Maintenance on a well-designed straw bale home can be very low (i.e. No ongoing running costs)

Thirdly, it leaves a teenie tiny carbon footprint. Not only is strawbale construction good for the environment when it comes to ongoing carbon consumption, but it is also amazingly light on the environment during construction. The primary materials to build a straw bale home are straw and clay, which you can obtain from your own block of land. Using clay from your own site reduces the cost of transporting your pre-build excavations to dump elsewhere as well as reduces the cost of having man made products produced and delivered to site.

And… just because all of that isn’t enough, here are a few bonus perks:

Safe in a fire Zone e.g all of Australia

Made from natural materials that are breathable, mould resistant and easy on the lungs. For anyone with respitory problems, this perk is very obvious. For anyone who does not, you’ll notice a warmth to a straw bale home that just seems different to others. And you’ll use less bleach when the house is 20 years old.

Malleable to your Heart’s Content.

Straw & clay/earth render are very easy materials to work with. You’ll find it easy to shape and design to suit just about anyone’s taste.

You don’t have to be a hippy (of course you can if you want).

My wife likes smooth white walls that she can hang paintings on art gallery style. Straw is rendered and can be finished with whatever result you would like. So stop visualing Frodo’s hobbit hole, unless of course that is what you want!

It is 2015 and how do we like living in our Straw Bale Home?

For more photos and details, please make sure to visit  Connect with us on Facebook where the journey is being documented. And, when it is complete, we also promise a few more pics here!

If you’re considering building a straw bale home and would like to consider your options and costs, please call Ken on 0418230912 or you can email him at kenl@longshaw.com