GREEN Topic: Straw Bale Home Basics
Technology Snapshot & Benefits: Appropriate for a wide variety of climates, straw bale homes can be comfortable and can manage moisture effectively if designed and constructed properly. These structures can provide good thermal (approx. R-30 to R-35) and sound insulation and provide some fire-resistance in ASTM testing. They use low embodied energy, low-toxicity building materials which are usually available locally.
Straw bale homes offer an alternative aesthetic with a variety of options for designs and finishes.
Estimated Cost Savings: Cost savings vary with climate and are related to home heating costs.
Issues: Most challenges with straw bale homes are related to inadequate design or construction practices that make the home vulnerable to moisture intrusion. They require a certain level of expertise to design and construct properly and well-meant but naive promotion has sometimes encouraged the design/construction of these homes by people who were not qualified.
Few Home Inspectors providing pre-purchase/pre-sale inspections are qualified to inspect these homes. Interview home inspectors carefully and ask for references.
Regional Issues: In some parts of the country, it may be challenging to find construction and mortgage financing, qualified contractors and tradesmen, or fire insurance for these homes. Some regions are at an advantage in this aspect, such as Colorado, since its sunny climate has encouraged the building of energy-efficient homes, including many straw bales homes, and code officials, lenders and insurance carriers are more familiar with them than in other parts of the country.
Installation (Getting It Done): Homes should be designed by architects experienced in this type of construction. Contractors should have multiple references, qualifications and coverage, and they should be checked. As with other types of construction, accepting low bids can be very expensive, since lack of familiarity on the part of the contractor may be a reason for a low bid.
In hiring Home Inspectors, find out how they became qualified to inspect these specialized homes, since no formal inspection training is available on straw bale design and construction.
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