Inexpensive Home Building

Cut through the jargon and nonsense of home building and house construction by starting from zero dollars and trying to figure best-value bang-for-your-buck when choosing construction methods or construction materials. My research might answer some of your questions and at other times perhaps you have the knowledge or experience to post the answers to my questions and thereby help others too. The goal is an affordable and sustainable home for all.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Carbon Footprints and Embodied Energy in Materials Choice

Some people have used straw*-bale walls for inexpensive building but I wonder about long-term strength, fire, rot, and infestation with straw.*

Some people choose straw* for a lower life-cycle impact or "footprint" on the environment. In practice, an efficiency goal often will overlap with low "embodied energy" (the resources needed to get your house ready for occupancy, including fuel costs to ship a roof shingle or bathroom tile from another state or country). However, embodied energy is not a deal-breaker for my project, except if it's reflected in my construction/maintenance cost effectiveness (bang for the buck).

*Corrected, do not confuse straw with hay (see comment).


At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Ed Davies said...

Do you really mean hay? There are lots of houses built using straw bales but I've never heard of hay being used.

The book Building with Straw Bales, A practical guide for the UK and Ireland by Barbara Jones has this to say, page 27:

"Do not confuse straw with hay or grasses. Straw is baled-up dead plant stems of a grain crop. It has had virtually all its seed heads removed, and contains no leaves or flowers. It is a fairly inert material, with a similar chemical make-up to wood. It is quite difficult to make it decompose, and usually requires the addition of nitrates to do so. Hay, on the other hand, is grass baled up green, with lots of feedstuff (leaves and flowers etc.) deliberately left in there. It readly decomposes, as the organic matter in it begins to rot."

At 6:10 PM, Blogger J said...


Hello. I did mean straw. I was replying to someone who asked about "hay" but probably also meant straw.

Thank you for the correction and the visit.

At 6:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree straw bale construction, may not unnecessarily "inexpensive", modern times. May have have been inexpensive yesteryear for farming families on the timber less Great Plains, may still be a good choice for those families currently living here. Thing is that locally few farmers bale straw, fewer yet still use square bales Historical accounts of those homes should temper any concerns about the suitability of straw bale construction.

At 12:53 AM, Blogger jmy said...

Best available sites/links ....

would like to build a shop to live in

At 11:30 PM, Blogger J said...

Yes, some people used straw in the old days because it was right under their nose whereas today the reason might be more principled.

Jmy, those links are along my lines although I'm leaning toward CMUs. I need good price comparisons on concrete and steel roofs.


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