I’ll huff and I’ll puff, and blow your new straw house down

20 Mar

We all know the story of the three little pigs? In short there were three pigs, one greedy wolf, a house made of straw, a house made of sticks and a house made of bricks. The wolf blew houses down all but one…you can imagine which house survived and the fate of the three little pigs. Anyhow the reason behind this blog is that straw houses will no longer be the preserve of little pigs as the first straw houses are now being offered on the housing market.

A specialist architectural company called Modcell bumped heads with the University of Bath to research the project which led to the construction of seven houses. They were built on a street filled with traditional brick-built properties in Shirehampton, Bristol. Though, we must mention the seven houses are clad in brick to fit in with the area.  The houses have timber framed prefabricated walls and are filled with straw bales which are in cased in wooden boards. Someone’s been reading the three little pig’s story haven’t they?

The team have promised homeowners that they could see a 90% decrease in their fuel bills, much cheaper than the average brick home. They also boast a lower purchase price…what’s not to love? The project leader Professor Pete Walker said;

“The construction sector must reduce its energy consumption by 50% and its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, so radical changes are needed to the way we approach house building.

“As a construction material, straw is a low-cost and widely-available food co-product that offers real potential for ultra-low carbon housing throughout the UK.

“Building with straw could be a critical point in our trajectory towards a low-carbon future.”

The team behind the project insist that straw houses could help to meet housing demand in the UK sustainably. With so many young buyers struggling to get on the house market due to high purchase costs, could this be the answer? Or is some greedy wolf rubbing their hands together waiting for the house to fall down so they can have a tasty snack? Apparently not as Professor Walker continued;

 “Over the past three years of research we have looked at various aspects of the performance of straw,”

“Two that particularly come to mind as concerns or apprehension from potential users of straw are fire-resistance and weather-resistance.

 “In terms of durability, we have undertaken laboratory tests and undertaken monitoring of existing buildings and we have also done accelerated weather tests.

“The results of all these tests suggest that straw is a very durable construction solution.”

The team have thoroughly tired and tested the technology, working on its weight bearing properties and its thermal insulation. Straw houses have been on the increase especially in the USA, Australia and China who have been implementing straw bales in their housing construction.

Researchers have estimated that after wheat production and animal bedding, a remaining 3.8 million tonnes of straw is left. This is enough to build 500,000 new three bedroom homes that only require 7.2 tonnes of straw. Smashing.

Even though the big bad wolf blew the straw house down, we think we have learnt enough from research and short stories to learn from our mistakes. So let’s start the story again…three little pigs, one greedy wolf and one straw house. The greedy wolf kept trying to blow the house down for hours but the house was very strong and the little pigs were safe inside. He tried to enter through the chimney but the third little pig boiled a big pot of water and kept it below the chimney. The wolf fell into it and died.

The moral of the story? Technology wins.


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