Almost all of the problems created by conventional building and housing techniques are solved, while providing people with housing that is cheaper to build and maintain, and more beautiful than almost anything available today. The broad title given to such methods is �natural building.� Although there are many different types, I will focus on straw-bale building, as it is well suited to the seasonal variation of Canada.
A by-product of modern intensive agriculture is straw�staggering quantities of straw. Straw is the general term given to the hollow stalks of cereal grains such as oats or barley. A great deal of it is used as bedding for large animals, particularly horses and cattle, yet huge amounts of it are burned or tilled under the soil every year, simply to be rid of it.
But straw, when compressed into bales, is an incredible insulator and muffler. Bale walls have an R-value (a measurement of a material�s resistance to heat flow) of 29 to 34, while conventional walls packed with fibreglass insulation have an R-value of only 19. During tests at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, a sample bale wall was chilled on one side to -18C while the other side was heated to 21C�it took two weeks for heat loss from the walls to become a steady flow.
When coated in a lime and clay plaster and kept dry, straw-bale houses become almost fire proof, incredibly strong, and yet so flexible that they can survive an earthquake. Because they are mechanically baled yet so readily available, they are cheap and of relatively uniform size, so they can be stacked like blocks to form thick, sturdy walls.
Yet because walls are hand-stacked and plastered, they become slightly irregular and deeply personal. By building with industrial and agricultural by-products, we help to return our energy and material use to something loosely resembling a cycle; a gross approximation of the interconnectedness and efficiency of nature’s nutrient- and energy-cycling, but still vastly superior to what we do at present. "Read More