Sunday, May 16, 2010

I'll Huff and I'll Puff and I'll Blow Your House In

Take a look at the house below. I'd move in there in a flash - it's good looking; and, there's a lot of windows. Works for me! Well, this house is made from an unusual, environmentally-friendly material that is proving to be tough as nails.

All photos courtesy: balehausatbath

This house is being put through rigorous testing; and, the results have been very impressive so far. Despite the fact that it's built from straw bales (yes, you read that right - straw bales), this home is strong enough to survive hurricane-force winds. When exposed to the equivalent of 120 mph winds, it only moved one-sixth of an inch. The results weren't too surprising to me. In one of my past lives, I worked on a farm. Anyone who has ever had to "sling bales" (lift them and sling them to another location) knows those puppies are heavy.

A housing co-operative in Leeds, UK is so impressed they are seeking permission to build 20 straw houses. And why not? Not only are they completely environmental; but, they look sleek and modern (and, I still love those huge windows!) A little landscaping and the squareness of the building can be used to great advantage.

The University of Bath's Centre for Innovative Construction Materials have been carrying out a major research project for the past two years to scientifically assess straw as a sustainable building material. The two-storey house was opened last year. Since then the group has been monitoring it for sustainability in a number of different areas such as insulating properties, humidity levels, air tightness and sound insulation qualities.

But; it doesn't look like straw? The straw bales are actually between the inner and outer wall acting as insulation; and, performing other amazing duties. The wood panels are prefabricated; and, the straw is just dropped in at the construction site. This wall and roof cladding system is called Modcell; and, uses only straw bales and hemp. The walls are 1'6" thick making it an incredibly sturdy structure. Remember the hurricane-force winds?

The insulating properties are pretty superior too. The heating bills for a straw home were 80% lower than for a brick home due to the insulating properties of the panels. Construction had a much lower carbon footprint because of the ease of transport.

Straw and hemp are the ultimate environmentally-friendly building materials because they are totally renewable. Straw absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows; so, the buildings made from it can have a small; or, even negative, carbon footprint. It is a by-product of farming (affordable); and, can be grown locally in many places (easy availability).

The house has passed (surpassed, actually) fire tests. It was exposed to temperatures over 1000°C with the requirement that they had to withstand the heat for more than half an hour. After two hours the panel still was intact: that's 4x the time required. That would make me feel much better about my chances of surviving a fire in this home!

Worried about a flood? No problem, the straw can be easily replaced in the panels at a minimal cost. In the Centre's view, the house could last more than a hundred years.

About that housing co-op in Leeds? They are planning to build 20 of them. The price of a single-storey flat (condo) will be £60,000 ($US 86,000 ) and a 4 bedroom row house (town house) will be £160,000 ($US 230,000).

Via TreeHugger

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