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Publication Title | One Man Personal Straw Bale Odyssey

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Energy Efficient Building

Above: One wing of the “L” shaped Nebraska style cottage at Shenoa Retreat Center in Philo, California.

One Man’s

Personal Straw

Bale Odyssey

David Booth

©1995 David Booth Many folks assume modern

building methods and materials

represent the epitome of quality and durability. I feel there remains a great deal to be learned from builders of vernacular architecture. Early builders have used indigenous materials and passive solar design principles for generations.

Many of these builder/designers found it necessary to choose the native materials found in their locale. They combined time-tested construction strategies with innovative individual variations. Builders of any time period tend to be somewhat conservative. They think traditional construction methods have been thoroughly tested. But in any era, there are innovators. My hat is off to the pioneer architect/builders who first recognized the hidden potential of straw as a building material. Straw-bale construction is one building tradition which has a little known history. Despite this lack of recognition, the revival of straw-bale building methods is undergoing explosive growth. This unique alternative construction approach requires materials with far less embodied energy than conventional building practices.

So what makes it so special?

Straw is primarily an agricultural waste product which is often available locally. Straw, is the dry stalks left after cereal grains are harvested. It is an annual crop, largely under-utilized today. Too often it’s simply burned in the field because its a nuisance for the farmer to till it back into the soil. When burned, straw releases pollutants like carbon monoxide, particulate hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides. Burning straw also contributes carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, to our atmosphere. Baling the straw

44 Home Power #46 • April / May 1995

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