• Tech Tech

Architect takes straw-bale home to the next level with cutting-edge design: 'Our creativity as designers is not limited'

The 1,840-square-foot home is entirely off the grid.

The 1,840-square-foot home is entirely off the grid.

Photo Credit: Hedger Constructions

Straw may not be a wise home-building material for little pigs. But a unique abode in Australia's foothills, called the Huff'n'Puff Haus, is showcasing its potential for human dwellings as part of an overall efficient and sustainable creation. 

The home, designed by Envirotecture's Talina Edwards, was finished in 2022. Photos shared by Passive House Accelerator from during construction show straw bales being stacked to form walls. 

But they are only a part of the elements that have earned the project a Passivhaus Premium Certification, according to the designer. 

"Our research shows that Australian homes are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and the energy ratings we use to design them are not yet responding to the threat," Edwards posted on LinkedIn, quoting research from Renew and referencing common building practices. 

In contrast, the Envirotecture website is full of designs that maximize shade, sunlight, and other natural elements to increase energy efficiency. It's all part of the so-called passive construction strategy. The principles are even starting to be part of homes and communities in the United States. A residence built by Arizona's Vali Homes is touted as being able to pay for itself, partially through energy savings. 

For its part, the 1,840-square-foot Huff'n'Puff is entirely off the grid. In addition to the lime-rendered straw bales that form the walls, the home taps solar power, provides healthy indoor air quality, and has a system to safely collect rainwater — and to remove wastewater. 

It's also fire-resistant, perhaps a bit surprising for a house built from straw. It's a key consideration in an area known for brush fires. 

The Huff'n'Puff home is built on a concrete slab, with cement-sheet cladding and hardwood. There's a diesel generator as a backup power supply, maybe the dirtiest element of the build.

Edwards' design was inspired by the long houses built in the area centuries ago, therefore its shape is a rectangle. The thick straw bales provide deep window sills, perfect for sitting in to view the expansive terrain Down Under. It's also part of the way the home acknowledges its natural setting, not existing alien to it, all per Accelerator and the designer's website. 

"From an architectural design perspective, this was exciting news to realize that with Passivhaus there aren't necessarily these 'rules of thumb' that apply in every scenario," Edwards said in the Accelerator story. "Our creativity as designers is not limited, and in this case our clients' desire to embrace those views meant we could have large windows to both the north and the south as we'd checked that it would still perform as intended."  

Passive building concepts also limit the creation of planet-warming air pollution, linked to severe weather, asthma, and other health concerns. 

Fortunately, you don't need a foreign designer to get started. Simply switching to LED lights and unplugging unused chargers can prevent a lot of energy loss and contribute to hundreds of dollars in savings a year, depending on the steps you take. 

In Australia, it seems straw is a surprisingly good material to fend off the modern-day big, bad wolf.

"We all need some inspiring stories of hope to not only survive the climate emergency but to thrive in the future in harmony with our planet," Edwards posted on LinkedIn.

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider