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Home building method that dates back thousands of years is making a resurgence: ‘The trend is rising’

“There is not a lot of oxygen flow in there, so fire just smolders, it can’t light.”

"There is not a lot of oxygen flow in there, so fire just smolders, it can't light."

Photo Credit: iStock

Rumpelstiltskin is the only one who can turn straw into gold, but an Italian designer may have transformed the material into something even better. 

As web magazine Designboom detailed, designer Michael Reichegger and architectural community a15 used straw to construct a two-story house in South Tyrol, Italy, supporting the goal of an “ecological, resource-conserving design.”

The bales mixed with wood support the framework of the structure, while the walls are built with straw, wood, trass-lime plaster, and clay, acting as energy-saving insulation in the winter.

Straw has been used in the construction of shelters for thousands of years, dating all the way back to the Paleolithic Era, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. 

Even though the material is inexpensive, easily grown, and soaks up planet-warming carbon, it has mostly been off the radar of mainstream builders, though it has been increasingly reentering the conversation.

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has been among its advocates

“There are one million new home starts in the United States every year. With only 5% of the domestic straw production, you could have enough bales for one million 2,000-square-foot homes,” Chouinard told Fast Company in August. 

According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, the average family in the U.S. spends up to $2,000 annually on electricity, with heating and cooling producing approximately 441 million tons of carbon pollution each year. 

Yet the powerful insulation of straw bales can cut those bills by up to 75%, reducing pollution that has contributed to a rise in global temperatures and an increase in severe weather events like wildfires

Straw is also a tool for fire-resistant construction, as noted by Designboom, and may offer increased protection. 

“There is not a lot of oxygen flow in there, so fire just smolders, it can’t light,” Simple Construct CEO Rebecca Tasker told NBC San Diego of the company’s straw-bale houses in 2019. 

There is no word on whether the Italian design group has more straw houses in the works, but it appears as though straw weatherization will be part of a sustainable future. 

“The straw house is now one of the approximately 15 existing straw houses in South Tyrol,” the design group said, per Designboom. “With already thousands of straw houses in Europe, and the trend is rising.”

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