Economy Construction, durability… What you need to know about straw...

Construction, durability… What you need to know about straw houses

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Durable and environmentally friendly, straw is an interesting material for building a home. – IStock/ City Presse

All over the world and for millennia, people have built homes using plants and soil. But did you know that the first straw houses appeared at the end of the 19th century in the United States, in Nebraska?

In France, the first construction of this type dates from 1920. It is the Maison Feuillette, in Montargis. Natural, renewable and healthy, this resource is an ecological material par excellence. Are you interested in building your straw house? Here is what you need to know.

Ecological and economical

According to the French straw construction network (RFCP), 500 of these alternative eco-constructions would see the light of day each year on the national territory. Available everywhere and in large quantities in our country, this natural material is attracting more and more people wishing to pay attention to their ecological impact. 100% biodegradable, this material is a very good sound and thermal insulator. We therefore reduce our heating bills.

Less expensive than conventional insulation, the price of a boot is between 1 to 2 euros (without transport). As an indication, it takes about 500 boots for a house of 100 m2. You can call on straw construction professionals (still not very widespread) or opt for self-construction with salvage material, which will lower costs.

What durability over time?

Despite what you can imagine, the straw is strong and really durable, if you respect a few conditions. It is a so-called breathable material, which means that it does not trap water vapor in the walls but lets it diffuse. Not resistant to humidity, boots used during installation must be stored in a dry place. As a precaution, the foundations of the house must be made in such a way as to prevent any rising water. The walls must be covered with plaster and there must be a roof projection of at least 50 cm.

Contrary to popular belief, straw, if compacted, treated and trimmed properly, is fire resistant and no more flammable than any other material.

What type of straw to use?

Produced at the end of summer, the straw must be reserved as soon as possible at the farmer, to whom you will indicate the type of product, how many bundles you need, the dimensions of the strands… The bales must be very dry and in a good hurry.

You can use several types of straw: wheat, rye, triticale (a hybrid between wheat and rye) and even rice for those who live in the Camargue. On the other hand, don’t use hay, which decomposes over time.

Different construction techniques

Are you tempted by the straw house adventure but you have no idea how to go about it? Know that there are two main construction techniques to get you started on this project. The oldest, called “Nebraska” in reference to its place of origin, consists of stacking straw bales on top of each other, staggered. There is no frame, apart from a few wooden or metal rods which support the boots. Economical and fast, it is ideal for small utility spaces such as a barn, garage or workshop, but less so for large living areas.

For the latter, we prefer the “wood frame” or “filling” process, generally more used to build a real house. First, we mount a wooden frame. Between the different pillars, we place the straw that adorns the framework (or the double framework). Finally, it is advisable to protect it by coating it with lime or earth.

Get started in self-construction

If you are thinking of building your own straw house, you can follow one or more training courses on a participatory and solidarity site, in order to familiarize yourself with the different techniques. In addition, if you can, surround yourself, for plans and drawings, with building specialists receptive to this kind of marginal project. More information on the RFCP website.

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