Straw, from wheat, oats, rice and rye, may have been a flimsy construction material in the past. But today, straw bale homes are growing in popularity. The first American homes built from bales clad with mud were built during the 1890s in Louisiana. Bales are highly fire resistant and excellent insulators. The only natural enemy is moisture.

Green walls, classic designs

Photo by Michelle Kaufmann

Photo by Michelle Kaufmann

The walls for straw bale homes can go up quickly and have fewer energy requirements than conventional framing homes, with estimates of 75 percent reductions in utility costs. You’ll find a lot of straw bale construction in Canada, Australia, Europe and sprinkled from coast to coast in this country.

Sturdier than you think

Photo by Inhabitat

Photo by Inhabitat

Bale walls that are raised on a curb off the foundation are protected from damage caused by seeping water. The CO2 Insanity blog reports that a two-story bale house in Bath, England, faced 120 MPH winds and swayed but a 16th of an inch.

Straw is what you make of it

Photo by Strohhaus

Photo by Strohhaus

The Stoh Haus in Switzerland is made from bales that were covered with a composite translucent siding. It’s set on a raised platform over the damp, snowy ground. The project featured highly compressed straw bales.

Getting started

Photo by MCH

Photo by MCH

For insurers, the key requirement is that bale homes meet all building codes. Lenders, on the other hand, may be tougher to convince that building a bale home is a sound idea. You can prep for your arguments by visiting, the be-all resource for people considering a straw bale project. The site has an excellent FAQ section and offers classes.

Looking good

Photo by Mother Earth News

Photo by Mother Earth News

The interiors are entirely up to you with a bale house. You can plan for clad windows, hearths, and beamed ceilings. Mother Earth News has published an online guide on building costs, dealing with moisture, and resale values for straw bale houses.

Don’t build around forests known to harbor wolves. That would be a baleful experience.

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