Une maison en presses de paille
à l'épreuve du gros méchant loup!

En suivant la démarche innovatrice des trois petits cochons, Linda Nicholas
explore les aspects positifs de construire une maison en presses de paille. Cette
vieille méthode de construction qui revient à la mode a retenu l'attention
de Linda, qui rêve de s'en servir pour construire sa propre maison.

Elle découvre le bon sens pour les Néo-Brunswickois.e.s que de construire
avec de la paille, étant donné l'exploitation à outrance de nos forêts et
l'abondance de la paille de source agricole. On y retrouve des liens avec
d'autres ressources et d'autres personnes du Nouveau-Brunswick qui sont en
train de construire leurs propres maisons en presses de pailles.

A Huff and a Puff
and I’ll Build a 
Straw Bale House!

Linda Nicholas
April 1998

uild a house with STRAW??? Hello, three little pigs!! A needle in a haystack mean anything to you?? That means wood heat is out! If your first thoughts were along these lines, don’t feel bad. It’s perfectly normal. When a friend first told me about building a home out of straw, I thought ‘Oh Ya, the three little pigs will love THIS’! Yet, if you think about it, the second pig built his house out of sticks and had the same results as the first. We build with sticks on a regular basis and think nothing of it! So why not straw?

"Oh Ya, the three little pigs will love THIS!"

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In the 8 months or so since I first heard of this idea, my opinion has changed considerably! My business partner and I are now researching sustainable ways of living and a straw bale house seems to be the way to go. We have acquired a ‘stack’ of information and are now determined to build two of our own straw bale homes.

I look at it this way, houses are being built from wood, plastic, insulation and tar. So the trees are cut, then milled, then treated and then nailed together to form a structure. This structure then needs to be filled with something to keep out the ‘oh so wicked’ North Wind, our own Big Bad Wolf? Why not a natural abundant waste product that’s produced nearly in your back yard?

How long can wood remain an abundant building material? If you haven’t heard enough about cutting wood in New Brunswick these days, check your newspaper or the evening news! Not only are our forests being depleted, lumber has become very expensive and there isn’t much chance of things getting better. There are also increasingly toxic preservatives being used on today’s lumber and building materials. We need a way to reduce the amount of wood and synthetics used to build our homes. There are a lot of wonderful people out there with great ideas as to how this can be done. I see straw bale construction as becoming a sensible choice for New Brunswick.

This province produces a LOT of straw! Straw is a by-product of grain and is generally used for livestock bedding. What is used as bedding is baled and the rest is plowed under or burned. This leaves a considerable excess of straw as waste. Perhaps a distinction between straw and hay would be helpful. Hay is grass that has been cut green, dried and baled as feed for livestock. Hay, if not dried well, can create heat and combust! Straw will not combust and if kept dry, will outlast most other building materials.

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"My house will be round with a sunroom at the center connecting the whole house."

The simple fact is straw bales, stacked brick style, will create a wall with an insulation value of R-50 to R-60. The current insulation value of an average house is R-35 to R-40. Straw bales create a higher insulation value, at less then half the price, as is! Best of all, there is no chance of chemical poisoning! All you need is to add stucco to seal the bales and protect the straw. Then you have an 18" wall that will withstand even the Big Bad Wolf at ‘his/her’ worst!!! No exaggeration!
There are straw bale houses that were built in the 1920s, which are still perfectly sound! A new interest in this old building style is growing at a rapid rate and their appeal isn’t only for their superior insulation value. Straw bales are a natural product which is user friendly and allows great design flexibility.

Anyone can learn to build with straw bales; making it possible for family, friends and neighbors to have a ‘hands on’ building experience. This also helps reduce the need for high cost specialised labour. A straw bale wall is perfectly capable of holding up the roof - it can be completely load bearing, or it can be used in combination with post and beam roof structures. It can safely be used for one story or two, with a full basement or a slab foundation. In short, it can be used in any conventional way, as well as many unconventional ways.

Chris Rendell, of Fredericton N.B., is building a straw bale house in Harvey Station. His words nicely sum up the general feeling of most straw bale builders I have conversed with: "I personally believe that the single most important aspect of straw-bale building, is the fact that YOU can take charge of the process, examine the options, discard any assumptions about what a house SHOULD be and make these decisions for yourself. The end result is a house that fits your own needs and principles."

"Burning a bale of straw is like burning a phone book, it is so tightly compacted that the exterior will smolder, rather than burn."

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My partner and I have chosen a round house design for our building. While her design is not completely decided, it will be a two story home with a full foundation. I have decided on a single story with a slab foundation. I favor the slab because I want to install radiant floor heating. My house will be round with a sunroom at the center connecting the whole house. Four rooms with long narrow horizontal windows will fan to the north side of the sunroom. The kitchen and living space will be an open area on the south side, with lots of windows to access the winter sun.

Oh and about FIRE! There have been studies done in Quebec that demonstrate straw and stucco walls only cracking at temperatures of 1800 degrees. Even then, the wood burns but the stuccoed straw wall will not! Burning a bale of straw is like burning a phone book, it is so tightly compacted that the exterior will smolder, rather than burn.

YOU don’t believe this? Well, that’s good. I hope this has created a lot of questions for you and that you will begin your own research. There are a lot of great people with far better information than I could provide. Please check them out!! You will not be disappointed! And you may, as I have, discover the true value of this simple environmentally friendly safe wonderful building material. My thanks to all those doing the work.

Below are some great sites with information on straw bale buildings and lots of links. Chris Rendell would be happy to hear from anyone interested in his project: cmr@abs.ca (Chris Rendell). And so would we: "Cowsmic Connections" Debbie Roper and Linda Nicholas: milkwtch@nb.sympatico.ca