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Not Wind Nor Fire Will Blow These Straw Houses Down

Developers in the U.K. have made the first commercially available straw bale houses.

Image courtesy of ModCell.

A British company called ModCell is unveiling a line of seven new prefabricated townhomes for the market—and they’re all made of straw. Your first instinct might be to make a “Three Little Pigs” reference, but these houses bear no resemblance to the flimsy structures depicted in the well-known fairy tale. These straw bale houses are not just low-cost, they’re also environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

“Yes, we’ve heard all the jokes,” ModCell director Finlay White told The Guardian. “But we know that our buildings will withstand hurricanes, never mind the huffing and puffing of a big bad wolf. We get the jokes every day. We like to reply by saying the children’s story is a bit of clever PR from the bricks and mortar side of the industry.”

Packed tightly inside a timber frame, the straw acts as an effective thermal insulator, which, combined with other energy-efficient features, will drive down energy costs for the consumer. The developers estimate that ModCell residents will be saving 90 percent on their fuel bills versus what they’d pay in a standard brick home. Additionally, using straw could reduce the carbon impact of building one home by 80 percent. Straw actually absorbs carbon as it grows and the agriculture industry already grows a ton of it in the process of producing wheat, rice, oats, and rye—wheat production alone produces an estimated 7 million metric tons of straw a year.

Straw bale construction used to be more popular in the late 19th century, but designers and developers are returning to it in their search for new sustainable construction materials. The biggest obstacle has been bringing the structures up to building codes. ModCell researchers have thoroughly tested the straw structures and it’s clear they can stand the test of heavy rains and raging storms. They’ve even been subjected to fire resistance tests. The homes are so solid they’ve earned the construction certification they need to be put on the market, making them the first commercially available straw eco-homes.

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