Architecture

Straw homes claimed to cut fuel bills by 90 percent

Straw homes claimed to cut fue...
Sustainable building firm BaleHaus recently unveiled a number of new straw homes (Photo: ModCell)
Sustainable building firm BaleHaus recently unveiled a number of new straw homes (Photo: ModCell)
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You've probably heard the one about straw not turning out well for a trio of housebuilding pigs, but perhaps they were onto something after all (Photo: ModCell)
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You've probably heard the one about straw not turning out well for a trio of housebuilding pigs, but perhaps they were onto something after all (Photo: ModCell)
Sustainable building firm BaleHaus recently unveiled a number of new straw homes (Photo: ModCell)
2/23
Sustainable building firm BaleHaus recently unveiled a number of new straw homes (Photo: ModCell)
The homes feature a novel new form of straw insulation and promise an incredible 90 percent fuel bill reduction compared to your average home (Photo: ModCell)
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The homes feature a novel new form of straw insulation and promise an incredible 90 percent fuel bill reduction compared to your average home (Photo: ModCell)
Though straw-bale construction has been around since forever, these new houses are a bit more innovative than previous methods of using straw (Photo: ModCell)
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Though straw-bale construction has been around since forever, these new houses are a bit more innovative than previous methods of using straw (Photo: ModCell)
They're based on a prefabricated panel called ModCell that – put simply – comprises a timber frame with deep straw bale insulation packed inside and topped by a wood fiber breather board (Photo: ModCell)
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They're based on a prefabricated panel called ModCell that – put simply – comprises a timber frame with deep straw bale insulation packed inside and topped by a wood fiber breather board (Photo: ModCell)
The ModCell prefab modules could be used as a new green building material (Photo: ModCell)
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The ModCell prefab modules could be used as a new green building material (Photo: ModCell)
Sustainable building firm BaleHaus recently unveiled a number of new straw homes (Photo: ModCell)
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Sustainable building firm BaleHaus recently unveiled a number of new straw homes (Photo: ModCell)
Surplus straw could potentially be used to help build up to 50,000 new average three-bedroom ModCell homes, according to the Bath University study (Photo: ModCell)
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Surplus straw could potentially be used to help build up to 50,000 new average three-bedroom ModCell homes, according to the Bath University study (Photo: ModCell)
It's good news with regard to fire performance and structural integrity too (Photo: ModCell)
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It's good news with regard to fire performance and structural integrity too (Photo: ModCell)
Bath University researchers tested fire resistance on a prefabricated ModCell panel, and it showed over two hours fire resistance – or four times the requirement for building regulations (Photo: ModCell)
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Bath University researchers tested fire resistance on a prefabricated ModCell panel, and it showed over two hours fire resistance – or four times the requirement for building regulations (Photo: ModCell)
Wind resistance was tested with hurricane force winds of up to km/h (120 mph) (Photo: ModCell)
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Wind resistance was tested with hurricane force winds of up to km/h (120 mph) (Photo: ModCell)
A BaleHaus rep told Gizmag that the 90 percent reduction in heating bills figure is based upon data already gathered from its completed LILAC ecological co-housing project housing project in Leeds (Photo: ModCell)
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A BaleHaus rep told Gizmag that the 90 percent reduction in heating bills figure is based upon data already gathered from its completed LILAC ecological co-housing project housing project in Leeds (Photo: ModCell)
The quarter heating bill for a one-bedroom flat came in at just £18.00 (US$27.50) (Photo: ModCell)
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The quarter heating bill for a one-bedroom flat came in at just £18.00 (US$27.50) (Photo: ModCell)
Sustainable building firm BaleHaus recently unveiled a number of new straw homes (Photo: ModCell)
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Sustainable building firm BaleHaus recently unveiled a number of new straw homes (Photo: ModCell)
The quarter heating bill for a four-bedroom house was a none-too-shabby £50.00 ($76.00) (Photo: ModCell)
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The quarter heating bill for a four-bedroom house was a none-too-shabby £50.00 ($76.00) (Photo: ModCell)
The walls, roof, and floor have a U value of 0.15 W/m2K, while the triple-glazed windows and doors have a U value of 1.16 W/m2K (Photo: ModCell)
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The walls, roof, and floor have a U value of 0.15 W/m2K, while the triple-glazed windows and doors have a U value of 1.16 W/m2K (Photo: ModCell)
Sustainable building firm BaleHaus recently unveiled a number of new straw homes (Photo: ModCell)
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Sustainable building firm BaleHaus recently unveiled a number of new straw homes (Photo: ModCell)
The LILAC development in Leeds (Photo: ModCell)
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The LILAC development in Leeds (Photo: ModCell)
Sustainable technology available for the homes is flexible and includes roof-based photovoltaic panels (Photo: ModCell)
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Sustainable technology available for the homes is flexible and includes roof-based photovoltaic panels (Photo: ModCell)
Inside a straw house – no pigs in sight (Photo: ModCell)
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Inside a straw house – no pigs in sight (Photo: ModCell)
Rainwater harvesting system, LED lighting, and air-source heat pumps are also on offer (Photo: ModCell)
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Rainwater harvesting system, LED lighting, and air-source heat pumps are also on offer (Photo: ModCell)
Another 50 homes are in the planning stage for the Bristol Area (Photo: ModCell)
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Another 50 homes are in the planning stage for the Bristol Area (Photo: ModCell)
Another 50 homes are in the planning stage for the Bristol Area (Photo: ModCell)
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Another 50 homes are in the planning stage for the Bristol Area (Photo: ModCell)
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A house made from straw didn't work out so well in The Three Little Pigs, but maybe it's not such a bad idea after all. Sustainable building firm BaleHaus recently unveiled a number of new energy-efficient homes that feature a prefabricated straw insulation system, and promise a heating bill 90 percent lower than that of an average home.

BaleHaus is a group comprised of three firms: Cadan Developments, ModCell (responsible for the straw insulation), and White Design. The homes completed so far come in a number of shapes and sizes, including three-bedroom terraced townhouses and one-bedroom apartments, proving the versatility of the straw building system.

The sustainable technology installed in the homes varies greatly too, and includes roof-based photovoltaic arrays in several sizes, rainwater harvesting, and air-source heat pumps. The walls, roof and floor of a ModCell-equipped home have a U value of 0.15 W/m2K, while the triple-glazed windows and doors have a U value of 1.16 W/m2K.

The LILAC development in Leeds (Photo: ModCell)
The LILAC development in Leeds (Photo: ModCell)

A ModCell rep told Gizmag that the 90 percent reduction in heating bills claim is based upon hard data gathered from the completed LILAC housing project in Leeds (seen above). In this development, the four-month heating bill over winter for a one-bedroom apartment came in at just £18.00 (US$27.50), whereas the same bill for a four-bedroom house was a still impressive £50.00 ($76). We're still awaiting confirmation on how these homes fare cost-wise compared to similar-sized non-straw properties, and will update this article if and when we hear back.

It's good news with regard to fire performance and structural integrity too, as fire resistance tests on a prefabricated ModCell panel came in at over two hours – or four times the requirement for UK building regulations. Should a big bad wolf come knocking, wind resistance was tested at hurricane force winds of up to 193 km/h (120 mph) with no issue.

Perhaps more significant than the completed houses is the actual ModCell system of insulation itself. While straw bale construction has been around for a long time, the ModCell system offers prefabricated panels that – put simply – comprise a timber frame with deep straw bale insulation packed inside and topped by a wood fiber breather board. These modular units can be used to create a sustainable home with relative ease and finished with wood, brick or slate cladding.

Besides the completed LILAC project and the "BaleHaus at Bath" research project which was developed at Bath University and now serves the university's hospitality department, a development is also currently underway in Bristol and Cornwall, and another 50 homes are in the planning stage for the Bristol Area.

Update March 9: This article incorrectly stated that the straw homes are Passivhaus certified. Though ModCell does now offer a Passivhaus-certified panel, it was not used for the houses in Bristol. This error has now been corrected.

Source: ModCell

View gallery - 23 images
3 comments
DonGateley
This is in no sense straw construction. It is wood construction using straw as the insulation material.
Mzungu_Mkubwa
And if I were to build my walls a foot and a half thick, I'd save that much on heating bills using just about *anything* as insulation, including plain old dirt. However the extravagant construction cost of using 2x16 lumber more than offsets any energy savings over the life of the home, not to mention the environmentally irresponsible waste of it! (Okay, maybe slightly exaggerated, but still...)
No news here: American pioneers were building homes using sod a century and a half ago with similar efficiencies, I'd guess. Heck, I'd go with a sand bag home over this if I was looking to cut the heating bill!
Martin Hone
" We're still awaiting confirmation on how these homes fare cost-wise compared to similar-sized non-straw properties, and will update this article if and when we hear back." You're kidding, right ? What is the point of the exercise if there is no valid comparison in terms of efficiency and cost ?
Whilst I applaud any innovative approach to the problem, I doubt this has contributed much to simple, affordable , efficient and enviro-friendly housing.