This is a huge accomplishment for home builders, who will now be able to build straw bales homes in areas that previously did not allow this type of construction, largely because code officials did not understand the method.
Banks, lenders, and contractors concerns about fire resistance, moisture issues, and structural integrity will be answered by the new code. Almost every jurisdiction in the United States follows the International Residential Code. This means that building inspectors and code officials now have a reference for straw bale construction.
Architect Martin Hammer of California is the lead author of the appendix and has been working on draft codes since 2001. Many other straw bale builders and experts assisted with the project including Kevin Donahue, SE and Mark Ascheim, PE.
Efforts are underway to include straw bale construction in the 2018 International Building Code which covers all structures except one and two-family dwellings. This will further open up the possibilities for commercial construction with straw bales.
Straw bale homes were reintroduced to builders in the 1990s as the housing industry was recovering from overly airtight and under-ventilated homes which produced serious health problems.Straw bale homes are constructed with straw bales and mortar. In lab testing, straw bale houses are very resistant to fire. Flames took two hours to penetrate the plastered bale walls, while conventional framing only took 30 minutes to one hour to burn. Tightly compacted straw does not allow oxygen to enter easily, hence, their fire resistant nature.
The unconventional construction may be worth the effort since a straw bale home is about three times as efficient as conventional frame construction. The insulating factor can reduce energy costs by up to 75%, while reducing sound from the exterior as well. For heating purposes, most off-grid straw bale homeowners use a single wood stove or wood-burning masonry heater.
Perhaps the Three Little Pigs were wrong and straw really is the material to build a house with.
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