(back to blog index)


Sun, Jan 23
8:45 am

Will a straw bale house reduce your carbon footprint? I get asked this question in various ways and the answer, of course, would be: "That depends on what you would do, if you did not build a straw bale house."

As I built this house, I came to realize that only the exterior walls are made of straw and the other parts are or can be just the same as any other house. First, I'll explain what is good about straw. Straw is a natural by-product of growing grain. It is the stalk. So, it doesn't have to be manufactured and by using it, we spare the farmers from burning it and putting more carbon in the atmosphere. Two plusses. If you get it from a farmer near your house, then it doesn't have to travel far to get to you. Another plus. Chances are the materials that you would have use to build your walls would have required manufacturing, tree-chopping, and/or long-distance travel. The other plus of straw is that it is an incredible insulation and will therefore reduce your home heating and cooling needs for all the years that you live in your house, provided you live in an area that gets very cold or very hot. I also like the fact that straw will allow fresh air to go through it. I don't think that helps your carbon footprint.

In my home, I used recycled doors and windows, then I made my floor out of clay and sand, more products that don't require manufacture or long-distance travel. I also covered my walls with earthen plasters that have the same benefits. However, most people wire the house and then cover it with stucco. Stucco is part lime/part mortar and mortar requires high energy use in its production. Also, with two-foot thick walls, you need a two-foot thick foundation under them - more than most houses require.

The main thing I realized by purchasing my own materials, one lunch-time at a time, was how much beyond straw goes into a house. All the interior walls require framing plus drywall. It seemed like a few miles of electric wire were used - every outlet, every light and every plug requires wire. Plumbing pipes, nails, screws, roofing, etc, etc. By purchasing my own materials, I was careful with what I discarded, but crews that build houses are often more concerned with time than with reusing scraps of lumber. If you go by a construction site, you will see lots of materials as waste.

So, I think one of the best things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is to build as small as you can. That limits the use of every product required in a house, use recycled wherever you can, inside and out, and purchase the materials yourself, if you can. Or at least supervise the waste. If you can use straw, great, if not, then insulate your walls the very best that you can, considering your environment. Be sure to insulate your ceiling very well, and you can now get insulation from recycled jeans. Use trees on the exterior to shade where you need shade. You can do a lot besides straw to reduce the energy required to heat and cool your house. One of those being a willingness to let your house be warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter. We human beings are quite adaptable and strong creatures, really, if we stop pampering ourselves too much. I've seen myself adapt to New York winters, Arizona summers, Hawaiian humidity and desert dryness. I let my house be in the 60's in the winter and the 80's in the summer and I'm fine.

Then, look at your other energy usage - dishwasher, refrigerator, clothes washer and dryer, lights, tv's, computers, gadgets of all sorts - and see what you can do to reduce the energy usage of those items. I plug my tv/stereo into a power strip and turn it off completely when I'm not using it. Same with my computer. Energy-saving lightbulbs are inexpensive and readily availalbe now in all sizes; I have them everywhere. Oh yes, I harvest and use rainwater for my drip system, too. I just like using what's free. I don't have a dishwasher, but then my kids have left home. I wash my clothes by hand and hang them in the warm desert air. I know your needs will be different from mine, but as a general rule - Keep It Simple!

Have a great day and be kind!