Critters and Fire in a Straw Bale House: It seems
that the main fears about building with straw bale have
to do with critters eating or nesting in the straw and
with fire. So, I'll talk about my experience with those,
which I'm happy to say is limited.
home is in the Sonoran Desert, near the Saguaro National
Park, and this land is surprisingly full of critters.
I really don't know how they all survive with so little
water and with a range of temperatures from 20 degrees
to 120 degrees, but they do. It's part of what I love
about this area. Birds are swooping across the skies
in the early morning and evening, Quail coo and call
from their perches on low branches and bob in tidy lines
amid the cactus. Rabbits and jack rabbits scamper away
as soon as I open the front door. I've seen bobcats
on occasion and coyotes very frequently. My cat knows
all about the little chipmunks and mice that I rarely
see - I did see some adorable prairie dogs pop up from
their holes once. Of course, there are also rattlesnakes,
pack rats, ground termites and all kinds of spiders,
of these have nested or chewed up my straw. I owe this
partially to having my bales raised about a foot off
the desert floor with the stemwall. This was required
because I am in sheetplain - in heavy monsoon rains,
we have no large washes, so we can get sheets of water
flowing across the desert. I had some friends who built
nearby and did not have to raise their walls, so they
put the straw up only about an inch and the day after
the wall-raising, they had pack rats scurrying around
the bales. I have had pack rats invade everything else
- chew up the belts in my washing machine and dryer
that were on the porch, take sheets off my plants when
I cover them for a frost and chew up car-washing towels.
They really are a pain, but they have never bothered
my straw. So, I really recommend you raise your walls
up on a stemwall for both water and critters.
other reason my walls haven't been bothered by critters
is that the straw is covered with thick adobe plasters.
Jon told me that even if I was going to frame a wall
next to the straw, as with the shower area or toolsheds,
cover the straw with plaster first. Seal it up everywhere
and don't allow any open areas where creatures could
get to it. My only open straw area is my truth window
and that has a glass pie plate over it.
These adobe (earthen) plasters also prevent fire from
reaching the straw. Loose straw burns very easily; packed
straw smolders unless you really torch it. I heard a
story of a straw bale house that was being plumbed with
copper and the plumber used his blow torch right into
the straw. Well, no you can't do that. (don't put plumbing
joints in your walls, either - I'll discuss that next
week.) As we were stacking the straw, we had a crew
stuffing loose straw into plastic bags to remove it
as quickly as possible. We also did not allow smoking.
A tossed cigarette plus loose straw is not a good combo.
I have heard people concerned about electrical fires
in the walls. I used standard Romex electric wiring,
copper wires covered with thick plastic. I have had
no issues. I know some people use conduit (plastic pipes)
and feed the wires through those. It would make it easier
to pull out the wires, if you ever had to replace them.
I am no electrical expert, but if we had a short, I
understand it would blow a fuse. I do have sprinklers
in my house - by code. I really hope they never go off,
because it would make a big mess. I fear more for my
wooden porch to burn, than for this house. But do a
good job on your electric - it seems most electric fires
I hear about are from really old wiring, or cheap jury-rigged
stuff. Pay the bucks and do it right.
issues: I have had a few instances of issues that
involved living creatures or bugs. One was that the
birds started pecking holes in my exterior earthen plasters,
particularly in the northeast corner of the house. I
couldn't figure out why and I kept plugging up the holes,
just to have them appear again. Finally, I coated that
corner of the house with lime and the birds stopped.
(see blog on
Earthen and Lime plasters on Feb.12) The holes began
to move farther across the wall, however, and I have
decided it was because these tiny flat spiders were
making webs in the textured dips in the earthen plasters.
The birds were coming to eat them. Not much I could
do about that, so I limed the entire house, which is
what I had intended to do originally. Now, I have no
issues with bird holes.
second issue I had was with ground termites. My land
is full of them - or was when I moved in. I dislike
chemicals and didn't treat the area under the house
before I began the floor and foundation. I also had
my mind on a lot of other things, so I didn't really
notice the termites. I think some of their nests were
right under my floor, particularly the sunroom, because
in the first couple of years after I built, I'd see
termite tubes coming up through the sunroom floor. I
went to a do-it-yourself pest control store and got
termicide. I squirted it down all the tubes and they
would go away. I did also talk to a termite professional
once who told me that these desert termites don't really
do much damage. They can't travel far without water
and shelter, so they poke around and make tubes here
and there (shelter) but don't really eat up houses.
So, I didn't worry too much, but I still didn't like
them poking around. I did use treated wood, per the
building codes, at the base of all my wooden interior
walls and yes, I highly recommend that. I think termites
like wood more than straw, but not sure. At any rate,
I went back to the pest control store and learned about
termite barriers. There is one kind that the termites
cannot sense, so they travel through it and it kills
them. There is another kind that they can sense, so
they leave. I got the latter and sprayed a barrier all
around the exterior of my house and inside the sunroom.
I poured it down the tubes whenever I saw them. That
was a few years ago, and it looks like the termites
have really cleared out of the area around my house.
I guess they really don't like this stuff.
now I really don't have any issues with critters other
than birds perched on the lattice and beams of my porch,
so I have to wash up bird poop. For that, I put strings
about an inch above the area where I don't want them
to sit. The string leaves them no area to perch. I have
one dove nest in the beams of my north porch, however,
and I'm letting her stay there. She is very sweet and
I don't mind scrubbing up the poop.
you have other questions - send me an email - email@example.com.
it Simple - and be kind!