Sure, we all remember the children’s story about three pigs and a big, bad wolf, who could huff and puff and blow the house down (unless it was made of bricks). The stick house held up a little bit better, but the straw house didn’t provide much in the way of protection at all. But these days, houses made of straw and stucco are getting quite sophisticated. Even looking sturdy enough to stand up to a good, stiff breeze, whether it comes from a wolf or a hurricane.
Bales of straw (usually wheat straw) as building material isn’t exactly new, though perhaps not as old as the Three Little Pigs tale. late 19th century homesteaders out on the Nebraska plains are credited with building the first straw bale and mud-wattle houses, much as Oklahoma homesteaders pioneered stone and earth-sheltered homes with sod roofs. These early examples of hardy home-building with whatever’s handy largely escaped modern notice until the early 1970s, when the hippie “back to the land” movement took off. Most straw bale houses built over the following couple of decades were non-code off-the-grid shelters, but the benefits of bale construction have gained new fans.
Featured in this New York Times article is a rather spectacular example in the Catskills hand-crafted with loving care over a period of years by Clark Sanders. For the new revival in homesteading pioneers for the 21st century, there are a number of outfits and websites offering education in straw bale building techniques, helpful hints, and contacts for associated material like stuccos and plasters, wall lattice, etc. Some of the most interesting and useful are listed below. There are even some very nice straw bale house plans that can be built as offered or altered to your own site’s needs and combined with other green technologies such as earth sheltering, etc.
A relatively small straw bale shelter could be built fairly quickly and cheaply by new homesteaders on their land as a place to live while developing the various water and energy systems that will support something more permanent at a later date. If sited well and built sturdily, such a shelter built into a berm or hillside could later serve as a well-insulated root cellar for food storage, or a cool shelter barn for ruminant livestock. Just be sure your plastering job keeps up with the normal wear and tear of time, or the livestock just might eat their own barn!
Check out some of the listed sites and their offerings, see if straw bale construction might serve you well in some application. All told, the recurring benefit theme of this construction method is low cost. Which is always something modern homesteaders need to consider.