Monday, December 27, 2010


I fantasize about building a house from straw bales.  Strawbale construction is still kind of a fringe practice but it's gaining recognition in all regions as proven, reliable technology.  The materials are cheap and construction can  (but don't expect that it will) be less expensive than conventional construction.  If you're going into it, know that you will probably wind up providing a lot of the labor on your own.  And that's okay too - not many people get to say they actually built their own home, as in really built it.

But why the attraction to straw bales?  Insulation.  A typical bale is good for about R-24, the same as two thicknesses of what you'd find in  a typical frame wall.  That's pretty good, and undoubtedly better than what's in my own walls.  So I'd draw floor plans based on straw bales: a large rectangle or square, with a somewhat smaller shape inside it - the difference between the outside and inside walls.

But that was before I heard about the new Big Square Balers.  You're familiar with the modern round bales, the 900-1800lb cylinders of hay that dot the countrysides.  They're convenient for the machine to make, but that's where the convenience ends.  They don't stack well, don't handle well, and waste precious space if you try to store them under cover.  Curves vs. corners.  Big Square Balers make, well, Big Square Bales.  I mean, huge.  The bales are about two-and-a-half by three-and-a-half by EIGHT FEET.  A wall of those, three units high, is high enough to live under.  Four units and it's downright luxurious (and cooler in summer).  And when it comes time to move them they stack securely, like the Jolly Green Giant's own Legos.

Do a little math and that comes up to a wall rated at about R-60.  If it performs at anything like that level, that's crazy good.  That's turn-off-the-furnace good, waste heat from the refrigerator and TV are sufficient to keep the space comfortable.  Insulate the roof and floor to similar levels, it's like living in a Thermos.  "Heat bill?  What's that?"

Nobody in this area is making those big square bales.  But if they do, I may start shopping for a piece of vacant land to stack a few of them on.

No comments:

Post a Comment