niche(s) atelier d architecture

Here's why straw bale insulation might be a good idea

someone pushing a big round straw bale across the field

Humans shape their living spaces using natural materials such as straw, clay and wood since forever. However, in the westernized world, they suffer from a bad reputation. Claims of lower performance or durability led to their slow disappearance from building sites. In contrast, contemporary industrial materials such as plaster, concrete, rock wool or varnishes are in high demand, regardless of their high ecological impact. It is also uncertain if those widely available modern materials are harmful to our health.

Fortunately, there are precedents where governments have drawn consequences, triggering a ban on certain hazardous materials. In particular, the European Union banned lead in any paint because several studies confirmed it to be toxic to people and animals. Lead causes permanent damage to the nervous system or delays the development of children.

Similarly, the insulation material ‘Asbestos’ has been suspected of being harmful as early as the 1900s. Even after long controversies, Luxembourg didn’t completely outlaw Asbestos until the year 2001. In my opinion, today’s unconcerned endorsement of harmful and toxic materials is a public health issue. They are equally problematic regarding dismantling and disposal as they require the intervention of expensive specialists at the end of their lifecycle. 

Those are only some examples to reevaluate forgotten natural materials and consciously select the healthier choices. I am confident to say that the idea of going backwards in time is a good one.

holzbau und strohbau model - wooden construction model with straw bale filling
Samples on how to build a straw bale house. Pictures kindly provided by Marc Neu, Naturbaustoff Réiden.
innen lehm strohbau foto - clay on the inner side of a straw bale wall construction model photo
aussen kalk strohbau foto - limestone on the outter facade of a straw bale construction model photo
holzbau und strohbau model - wooden construction model with straw bale filling

STRAW BALE CONSTRUCTION

The idea of insulating your house with straw bales can at first be grounds to raise an eyebrow. Among common concerns are rot, mould or mice infestation. A well-planned moisture and infiltration protection preserve the structure’s integrity. Furthermore, the presence of little to no grain in the straw bales is not very attractive to mice or other rodents.

Locally resourced, straw is excellent for storing heat and noise protection. An advantage of straw bales is that they are quick to assemble and disassemble. Highly specialized craftsmanship is not necessary. Straw is also easy to recycle. To ensure stability and fire protection, straw bales made exclusively for construction are pre-compressed. Similar to wood, the high density contribute to the straw hardly catching fire. Furthermore, an interior clay finish prevents effectively fire from even reaching the straw bales. Unfortunately, those misconceptions persist and lead to higher policies for fire insurance.

Nowadays, skilled artisans have developed techniques using natural materials to construct high-quality housing. They meet all of today’s technical requirements and energetic performances. Attaining the passive house standard is possible. Self-regulating properties provide a comfortable indoor climate. Additionally, natural materials have a low environmental footprint.

In conclusion, identical to industrial construction materials, natural materials have negative factors too. However, with proper planning, the positive aspects widely outweigh the bad ones. Eco-houses in Luxembourg using natural materials as wood, clay and straw bale insulation are regaining their popularity among maîtres d’ouvrage and architects. Construction companies are also gradually reintroducing natural materials to everyday practice in Luxembourg. Among them, Marc Neu, who launched his naturbaustoff, a shop for ecological construction materials in Redange. He offers a wide selection and thorough information on natural materials for big or small do-it-yourself projects.

Is an eco-house an option for you? If so, do not hesitate to contact us for further information.