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Out on Bale Uses Straw to Build

April 10, 1993|KATHY BRYANT

Don't joke with Matts Myhrman and Judy Knox about the three little pigs and the decision to build a house made out of straw to protect themselves from big, bad wolf.

Says Knox: "Pigs don't make good building contractors," and "even the best building materials can be used improperly."

Myhrman and Knox operate Out on Bale in Tucson and were in Orange County last month to lead a lecture and workshop on building houses constructed from straw bales.

Using bales for construction is quick, inexpensive ($18 per square foot) and helps solve the problem of what to do with straw. Currently, the straw left after grain is harvested is burned--1.2-million tons per year in California--thus causing more carbon monoxide pollution in the state than all its electric power generating facilities combined, according to Out on Bale.

This type of house construction is not a new idea. Straw-bale houses date back to homesteaders in the late 1800s who settled in the almost-treeless Nebraska sand hills. Many of those houses are still in use.

On the weekend of the Orange County workshop, about 100 people attended a Friday night lecture on the subject. Early the next morning, about 25 "builders" arrived at the Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano and began stacking straw bales under the guidance of Myhrman and others from Out on Bale. Proper footings, moisture-proofing, plastering, flooring, roof and window options were just a few of the topics covered. The two-foot thick walls of these houses are easy to build and long-lasting; they give good insulation and provide deep window ledges.

After the straw bales are locked in place, the exterior can be sprayed with cement stucco for added durability. Roofs can be added directly on top of the bales or supported by posts and beams for a more spacious, contemporary look.

Pictures of existing straw-bale houses show architectural styles from Southwestern to contemporary ranch house. Although not approved for housing construction everywhere, several rural counties in Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming have approved them.

Efforts are underway to gain approval under California's structural codes. According to Myhrman, if all the straw left in the United States after the major grains are harvested were baled instead of burned, 5 million 2,000-square-foot houses could be built every year.

The Eos Institute will be building a straw-bale house at the House and Garden Show at the Anaheim Convention Center, Aug. 21-29.

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