By Cath Harris | Reprinted from guardian.co.uk,
Sharon Watkins wasn’t the first to be offered one of two new council houses in an isolated village in Lincolnshire. “Other people refused and I could have said no because I don’t drive and it’s in the middle of nowhere,” she recalls.
But for Watkins and her two daughters, the fact that the house is built of straw made it too good to turn down. “I fell in love with the concept even before I’d seen it. We’ve christened ourselves ‘the three little pigs’.”
The three-bedroom semi in Martin, which lies between Lincoln and Boston, is one of four straw houses built by North Kesteven district council. The first two – the first in the UK to be built for social housing – were completed last year in nearby Waddington. The only heating is a wood-burning stove; such are the insulating properties of straw that fuel bills could be 20% of those of conventional homes. This is the attraction for councils required to cut domestic emissions.
Builders used 450 bales for each two-storey house, bought at £2 a piece from a local farmer. “He couldn’t believe we were going to build a house with it,” the council’s property manager Mick Gadd says. “He’d been selling 10 and 20-bale loads for horse bedding. He was very happy to help.”
Hastoe Housing Association in Epping, Essex, is building four straw houses for Epping Forest district council to add to its housing stock. “We were seeking an opportunity to use straw and it was a happy coincidence that the local authority was interested too,” says Hastoe’s chief executive Sue Chalkley. “Fuel poverty is a really serious problem and straw homes are a potential solution.”
Epping Forest’s research took officers to the University of Bath where Bristol-based ModCell, maker of the sustainable, prefabricated straw bale and hemp cladding panel, had been testing the energy efficiency, wind- and fire-proofing of its model straw home.
The house withstood gusts of 120mph and doubled the fire resistance required by building regulations. ModCell will soon set up a “flying factory”, where they will take over a space such as a farmyard to construct straw bale walls for 20 homes in Leeds for an “eco village” scheme. Local people will assemble the wall panels – straw bales that are pinned with long sticks like sharpened tooth picks and encased in a timber frame. Panels are seven or eight bales high and one bale thick. “That’s thicker than most walls today, but building regulations are making everybody else catch up,” says company director Craig White.
North Kesteven council is keen to build more straw homes. “Very few council houses are being built,” council leader Marion Brighton says. “Our straw houses are not a gimmick, we are serious.”
And Watkins describes her home as “absolutely wonderful”.