In Pictures: Come see the MacLachans’ house of straw
By David F. Rooney
To anyone who remembers their mother telling them the story of The Three Little Pigs, the entire notion of building a house of straw seems counterintuitive and just plain wrong. But fantasy ends and reality takes over at the Birch Drive lot in Upper Arrow Heights where Brice and Gill McLachlan are building their dream home out of straw bales.
This 1,500-square-foot building, which they hope to move into by the end of December, is a labour of love and imagination, helped along by Habib John Gonzalez, an expert in straw-bale design and construction.
One of the first questions almost everyone asks is about fire safety. Straw-bale houses, he says, have an R2 fire rating and as an insulation material they are rated at R35. But if you are building a moderate- to large-sized house you may not see the savings on construction material costs that you may expect by using a cheap material like straw.
Straw bales cost $2.50 to $4 depending on what time of year you are purchasing them and, for instance, the MacLachlans are using 240 bales. Still there are significant savings when it comes to energy.
“The real payback — even in a large home — is in energy savings,” Gonzalez said in a brief interview on Saturday, November 9, adding that the owners of straw-bale homes in Edmonton spend only $30 a month on heating costs.
Straw-bale construction is not a new way to build. Gonzalez, who has been building and research straw-bale house since the 1990s is familiar with
a church built of bales in Sexsmith, Alberta back in 1954. And down in the Sand Hills of Nebraska “there are a number houses built in 1898.”
And then there’s the question of the domestic environment inside a house of straw. The air inside a house built to bales is fresher and cleaner than the air inside s standard home. And there are fewer —virtually none are used in construction — plastics emitting chemicals such as formaldehyde.
For Bruce and Gill this house is everything they want it to be.
“We have pretty much got everything we wanted,” Gill said.
Now all they have to do is sew up all the bales apply two inches of stucco inside and out and get rid of al the loose straw they have left over from this project. If you can use some or all of that material please call Gill at 250-200-2179.