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For the first time, homes made from straw are being offered on the open market in the UK.

The idea of building with straw has been around for a long time, but in recent years, it has been something that only ecologically-minded Britons have considered doing.  Today, seven homes on an ordinary street in Bristol are in their own way completely extraordinary and are making their own small piece of history.  They are faced in brick, so that they look conventional and fit in with the other houses in the street.  Underneath however, they are anything but, as underneath that brick exterior hide timber frames, with straw bale infills encased in timber boards.  Until now, straw bale homes have been built only to order, by enthusisats who want to live in them.  These new homes in Bristol are the first to be made of straw without buyers already in place - and it could be a sign of things to come!

Straw bales are brilliant for insulating your home.  In fact, a home using straw bales in its walls instead of standard brick and block construction is likely to cost anything up to 90% less in heating bills.  That has to be great news for anyone looking to save energy.  There are other huge positives to straw too - it's a by-product of every year's harvest, which is otherwise used for animal bedding, so it's completely renewable.  We create almost four million tonnes of the stuff every year through agriculture in the UK alone, which would be enough to build over 550,000 three-bedroom homes every year.

In many cases, the straw could be sourced and supplied from local farms, meaning that a new home's carbon footprint could be reduced even further.   After all, it takes a lot of energy to mine or quarry the materials that get turned into the bricks and blocks we normally build our houses out of.  Using straw bales means that the main environmental impact of creating the building materials comes from the farming machinery that is used to harvest and make the straw bales - something that farmers have to do anyway.

Many people would be concerned about buying a house made of straw - just ask the first of the Three Little Pigs, right?  Well, actually, no.  there are no wolves, big, bad or otherwise on the UK's streets, but even if there were, properly buillt straw homes are no more likely to blow away than any others and there are examples in other countries of straw bale houses that are already over 100 years old.  

And what about fire?  Surely straw burns, doesn't it?  Loose straw burns easily, but because the straw is really tightly packed, straw bales don't.  They can resist fire for a considerable amount of time.  In fact, a plastered straw bale wall has been tested in a two hour long test, with a gas burner at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit pointing directly at the wall for two hours.  The result?  It got warmer, but it didn't burn!

So here's a cool new way of keeping warm and green all year round, with the satisfaction of knowing that the place you live has had as little impact as possible on the environment.  

Photo:  New homes in High Ongar, Essex.  Courtesy of Epping Forest District Council.