MotherJones MA93: Huff and puff-proof homes

Timber industry officials aren’t too impressed, but there’s a new kind of home on the range, and it’s made out of straw.

Straw homes are fire-resistant, energy- and resource-efficient, and unusually quiet. They can stand up to big storms, big rats, and, yes, big bad wolves. Best of all, they’re cheap–a do-it-yourself, three- bedroom place can go for as little as $10,000–and their earthy, Pueblo-style design lends them a kind of utilitarian chic.

We wouldn’t call straw-bale construction a major trend yet, as there are less than a hundred such homes nationwide, mostly in Arizona and New Mexico. But given the soaring costs of traditional wood home- building, straw homes are suddenly looking like a smart option.

Straw-wall construction is ridiculously simple. For a modest, 2,000- square-foot house, you get about three hundred bales of straw (approximately $1,200), invite a few neighbors over for a “wall- raising,” and skewer the bales onto steel beams, like giant shish kebabs stuck into the ground. Once the more difficult (and expensive) parts of the job are finished–like standard roofing, wiring, and plumbing–you just slap on some drywall and move in. The biggest challenge, straw builders say, is winning a building permit from skeptical city bureaucrats.

But at least custom detailing is easy. We watched one builder stroll around a house, cutting out niches for windows and ledges with a chain saw. “If you’re off a little,” he explained, “you just kick it.”

For more information, contact Out on Bale Unlimited in Tucson, Arizona: (602) 624-1673.