A UK construction firm is selling straw-insulated homes, which engineers at the University of Bath who developed the idea say offer vastly reduced energy bills to customers, as well as encapsulating CO2 and utilising unused wheat by-product. Matthew Stock reports.
They look just like any other modern home. But beneath the surface, they have a less typical building material... straw. Bales of wheat straw act as extra insulation behind the brick exterior. While panels made from compressed straw line the inside walls and act as dividers between rooms. Architect of the scheme, Professor Pete Walker from the University of Bath, says this super insulation will lead to vastly reduced energy bills. He says the homes' eco-credentials are further boosted by using plants as a building material. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR PETER WALKER, HEAD OF THE DEPARTMENT OF ARCHITECTURE & CIVIL ENGINEERING AT THE UNIVERSITY OF BATH, SAYING: "And as a plant, through photosynthesis, it actually absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and that carbon dioxide is effectively stored within the straw. So it comes in the form of a carbon sink, so it's carbon storage within the fabric of the building and so the more straw you use the more carbon you store within your building for the life of the building." The houses passed fire safety regulations with flying colours, with the compressed straw panels demonstrating remarkable fire resistance. They cost about the same as a regular house, and Walker says potential buyers needn't worry about the the Big Bad Wolf. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR PETER WALKER, HEAD OF THE DEPARTMENT OF ARCHITECTURE & CIVIL ENGINEERING AT THE UNIVERSITY OF BATH, SAYING: "People often refer to the nursery rhyme of the Three Little Pigs, and as a result I think people need convincing that straw is robust, safe, durable, and a modern construction material." Little pigs, however, may have to wait. This first batch of straw homes have already been snapped up, though social housing firm Connolly and Callaghan hope to build 49 more homes nearby.