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[Cob] strawbaleBarbara Roemer and Glenn Miller roemiller at infostations.net
Tue Jul 20 13:49:44 PDT 2004
Hey, Global Circle Net, Your post really grabbed my attention and raised my hackles. I'm a staunch cob supporter, and particularly interested in code being developed to support its use (even went so far as to pay Otherfish, John Fordice, for a couple of hours of his extremely well-informed advice to advance the cause in my county). I am also a long-time advocate for bale building, having built the first rice-straw building in the country with my California 5th graders about 12 years ago.... We are partners with another couple in a light straw/clay mixer which my son built, and which we have used to build a straw/clay infill building. My experience with natural building materials spans many approaches. Your uninformed post is the sort of misinformation that has made the general public skeptical about bale building. Happily, it hasn't resonated with those who do even a smattering of research, the 3,000 or so of them in this country and probably an equal number around the globe who have built, often permitted, gorgeous simple or complex straw bale buildings as homes, workshops, studios, meditation spaces, clinics, office buildings, and wineries. A fad? Your head must have been under the covers for a loooong time. Were straw building, whether it's in the form of bales, in light straw clay, or in cob, so wildly impractical, it's unlikely there would be ANY permitted buildings. There are even jurisdictions in this country which are now offering incentives by way of green-building credit to bale builders. It's not only legit., it's becoming most desirable! NOW::: Every tight building must have roof insulation, even cob structures. What does "regular" insulation mean? Is that fiberglass, or fiberglass without formaldehyde, or blown in cellulose, or recycled jeans cotton batts, or foam board? How about bagged or blown in rice hulls? A perfect use for a waste product whose current use is primarily as a soil amendment, but whose future includes being compressed with natural resins as a dry wall replacement. Critters? Ever looked as your fiberglass or cotton or even foam insulation in the walls for evidence of nesting critters? In our area, everything loves all insulation except properly plastered bales. Plaster of some sort? It's exactly the same plaster you'd use on your cob building: earth, chopped straw, perhaps lime, perhaps magnesium chloride, perhaps seaweed. Could it be stucco or gypsum? Yes, but that's much less likely. Those baleheads have the same concerns we cobbers do, including a predilection for natural materials with low embodied energy. Yes, plaster must be properly maintained, and depending on your climate and the overhang protection for the walls, that might mean a lime wash as often as every 5-10 years. Interior plaster isn't any more or less fragile on bales than on cob, and will need to be recoated or repainted no more often than the wear and tear of its occupants dictate. Moisture is no more likely to develop in a properly detailed bale home than it is in a cob home or a conventionally stick-framed home or a Rastra block home. It's all in a proper foundation and roof, exactly the same constraints no matter what the building system. And any building can give its occupants sick building syndrome if ventilation is not handled properly. I've seen far more mold on cob walls than on bale walls, but it is not difficult to avoid mold in either. The cost of a non-load bearing straw building if you hire a contractor and have the work done is comparable to that of stick framing and depends almost entirely on the foundation, fixturing, flooring, wall finishing, windows and roofing - all the considerations that are present in costing out any building. Wall systems are a small percentage of the total in any building system. Just for comparison's sake, straw bale building entails no further insulation in the walls, and its plaster provides significant thermal mass on the insulated inside, whilst cob building needs no further thermal mass, but provides little insulation and the mass is not insulated. Straw building is just as accessible as cob building, the detailing is simple, the code provides for it, even in seismically active zones like the Bay Area, and it's quick to erect, so for many people, it's the way to go. It's far better insulated than a stick framed house with stud cavity insulation: to get comparable insulation with stick framing, you'd have to do a wrap of foam, hardly sustainable. Cob is more easily sculpted, usually found on site, provides great mass, and is easy but slow for the owner builder to work on herself. Cob building for a dwelling is currently permitted (as far as I know) in only one county in the country, and the obstacles to cob building in seismic zones are formidable. When significant investment in engineering and testing has been made, cob building may be feasible in seismic zones. For me, the best home will be a hybrid, including straw/clay, bales, and cob, each where it's most appropriate. It will be low-cost, pay-as-we-go, with us doing most of the work because it's ALL user friendly. It won't outgas toxics, will contain very few materials that aren't locally available, and will last our children's grandchildren's lifetimes, at some point in the future sinking gracefully into the earth from which it came. We in the natural building world have a lot to learn from each other, and we all benefit from examining the claims and strengths of each type of building, incorporating what is sustainable, local, practical, and beautiful. PJ, contact me off-list if you want to discuss bales further. There are several farmers in northern California who have adapted baling machines to provide building bales of very tight, dense, uniform configuration. Rice straw with its high silica content is unpalatable to insects, isn't used as fodder, and is essentially a renewable waste byproduct of rice growing. Please don't use baled weeds or hay: we know a lot more about appropriate, sustainable materials than we did when the buildings in the Sand Hills of Nebraska went up in the 1800's. Those of you who are further interested might even hang out on the SB-r-Us list at Yahoo where you'll find very open folks. Barbara in the Sierra Foothills.
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