Friday, June 17, 2011

Straw Bale: A Winning Choice for All Projects

Once regarded as reserved for residential outposts, straw bale construction is gaining attention in the public sector.  High energy efficiency, qualification for LEED points, and the ability to use community labor can tip the scales in favor of using this traditional building method.  For the following projects, all of the positive qualities of straw bale added up to a win-win for the owners and builders.

Transit Facility
The Santa Clarita Transit Maintenance Facility is a LEED Gold-certified building by HOK Architects.  The facility includes a 22,000 square-foot administration building, 25,000 square-foot maintenance building, bus wash facility, [compressed natural gas] CNG fueling island for city buses, and a publicly accessible CNG fueling station.  Completed in 2006, the project cost was $20 million. (Harnack, Leah. "Going Green in the Maintenance Department,"Mass Transit Magazine, March 14, 2011.)
Read more about it here.
Photos by HOK.

High School Classroom
Using an EPA grant, donor funding, and student designer-builders, the Conservation District of Southern Nevada (CDSN) built an approximately 400 square feet straw bale classroom and an adjacent demonstration garden for Moapa Valley High School at the school-owned Moapa Valley Farm in Clark County.  Four years in the making, this eco-friendly structure is a testament to persistence and hard work, and has been featured in a Library of Congress green building article.  Lucchesi Galati architects and UNLV landscape architecture students provided pro bono designs. This community spirit extended to the construction as in-kind donations included re-purposed leftover paint, stucco, electrical fixtures, and other building materials from Southwest Homes, a local homebuilder.  All materials except for the straw bale came from within a 100-mile radius.  A "truth window" by the main entrance allows visitors to see the material at the heart of it all straw bundles from nearby southern California.
Read more about it here.

Small-town Colorado discovered the benefits of straw bale when they built the Naturita Community Library.  The 4,400 square feet architect-designed structure's planning began in 2006 and construction was completed in 2009 for an approximate total project budget of $1,250,000.  It has received recognition as the 2010 Colorado Association of Libraries Library Project of the Year and Library Journal's 2011 Best Small Library in America Award, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  When initial construction bids came in high, the Montrose Regional Library District director, Paul Paladino, took on the role of General Contractor, and got the project built on budget.  Naturita now has an attractive library beloved by the community.  It's energy efficiency is a plus for nature-loving Coloradans, but the real benefit is that it frees up more operating budget for the library's mission to “educate, enlighten, enrich, and entertain” and “to foster interest in reading and lifelong learning.”  In fact, given the location in the western Rockies, its $400 per month average total utility bill is astounding!
Architects: Patrik Davis Associates

Read more about it here, and more here by Paul Paladino.

Straw bale quick facts:
  • Good energy efficiency for temperature extremes
  • R-values typically range from R-30 to R-45
  • Structure options: 1) Post-Beam with bale infill or 2) Structural Straw Bale "Nebraska" style
  • Able to use unskilled labor
  • Stucco exterior finish: lime-wash or conventional
  • Able to use excavated earth with sand for interior stucco finish
  • Straw bales available in Nevada
  • Local building code acceptance must be assessed in pre-design phase*
  • Seismic resistance (UNR test)
  • In use since the late 1800's
*Straw bale guidelines were adopted by Nevada legislature in 1995.

Get more straw bale facts here.

Explore straw bale for residential: 
Minden, Nevada straw bale residence