Sustainable Building – A Review of Straw Built Structures Including A Westbank Winery!

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I am always looking for projects that employ leading-edge design and sustainable building practices that can be adapted to the Okanagan area.

The following home is a great example of that. First, it has world-class architectural design and attention to detail. For me, great design is an expression of taking advantage of what the building site has to offer and adapting that to the needs of the owner. Second, the use of straw bale construction with this home shows that with design sensitive to the use of the materials, great results can happen. The architect’s description of the home design “was to have it relate to the surrounding environment and serve as welcoming retreat for friends and family”. Read on and you will agree that this has been achieved.

Project: Strawbale Getaway   Architect: Gettliffe Architecture, Boulder, Colorado Photography: David Lauer Photography

The benefits of living in a straw built house:

Owners of straw built houses often get laughingly ribbed about the tale of the three pigs. This childhood story sticks in our memory and so some can’t help but think of a straw house as a flimsy thing, just waiting to be blown away by a big, bad wolf. But straw dwellers know better because there are many good reasons to build with straw and here are a just some of them:

1. It’s warm

On a freezing-cold day, you can stay warm and toasty in your straw-bale home. The average straw bale has a high R-value which increases according to the thickness of the bale. Compared to conventional building materials, it provides the highest insulation value, but also the thickest wall.

2. It’s cool

A straw-bale house doesn’t just look cool. On a hot day, it can stay very cool, too.

3. It saves energy

This makes a straw-bale house a sustainable option and it can save money on energy use. Combined with other energy-saving construction methods, including the use of passive solar design, thermal mass, double/triple glazing and solar power, these buildings can easily achieve net-zero energy usage.

The role of a knowledgeable designer is crucial to this process. He/she must include solar passive design principles, which includes locating windows, thermal mass and insulation in the best locations for heating and cooling a building for its climate zone. Because of the thick walls, this style of home construction lends itself to having more windows placed than one would think, best utilized on the east, west and south sides of a building, leaving the north open to the sun with conventional framed walls that are mainly glass with controlled shading.”

Examination of Solar Orientation

4. It’s a natural material

Another major appeal of straw bales is that they’re a sustainable product – not manufactured in a factory. Being a natural material, straw doesn’t contain toxic products and, even once rendered, is more breathable than other building materials.

5. It has low embodied energy

Embodied energy is a description of how much energy it took for the construction of the material. With the straw bales, this depends on where you can get the bales and how they are produced. This means there was energy involved in getting it to the site, but the energy is low in comparison to that for, say, conventional bricks. The straw you use also may be an agricultural waste product, making it even more sustainable.

6. It can feel great

Aside from the major practical advantages straw-bale houses, owners often report how wonderful their houses feel — there’s an ambience that isn’t always offered by conventional houses. They just feel cozy.

7. It looks great

As well as feeling cozy, a straw-bale house can look very different from a house built of more conventional materials. The rendered walls can be made from the soil found on an owner’s property.

Straw-bale houses can look quirky or rustic You can have as little or as much of this look as you want. The rendering can be rough and natural or extremely even and smooth. It depends on the look you’re after and how much time you want to spend on it. By taking the time to get the bales straight and the rendering as smooth as possible, you can achieve a highly finished and elegant look.

8. You can choose your colour

The final colour is flexible too. Though many straw-bale houses are a natural creamy or earthy colour, you can talk to your renderer about adding pigments of any hue.

9. It can have nooks and crannies

With its thick bales, straw offers the opportunity to have lots of little, organic-looking recesses to show off objects and ornaments.


10. It can have beautiful deep windows

Deep window recesses can be built into a straw-bale house, helping give it a distinctive look.

11. It’s quiet

The insulation properties of a straw-bale house make it noticeably quiet, especially if combined with other insulation, such as double or triple glazed windows.

Expert tips

Many straw-bale houses are built by owner-builders with help from friends and the community, attracting, as they do, interest and enthusiasm. However, as with any construction, it helps to get the experts in for crucial building elements.

Conventional wisdom says straw requires a specialist contractor to install it, or at least provide advice and equipment at critical stages of construction. You can have standard construction below the straw to provide normal termite- and damp-proofing, but from the floor level up, a specialist contractor can advise on the bottom/top frame, laying of bales and tensioning.”

The specialists all seem to be happy to work side by side with the owners, as most people who want to use straw like to be involved in the construction. Also, straw is likely an alternative construction method in the building code so an engineer or a specialist consultant would be required for local jurisdictional approval.”

Then there is the rendering, which tends to be earth or lime, as a breathable render is better for the straw so moisture can be released. Also, wide eaves are recommended to protect the wall from weathering.There is also the attention to detail around windows and at the top and bottom of walls, which needs to be worked through before you start, so every step of the construction is working towards the finished result you are after.”










Off the Grid Organic Winery is located in West Kelowna and the tasting room was built using straw bale construction methods. .It also employs solar power for electricity and other sustainable building practices including the use of reclaimed materials. (See the bar front 3 images down) If you look at the image below, you can see a railing on top of the left side of the roof. What you don’t see is a walkway in behind the structure used by goats of the farm to get up to their home on the roof.  I can also speak from personal examination, their wine is delicious and I highly recommend it.

Front elevation of the wine tasting room.

The right-hand side of the tasting room, and yard with vintage farming equipment.

Inside the tasting room where you can see reclaimed wood used in the construction of much of the interior.



















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