Straw house passes fire safety tests

Thursday 19 Nov 2009

Research shows straw panels are 4 times safer than necessary

Newly engineered pre-fabricated panels made with straw have surpassed fire safety expectations by surviving for over two hours in temperatures over 1000°C. Researchers at the University of Bath used the panels in the construction of a prefabricated house, Balehaus at Bath, which is unveiled today.

The design is part of a major new research project into how these renewable building materials can be used for homes of the future. The panels used in Balehaus at Bath were constructed of a structural timber frame infilled with straw bales or hemp and rendered with a breathable lime-based system. The panels passed fire safety standards lasting four times as long as was required. The house will now be monitored over the next year by researchers from the University’s BRE Centre in Innovative Construction Materials for its insulating properties, humidity levels, air tightness and sound insulation qualities to assess the performance of straw and hemp as building materials.

Professor Pete Walker, Director of the University’s BRE Centre in Innovative Construction Materials said: “Straw is an ideal environmentally-friendly building material because it is renewable and is a by-product of existing farming production.

“Whilst we’ve previously done tests on individual ModCell panels, this is the first time data have been collected from a complete house. We’re hoping this will lead to these renewable materials being used more widely in the building industry for housing in the UK. The crop used for the straw can be grown locally, and because it absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows, buildings made from it have a very low carbon footprint.”

The Modcell Balehaus system, which is expected to be able to reduce heating bills by up to 85%, and CO2 emissions by 60%, has been used before by architectural television presenter Kevin McCloud to build an eco-friendly house in just six days on his Grand Designs show. The system is the creation of White Design in Bristol and Integral Structural Design in Bath. The research work on BaleHaus has been funded by Carbon Connections and the Technology Strategy Board.

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