The Modern Strawbale House: Machine for Sustainability

In January 2004 we were invited by Depth Magazine to contribute an article about sustainable architecture. I decided to write an educational piece about strawbuilding, a portion of which we reproduce. Enjoy!

The Modern Strawbale House

The goal of the modern strawbale house is conservation of earth’s resources. To this end such a house is an assembly of concrete, timber posts, metal bracing, prefabricated trusses, and bales of straw – materials and systems selected to reduce reliance upon wood as a building material.

black background copyPosts are the skeleton of such a house, and bales are its skin, or “infill”, on three of its sides. The fourth, facing south, is conventionally framed, making the house a hybrid structure, admitting of larger expanses of south-facing glass and the solar benefits which accrue to this strategy. Passive solar design is an essential component of the modern strawbale house.

Straw – ubiquitous waste product otherwise sent into the atmosphere as greenhouse gas – bound as bales, stacked like bricks, gives thickness and heft to its walls, lending them comforting reassurance and sculptural majesty. Insulation is the natural gift of straw used this way, retaining the heat passively gained in winter, fending off unwanted heat in summer.

Anatomy of the Hybrid Strawbale House

Anatomy of the Hybrid Strawbale House

The ridge of such a house is oriented east-west, exposing its long, south flank to the sun. Set at right angles to its rays, the roof is a plane designed to support an array of photovoltaic cells, capturing the sun’s rays as electricity, diminishing reliance on hydrocarbons as an energy source.

With appropriate modifications, such a house can be suitable in nearly any climate, within nearly any budget. The modern strawbale house is a machine for sustainability.

Daniel Matthew Silvernail Architect is a professional practice in Santa Cruz California. An ecologist by training who migrated quite naturally into the profession of architecture, and then (somewhat more serendipitously) into straw building, Daniel can be contacted at (831) 462-9138 or via Email at The website is

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