The big bad wolf can huff and puff all he wants. “These are not the three little pig houses that can be blown down,” said Sister Miriam MacGillis of her quaint one-bedroom on earth-focused Genesis Farm in Blairstown, N.J. “They’re really, really strong.”
Built from straw bales with the help of unskilled volunteers, the house features a large open room serving as kitchen, living room and office; tile floors; plumbing; electric; and stucco walls. It took a few weeks to complete.
Straw bale construction dates back to the late 1800’s, when pilgrims traveling west and settling in the prairies of Nebraska turned to straw due to the lack of trees. The buildings proved sturdy, great for heat insulation, and lasted centuries. Lathering stucco or plaster to the exterior and interior walls also made them water, fire, rodent and bug proof.
“The great concern is we can’t keep taking down our forests to build our houses,” MacGillis said. “This would be another way of building that would be a renewable plant that farmers grow every year and harvest every year. If people really looked at it seriously, we could grow our own homes.” The elimination of plywood, sheetrock and manufactured insulation also slashes a home’s carbon footprint.
The process of assembling a basic straw bale home requires little experience. You could invite friends over and have a house-raising in one weekend, said MacGillis.
“I recommend it 150,000 percent,” McGillis said. “For young people getting married that want to have a home of their own, if they can downscale their expectations and not want a McMansion, and rather something modest but really beautiful and functional,” she said, “I think it can be the answer to the economic crisis we are feeling all over.”
Cost to build: $39,000