1,000 year-old Straw/clay Houses in Germany

Classic German architecture: Fachwerk und Enxaimel — Timber-frame straw/clay houses with hazel stick reinforcing lasts for centuries. (None of these buildings had building permits and so maybe they should all be pulled down?)

A beligerant drunk in a restaurant overheard me talking about natural houses. He confidently proclaimed houses built of natural materials would never be allowed in a modern country such as Germany. “The codes would never allow this,” he said assuredly. I explained how straw/clay houses have a centuries long tradition there, and that strawbale structures are now permitted. There’s even a strawbale building association in Germany (FASBA).

From the FASBA website (translated): “To date, over 250 approved homes and some production buildings and many smaller demonstration buildings have emerged. The attainment of an admission by the general building materials FASBA 2007, this construction is gaining in approval, as there is no difficulty in most cases to obtain a building permit.” A five-story strawbale structure was recently completed. “The North German Centre for Sustainable Construction has received the Innovation Award 2013.”

Related: Early Medieval timber work This is how they crafted those timber frames. (recommended by Jay… there are lots more similar videos of traditional woodworking)

9 thoughts on “1,000 year-old Straw/clay Houses in Germany”

  1. Ron,

    The best treatment for wood beams and timber is not to let them be exposed to water in the first place. That means a well drained building site, good roof overhangs, etc. These recommendations are always the best first place to protect a building. Good boots and a good hat.

    Many otherwise unprotected wood structures have lasted well over a century and even multiple centuries without any wood treatment simply because they were built on a well drained site and had a good roof. On the other hand, many wood structures that did have the wood treated, but didn’t have a well drained site, or a good roof have long ago turned to dust.

    That said, it’s not a bad idea to have a secondary layer of protection. Linseed oil, as you mentioned is one option. Paint is another option. Paint need not be the toxic commercial paints either. How many old red barns lasted for over a century in the American Midwest? Most of those old wood barns were painted with red oxide lime or milk paints. Usually with no paint on the inside either. However, it’s important that the coating be maintained over time if it is going to be effective. Wax is another long trusted wood treatment, especially for interior applications. This also needs maintenance and reapplication from time to time.

    For the money… it’s best to invest in a good drainage system, good foundation, and a good roof before spending extra on coating beams and timber.

    I realize that my comment is probably obvious, but I’ve too often witnessed people investing in coatings and wood treatments on their houses instead of spending money on maintaining their roof, plumbing, or other systems that are allowing the wood to get wet. Therefore I don’t think the concept can be repeated often enough.

    If I see water damage to the wood of a structure… I look first at the foundation and the roof. Then on to verify that all roof penetrations are flashed properly. Next roof ventilation. Are the windows leaking and/or flashed improperly? What about plumbing leaks? Toilet, shower, sink, dishwasher, laundry, or water heater leaks? Any condensation issues? Condensation in bathrooms and kitchens causes more mold and rot and general STINK inside houses than just about anything else. Even an improperly plumbed air conditioning condensation drain can cause a surprising amount of damage.

    After all of those potential sources of water are addressed… only then do I begin to think about coating the wood to protect it.

    I hope you find some of these ideas helpful, Ron.

    • Good advice. Thanks, Jay. This reminds me of a blog post about silicate mineral paint that’s been on the waiting list for weeks. It’s now in the queue for tomorrow.

  2. I would like to see suggestions for wood treatment. Ive used linseed oil on sail boats, but its pricey. So for treating beams and framing?
    Good article.

  3. It must be a big encouragement to yourself and colleagues that the blog traffic is expanding, and may it spur you on to continue your work !
    Interesting that the German buildings all make good use of the triangle as a strong support structure within the timber frames. Designs just with square sections can so easily warp, depending upon the filling of course. Also the German frames are so well-preserved, with sensible preservatives. One tradition ( in the UK ) was to use creosote or even used motor oil, but thankfully that has given way to better ideas. Those German buildings are not going to fall down any time soon ! The streets are so tidy too – wonderful to see !
    Any comments on here about preservatives for timber frames would be good to hear….

    • We’re happy with the growth of the blog, although it’s far below the course we were headed on with WordPress. We apparently exceeded the traffic limits at WordPress and they locked our account over some pretense. We quickly shifted to a different host and restored the blog. WordPress has high ranking in the search engines for providing quality information. That was helping to send our blog on a path almost as steep as an airplane on takeoff. The traffic dropped way off after switching to the new host and it’s now growing at a slower pace. So we’ve lost a ton of potential readers.

    • Yes, I think so. Twenty years ago people laughed at strawbale houses. Now it’s a trendy thing for the rich (and not so rich). New earthbag projects pop up in the search engines every few days. Those are two examples of what’s happening.

  4. Excellent post. It’s amazing how America has gone from stability in homes to easy ways that end up keeping you paying for countless years for a less than stable home. How have we forgotten what we learned when we came here from around the world? Jay, the video/s you suggested is another example of hard work equals superior building materials. Thanks to you both. Merry Christmas.

    • The typical modern American home is designed for a 30-year life expectancy. At that point it will need major repairs. Our blog is trying to show how to build better, safer, less toxic, more durable houses that cost less. Maybe that is why our blog traffic is at an all time high (new record every month). This indicates many people are waking up to alternatives.


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