Straw Bale Barnhaus

This straw bale Barnhaus is the winning entry in the NASBA housing contest in the UK.
This straw bale Barnhaus is the winning entry in the NASBA housing contest in the UK.

Jason keeps sending me great suggestions for our blog. Today’s post is about the winning home design in the NASBA contest. This super energy efficient strawbale house is fast and easy to construct because it uses pole construction.

Possible ways to make the Barnhaus more sustainable and better suited to the US (= most of our readers): Use wood posts (look up pole barn or pole frame construction), rough sawn lumber from a local mill or salvaged wood, raised insulated floor using scoria filled earthbag foundation and scoria under the floor, standard factory made trusses for plenty of roof insulation, earth plaster or perlite gypsum plaster inside.

Strawbale Barnhaus
Top 16 NASBA designs

14 thoughts on “Straw Bale Barnhaus”

    • Thanks. Stay turned for my “on the road” series where I visit organic farms and exciting places. I just started a few days ago in Vientiane, Laos.

  1. Carroll:

    The best way to explain what “median” means is to give you an example.

    Let’s take a list of hypothetical house prices, and calculate their average, and their median.

    House 1: $5000 (Obviously a DIY build)
    House 2: $50000 (run down falling apart code approved build.)
    House 3: $200000 (Low-end Typical U.S. House, that nobody should want to live in.)
    House 4: $250000 (Typical U.S. House that nobody should want to live in, but it looks a little prettier than house 3)
    House 5: $300000 (Nicer U.S. House, but it’s built with the same crappy materials at it’s core as houses 3&4.
    House 6: $15000000 (A shot in the dark guess at the price for one of Martha Stewart’s Mansions. (Skylands))

    I’m sure you know how to calculate the average (also known as the mean). Add them up and divide by the count of items. $2634166.67 in this case.

    The median is the dividing point where the same number of houses are more expensive as there are houses less expensive. There is no totaling of the prices and division. It’s simply a place in the list that has exactly as many above as below. In this case, it’s between houses 3&4. $225000 would have 3 houses more expensive, and 3 houses less expensive than that price.

    So… that’s what those numbers are… but what do they tell you?

    When the average (mean) and the median are very similar, then you can guess that the distribution of numbers is fairly even over the sample of numbers.

    However, if the average and the median are significantly different, then you know that the list of numbers is top heavy if the average is bigger than the median. Or if the average is smaller than the median, then you know that the list of numbers is bottom heavy.

    In this example, it is clear that Martha Stewart’s mansion drastically shifts the average of the list to the high end. Her house is dramatically more expensive than all the other houses combined. That’s why the median and the average are so different.

    The same can also be seen in the Census numbers for all houses in the U.S. The average is bigger than the median, so we know that the average has been shifted higher because of expensive mansions. But… since there are so many houses in the list, the difference between the average and the median isn’t as big as the extreme example I gave.

    Here is another way to look at it. My comments on this blog dramatically shift the average word count in comments much higher than the median word count in comments because I get so wordy.

    I hope you find this explanation helpful. In spite of it adding to my wordiness totals.


  2. Thanks Owen. I’m really excited to see what direction it will take also. Quite a lot of people have gotten in touch wanting an off-the-shelf kit, but that isn’t really what we’re trying to do. Much more interested to see how the concept changes for different clients, different sites (eg local materials, frames), and different climates also. We’re also talking to people about using the concept for offices, workspaces – even a restaurant. I’m hoping it will be an interesting next couple of years! Thanks for linking people up to the original concept boards, which include an outline costing. If anyone wants more info or updates, they can get hold of me via the facebook page . All the best, Ed

    • I agree this design would work well for commercial spaces. The units could easily be joined side by side since there are no windows or doors on the side walls.

  3. Hi there. I’m Ed Green, architect of the Barnhaus concept. Just wanted to say – thanks for picking up on the design, and its great to see the interest / dialogue generated. We’re currently working to get a few of these built asap… would be great to see what a U.S. version might look like! All the best, Ed

  4. It’s not just that the houses are built out of twisted toothpics, sawdust, woodchips, asphalt, glue, glue, glue, and more glue, outgassing all kinds of nasty fumes.

    If the EPA were to really do it’s job, it would have to declare almost all the modern code built housing in the US as hazardous toxic waste sites.

    All those products are crazy high priced. It’s insane.

    Then… there is “building code approved” designs. Holy crap. Standard housing is horrific in energy consumption. Standard Code built housing is practically designed to radiate heat to the outdoors in winter, and absorb heat like crazy in the summer.

    Then… all the finishes. Good grief. It’s insane what people will pay.

    I saw a home renovation show on TV tonight, and they spent $7000 just for the kitchen countertops.

    Are you kidding me?

    There have been a whole bunch of entries on this blog where the ENTIRE HOUSE was cheaper than those countertops!

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge someone that has worked hard and has the money in spending it on whatever they want, including Gold inlaid Granite counters.

    I just wonder what the world is coming to, and the messages that are being sent to the general population when a TV home renovation show is spending the same amount of money on countertops as what a hard working DIY builder could spent to build an entire house.

    It wasn’t just the counters either. Every line item they listed in the renovation budget was HIGHER in price. Mold Abatement alone was something like $20000!!!

    So there is the state of American housing. It costs more to get the mold out of standard housing than it costs to build an entire Natural house, including purchasing the land!!!

    How screwed up has our society become?

    If Archimedes had only known how is invention was going to become the symbol of stupid fraud and wastefulness, he probably would never have bothered to invent the screw in the first place!

    • The difference between a well built natural home and conventional code approved housing is so huge it’s hard to fathom why people fall for the lie. I’m thinking of popular houses like the eco-hobbit home in Pembrokeshire (Charlie and Meg’s Roundhouse and Ben Law’s Woodman’s Cottage There’s no big profit in natural building to pay for big marketing campaigns and so many people are not aware of these alternative choices, although times are changing. There’s a growing list of thousands of beautiful custom natural homes popping up all over and the Internet is really helping spread the word. In fact, that’s are mission here at Natural Building Blog. We’re trying to wake people up to better, safer, lower cost, more beautiful options.

      $7,000 countertops? Geez. Ours cost $20 and should last 100 years.

      For those of you in mold prone areas, you can choose building materials that don’t mold. Sheet rock, carpet, etc. are bound to mold. There are safe, durable, low cost alternatives that will not mold.

  5. 41000 British Pounds Sterling is extremely cheap for code approved construction. It’s still ridiculously overpriced compared to DIY construction in an area with few or no building codes.

    ₤41000 = $66256 USD.

    Just for reference, the average price of a house in the US using Census Statistics from 2010 is a median of $221,800 and an average of $272,900
    Note: The sales price includes the land in the Census numbers.

    I don’t think it is a stretch to say that it is very VERY reasonable for some hard working resourceful DIY builders to be able to build 10 houses for the price of one average US house, including the price of the land.

    And dare I say, those 10 houses will probably be better houses, assuming the DIY builders know what they are doing.

    • Do a search for pole barns or agricultural buildings or steel agricultural buildings plus the name of your state to find manufacturers in your area. Price it as a kit and for their crew to erect the shell. A trained crew could build the shell in a few days. Then you could finish at your own pace.

      Yes, US housing is ridiculously overpriced. It’s one big scam. Take off the blinders and look what you’re really getting. The standard home is made of 2×4 sticks, paper covered chalk (sheet rock), pressed board siding (saw dust and glue), asphalt shingles, plastic windows and plastic everything else. Build your own using non-toxic materials and do it right. Make it just the way you want.

  6. I agree with Jason who pointed out this plan would fit nicely on small urban lots. I prefer single story designs in rural areas, but there’s definitely a need for this type of plan.

  7. Very nice build and the 2 sites you can go to are very informative as well. I only wish America had a National Alternative Self Build site like they’ve got there. Or, is there such a place here in America that anyone knows of? It would be great if we had MORE people in state government who would be supportive of NO Building Codes/Owner Home Builders.


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