Light Straw Construction May Grow, as 2015 IRC Adoption Spreads

For advocates of natural building systems, codes are finally catching up.

Expert Advice. Published by New Society Publishers, written by Paula Baker-Laporte & Robert Laporte, this is one of several good books on light straw usage.

Straw-based building technology, which has been mature for many years, is finally getting its due from code officials. New books on the topic and recent adoption of the code suggest that consumer interest may be on the rise too. With the elevated risks of wildfires in the west, builders will certainly inquire about the fire safety of straw-based construction.

DCAT has done a nice job collectins some third-party research on this topic that you can watch and read for peace of mind, if you’re considering light straw structures in wildfire prone areas. The structures perform quite well.

Here are links to the most recent straw bale fire tests done in Texas, where an earthen plastered wall passed the ASTM E-119 1-Hour Fire Test with Hose Stream Test, and the cement stuccoed wall passed the 2-Hour test!

Non-Bearing_Clay_Wall.pdf (2.9 MB)

Cement_Stucco_Wall.pdf (3.9 MB)

Here’s a link to the video of the fire test and many other useful resources on Bruce King’s Ecological Building Network site.

Here are some older links as well:

ASTM E-119 Small Scale Fire Test (New Mexico) (264K)

ASTM E84-98 Surface Burning Characteristics report (452K)

Here’s the back story on a series of recent code adoptions: according to Martin Hammer:

The State of Maryland became the first jurisdiction to adopt Appendix S – Strawbale Construction and Appendix R – Light Straw-Clay Construction, effective January 1, 2015. The State of New Jersey was second, with an effective date of September 21, 2015. The State of California has followed with approval of Appendix S (Appendix R will be available for adoption by local jurisdictions) but it will not become effective until January 1, 2017.

Other state or local jurisdictions are on a course to adopt Appendix S and in some cases Appendix R, including the states of New Mexico, New York and Georgia and the City of Denver and Boulder County, Colorado. Efforts for adoption are occurring in other state or local jurisdictions as well, or will occur when their adoption cycles open.

Every U.S. state has its own code adoption process and schedule. It varies from early and almost automatic adoption of most of the ‘I-Codes’ (e.g., Maryland), to having virtually no building code at all (e.g., most jurisdictions in Vermont). In terms of the residential code (for one- and two-family dwellings) many states use older editions of the triennially revised IRC, for example the 2012 or 2009 edition, and in two states editions as far back as 2000. Most states have statewide codes, but some leave building code adoption entirely to local jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions automatically adopt the appendices in the I-Codes but most do not.

This broad mix of policy, process and schedule makes state and local advocacy vital to ensure these appendices are adopted and utilized. Source

For more info, follow the links below to a couple of excellent books on building with straw:

Essential Light Straw Construction

The EcoNest Home, Designing and Building a Light Straw Clay House