Tuesday, August 18, 1998 12:00:03 AM
GSBN Item
From: GSBN@...,Txinfinet Incoming
Subject: Digest for 8/17/98
To: GSBN
-> Wrong, wrong, wrong
by M J Epko <duckchow@...>
-> Re: Wrong, wrong, wrong
by "Rene_Dalmeijer" <rened@...>
-> Re: Wrong, wrong, wrong
by Huff and Puff Constructions <huffnpuff@...>

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Date: 17 Aug 1998 15:42:38 -0500
From: M J Epko <duckchow@...>
Subject: Wrong, wrong, wrong

Issue #1 (undated) of Earth Quarterly magazine (Special "Paper House"
Issue) ran the following article about strawbale construction which is full
of uninformed inaccuracies, and which begs an answer. I've been in contact
with the editor, Gordon Solberg, who indicated that he'd be open to
publishing a rebuttal. I've reprinted the article (in full, for those who
haven't read it) in indents below, interspersed with my preliminary
comments. I've tried to keep it short.

*Please* feel free to edit, augment, clarify, etc. I'd like to attach
"signatures" to the bottom of the response... please indicate if I may add
your name, credentials, and state/county/province/country. Thanks!

I'm not sending this to the CREST list until after it's finalized, because
I know I'd be inundated with responses and don't have time to deal with
that sort of crunch currently.

*

Mr Solberg;

We were alarmed to read Mr McCain's inaccurate and uninformed comments
about straw-bale construction that you ran in Issue #1, and feel that it
would be a disservice to your readers not to answer the fallacies with some
facts.

SOME THOUGHTS ON STRAW BALE CONSTRUCTION

While we were talking, Mike offered some of his
observations on straw bale construction, and how it
compares with fibrous cement:

I've done straw bale too, and I love the concept of
straw bale, but the only advantage of straw bale,
really, is insulation value. And it costs you too
much. Because the super-wide footer you have to put
down really eats you alive.

Straw-bale construction does not require a "super-wide" footer. A typical
8-inch-wide foundation may be utilized. Wooden or concrete piers may be
utilized. Dry-stacked fieldstone foundations (absolutely free), may be
utilized.

And then you have to go post-and-beam, and that
isn't cheap.

Almost your entire issue was dedicated to presenting fibrous cement used in
a capacity which has never been approved by any code jurisdiction, and
likely would never be approved by any code jurisdiction. Then, suddenly, in
comparing the two materials, strawbale was presented in the context of not
just a building code, but the one strawbale building code which does not
allow loadbearing buildings. There is only one straw bale code adopted
which requires post and beam, and does not allow leadbearing bales. Every
other adopted strawbale code allows loadbearing bales. The original,
extant, up to 90-year-old Nebraska straw-bale houses are loadbearing.
Strawbale does not require post-and-beam. Read the excellent book Building
Of Earth And Straw by engineer Bruce King for a better understanding of the
structural capacities of straw bales.

And then after you get your walls up, then it's
really hard to do the plumbing and wiring. Because
you're talking about something that isn't structural
to begin with, and so you have to be careful not to
cut into the strings of your bales, and things like
that.

Depending on the orientation of the bales, not cutting the strings becomes
very simple not to do, because the strings aren't exposed. Once the walls
are stuccoed, the strings are a moot concern.

A straw bale house is really hard to plumb and wire.

Now in stick frame building, you just drill holes
through the studs and put in the wires. How do you
do straw bale? It really gets awkward to do the
plumbing and the wiring in straw bale, because
you're basically talking about a solid wall.

Wiring a strawbale house can be as simple as using a Lancelot to notch in
wiring chases - exactly as Mr McCain suggested is so easy to do on fibrous
cement houses.

And then you have to tie chickenwire mesh onto the
bale, which means you have to poke stringers through
there and tie them. It's very time-consuming and
quite awkward, and very expensive. Chickenwire mesh
isn't really cheap.

It isn't necessary to tie the chicken wire to the bales. It can be secured
with Robert's Pins, which takes seconds. Many structures (such as the
original Nebraska homes, in addition to many contemporary structures) have
omitted the chicken wire without serious consequence.

And there's the labor intensity of it. By the time
you get done with the labor in a straw bale house,
by the time you've paid the extra for the footer and
the extra involvement, there's no advantage left to
the straw bale. You've had to use a conventional
floor and a conventional roof, and so all you've
really saved is insulation in the wall.

It wasn't noted that the fibrous cement house that was code-approved also
had conventional floor, conventional roof, conventional foundation...

And you've made such a big, heavy, thick wall, you
have a lot more mass than you actually need. It just
doesn't pay. And with all the difficulties of
construction, it's marginal.

The thickness of the wall is not mass, it's insulation. The difference is a
profound one.

Now the idea's good. And the walls go up real fast,
but the finish work is so time consuming. Now with
fibrous cement, I find you have all the advantages
of straw bale: you have the lightweight, gigantic
building blocks, but you also have structural
integrity. You don't need post-and-beam. You have
load-bearing capacity.

Again, strawbale does not require post and beam, and is well-proven as a
leadbearing material.

With straw bale, if you come to a window or door and
the bale doesn't fit, you have to clip the bale,
then tie it back, and go through a lot of hassle. If
a fibrous cement block doesn't fit, you just take a
saw and cut it in half. Or cut in the window after
you get the wall up.

Making a custom bale isn't a lot of hassle unless a person is making it
difficult. However, cutting a window or door into any solid material, such
as fibrous cement, is awkward.

There's structural integrity to fibrous cement
construction. There are no weak joints. With straw
bale, you can't tie the bales together n there are
joints.

ASTM tests show that strawbale construction exhibits superior behaviors to
wind loads, racking, loading, etc. The concern is irrelevant.

With fibrous cement, you're mortaring everything
together, so it just makes one solid mass. You have
the great insulation value with fibrous cement like
you do with straw bale, but you can do it in one
foot instead of 18".

Until tests are produced showing this to be true, the claim is dubious. A
primary worry in this regard is fibrous cement's admitted characteristic of
"absorbing every single drop of water that hits it." In humid, wet
climates, the wall may easily become saturated, making its thermal values
almost nil.

You can do interior walls out of fibrous cement a
lot narrower than that. You still have
soundproofing, insulation, and structural strength.
You can do things with fibrous cement that you can't
do with straw bale. I groove where I want my wire,
put my wire in it, and patch it with fibrous cement,
and I'm done. And plumbing is the same way, and it's
fully insulated.

The concern here is condensation. If plumbing is run through fibrous cement
as suggested, condensation from the pipes will soak into the material
without pause, and will eventually saturate the entire wall.

Even in the floor, when I make a slab fibrous
cement, you can just cut out a groove in the floor,
lay your pipes in and patch it with fibrous cement.

Fibrous cement makes the most wonderful floor. Now
you can pour a 4" slab fibrous cement and 2" of
concrete on top of it, and when you walk it, it
doesn't feel like a concrete slab. It's still rigid,
but the fibrous cement absorbs the impact. Now,
because it holds a screw beautifully, and you can
glue to it, you can just glue-and-screw a subfloor
right on top of fibrous cement. You don't have any
joists or anything to squeak. And you can just have
a nice, traditionally finished floor if you want. Or
you can lay tile on it, whatever you want. What you
have is a warm, comfortable floor, because fibrous
cement is such a good insulator.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Freewheeling autonomous speculation - Think!
Personality #7 represents only itself.
M J Epko - duckchow@...
Kingston, New Mexico
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
"The Village Blacksmith"


----------------------------------------------------------------------

Date: 17 Aug 1998 17:21:09 -0500
From: "Rene_Dalmeijer" <rened@...>
Subject: Re: Wrong, wrong, wrong

I agree that the article is very partisan but I think some of your
corrections are maybe a little partisan too. It's not simply a case of SB
versus FC. Gorden Solberg is quite clearly an FC disciple. I think it is
better to state simply which statements you think are incorrect and the then
finish off with a more general observation.

Costs, This depends on what comparison you make, appels and pears.

Super wide footer, structurally not required you just need somthing to get
the bales off the ground.

Post and Beam, There are many options and mixes possible suited to different
requirements.

Plumbing, just cut it in what can be easier in such a soft material.

Chickenwire, not required even preferably not used.

Labour intensity, I don't think there is any advantage in FC either they
both have pro's and con's in this area.

Mass, What's bad about mass but I think FC will have moer mass because it's
denser then SB.

Custom bales, Making lots of custom bales is tedious and should be avoided
by design but with a bit of execise can compare to cutting blocks.

The other arguments boil down to incoherent raving not really deserving
serious comment. Basically what it boils down to is this: FC has it's
advantages and SB has it's advantages.

How I see the main swinging arguments:

Pro: FC is more conventional like laying bricks. Requires less space, less
experience.
Cons: Insurmountable humidity problems in wet climates.

Pro: SB is an environment friendlier technique. Better insulation. Possibly
more character
Cons: Requires more expertise, espescially regarding humidity measures in
wet climates.

Depending on design, costs can go both ways. Generally SB can be bought very
cheap almost everywhere world wide and FC is limited to highly developed
regions. Finishes, floors and roofing contribute far more to the final costs
than the walls.

I hope this is of use

- -----Original Message-----
From: M J Epko <duckchow@...>
To: (email address removed)<GSBN@...>
Date: Monday, August 17, 1998 10:34 PM
Subject: Wrong, wrong, wrong


Issue #1 (undated) of Earth Quarterly magazine (Special "Paper House"
Issue) ran the following article about strawbale construction which is full
of uninformed inaccuracies, and which begs an answer. I've been in contact
with the editor, Gordon Solberg, who indicated that he'd be open to
publishing a rebuttal. I've reprinted the article (in full, for those who
haven't read it) in indents below, interspersed with my preliminary
comments. I've tried to keep it short.

*Please* feel free to edit, augment, clarify, etc. I'd like to attach
"signatures" to the bottom of the response... please indicate if I may add
your name, credentials, and state/county/province/country. Thanks!

I'm not sending this to the CREST list until after it's finalized, because
I know I'd be inundated with responses and don't have time to deal with
that sort of crunch currently.

*

Mr Solberg;

We were alarmed to read Mr McCain's inaccurate and uninformed comments
about straw-bale construction that you ran in Issue #1, and feel that it
would be a disservice to your readers not to answer the fallacies with some
facts.

SOME THOUGHTS ON STRAW BALE CONSTRUCTION

While we were talking, Mike offered some of his
observations on straw bale construction, and how it
compares with fibrous cement:

I've done straw bale too, and I love the concept of
straw bale, but the only advantage of straw bale,
really, is insulation value. And it costs you too
much. Because the super-wide footer you have to put
down really eats you alive.

Straw-bale construction does not require a "super-wide" footer. A typical
8-inch-wide foundation may be utilized. Wooden or concrete piers may be
utilized. Dry-stacked fieldstone foundations (absolutely free), may be
utilized.

And then you have to go post-and-beam, and that
isn't cheap.

Almost your entire issue was dedicated to presenting fibrous cement used in
a capacity which has never been approved by any code jurisdiction, and
likely would never be approved by any code jurisdiction. Then, suddenly, in
comparing the two materials, strawbale was presented in the context of not
just a building code, but the one strawbale building code which does not
allow loadbearing buildings. There is only one straw bale code adopted
which requires post and beam, and does not allow leadbearing bales. Every
other adopted strawbale code allows loadbearing bales. The original,
extant, up to 90-year-old Nebraska straw-bale houses are loadbearing.
Strawbale does not require post-and-beam. Read the excellent book Building
Of Earth And Straw by engineer Bruce King for a better understanding of the
structural capacities of straw bales.

And then after you get your walls up, then it's
really hard to do the plumbing and wiring. Because
you're talking about something that isn't structural
to begin with, and so you have to be careful not to
cut into the strings of your bales, and things like
that.

Depending on the orientation of the bales, not cutting the strings becomes
very simple not to do, because the strings aren't exposed. Once the walls
are stuccoed, the strings are a moot concern.

A straw bale house is really hard to plumb and wire.

Now in stick frame building, you just drill holes
through the studs and put in the wires. How do you
do straw bale? It really gets awkward to do the
plumbing and the wiring in straw bale, because
you're basically talking about a solid wall.

Wiring a strawbale house can be as simple as using a Lancelot to notch in
wiring chases - exactly as Mr McCain suggested is so easy to do on fibrous
cement houses.

And then you have to tie chickenwire mesh onto the
bale, which means you have to poke stringers through
there and tie them. It's very time-consuming and
quite awkward, and very expensive. Chickenwire mesh
isn't really cheap.

It isn't necessary to tie the chicken wire to the bales. It can be secured
with Robert's Pins, which takes seconds. Many structures (such as the
original Nebraska homes, in addition to many contemporary structures) have
omitted the chicken wire without serious consequence.

And there's the labor intensity of it. By the time
you get done with the labor in a straw bale house,
by the time you've paid the extra for the footer and
the extra involvement, there's no advantage left to
the straw bale. You've had to use a conventional
floor and a conventional roof, and so all you've
really saved is insulation in the wall.

It wasn't noted that the fibrous cement house that was code-approved also
had conventional floor, conventional roof, conventional foundation...

And you've made such a big, heavy, thick wall, you
have a lot more mass than you actually need. It just
doesn't pay. And with all the difficulties of
construction, it's marginal.

The thickness of the wall is not mass, it's insulation. The difference is a
profound one.

Now the idea's good. And the walls go up real fast,
but the finish work is so time consuming. Now with
fibrous cement, I find you have all the advantages
of straw bale: you have the lightweight, gigantic
building blocks, but you also have structural
integrity. You don't need post-and-beam. You have
load-bearing capacity.

Again, strawbale does not require post and beam, and is well-proven as a
leadbearing material.

With straw bale, if you come to a window or door and
the bale doesn't fit, you have to clip the bale,
then tie it back, and go through a lot of hassle. If
a fibrous cement block doesn't fit, you just take a
saw and cut it in half. Or cut in the window after
you get the wall up.

Making a custom bale isn't a lot of hassle unless a person is making it
difficult. However, cutting a window or door into any solid material, such
as fibrous cement, is awkward.

There's structural integrity to fibrous cement
construction. There are no weak joints. With straw
bale, you can't tie the bales together n there are
joints.

ASTM tests show that strawbale construction exhibits superior behaviors to
wind loads, racking, loading, etc. The concern is irrelevant.

With fibrous cement, you're mortaring everything
together, so it just makes one solid mass. You have
the great insulation value with fibrous cement like
you do with straw bale, but you can do it in one
foot instead of 18".

Until tests are produced showing this to be true, the claim is dubious. A
primary worry in this regard is fibrous cement's admitted characteristic of
"absorbing every single drop of water that hits it." In humid, wet
climates, the wall may easily become saturated, making its thermal values
almost nil.

You can do interior walls out of fibrous cement a
lot narrower than that. You still have
soundproofing, insulation, and structural strength.
You can do things with fibrous cement that you can't
do with straw bale. I groove where I want my wire,
put my wire in it, and patch it with fibrous cement,
and I'm done. And plumbing is the same way, and it's
fully insulated.

The concern here is condensation. If plumbing is run through fibrous cement
as suggested, condensation from the pipes will soak into the material
without pause, and will eventually saturate the entire wall.

Even in the floor, when I make a slab fibrous
cement, you can just cut out a groove in the floor,
lay your pipes in and patch it with fibrous cement.

Fibrous cement makes the most wonderful floor. Now
you can pour a 4" slab fibrous cement and 2" of
concrete on top of it, and when you walk it, it
doesn't feel like a concrete slab. It's still rigid,
but the fibrous cement absorbs the impact. Now,
because it holds a screw beautifully, and you can
glue to it, you can just glue-and-screw a subfloor
right on top of fibrous cement. You don't have any
joists or anything to squeak. And you can just have
a nice, traditionally finished floor if you want. Or
you can lay tile on it, whatever you want. What you
have is a warm, comfortable floor, because fibrous
cement is such a good insulator.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Freewheeling autonomous speculation - Think!
Personality #7 represents only itself.
M J Epko - duckchow@...
Kingston, New Mexico
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
"The Village Blacksmith"





----------------------------------------------------------------------

Date: 17 Aug 1998 22:44:50 -0500
From: Huff and Puff Constructions <huffnpuff@...>
Subject: Re: Wrong, wrong, wrong

Dear Mark

I do not have a problem with your response to Earth Quarterly re: the
Paper House Issue and I would like to add my comments.

Overall your response to the particular technical details are accurate
and require little or no further tune up IMO. The statement that says:
"but the only advantage of straw bale, really, is insulation value"
needs to be taken to task.

Firstly is there any difference in fibrous cement and standard cement
from the embodied energy, resource depletion and inherrent pollution
that goes in to it's manufacture. If there is little or no difference
in it's Building Environment Sustainability Index (BES Index) then straw
bales have an advantage over FC that should lead to any environmentally
thinking person to rejecting FC.

Remember that it takes 6,000 megajoules to manufacture a tonne of
concrete and 115 megajoules to produce a tonne of straw. Embodied
Energy should be our main concern in building techniques today. Also
the production of cement contributes to a serious depletion in our
resources as well as creating pollution in it's manufacture. Compare
the production of straw to concrete/cement and I hope that you will all
agree that there is an impelling reason to use straw versus cement of
any kind.

Secondly, we must also consider the fixation of carbon in the growing of
straw of any variety, provided that a straw bale building lasts as long
as a fibrous cement building then we are creating a win win situation
for the environment. That is we should be able to obtain carbon credits
for building in straw bale. John Swearingen has informed me that he
brought this up with Kelly Lerner in Mongolia and the notion has taken
off. John informs me that Mongolia will receive an initial $1,000,000
to build with straw. I qote from John's recent post to me:

> " It works like this. Large burning companies (like utilities) must perform
some mitigation in the form of carbon credits. Often they plant
trees. Promoting straw building gets really good credits, both for the
elimination of burning of straw, and for the energy conserved in bale
houses. In Mongolia, it seems to be saving about 80% of the energy
consumed (about a third of a family's income). In Mongolia this heating
is accomplished with coal or wood. Lotta carbon saved, eh?"

I could not say it any better than John has, except to pose the question
how much carbon does cement/fibrous cement/concrete fix??? We do have
to remember that once the lifetime of the building is over and the
building is demolished the straw bales become mulch then the carbon is
released again. So build them well and have them last several hundred
years and not 30 or so years.

Anyone else able to contribute on carbon credits and straw bale?

I hope that my comments are of some use and I await any constructive
critism.

Regards John Glassford
http://strawbale.archinet.com.au
61 2 4465 1624
The Laurels
Moss Vale Road
Kangaroo Valley N.S.W. Australia.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

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