[GSBN] Update, question re: proposed SB code (hay bales)
mfhammer at pacbell.net
Mon Feb 13 18:18:53 CST 2012
Thanks David for making these points, and for grounding this. (Thanks also
for your similar thoughts Bruce, as well as the naked and pint hoisting
references.) (And thanks Graeme . . you have done lots of code work on your
The idea of bringing seasonal harvesting into this code realm, especially at
this point, is a bit over the top (though I must say I appreciate the
subject in the broader context). We have had stakeholders or opponents or
__?__ who propose that every bale have some kind of certification tag, so I
don¹t want to add fuel to that fire. David, as you correctly say this is
often a hostile environment. As many defensible positions as possible must
be staked out, with minimal questionable ones that are enough by themselves
to have the proposal disapproved. This proposal is extremely large compared
to what the IBC normally sees, and there is no shortage of places to take a
shot at, even at its most conservative. Many proposals are made to change a
only few words in existing language, and even they are often disapproved.
This proposal promises to inhabit 10 new pages (and I keep trying to make it
smaller with the principle of less is more).
I don¹t want this to be viewed as unnecessarily dour, just with a dose of
realism. That said I believe the thrust of all of this should remain
positive and open, and I welcome all input. I would much rather have people
say things than not. It¹s not an overstatement to say that every comment
I¹ve received, on the GSBN and elsewhere, has had positive effect on this
And there are circumstances on our side. Some people in the code community
really want things like SB construction in the major codes. For example we
have a great ally and adviser in the International Code Council. Also, many
people acknowledge the big code void when it comes to now not uncommon SB
construction (and other ³alternative² building systems) and they¹re more
inclined to say yes, because the void is such a wild card. So I¹ll keep
plugging ahead, with invaluable help from many others, including many on
I¹ll close by describing my two favorite works of conceptual art, both by
the same artist. Stay with me. I think this is relevant.
The first one includes a word painted very small on the high ceiling of an
art gallery. It is too small to see while standing on the floor, but there
is a tall ladder that allows one to get close enough to read it. The word
on the ceiling at the top of the ladder is ³yes².
The second one is a chess board, on which all the chess pieces are white.
Both of these are by Yoko Ono. The first one is how she met John Lennon,
who climbed to the top of the ladder and saw the word ³yes².
Maybe I¹m just sleep deprived, but despite the abundant practical
difficulties, and sometimes even hostility of this process, it is with the
spirit of those two works of art that I view this.
Martin (is it code in here or is it me?) Hammer
On 2/13/12 11:54 AM, "David Eisenberg" <strawnet at aol.com> wrote:
> I want to inject a couple of comments and thoughts about this process of code
> writing and what makes it so challenging for things like straw and earthen
> materials. But first, I want to acknowledge something that I hope we can
> figure out how to address.
> Having been in the shoes that Martin is now wearing - leading the effort to
> get straw bale building accepted by the codes and standards folks - I have an
> extremely deep appreciation for the amount of work, the time, the brain and
> heart stressing process - of trying to get these things right. Over the past
> few years, Martin has taken on the central load of getting this done, with
> some wonderful technical and occasional (and very minimal) financial support
> for his expenses. As an individual with his own small architectural practice,
> and a family, Martin has invested far more than his share of his invaluable
> time and expertise and, as well, I know that this has to have taken a
> financial toll on him and his other work (which has also included volunteering
> to work in Haiti and Pakistan). I don't know what the solution is, but I would
> like to see us try to not have invaluable people like Martin carry such a huge
> financial and time burden doing work that benefits all of us. And of course, I
> speak from my own place of experience in this realm, but I have had the
> benefit of at least working for a small nonprofit organization that
> occasionally pays me but covers most of my direct expenses. If DCAT were
> adequately funded, we would create a program or some way to compensate people
> doing this kind of work. But we're not. So I would like to see how we might
> find a way to support this kind of work so that it doesn't create such a heavy
> burden on those who take on these years-long and crucial leadership roles.
> Okay, enough said on that.
> As for the questions around how to deal with different types of baled
> materials and the seasonal harvesting issues, while I think they are important
> to think about and address at some point, what concerns me most is that the
> folks in the building codes and standards realm are not accustomed to dealing
> with materials like straw or earth that don't go through intense
> industrialized processes to assure that they are extremely uniform and
> predictable. And I am concerned that while these issues are of importance, I
> question if they are of such importance that they are worth jeopardizing the
> potential to get straw bale provisions into the IBC here in the US at this
> point in time.
> What I know is that there is an expectation that anything that is proposed for
> inclusion in code can be backed up by irrefutable testing and research.
> Knowing what we know about what it costs to do the amount of testing we've
> done to date, I wonder how and when we could reasonably expect to be able to
> substantiate anything about the viability of straw harvested at different
> times of year, what would need to be tested to achieve that, etc. What
> concerns me about raising these issues in the code language is that it will
> just be more ammunition for those who are already likely to oppose the
> inclusion of straw bale construction in these codes. I just don't want us
> throwing obstacles in our own way. This relates also to the incredibly
> frustrating experience that Martin bore the brunt of in having the straw bale
> provisions withdrawn in their entirety from the International Green
> Construction Code. We don't need another setback that involves the three year
> code development cycle.
> Lastly, I don't feel like I know enough about the specifics of what harvest
> times ultimately mean for bale quality, but I do know that we are typically
> not going to be in control of when crops are harvested or baled. So are we
> also adding in something that will make it even more difficult and
> potentially, more expensive to obtain bales for building by introducing this
> I just want to make sure that people are aware that the code development
> process, while it can be incredibly beneficial and there are many people who
> would like to and will offer constructive assistance, is a comparatively
> hostile environment for innovative, low tech, and environmentally beneficial
> technologies and materials. That is just the voice of a couple of decades of
> immersion in the realm. So let's be very careful about what we include, how we
> present it, and what the implications may be.
> Thanks everyone for the insightful comments in this thread.
> David Eisenberg
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Derek Roff <derek at unm.edu>
> To: Global Straw Building Network <GSBN at sustainablesources.com>
> Sent: Mon, Feb 13, 2012 10:27 am
> Subject: Re: [GSBN] Update, question re: proposed SB code (hay bales)
> Thanks for your response, Martin. I agree that it is useful in a code to
> mention items like hay explicitly, even if other parts of the code might cover
> them implicitly. Well-chosen redundancy improves clarity and communication.
> You have to deal with the realities of code creation, in ways that I can't
> even imagine. My thoughts and hope for the code may be impractical or
> impossible, but I will offer them in case they are of use.
> One of the things on my mind is the point others have raised, that harvesting
> the same cereal grain at different parts of its life cycle can have a
> significant effect on the durability of the bales. The proposed language
> approves five cereal grains, with the hope that this limitation will increase
> the likelihood of using good building bales. If the code doesn't mention the
> importance of how the time of harvest, in the growing cycle of the grain,
> affects the bales, then most of the code officials and owner-builders won't
> know about it. So I would like to see that mentioned. I think that RTs
> suggestion that any plant with provably similar performance should be usable
> has a deep truth, but if the burden of testing is on the individual owner or
> builder, then this amounts to a prohibition in most cases. There would be no
> way for the average product to fund all the testing needed.
> To the extent that the code will be a model for other countries and climates,
> a strict limitation to the 5 major cereal grains grown in the United States
> would be unfortunate. If the code community could tolerate it, I think it
> would be good to say what we know, and avoid insisting that we know
> everything. Including the five cereal grains as approved, when harvested
> properly, makes sense to me. Including some additional plants that have been
> used with success, such as flax and hemp, also makes sense. This second tier
> might require explicit recognition by the architect or engineer, and by the
> builder, that this choice has a little less data and experience to back it up.
> The use of additional unnamed grains and grasses should be possible as local
> conditions and experience would recommend- that is, a recognition that local
> people will know more about local options than centralized codes ever can.
> The bar for approval might need to be higher for these choices, but if this
> code is to have any value outside of industrialized US locations, then the bar
> can't be set at repeating all of the historical tests that have been done on
> wheat and rice bales.
> I think my thoughts are pretty close to what Chris Magwood wrote. It may be
> that the code creation environment won't be willing to tolerate this kind of
> thinking. However, I hope the code can find a way to be inclusive in these
> ways. If it can't, it won't be able to come close to serving as an
> International code, and it will be prohibiting and banning reasonable and
> effective approaches to building.
> Thanks for all your work on these difficult questions,
> Derek Roff
> derek at unm.edu
> Smirk of the day:
> Code official: The short answer is "No".
> Owner-Builder: Well, what's the long answer?
> Code official: "NOOOOOOoooooooooooo!"
> On Feb 9, 2012, at 7:52 AM, martin hammer wrote:
>> Thanks for persisting with this. You¹re right that if only straw from the
>> five named plants is permitted, then everything else is not pemitted,
>> including hay. But sometimes something is so commonly misused, it¹s worth
>> explicitly prohibiting it. On the other hand, I was actually revisiting the
>> issue of building with hay bales. (Is it in fact a misuse.)
>> You¹re also right that alfalfa is often referred to as hay (the words
>> ³alfalfa hay² were spoken to me yesterday) and it is not a grass, which I
>> didn¹t know until looking it up just now. You raise a good point. And
>> according to at least some definitions, cereal grains are a type of grass (or
>> graminoid). So stating that hay (cut and dried grass) is prohibited seems to
>> unwittingly also prohibit the use of straw from cereal grains. (Depending on
>> what definitions are agreed upon.) (RT seems to concur that cereal grain
>> plants are grasses.)
>> And flax? Maybe. That¹s why I opened the question. Should flax be added to
>> the list of permitted building bale materials? I¹ve never seen a test that
>> included flax bales, which could be a problem when this is all scrutinized.
>> But I don¹t believe I¹ve seen a test with rye straw bales either. As with
>> virtually every small and large part of this, pandora¹s box is not far away.
>> The task here, as with every inch of the proposed code, is to find the best
>> place to draw the line, all relevant things considered.
>> Do you want to propose how this should be worded?
>> On 2/8/12 7:59 PM, "Derek Roff" <derek at unm.edu> wrote:
>>> "I don¹t think hay vs. straw is as fuzzy as you suggest." How fuzzy did I
>>> suggest? For people who are paying attention to strawbale building, I agree
>>> that the distinction is clear enough. But the number of articles and
>>> reports, and even occasional statements from SB home owners, that mention
>>> "hay bale houses" is high enough, that I think there is plenty of confusion
>>> in the broader public. My guess is that lots of code officials, who spend
>>> most of their time with concrete and frame construction, may not immediately
>>> grasp the distinction. For example, alfalfa is called hay, is sold without
>>> seed heads, and isn't a grass, nor a cereal.
>>> Your response says that, for the purposes of the code, straw allowed for
>>> construction is one of five plants. With that language in the code, hay is
>>> banned, whether it is mentioned or not. For what it is worth, the few
>>> people who have posted to the SB lists on building with flax bales have
>>> rated flax as their favorite bale material.
>>> Derek Roff
>>> derek at unm.edu
>>> On Feb 8, 2012, at 7:24 PM, martin hammer wrote:
>>>> Re: [GSBN] Update, question re: proposed SB code (hay bales)
>>>> Hi Derek,
>>>> The code proposal doesn¹t define hay. When words are not defined in the
>>>> code, they have ³ordinarily accepted meanings such as the context implies.²
>>>> A short dictionary definition of hay is ³cut and dried grass². Which is a
>>>> rather cut and dried definition.
>>>> Straw is defined in the code proposal as ³The dry stems of cereal grains
>>>> after the seed heads have been removed.² (Though the allowed straw is
>>>> currently limited to five cereal grains - wheat, rice, rye, barley, and
>>>> oat) (am I missing any that anyone uses?)
>>>> Even without hay being defined in the code, I don¹t think hay vs. straw is
>>>> as fuzzy as you suggest. However, I might ask ICC for their opinion on
>>>> whether hay should be defined.
>>>> On 2/8/12 5:13 PM, "Derek Roff" <derek at unm.edu <x-msg://email@example.com> >
>>>>> How does the code proposal define hay? Hay vs. straw is a fuzzy
>>>>> distinction, especially if you want to compare current agricultural
>>>>> products with those of a hundred years ago. The use of synthetic
>>>>> fertilizers and new grain varieties make historical comparisons less
>>>>> valuable for code work, in my opinion. Anything grown with a high dose of
>>>>> synthetic fertilizer is likely to be more subject to spontaneous
>>>>> Derek Roff
>>>>> derek at unm.edu <x-msg://firstname.lastname@example.org>
>>>>> On Feb 8, 2012, at 4:04 PM, martin hammer wrote:
>>>>>> Hello all,
>>>>>> After resubmitting the proposed SB code to the International Code Council
>>>>>> last week, I received their comments and will submit final revisions on
>>>>>> Thank you to those who gave input re: clay plaster in the proposed SB
>>>>>> section of the International Building Code. There was a mix of opinion,
>>>>>> sometimes in direct conflict. I used some of the suggested changes. I
>>>>>> generally loosened the language (we¹ll see how much vagueness is accepted
>>>>>> without challenge) and eliminated any required percentage of clay. I
>>>>>> still welcome clay plaster input from those who expressed initial
>>>>>> interest, but whose busy lives probably got in the way (but asap please).
>>>>>> Particular thanks to Graeme North who gave input on the entire proposed
>>>>>> code (as he did in a past iteration).
>>>>>> One other question for input:
>>>>>> Prohibit use of baled hay? (That¹s what the proposed code currently
>>>>>> This is the conventional wisdom, but weren¹t some of the first buildings
>>>>>> in Nebraska built with hay bales (some still standing?), or has anyone
>>>>>> successfully used hay bales (or bales with other non-straw ³grasses²)?
>>>>>> Yesterday I had a discussion with a California rice farmer who bales
>>>>>> straw and alfalfa hay. He says that apart from the notion that hay is
>>>>>> more subject to degradation, hay is 2 to 3 times as expensive so is much
>>>>>> less likely to be used as a building material. Regarding the notorious
>>>>>> proclivity for stacks of hay bales to spontaneously combust, in addition
>>>>>> to witnessing that, he has twice seen a stack of rice straw bales
>>>>>> spontaneously combust.
>>>>>> Martin (what the hay) Hammer
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