[GSBN] Straw bale building in tropical areas

Bohdan Dorniak bohdan at bdcoarchitects.com.au
Wed Jul 12 01:04:22 CDT 2017


Fantastic  reply and links – I was sceptic about constructing in the tropics
– but it is do-able


Bohdan – aussie architect


From: Gsbn [mailto:gsbn-bounces at sustainablesources.com] On Behalf Of Martin
Sent: Wednesday, 12 July 2017 2:50 PM
Cc: Jeni Kardinal
Subject: Re: [GSBN] Straw bale building in tropical areas


Hi Noé (and Bob and all),


I wanted to respond to the first email on the subject, but knew it would
take time to answer properly. Now that my name has been called out . . .


Andy Mueller (on this list) and I and others (incl. Tina Therrien, also on
this list) built the first SB building in Haiti in 2010-11.

We had the same question about building with straw in Haiti that you have
about Benin. Haiti’s tropical climate includes periods of heavy rain,
including hurricanes, and moderate to high humidity.

To answer the question, we installed 29 moisture sensors in the walls in our
Haiti SB building. Readings over its first three years showed good
performance. Some readings, just before plaster, were over 20%, but over the
first 2-1/2 years almost all readings stabilized between 8-14%. (I’ve
attached a table of readings from 2010-2013.) Some readings where the bales
are in contact with the gravel bag stem wall, including ones I took at end
of 2013, rose above 20%, but I feel this is a matter of detailing, not


The building also withstood hurricane Matthew in 2016 with only minor repair
needed in an exposed area of plaster at its gable end. However moisture
readings have not been taken since then, and it took a hard but not direct
hit from the powerful hurricane. More about the “Ti Kay Pay” (small straw
house in Kreyol) can be seen at http://builderswithoutborders.org/ . A
second SB building was constructed in Haiti in 2014 by an Italian
organization but I don’t have information about its performance.


There are other examples of SB buildings in places of high rainfall and/or
humidity worth looking at.


Sri Lanka: The first SB building in Sri Lanka was constructed in 2005. I’ve
attached a technical paper, Performance of Straw Bale Houses in Tropical
Climatic Condition, though it is more about its thermal performance than
moisture issues. Here is a link to an article on the handsome building:
http://www.thearchitect.lk/2009/10/a-house-of-straw-2/   Piyal Ganepoal was
the project manager. You might be able to obtain information about the
moisture performance of the building from him via Facebook or Linked-In.


Bali: American architect Jeni Kardinal (copied here) designed and oversaw
the construction (with husband Frank Hyde) of the first SB building in Bali
(Indonesia) in 2014. You can read about and see this beautiful building (and
its beautiful compression mould !) in a Last Straw article at
http://thelaststraw.org/straw-bale-in-bali/ . I’m not sure how it has
performed regarding moisture, though when I saw Jeni at the 2016 ISBC in New
Zealand I think she indicated so far there were no problems. Maybe she can
offer more if she reads this. 


Nepal: Our BWB team plans to build the first straw bale building in Nepal in
October (actually the second if a very temporary building by others is
counted). Nepal has a monsoon season and moderate to high humidity. We have
full confidence straw bale building is suitable in Nepal’s climate (which
varies considerably with elevation) with normal care, given all I have
stated above. 


I’ve attached humidity data for the above countries (including Benin) that
is useful to compare. Sri Lanka has the highest average annual average
humidity (79.8%) of these countries, and Bali and and Nepal have the highest
single monthly average (85%). You might want to obtain and compare average
rainfall data also.


I’ll add that SB buildings have existed for many years in the rainy (winter)
northwest U.S., and humid (summer) climates in the northeast and southeast
U.S. that have performed well, including the famous Burritt Mansion in
Alabama, built in 1938.


The bottom line for me is that high rainfall and high humidity by themselves
will not cause a straw bale building to fail due to moisture. Good
design/detailing, good construction, and reasonable maintenance are what
allow all SB buildings to endure, maybe even indefinitely.  However, if
water enters a wall due to failure of one or more of the three good
practices I just mentioned, a SB building in a climate with high rainfall
and/or high humidity will be at greater risk of damage or failure.


Best regards.

Martin Hammer


Martin Hammer, Architect
Builders Without Borders
Berkeley, CA, USA

510-684-4488 (mobile US)

skype: martinfhammer




From: Gsbn <gsbn-bounces at sustainablesources.com> on behalf of Bob Theis
<bobtheis3 at gmail.com>
Reply-To: GSBN <GSBN at SustainableSources.com>
Date: Tuesday, July 11, 2017 at 1:18 PM
To: GSBN <GSBN at SustainableSources.com>
Subject: Re: [GSBN] Straw bale building in tropical areas


While working in Haiti I desperately wanted to test ways to create local
roof insulation,  to  alleviate the infra red oven created by  a tin roof.
My principal concern wasn’t rot, but critters nesting in it. My first notion
was to mix the local fibers with quicklime, but I didn't have a chance to
field test it. 


But we DO have a 2010 field test of straw bale construction there:  Martin
Hammer, what do you hear from the little cottage?



On Jul 11, 2017, at 11:49 AM, Derek Stearns Roff <derek at unm.edu> wrote:


I don’t have the experience in a very humid, continuously warm tropical
environment, to propose a natural building solution.  Looking at the current
local solutions is always a good place to start.  There is also the question
of what materials are available.  But starting from a place of ignorance
about the place, if I wanted to include lots of insulation where mold and
moisture are a big concern, then I would consider blown-in fiberglass (NOT
fiberglass batts), which has several moisture/mold advantages.   


Best wishes,


Derek Roff

derek at unm.edu



On Jul 11, 2017, at 2:25 PM, Noé Solsona <noe at anarchitecture.org> wrote:


Hello ballers,

Am still looking for advices on that topic because I have more request for
building with bale in hot and humid climate like Guadeloupe, Benin, Sénégal.

Many thanks in advance.

Le 29 juin 2017 à 08:17, Noé Solsona <noe at anarchitecture.org> a écrit :

Hello Derek and Bill,

Thanks for your returns, and advice regarding analyzing the moisture effect.
I definitely agree with you Bill, that’s why I wrote to the GSBN to ask how
to do and if it’s possible or suitable to build with straw in tropical
climate ? Because I don’t want to be dependent and risk the failure of the
air conditioning.

So am very wondering if it’s possible to build with straw ??
Would it be better with light straw ?

Thanks for your advices.

Le 28 juin 2017 à 19:47, Bill Christensen <lists at sustainablesources.com> a
écrit :

Hi Noé, et al,

Over the years I've become a fan of the concept of passive sustainability:
specifically, what happens to the building when power and mechanical systems
such as air conditioning fail?

In the wall described below, you're creating a dependence on the air
conditioning system, and therefore setting yourself up for potential wall
failure if the A/C goes down for an extended period, whether due to
something as simple as financial constraints or as extensive as global

Better to build without such dependencies whenever possible.

On 6/26/17 4:26 PM, Noé Solsona wrote:

But I also hear that it could be possible if we have a vapor block membrane
in the outside, and clay plastering in the inside with a good and strong air
conditioning system.
What do you think ?

Bill Christensen
http://SustainableSources.com <http://sustainablesources.com/> 




On 6/26/17, 2:26 PM, "Gsbn on behalf of Noé Solsona"
<gsbn-bounces at sustainablesources.com on behalf of noe at anarchitecture.org>


Hello Balers,


Hope you are all fine in the full season arriving ?


Back from the ESBG in Venise where I made great contact to go and give
courses on plastering bales and mechanization of plastering, I got one
request for building with bales in Benin.


Did any one of you did such experience or heard of such one in this kind of
area’s ?


I know that I have always heard that we can build with bales all around the
world where there is straw, but not in tropical places.

But I also hear that it could be possible if we have a vapor block membrane
in the outside, and clay plastering in the inside with a good and strong air
conditioning system.

What do you think ?


Thank you very much in advance for your brith advices ;)

Noé from France





Noé Solsona 

ZI des Monts du Matin

100 rue des Lauriers

26730 EYMEUX


P. : +33 (0) 617 421 050

T. : +33 (0) 482 533 110

F. : +33 (0) 482 533 111

noe at calyclay.com




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