It didn’t work out so well for the three little pigs, but it turns out that houses made of straw may be more resistant to huffing and puffing than the old fairytale makes out. Tests have been carried out at the University of Nevada to see whether houses made mainly of straw can remain stable during serious earthquakes. And they can.
The houses, designed by the team at the University of Nevada and the non-profit organisation ‘Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building’ (PAKSBAB), were tested at the Large-Scale Structures Laboratory at Nevada and subjected to seven simulated earthquakes of increasing magnitude. The houses remained standing even after the final and most powerful test.
Admittedly the houses are not just made of straw. The straw is used as a load-bearing component and for insulation, whilst the foundations rest on clay and gravel. Importantly, the houses are relatively simple to build and all the additional materials are cheap and locally available in developing countries, giving them an advantage over existing straw house designs.
There have already been nine such houses built in Mansehra in Pakistan, a region devastated by an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale in 2005, which left over three million people homeless. The results of the earthquake tests are encouraging and may help minimise the impact of future earthquakes in countries such as Pakistan. PAKSBAB already runs a programme which helps local residents learn how to build the houses.
Meanwhile in the UK, North Kesteven District Council in Lincolnshire has recently announced that they too will soon be building straw houses as a way of providing affordable housing. The straw provides such good insulation that the houses will not require a central heating system.
Straw houses are showing a lot of promise in both developing and developed countries. Who thinks those three little pigs will be moving back to their old digs?