Note on Straw Bale and Codification

Many efforts have been made to have straw bale construction included in building codes.As time goes on, these efforts are likely to meet with greater and greater success. Success creates both benefits and disadvantages to bale builders. Inclusion in the building code allows owner-builders to use the code to create their own plans with some confidence that they will receive approval. The elimination of architects and engineers from the planning process removes a significant cost from straw bale projects. On the downside, straw bale building is still at a very young stage in its development. While codification could make approvals simpler to obtain, it also poses the risk of freezing the technique before adequate experimentation leads us to sound standard practices.

Were building codes flexible in nature, immediate codification of straw bale would be an undeniable asset. However, codes tend to simplify, overprotect, and narrow options. It remains quite likely that as techniques, approaches, and our understanding of how bales work as a building material change for the better, they will outstrip the provisions of any existing codes and require a willingness on behalf of code officials to change and update their regulations.

Building codes in North America are currently undergoing substantial changes that may have positive effects for bale builders. Existing codes are largely prescriptive, meaning that they prescribe actual techniques, materials, and practices. But the next round of building codes are going to be performance based, meaning that performance parameters will be established, and any building system that can be shown to meet them should be accepted. With the available testing data for bale walls, meeting performance requirements will be much simpler than trying to fit bale building into the existing prescriptions.

We look forward to the day when straw bale construction is an accepted and widespread practice.We're also glad to still have some of the freedom made possible by the case-by-case nature of project approvals. Let the learning continue

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