When we talk about green and natural building we mean construction that uses renewable non-toxic materials. We mean finding materials as locally as we can. We mean construction that results in energy efficient buildings. We mean building buildings that are healthy to be in and healthy for the planet. 

FAQs

What does green building cost?
What is the best way to build?
Do green/natural buildings last?
What is Passive House?
What is straw bale building?
How well does straw bale work for insulation?
Does straw bale meet building codes?
Does straw bale meet fire code?
What about moisture and straw bale?
What about pests and straw bale?
How sound proof are straw bale walls?

What does green building cost?

Buildings basically have two costs: 1) building/renovating 2) operating costs. Each month most building owners pay a mortgage and operation costs (heat/cooling, electrical, etc). Both of these costs should be considered in a price of a home. A "green" home does not necessarily cary more construction costs than building a conventional home, though depending on the design, a high-performance house (green or not) likely will cost more to build than a low-performance building. However, high performance buildings (by definition) cost less to operate. For example, we did a renovation on a 90 year old home and reduced energy use by 80%.

Sometimes people ask about cost-per-square-foot. Without seeing plans estimating cost-per-square-foot is very difficult. A great many factors will affect cost, for example a kitchen room tends to cost more to build than a room without the appliances, counters, cabinets, electrical and plumbing demands that a kitchen has. Here is a good article on why estimates based on simply cost-per-square-foot is dangerous

What is the best way to build?

We can't answer this, except to say we hope that people strongly reflect on what kind of shelter they want and how the shelter will interact with the surrounding environment. The "best" materials will depend on climate, budget, location, and local resources. We like to work with straw bales, but we don't always do that, it depends on a number of factors. You can build a high-performance green home using all kinds of materials, however, for many reasons, including the environment, we strongly advise using low-carbon materials. Also, here is a good article on thinking about the best way to build.

Do green/natural buldings last?

Yes! There are naturally built buildings that are centuries old around the world. The oldest straw bale building is well over 100 years old. You need air and water for the straw to decompose and straw bale homes are highly resistant to moisture build-up. Lime and earth plasters have been used for centuries and last a very, very long time.  A properly designed and maintained naturally built home will last a very long time (as it should) 

What is Passive House?

Passive House (PH) buildings follow a rigorous standard for energy efficiency, based on measurable results of air tightness and energy use. Passive House buildings need very low inputs for heating and cooling. The result is homes and buildings that are extremely energy efficient while maintaining high levels of comfort and durability. PH buildings have been constructed around the world with great success including in Canada and the United States. Over 40,000 PH buildings have been constructed and certified worldwide. The EU has mandated that by 2018 all public new builds will meet the PH standard.  See this 90 second video that covers the Passive House basics. The Fourth Pig is a proud active member of Passive Buildings Canada

What is straw bale building?

Straw bale buildings use bales of straw (such as wheat, hemp, etc.) as building insulation, structural elements or both. In 2015 the University of Bath in the UK completed a major research project on straw bale building and declared it "almost too good to be true."

How well does straw bale work for insulation?

Straw bales act as a great form of insulation. Straw bale buildings are very well insulated rated with R values of 25 to over 40. This is much better than most conventional homes.

Does straw bale meet building codes?

Yes!  In Canada (and across the world) straw bale is used for residential, commercial and institutional buildings. Toronto’s High Park Community Kitchen building is straw bale, Mountain Equipment Co-op in Ottawa uses straw bales, Stanners Vineyard in Ontario, and Orifino Vineyards in BC have straw bale buildings, the U.S. Postal Service has started to use straw bale as insulation, a five-star lodge in South Africa is a straw bale building, and there is even a straw bale hotel in Switzerland. There are over 300 straw bale homes and buildings in Ontario, including an art gallery, food bank, food processing facility, outdoor education centre, and more.

Does straw bale meet fire code?

Yes! Test after test show that straw bale walls meet or exceed fire code safety standards. A conventional wall (wood frame/drywall) is designed to withstand temperatures of 760 degrees Celsius (1,400 F) for 30 minutes. The National Research Council of Canada did a test on a plastered bale wall and it withstood direct flames of 760 degrees Celsius for two hours before a crack appeared. This rating is equivalent to cement (which means it can be used commercially).
 
Additional fire tests have been done by The Appropriate Technology Group at Vienna Technical Institute, The Danish Fire Technical Institute, University of California, and others. Depending on the size of the bale and the use of plaster the ratings ranged from 90 minutes to over two hours. In fact individual plastered bales were tested to the standards of Australian bushfires (up to 29 kilowatts per square meter of heat) and zero ignited. This qualifies them as “non-combustible” under Australian Bushfire code AS 3959.
 
Fire requires fuel, oxygen and high temperatures. Straw bales are highly condensed, decreasing the availability of oxygen and are coated as well.

What about moisture and straw bale walls?

A coated straw bale wall is hygrophilic, which means it is vapour permeable and allows the moisture to wick in and then wick right back out again. People say the walls “breathe” because they allow moisture to leave. Permeable plasters like lime/earth are used to coat the bales.

What about pests and straw bale?

Straw has no nutritional value (unlike hay, which has seeds) and is therefore of little interest to rodents. Also, rodents would have to eat through thick plaster to get to a dense wall that is not food. Straw bales are not carriers of insects, the density of the packs makes it very difficult to move inside.

How soundproof are straw bale walls?

Straw bale walls provide a very low sound transmission, and vary in Sound Transmission Class from 50-70, which is significantly beyond the standard wall type with a ~40 STC rating.