Huff and puff: Is straw the future of New Zealand house construction?

If there’s one thing (other than Clickhole and Donald Trump) we’re obsessed with here at Idealog, it’s alternative housing. We’ve recently looked at people living on floating homes, people living on floating boats, and people living in a number of (okay, five) other alternatives to either a drafty, $2million 100-year-old villa or a uber-drab $1.5 million townhouse in an any-colour-as-long-as-it’s-grey pop-up suburb.

Today’s alternative? Straw houses! According to the organisers of the International Straw Build Conference at Methven in Canterbury next month, ‘straw-earth buildings’ are the way of the future for New Zealand housing, as supplies of cement and steel are forecasted to deplete over the next 15-or-so years, and as the price of heating (and cooling) a house increases.

Image: a straw building being built

About 200 builders, home owners, engineers, architects and designers, building officials, housing providers, building suppliers, farmers, researchers and academics, the conference includes local and international straw building leaders discussing a variety of natural building issues.

“There are some exciting developments in straw panel construction and we are really excited by this and think that there is a real potential for this in New Zealand,” says conference organiser Min Hall, “particularly in Canterbury, the grain bowl of New Zealand, where there is an enormous need for warm, healthy houses with a light environmental footprint.”

Video: Craig White, the International Straw Build Conference’s keynote speaker, on straw construction

As well as educating the curious on the benefits of natural building, conference organisers are advocating for increased local government support for straw and other natural building practices. Hall says New Zealand has a number of Earth Building Standards which allow local authorities to assess building applications using earth, but other forms of construction, such as straw bale and hempcrete, have no official guidelines.

“It is fairly straightforward to apply for building consent for a conventional timber framed house because there are set guidelines and standards. Where these don’t exist it is much harder and there are fewer people with expertise,” Hall says. “But the research and development into natural buildings is carried out by people without backing from government or business. We want to change that.”