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BaleHaus at Bath
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About the project

Researchers at the University of Bath’s BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials are researching low carbon alternatives to building materials currently used by the construction industry.

Researchers at the Centre are developing new ways of using timber and other crop-based materials such as hemp, natural fibre composites and straw bales.

Straw is the ultimate environmentally-friendly building material since it is renewable and is a by-product of farming.

The crop used for the straw can be grown locally, and because it absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows, buildings made from it can be seen as having zero, or even a negative carbon footprint.

Also, due to its high insulating properties, houses made of straw bales need almost no conventional heating, keeping running costs low and minimising environmental impact.

The research team is assessing straw bales and hemp as building materials so that they can be used more widely in the building industry for housing, helping the UK achieve its targets for reducing carbon emissions.

Professor Peter Walker, Director of the Centre, is leading the research. He said: “The environmental impact of the construction industry is huge. For example, it is estimated that worldwide the manufacture of cement contributes up to ten per cent of all industrial carbon dioxide emissions.exterior1-modcell

“We are looking at a variety of low carbon building materials including crop-based materials, innovative uses of traditional materials and developing low carbon cements and concretes to reduce impact of new infrastructure.

“As well as reducing the environmental footprint, many low carbon building materials offer other benefits, including healthier living through higher levels of thermal insulation and regulation of humidity levels.”

The two storey BaleHaus built on campus is made using ‘ModCell’ - pre-fabricated panels consisting of a wooden structural frame infilled with straw bales or hemp and rendered with a breathable lime-based system.

ModCell is the creation of White Design in Bristol and Integral Structural Design in Bath. Other partners on the research project are Agrifibre Technologies, Lime Technology, Eurban, the Centre for Window & Cladding Technology and Willmott Dixon.

The BaleHaus at Bath, opened by Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud in November 2009, is being monitored for a year for its insulating properties, humidity levels, air tightness and sound insulation qualities.

Press releases:

Straw house can withstand hurricanes (and the Big Bad Wolf!) - May 2010

Low carbon straw house passes fire test - Nov 2009

Kevin McCloud visits University's very own grand design - Nov 2009

University has grand designs to build a house of straw - July 2009