When you tell people you want to build a strawbale house, they often make the same joke. “You want to build a house out of straw?” “But haven’t you heard the story of the three little pigs?”
We all know how the story of the three little pigs and the wolf who blew their houses down. All but one. Well, here’s the sequel.
You see after the wolf left, the third little pig lived happily in his brick house. It was springtime and he could let the breeze blow through the windows. He could hear the birds chirping, and all was right with the world. But as the seasons changed, so did his comfort level.
Spring quickly turned to summer. He hadn’t thought out his overhang well enough to keep the smoldering sun out of his windows, and even if that weren’t a factor, the humidity in the air made the house feel like a sauna. As a result, he decided to install duct work and an A/C unit to keep cool. This made him comfortable when he was at home, but he was rarely at home. You see, he had to work countless hours to pay for all of the electricity the A/C was using.
One fall day, a fourth little pig came walking down the road. First, he saw the devastating aftermath of the other poor piggies’ houses. The sticks strewn about, and the piles of straw laying here and there.
As he was walking towards the third little pig’s house, he saw him sitting on the front porch and struck up a conversation. He asked what had happened to the other two houses, and was told the story of the “Three Little Pigs.” The fourth pig was saddened to hear the news of what the Big Bad Wolf had done, and told the third pig that he was glad he was alright. The third pig agreed, but then told him of his woes, and how he wished he had planned his house out a little better.
Just then, the fourth pig had an idea. He thought they could build a brand new house. They could use the straw and the sticks. The straw would make great insulation, the sticks could be used as a timber frame, and they could make some plaster to cover the straw and make it strong enough that no wolf no matter how big or bad could blow it down. If they made the overhang stick out just right, and put most of the windows on the south side, they could block out the high summer sun while letting in the low winter sun for warmth. They could make the floor out of the same plaster as the walls to act as a thermal mass that would store the winter sun’s heat during the day, and release it at night.
The third pig thought about it for a minute, then realized it might just work. Why not? The materials were mostly already there and he didn’t have much to lose, so they got straight to work.
By the time winter rolled around, they had just finished construction. The cold came. The house stayed mostly warm. There were a few very cold days that they had to build a fire, but the wood was free, and they could use the heat to make delicious, healthy meals. The third pig was content, but was still skeptical about whether or not the temperature inside could be regulated in the summer so he kept his job just in case.
Spring came and went, and summer reared it’s heavy head again. But, to the third piggy’s surprise, it stayed very cool in the new house. The walls were able to absorb the moisture caused by the humidity, they “breathed,” and the sun was no longer radiating the floor like it was in the winter. Instead, it helped bring the cool temperature of the earth into the house. The house was well ventilated and any heat that came in would rise and exit, There was no need for expensive air conditioning. The third piggy was ecstatic, he was able to quit his job and they both lived happily ever after.