Eco-friendly Straw-Bale Construction Gaining Popularity among the French

The Case for Straw Assemblages
From a business standpoint, building from straw is cheap. Especially when you think of the normal costs for heating and cooling, the material itself, if assembled properly, provides this naturally. Straw is a natural insulator against temperature as well as sound, creating a very convenient atmosphere inside the buildings. It combines well with other natural material such as lime and clay for a pretty and innovative design. It is not only readily available, but also a raw material that is high in abundance in Europe, France being no exception.

Perhaps most importantly, considering the times we live in, straw-bale construction achieves the best CO² balance out of all building materials. The material is renewable, almost always locally available and very low energy when it comes to construction. There are many ways of incorporating straw bales to achieve construction goals: it can be used for the foundation of a building, mainly for its insulation or as outer insulation for buildings made of wood. Contrary to popular opinion, straw-bale houses offer a distinctly solid foundation and durability. In addition, the straw loses flammability after compression. It does, however, need coating for protection against water and humidity, like all plant material.
When it comes to combining environmental sustainability with economics, straw-bale construction surpasses many conventional, industrially fabricated materials in this respect for the following reasons listed below:

  • Higher insulation quality for a convenient indoor temperature the whole year round
  • Cheaper and renewable
  • Sound insulation as a natural property
  • Healthy indoors (less chemical adhesives and paint)
  • Lower emissions of gray energy, stray requires virtually no processing before it can be used as a building material and can be composted if the building needs to be torn down. Also to be considered are the low transportation costs as it is readily available in most locations.
  • Properties in CO² storage
  • Creation of new jobs/replacement of old jobs and
  • Thereby supporting the local economy
  • Development of technical skills
  • It is 100% natural, and consequently, renewable and sustainable from the initial to the final stages of construction

Growing Fondness among the French
More French builders are beginning to see its practicality and potential of increasing sustainability in the industrial sector. One can find wheat straw in all rural corners of France. It is the most commonly used type of straw in the country. Roughly half of the straw used in construction in France comes from a radius of 50km.

It is estimated that 4000 buildings in France have been constructed from straw-bales. The country currently boasts the most dynamic branch of straw-bale construction in Europe and more and more builders are jumping on board. Women notably make up a larger segment of the players involved in the process than in other construction sectors. The French are also trying to implement straw-bale construction for public buildings. The “do-it-yourself” straw-bale buildings are most commonly found in the regions of Brittany, Rhône-Alpes, Centre Val-de-Loire and in Cathar Country. Laws and regulations have been introduced so that straw-bale construction is legally recognized by the authorities, including insurance providers, which is a great relief for professional businesses.

The French Association for Straw-Bale Construction (RFCP) was founded in 2006. It currently has 550 private members, 250 staff members and 50 partner unions and training centres. Its aims: promoting straw-bale construction and distributing information on its properties and distinct advantages over other types of construction. Emile Feuillette, an engineer from Montagis, built the first such house in 1921, which is still standing today. The RFCP has since then acquired the property and made it to the national centre for straw-bale construction.

Data was taken from the RFCP. We would like to give special thanks to Eddy Fruchard, its chairman and expert in answering technical questions.

Further Reading:
Headquarters of Centre National de la Construction Paille in Montargis.
Headquarters of Réseau Francais de la Construction Paille in Toulouse.