House of Straw

By: Althea Paul
By: Althea Paul

If you huff and puff you won't blow this house down. It's an ecological, geothermal, technological house made out of straw.

David Cunningham is speaking about the construction of his three story home in Nelson County, completed about four years ago. He moved from New Jersey to Virginia with thoughts of building a different type of house, one made out of straw bales. That concept may seem strange to many.

More than 600 bales of straw make up the Cunningham eco home. The bales are wrapped in chicken wire, threaded with twine, and held in place with bamboo sticks. Three layers of stucco and a coat of color then surround the bales. The straw provides a natural thermal quality, keeping in heat or coolness.

But that's not all. The house also uses what's called radiant heat where rows of water pipes are installed underneath the floors on the first floor and around the walls on the second floor.

The water from the tubes can either heat up the house in the winter using either the sunlight let in from the greenhouse or a water heater and even keep it cool in the summer.

And with using the earth's natural resources the Cunninghams are also saving a lot of money on utilities in the 7,000 square foot home.

It took about 18 months and a cost of more than $400,000 to build the straw bale house.

Cunningham says it's only one of three such houses in the area, and is the biggest straw bale house in the state, and possibly the country.


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