Panorama Straw houses: new trend in Green Living
When it comes to housing most young Czechs dream of a trendy city flat but some pioneers of Green Living are heading out of town to re-build country cottages and acquire the skill of making their own home-grown produce.
In town baking one’s own bread, when there are several dozen different kinds now available on the market, is a fashionable trend, but for many proponents of Green Living it’s a way of life. Some have now gone a step further. Instead of rebuilding country cottages they are designing and building their homes from scratch using straw bale construction technology. The inspiration comes from abroad – the technology has been developed and perfected in the US, Australia and Great Britain but in the Czech Republic young people looking to build their own straw house are largely dependent on sharing know-how. There are some 40 straw houses now scattered around the Czech Republic – all built in the past decade – and most people who have one helped build someone else’s home first in order to acquire the skills. Jakub Wihan, a construction engineer, designed his straw home and built it in just three weeks with the help of volunteers.
“I like the simplicity of the design and the healthy lifestyle. You won’t find any harmful chemicals in this home. Just bales of straw, a frame and plastering inside and out. There are no sharp angles or corners here, I wanted a round shape to make the inside feel cozier.”
The house was built out of 350 bales of straw, using old doors and windows to save money. Overalls it cost 400,000 crowns and Jakub is hoping to save more on its excellent insulation qualities. The house is fire resistant and meets all existing construction regulations. Its new owner is confident it will still be standing –and serving its purpose in 200 years time. He plans to furnish it and move in this summer. Meanwhile, his team of helpers all have plans for their own dream home.
Young woman: “I would love to build something like this, even if it is just a small cottage.” Young man: “We are planning to build a house like this of our own.” Young man: “This is about simplicity and a healthy lifestyle.”
People who have undertaken to build their own straw homes say that being actively involved in the process gave them a stronger sense of ownership and a feeling of immense satisfaction. They have a home they can fully identify with. While the building of straw houses is still regarded with some degree of scepticism by the locals architect Bohumir Prokop says things may be different in a few decades.
“It is natural that you see young people embracing this trend, people who favour Green Living in more ways than one and who are proud to own a house with a negative carbon footprint. This is not for our generation or that of our fathers. It is for the young in search of a different life-style.”
“I was first inspired by a lecture at the construction faculty in Brno, four or five years ago. It was called healthy homes and focussed on straw-bale construction. I was hooked right away although at the time my interest centred mainly around clay houses. I was fascinated by the old building techniques of our predecessors: that they dug a hole in the ground for a cellar and then proceeded to use the material in the form of clay to build a construction that lasted –in some cases – 500 years.”
Viktor Karlík’s one-story family home, which he now inhabits with his wife Katarina and his two children, was a great learning experience on the grounds of which he can advice others. Finding an architect to design such a house proved extremely difficult and numerous problems cropped up in the process of building it, such as finding bales suitable for construction and builders who were willing to try their hand at it. Gradually he got together a team of experts interested in Green Living and straw houses and they set up an association called Baobab that now offers its services to people who are interested in building a straw house. Although his interest in clay houses persists he says the association specializes in straw as its main building material.
“We are focussing on straw as a building material because of its potential: it is easily accessible and allows a great deal of flexibility. The size of the bales we use is quite large 70x 50 cm and 40 in height so it is easier to build with than bricks and provides much better insulation. Of course you need to use other materials for the ground-work, roof and windows, but we try to use straw wherever possible.”
Viktor Karlík says the interest generated by his house and others that followed it was considerable and soon the Baobab association was organizing weekend workshops and lectures for the public. In the past 3 years the association has organized 15 workshops and 30 lectures for members of the public. More are in the pipeline this spring. Moreover Green Living enthusiasts can look forward to a visit by an internationally respected authority in the field. Barbara Jones, a leading authority in straw-bale construction, is to lecture in the Czech Republic sometime this year.