A fireproof house – made of straw

This unique design, using hay bales with fire-retardant cladding, can withstand the heat of the fiercest bushfire.

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The first bushfire- resistant straw bale house is being built in Australia, after trials held earlier this year. The design was tested by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) using a bushfire simulator. CSIRO fire safety engineer Alex Webb says that the materials performed well. “After radiant heat exposure, the fire was intensified to the face of the building, reaching over 1 000°C for almost two minutes. This simulated a big fire,” he says. “The final stage – ‘post-fire exposure’ – simulated heavy fuel burnout around the house. The materials were shown to be viable for bushfire-prone areas.”

CSIRO fire safety engineer Alex Webb helps to oversee construction of the bushfire- resistant house in Daylesford, Victoria. When complete, it will be able to withstand a major bushfire. Courtesy of CSIRO

The house was conceived by Joost Bakker, who specialises in designing buildings made of waste material. It is constructed of straw bales set into a recycled steel frame with magnesium oxide cladding. Polyurethane fire sealant increases fire resistance.
The house is being built in Victoria as a home for mineral water entrepreneur Mitch Watson, and will be set on a cliff top. It will feature a sod-covered roof that captures pollution through ‘living’ soils.

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Bakker says that from the inception of the project, he and Watson have shared a passion for sustainability. “We’ve worked hard to source materials locally,” he explains. “On one of my first visits to the site, we passed a paddock of oats that were about to be harvested. Mitch asked the farmer about the possibility of baling the straw after the harvest and he was keen to oblige. So the local farmer’s straw will be the basis of the new home.” CSIRO research warns that by 2020 Australia could expect a greater number of extreme fire weather days, longer fire seasons and more multiple fires.