House of the week: Straw bale house

JILL WILD
Last updated 05:00 12/12/2012
Perry straw bale hous
ROOM WITH A VIEW: The thick walls mean the windowsills are wide enough to sit on.

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A substantial farm homestead on the flats of the Wairarapa with an inspiring view out to the Tararua mountains belies its humble straw bale structure.

The 465m sq home suits the surrounding pastoral splendour and the straw it is made from was grown and baled locally.

Owner Sue Perry is proud her home was the first straw bale house in the Wairarapa. When the family house burnt down they were determined to construct an eco-friendly build. After much research they commissioned Christchurch architect Gerald Carter to finalise plans.

"The local authority knew little about the concept, so my husband Michael went down armed with books and explained the whole idea. He was very patient with them," she explains.

Perry says the success of the construction is due to the foundation and the need to ensure every bale is seated on a solid concrete base. Over 10 truckloads of ready cement were poured before any structure began.

The footprint is substantial as they family wanted a big open plan kitchen area, suitable for farm workers and helpers to congregate and be fed.

The result, a room with six ovens and space for four to work side by side, it's 13 metres long and seven metres wide, sufficient to host the local hunt club, which they do annually for a hunt breakfast.
"With the rayburn burning all the time it's the one place in the house where everyone gathers."

The front door foyer is part of the Perry design.

"I wanted an area around the front door so I could direct where people go when they arrive - I can either guide them into the formal area or the kitchen. And I wanted the upper level to be open to give an expansive feel."

The sitting and dining area is open plan, with the option of extending the area into the kitchen through big doors. The floors are matai, boards rescued from the original family home, oiled to enhance the colour with the unexpected benefit of an appealing perfume.

Built-in book shelves around the country fireplace accentuate the thickness of the walls. A piece of raw macrocarpa grown on the farm forms the mantelpiece.

They have used aluminium joinery for the windows, making the sills long and wide enough for people to use them as seating. 

"I loved the concept, it reminds me of places I saw in the UK, with deep windowsills," Perry says.

"When you have thick walls you can't really put blinds against the windows because it means reaching in to pull them down so shutters are the answer," she adds. "They're made from macrocarpa we milled off the farm and give a real farm feel which is just perfect."

The two storey home is remarkably quiet and warm. There is noticeably no echo in the wooden-floored rooms and the rayburn and two small wall radiators fed by it, are sufficient to warm the entire house.

A 'truth' window beside the front door displays the straw bale structure so guests understand what the home is all about.

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"When you have thick walls you can't really put blinds against the windows because it means reaching in to pull them down so shutters are the answer," Perry says. "They're made from macrocarpa we milled off the farm and give a real farm feel which is just perfect."

The second storey has a master bedroom and ensuite, rooms for each of the children and a fourth room that the family calls the 'long room'.

"It's great," Perry says. "We've had six sleeping there quite comfortably and 14 overnight when necessity prevails."

THE DETAILS

Build cost: Approx $500,000.

Size: 465 square metres

Materials: Timber frame, straw bales, matai flooring recycled from original homestead, macrocarpa flooring milled from trees on the farm.

Energy efficiency: Rayburn solid fuel fire in the kitchen, solid fuel open fire in the living room, wool insulation and straw bales.

Architect: Gerald Carter, Christchurch

Done Right: It's incredibly quiet to live in because of the thickness of the walls, despite having wooden floors there is no echoing. And it's a sustainable build, thus environmentally friendly.

Done wrong: Structurally nothing, the flow works well, the single small garage with internal access means we can arrive in from the farm on the bike, and go straight inside. But, done again I would reverse the positioning of the mudroom and bathroom.

Unexpected: The quietness - that's something you can't visualise.

Recommend: The use of straw bale construction, we're thrilled with it, and I hate pink batts, but as farmers of wool of course we're going to promote wool insulation.
Next Time: We'd be building smaller, so the living room, for instance wouldn't be so big, but for now it works for two just as well as for when we are entertaining 14 and that's a huge tick for the design.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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