Nick Morrison, science correspondent for The Orkney News took on a different role on Sunday 10th of September when he invited science festival goers to take a tour of his self-build straw bale house.
Nick gave the audience an informative and fascinating account of how to build a house using the straw bale technique. With foundations made of Orkney stone from Quoyloo Quarry this 2 storey dwelling is warm in winter and cool in summer. Finished off in lime the house is able to ‘breathe’.
Concerns about vermin infesting a straw construction were quickly dispelled when Nick explained that mice etc need voids, water and a food source and none of those are available with this type of construction. The bales are pressed down to such an extent that they are compacted with no spaces and they are dry.
The house is served with a ground source heat pump but there is also a small peat fired stove in the main living quarters. Nick even cuts the peats for his stove. The electricity source is on economy 10 and is pulsed to time with the cheaper rate. The electricity cables run through conduits. The ground source heat pump is dearer to put in than an air source one being larger but it is also more efficient. The water is also heated this way.
At the corners of this warm and comfortable house there are wind frames: reinforced steel joints. This means the walls do not warp or strain with the force of Orkney’s strong winds and the weight of the turf roof.
Nick explained that any kind of straw bale can be used but that barley straw is kinder to the hands when you are working with it. Hay is not suitable.
In constructing the dwelling Nick was helped by Barbara Jones of Straworks , Stan Pike, Orkney’s planning officer, an architect, and his extremely patient wife. It took a week to reach the 1st floor and another week for the 2nd floor at a cost of about £1000 per square metre. He assured us that it was a construction technique particularly suited to those who wished to self build.
If you would like to read how he built Orkney’s house of straw then click on the links.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame