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Could Rice Straw be the Answer to Building with Bales in Humid Climates?

Written by Andrew Morrison

I received the following comment on my old blog. It got me thinking about building with bales in humid climates and rice straw. I noticed that many of the humid climates are actually where rice grows and thrives. To that end, I wondered if it might really be possible to build with bales in a humid climate if the bales were rice straw. I am not in a position to undertake this study, but want to present a challenge to you all:

rice field in BaliAre you willing to do the unbiased research to see how rice straw holds up under humid conditions?  This will need to be a scientific experiment to hold mustard with critics. If you are interested, please let me know. Perhaps we can get some funding to do the research if your proposal is strong. I am excited about this chance to expand the world of straw bale construction.

Here’s what the blogger had to say.

Andrew, I just happened to run across this post and comment section as I was searching through various alternative construction sites. I am not an expert in any shape or form on any of these methods but I noticed the questions from the people in Southeast Asia about bale construction there .

One of the sites on materials I was looking at on my earlier searches for information made the claim that rice straw takes twice as long to decompose as wheat straw because of the higher silica content.

Whether this is true or not I cannot say. I simply wanted to pass the information along so others working in these areas might be alerted to check further on whether or not this is indeed true. If it is it might positively effect the viability of building with bales in humid climates in areas that have access to inexpensive rice straw.

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51 Responses

  1. Andrew,
    Rice is grown in se Missouri and we hoped to use the resource, but, rice grown in this area is harvested in Nov. and Dec. when the air is cooler and the days are short and the ground is still very damp from being flooded to grow the rice. The straw does not dry properly. We picked several bales at random in a storage barn in May, six months after being baled, and testing with a moisture meter they were still 22 to 23% moisture and had a sour oder. They had a lot of green stem, not an attractive color. I had one in the back of my Bronco for about a week and when I opened the bale it was full of white mold dust. If rice straw is used here it would have to be dried artifically, not exactlly green as the electricity and fosil fuel needed to dry the straw. We are getting wheat straw out of Kansas that is harvested in late June in the heat of summer. It is a beautiful gold color and very dry. I am sure rice grown in a hot dry climate would not have the problems we have here. Thanks for the opportunity to comment

  2. I had rice straw (@ 98% silica, dry, golden, 15″ x 23″ x 46″ about, harvested in September) delivered in late October to my high desert home in Hesperia from a farm near Merced, CA. where it is hot & dry. In Vietnam, I remember seeing rice straw roofs & mats. 500 bales to build garden landscape walls. Code Enforcement has made me to move them off my acre & a half property. Anyone want to buy them? E-me.

  3. I’m a New Yorker living in the Philippines and I must say we have tons up on tons of rice straw. The problem is we have no baling machines at all in this part of the country. If anyone knows how to do straw bales by hand it would be a great help. Straw in this country is free from January to March, therefore we are able to get huge truck loads. If anyone would be interested in seeing video construction of the rice straw bale house please let me know.

  4. Dear Mr. Morrison,

    We are interested to ask your opinion whether you feel that the techniques and principles that you find applicable to straw may also be applicable to bagasse or the fibrous residue left over after sugar cane stalks are crushed to extract their juice. The Philippines is a sugar-producing country and we harvest sugar twice a year. It is just a waste that a lot of it is thrown away as not all can be consumed by farm animals.

    The other material we are also looking into is rice husk, or the skin of the rice after it has been milled. There is an abundant quantity of this, and is merely burned to waste.

    Another thing we would like to ask you is if you have a technology to bond these materials together and put them in a wooden frame, or tie them up, in the manner you have shown.

    We appreciate your inputs on these as we are keen on using the rice straw. Yet we also would like to know if the materials, bagasse sugar cane, and rice husks, will serve the same purpose as the rice straw since we have an abundance of these.

    By the way, is there a difference in technology with those advertised by ModCell in UK and with yours? Are the principles and techniques alike?

    We look forward to your reply on these things.

  5. Renee. Sorry for the long delay in getting back to you. I think it could work; however, the stalks of such material will be harder to notch I imagine so you may be better off with load bearing construction or a hybrid system in which the bales are not notched around framing.

    The husk would not work as it is so loose. If in a bag of some kind, it might be viable as a load bearing material, but I have some pretty significant doubts about this use. It’s great for composting toilets though! Probably not the scale of use needed to eliminate the burning though.

    ModCell is completely different than traditional straw bale construction. They can speak more to there process than I can. I just approved a new comment on the blog entry about ModCell that may give you some more input as top what they do. Best of luck!

  6. Rice straw and alang2 (Cylindrica imperata) both contain about 98% amorphous silica…another subject for making Roman Cement. We are living near the equator on the Indonesian side of Borneo and are trying many local materials for building. The above link to the baler is interesting, but we can access a baler I used at my paper factory that really compresses the materials…we can try both. A company in S. Africa make an anti fire and rot chemical that we can try. So now it comes down to finding a cheap supply of rice straw which is not grown in quantity in our area. We may stick with the Alang2 which is a junk weed and has a lot of good properties for thatching. What sort of protocols do we need to follow to conduct acceptable tests? We are bringing over some expert Balinese thatchers to show us how to make the beautiful roofs they do in Bali…why not incorporate the same material in the walls with bamboo for supports and framework? Suggestions welcome.

  7. If the material is used for thatching, it will most likely be acceptable for baling and building with. The keys are low moisture content, high rot and mold resistance, strong compaction, high insulative value, and fire resistance. Make sure it’s dry and then make some bales. I think that’s the best way to test the material: create the bales as you envision using them and then see how they perform. You can do fire tests, insulation test, and more on a small wall section roughly 8′ tall and 10′ long. You’ll be able to get a sense of the “product” from an even smaller stack/wall, I’m sure. Good luck and please do check back in and let me know what you discover!

  8. Dear All, I’m a travel consultant in travel tourism in Uganda, recently I attended a conference of Businesswomen entrepreneurs thus how I came across the RICE STRAW construction Info. I need to know more about it, how it’s done to end product and if you have show-houses I can visit. I‘m interested because I‘m also in real estate developing I build big projects for sell or rent and as Uganda is a Tropical country I guess it would work. Many thanks.

  9. Hi Alexis. The photo gallery would be a good place for you to see what’s possible. Rice straw bale construction is no different than any other type of bale construction so the process and results are the same.

  10. Question: What about pine straw/needles? I live in south-central GA (high humidity) and while we don’t have much naturally occuring straw in these parts, pine straw we have in abundance! I don’t know the dimensions of the bales, but I do know they’re wrapped in 2 strings. My 2 thoughts with this are that 1) it’s greener in not having to truck straw in, and (as was the theme of this post), 2) since pine straw is a native resource, it’s used to the high humidity levels and better equipped to handle it. Thoughts?

    PS – in researching this, I’ve found instances where people have successfully made cob with pine straw, but nowhere can I find anything on strawbale construction using it. I’m brand new to this (only discovered it as a construction method about a week ago, but have fallen absolutely in love it!), and am very definitely in the dreaming stage. Thanks for any help and advice 🙂

  11. Hi Beth. I think pine straw would be great for the reasons you mentioned. As long as the bales are tight, uniform, and dry, I see no problems with using them. Let me know what happens! I suggest a small structure in the backyard first as a test project.

  12. Way back in Aug of 2009 Hasan Morris Says:

    I’m a New Yorker living in the Philippines and I must say we have tons up on tons of rice straw. … If anyone would be interested in seeing video construction of the rice straw bale house please let me know.

    I would like to see this video or similar video. Does anyone know whether a study was done to see if mold develops less in rice straw since earlier posts? Is there more success with rice bales now?

  13. Rice straw is great to use and its biggest asset is that it is typically extremely densely baled. It has a high silicon content which has its pluses and minuses. Over all, it is a great straw to use.

  14. Im a student of Civil Engineering in the Philippines and is looking into Straw Bale application in the Philippine setting with our abundance of rice, corn and other grasses that can potentially be used I think it will be very effective in low cost housing I would also like to know how to bind the actual straw because we don’t have baler if someone could direct me to sites of actual baling or manual baling maybe we can find a way to do this. Comments much appreciated.

  15. Hi Anton. Manual baling tools have been an option since before there were baling machines, although they are hard to find now because the machines have replaced them. For a machine, you would need a tractor and a baler at the very least. A full set would also include a blade to mow the crop and a rake to turn it prior to baling. All of these machines are run behind a tractor. If you can hand cut the stalks and hand rake them, then a hand baler is certainly an option. If you can’t find one used some where (I don’t honestly know where else to look and I have yet to ind one in usable condition) then you can make your own. Basically a chamber for the straw with a compacting plate attached to a fulcrum handle. It’s all in the ability to compress the bale tightly. Hope that helps.

  16. I wonder about flood conditions effect in a completed rice straw house. I am moving to NE Thailand, well known for floods during rainy season, and wonder if I can construct my home at grade will it withstand flood waters. An alternative would be to drive piles and erect the building on a raised concrete platform as they build concrete homes.

  17. You would be much better off on a platform. Straw walls don’t like water and would not be a good choice for BOTH protection from flooding and the walls of your home. Either use them for walls (on a platform) or use them to stop water/floods as a sacrificial landscape wall. Don’t ask the home’s walls to stop flood waters though.

  18. Hi Andrew,

    Great site! I’m a architect in the Philippines. I was researching on straw bale construction and I appreciate all the information you have here. Have you already finished the research? I would love to hear your assessment. This construction method would be really beneficial for our country. Thanks.

  19. Hi Oscar. I have not done extensive research, but have certainly built with rice straw, and spoken with others who have as well, with great success. It seems to be a really good material to work with and it’s ability to shed water is quite impressive. I believe that since the grain is grown in standing water, the stalks have a natural ability to shed water which is a nice feature for a home!

  20. Hello to all of you, I am an architectural student from the Philippines and I am planning to use rice straws or alike as a material in my thesis. My thesis is a Farm Resort that resides in an existing cereal farm land. My doubts are, does it can stand the weather condition in our country which is a typhoon prone area, and how will the rice straw can be transform into blocks of straws because I haven’t seen a baler machine in the Philippines. I am hoping that you can help me regarding my thesis.

  21. Hi James. Rice should hold up really well as long as it is up above any flood plain. If it is kept dry, even a humid climate can work. The key is keeping it dry. In terms of making bales, you can use a hand baler or make your own. All you need is a form and a way to compress th straw into that form. A fulcrum woks really well.

  22. Thanks for the reply Mr Andrew I think I should put the walls on a stilt to avoid moisture contact to the soil. The only question that I need to find an answer of how to prove that rice straws or alike can be use in construction. I mean the scientific proof, Do you have data which can prove it? Like how much certain element was inside of these straw and what is the moisture absorption rate of this straw? If you don’t mind, do you have these data and care to share it to me? or to us? 😀 It will be a good help for me. Thanks 😀

  23. How about hemp bales. While not available in the US they could be obtained in Canada. Hemp has strong mold, bacteria, and heat resistant qualities.

  24. I have never used hemp bales. I think they would be great although I have one concern. Because hemp is so strong, fibrous and can be thick stalked, it may be difficult to retie, shape, and notch. I would love to hear from someone who has used them for more input.

  25. Well, we are recovering from all the identity thefts and are now back on building a straw bale home. What dates do you have open for constructing in FL and tell me about what kind of strawbale I should be looking at. Until I read these articles, I was for rice even tho it was a lot more and now I am not sure. It is very humid here and I don’t want rot. Everytime I thinki I have it, I don’t. I surely hope we get a house built before I die. I so enjoy reading your material. You are awesome!! Judy

  26. Glad to hear things are moving forward for you Judy. I think rice would be an acceptable option for you. It is a plant that grows in standing water so has a natural ability to resist rot. Another option could be rapeseed (flax), as it has a very oily and rot resistant stalk. My only concern would be the fire implications of a stalk covered in oil. I don’t KNOW that it would be an issue, but I do wonder. I don’t have any openings for a workshop in 2013 and I am currently going through host applications for 2014. That said, I can offer you a crew training, where I come to your site and train your crew on the job. This has worked very well for folks who need the help, but can’t host a workshop for one reason one another. You can learn about that by clicking the “Consulting” tab above in the banner.

  27. We’re just about to enter rice harvesting season in hot/humid Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan, and there will be a surplus of rice straw and husk.

    I wonder if I can use it as a replacement for straw in a natural fiber mesh tube, like Patti Stouters http://www.buildsimple.org?

  28. Andrew,

    Here is the interesting thing about the rice bales. I am renewable energy technician and I have a girlfriend in the Philippines. As a result, I would be able to do the research to determine the longevity and the usefulness of rice grass bales. Contact my email and we can discuss this a bit more.

  29. Hi Andrew, I’m an architect doing volunteer work in Nepal, and Cambodia. Rice in both, wheat also in Nepal make an opportunity to build straw bale.
    I’d be thankful for your or others insights into this.
    We have five Nepal project sites and two Cambodia sites. Both have clinics of bamboo and straw thatch roofs. All to be model sustainable sites for research and education.
    Those we team up with there are open to alternative ways, though their social culture must be maintained.
    Nepal straw availability combines with our teamwork to convert upper kathmandu valley back to organic. Now 22 of 78 completely converted, more in process via organic composting business.
    After earthquake they have asked me to help with other methods. Straw bale andsand bag building methods are good possibilities.
    Please reply or email me at innovdes@earthlink.
    Mark Grantham
    Los Angeles, CA

  30. Hi Mark. That is very exciting. I love the idea of bringing straw bale to this area as a means to increase the sustainability and “green” factor for the region. My initial thought is for you to contact Kelly Lerner as she has done extensive straw bale work in China and wrote a paper on the challenges faced, etc. She was honored by the UN with the “World Habitat Award” in 2005 for her work there and could be a great resource for you moving forward. She’s also super kind and a wonderful woman just to know! Here’s a link to her paper. You can reach Kelly at One World Design Architecture at (509) 838-8812.

  31. Hello, I’m a senior architecture student, I am interested in the idea of using the bales as a greener alternative for architecture, I’ll be using it for my on- going thesis, but are these bales are now viable for construction materials.

  32. Hello again , do you know another link or sites, discusses the full detail of how the rice bales used as a building material or related works? That would be a great help.

  33. how about making them in to bricks to avoid moisture during construction.would they have the same insulating value?

  34. I’m not clear what you mean by making them into bricks. The biggest issue with moisture (assuming you protect your bales prior to and during construction) is the moisture in the air. We can design out rain with large overhangs and splash protection, but humidity is impossible to stop. There are ways to manage it with ventilation, but it is something that must be considered. I don’t see the bales as bricks making a difference in this concern.

  35. Andrew,

    There are many companies out there (especially in California) that make rice-straw based building material, but so far none of them have scaled. Is it simply a lack of investment, or is rice straw MDF/blocks/bales just super expensive to process/produce?

  36. Hi Andrew
    I’m a New Zealander residing in the Philippines and love the concept of Rice straw buildings as there a massive waste here of a product that could be used for a number of uses.
    I’m currently building a gravel bag and rice hauls bag building for a shop. With clay plaster.
    Does anyone​ know anything about using Rice straw as roofing material ? There is very little advice on the net that I can find.
    Kind Regards

  37. In my experience, using bales in the roof is too heavy and ends up causing more requirements for framing. You need the straw to be bound and thick to provide the insulation and fire protection. Loose straw is not adequate. I have seen loose straw used on a living roof as a base layer under the waterproof membrane, but I’m still not a fan of that approach.

  38. Hi Jessica. I am not in that industry so it’s hard to say definitively; however, my guess is that it is a tough industry to break into. the lumber lobby is strong and they don’t want some new kid on the block (straw) jumping in and stealing their business. I think it will take time and a NEED for a switch to a more renewable resource. Right now, the switch is only made by those willing to pay more for small batch production and that makes scaling difficult.

  39. Hello sir .
    I want to know that . Using rice straw for building purpose , is it safe ?? Means any danger from fire or water .. and how much we count the life such houses … And if u have any map or architecture of such houses ..Kindly send it on my mail I.e arpitchaudhry145@gmail.com

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