Help Define a New Name for SBC

Written by Andrew Morrison

people standing atop straw bale wallThis may sound crazy at first glance, but I need you to help define a new name for straw bale construction. I recently sat with a LOT of straw bale builders, architects, and enthusiasts at the twentieth anniversary of the California Straw Builders Association (CASBA) and discussed the myriad of reasons as to why interest in straw bale construction continues to decline in the United States.

One thing that we could all agree upon is that straw bale construction has so much to offer the housing and construction industries and that we need to find ways to bring this amazing technology to the larger arena.

Many of us have been working hard for years to do just that; however, our efforts have not had the impact that we would have liked. Google shows a steady downward trend in keyword search results related to straw bale construction, and that trend has been moving downward for at least 10 years. This seems crazy to me because there have been so many improvements in the technology and advances in the cause.

For example, a straw bale house from Arkin-Tilt Architects was named the house of the year by Fine Homebuilding Magazine; we have a newly approved national construction code for straw bale construction; more and more architects, builders, and homeowners  are aware of the benefits of straw bale construction.  And yet, the downward trend continues.

So what can we do? My approach in this moment is to change the way we talk about straw bale construction such that it can be more accepted in the mainstream. After all, if you talked to people about building a house made of dirt, chopped straw, and cow manure, chances are pretty good that people would think you were crazy. On the other hand, if you mention that you intend to build an adobe home, people will be more likely to say: “cool!”. Same materials, sexier name.

So how do we refer to straw bale construction in a new way? We know it is super energy efficient, sound proof, and fire resistant. We know that it is made of natural materials and performs extremely well in high winds, earthquakes, and other natural disaster scenarios. We know that the thick walls are beautiful and provide high levels of carbon sequestration. We know so much, just not what to call it that makes it sounds as sexy as it really is.

Here’s your call to action. We need a new name; one we can all get behind and present to the world in a new and powerful way. What ideas do you have? Please comment below with your ideas and share this article with anyone you think may want to help define the way forward for this amazing building technology.

Want to learn more about straw bale houses and how to build one? Want to do so for FREE? Sign up for our totally free 16 Day Straw Bale eCourse! Find out more HERE.

139 Responses

  1. EFHs Earth friendly homes. Gold homes, as in straw into gold. Gold homes, the money you save on heating and cooling is like gold in you pocket.

  2. I’m a fan also and want to build a straw bale home. I am also a Realtor. When I talk to my broker manager, she reminds of a couple of homes other agents had dealt with that weren’t well built. One had a lot of pest problems and one had serious mold issues. I told they have been improved and that those probably weren’t built probably correctly. I think education is key within all aspects of the home industry including educating Realtors, home inspectors, appraiser as well as lenders and insurance companies. I also agree with the gentleman that mentioned educating kids at the high school and college levels. Education is key!

  3. Very true. The thing that is at play here is that it is different and thus “problem homes” are more likely to be seen as the norm. After all, I know a LOT of conventional homes that are built poorly and have problems. Many of those were professionally built too, yet nobody suggests that we should stop building wood frame homes with fiberglass insulation. Education is in deed key, but people have to want to receive that education, otherwise we are just talking to each other. So how do we get in front of people and peak their interest?

  4. Str*adobe* w/someone smarter than l, attaching ( through search engines) someone searching “adobe” or “straw bale” construction

  5. Strawbale home building, no matter what it’s name, is going to remain a niche market until some high profile, large scale developers start using the system successfully. Andrew, you’ve taught strawbale building for many years now, but mainly to wanna-be homeowners just like me (and we loved your workshop, btw). Strawbale will only “take off” as a mainstream product when the product itself becomes used successfully by developers and contractors, not average Joes/Joannes. Developers will have to be successful at sourcing potentially large amounts of straw and labour inputs and deploying them in a timely fashion, at a tidy profit.

    Most folks buying a new or used home just accept without question products built in the typical standard(s) of the day by developers and contractors they never meet. Some developers and contractors though, get known by the buying public for their good name, i.e their successful projects. Getting these developers on side is key, I feel, to a wider acceptance of SB. If reputable developers develop several SB houses at one time at a competitive price (say a 5-10 house neighbourhood or condo building?) and successfully market them, people will buy without question in many markets, especially if product availability is tight, as is the case in Vancouver, Canada. If the structures outperform standard housing, so much the better.

    Elon Musk was correct in saying that he had to build an electric car that was obviously superior to the gasoline car in order for everyday people to widely accept it. He knows he must keep to this high standard when he makes his more mass-market vehicles, or Tesla will remain a niche company, favoured only by a steadily declining number of enthusiasts. When people buy a Tesla, they are trusting in Musk’s standards. When the public trusts particular developers who successfully build and market SB, I believe a similar reaction will take place with SB.

  6. How about, “SB+ Envelope Technology”? People might have their interest piqued by the “SB”, the “+” is for all the pluses SB brings that you mentioned, and “Envelope Technology” sounds official and engineer-ish. It sounds like an actual product name that you can ask your builder, architect, realtor or building engineer about. Or that a builder, architect, engineer, realtor or developer could boast to a client – “Our homes are (or this home was) built using SB+ Envelope Technology”.

    After all, what is “Rainscreen Envelope Technology” but a bunch of well-placed wooden slats? But, lots of building industry people throw the term at consumers and savvy realtors hype it by name to their clients (most often without any explanation of what it is in my experience) in wet climate markets.

    Regardless of the new chosen name for SB construction, the focus for marketing is not on how any particular house on offer is made – the focus is on branding, i.e. “Our houses are made with X”. By describing a SB house this way, it is presented first and foremost as “a house”, an expected quantity. The “X” is technology that makes it superior to its neighbours and previously constructed houses.

    Just a thought… or two 🙂

  7. Hi Andrew,

    Hope you have another great workshop season!
    Throwing my hat into the ring.

    ORB, Organic Renewable Building
    Of course the logo would need to be a beautiful blue / green rotating earth.

  8. Andrew: Your comments hit a cord with me. Let me introduce myself, I am Milt Trosper, a retired District Engineer for Johns-Manville as well as a frequent speaker at various roofing conventions. I live in Payson AZ. And want to know if you have any buildings in Gila County, AZ? I want to build a home here and after a great deal of research, have concluded that staw bale is the Right Way to go. Please connect with me if you think we might make a good combination. Milt

    Trosper B2B Services
    705 E Miller Rd. #17
    Payson, AZ 85541

  9. Hi Andrew, what do you think of “Biotic House”? I’m a Sustainable Architect in Brasil and I think if these houses have a concern with the quality of life of people who live in it, the name is well in line with the goal. What do you think?

  10. Just wanted to toss a thank you to a 2007 article wherein you explained the difference between Hay and Straw. While I’m not building any structure by any means, indeed, I just was searching information on archery a backstop. But I would have bought Hay but for your educational article. So thanks. Incidentally, now I’m interested in Straw Bale construction!

  11. Remember the three little pigs?
    LP1 would stand for “little pig #1”, he built with straw. So I guess
    LP2 would be standard stick frame construction and
    LP3 would be any type of brick and mortar construction.

    I’m only halfway kidding. 🙂

  12. Strodder Structures.

    I did some research on straw, and its earliest recorded usage was for livestock food, called ” Fodder” in hebrew times, thus running into many different cultures after as a binding or insulating agent for building structures, then named wattle and daub, and cob structures,
    Straw was used In structures of Peasant Homes, all the way to Grand Catherdrals.
    The earlist American straw structures were on the treeless plains of Nebraska.

  13. Some thoughts on the name:

    Fibrous EFIS
    Organic Insulation Wall System (OIWS)
    Straw-based Insulation (SBI)
    Post & Beam with Straw Fill (PBS)
    Organic Post & Beam Structures (OPBS)
    Organic-filled Walls Structures (OWS)

    ^ just a few suggestions that I feel have the feel of being acceptable to the public. They sound sophisticated enough to make it into code books.

  14. Hi Milt. I don’t have any buildings in that area, although I LOVE Gila County!!! I think it would be a great place for a bale home. Let me know if you decide to move forward. I’d love to hear more.

  15. Playing on the above:

    Post & Beam (BF) “Bound Forage” (PBBF)
    Post & Beam (CF) “Cellulose Fill” (PFCF)

  16. Maybe “CSC” for Carbon Store (or Save) Construction. A second definition could be Clever Straw Construction.
    I think it is very important to connect the new name with vey modern styled pictures examples like this one:
    Maybe the Elon Musk’s Tesla approache (showing prestige examples) works for geting out of the bubble. Building homes is also a very emotional Subjekt.

  17. Hi, Andrew!

    As a linguist by training and a sustainable builder by inspiration, I thought I might be able to give you a few things to think about in order to sort through the number of suggestions you have received.

    First of all, no acronyms. At least not the all-caps kind. What you are hoping to do is to engineer a natural grassroots type of adoption, but acronyms only thrive in either completely professional or completely unprofessional social environments. For example: “APFSDSDUS” and “LOL.” Acronyms indicate that the long form is either too complicated and/or long to say, or that the speaker is too lazy (or fixated with shortening things) to say the long form. Also, when a person first hears an acronym, they have to rely on the speaker to pause and define the acronym. It is obvious right from the start that this new word they are learning didn’t come about organically at all, but was the invention of some single person–no one else had to agree; it was pushed onto the world, which sometimes backfires with a sense of defiance to the so-called authority and a rejection of the word. Sometimes an acronym is met with a “the person who made this up must know what they are talking about” and other times with a “the person who made this up is full of themselves.” And unless the person who came up with the acronym first chose a related word to be the acronym and then finagled the long form to fit, the acronym is usually hard to remember and gives no clues to aid in determining the meaning.

    When trying to come up with a new name, you have to put yourself in the shoes of a first-time hearer, someone who doesn’t know what the word means. The reason the word “adobe” strikes such a chord is because the average hearer recognizes it is an imported word. They may even be able to tell it was imported from Spanish, giving them a sense that the word was created by a culture and a people, rather than just an individual, which is exactly what you want to imitate, since this provides trust in the hearer that it is a “real” word. It is also full of nice sounding vowels and flows well, although the final “e” easily confuses any first-time hearer; there are multiple pronunciations used for this word, which is not a good thing to allow for in your choice. As long as a word sounds like it comes from something trustworthy, it doesn’t matter very much which culture a word sounds like it has been imported from (usually). The other factors are far more important like how well the word flows on a natively English-speaking tongue, how easy it is to spell, and any information that could indicate the meaning of the word. This is why English doesn’t have too many words imported from languages that too frequently use words that English speakers find difficult to pronounce or replace with other sounds.

    So, your main goal is to come up with or reuse a word that a first-time hearer will identify is a “real” word, meaning it is already trusted and used, and one that will be easy to pronounce and spell and unlikely to be mispronounced or misspelled. Ideally, the word should give the first-time hearer some concept of its meaning, but doesn’t necessarily have to. No matter what though, whenever you first use the word, you have to use it with confidence as though it has been in use for decades. Prefacing or following up a new word with its definition gives away that it is a new word and ruins the effect, letting doubt creep into the first-time hearer and forcing them to consider how trustworthy it is. It is much better for them to have to ask you for the definition, because this means that even before knowing the definition of the word, they have had to make a guess of what they think it means, they have had to use the word when asking you what it means, and they have had to intentionally submit themselves to receiving the definition of the word from you. All great things for putting the first-time hearer in a mindset that the word is “real” and trustworthy, which will lead to reuse. And even if they don’t ask for the definition, they’ll still learn what it means from clear context and be more likely to use it themselves. The point is that you have to do everything in your power to make it their word before it’s their word, and avoid anything that would indicate it’s your word.

    Here are some of the ideas people came up with that I think could work:

    Paille – This could work. Foreign, not too different in form, and short. But, unfortunately (as with most French imports), this would be hard to spell and not at all easy to discern the pronunciation from the spelling.

    Stabale – Although it would surely have spelling roadbumps, this could work. It contains “bale” and would indicate that context and it sounds like “stable.” I would even suggest the pronunciation be the same as “stable,” since the other pronunciation doesn’t flow as well. One downside with this, however, is a stable does not usually bring to mind pictures of a clean, odorless environment.

    Bale Building – This is good. The first time someone would hear you talking about a “bale” house or “bale” building, they immediately recognize that either a word like “strawbale” was cut down or that it is a whole new word they don’t know. It’s a good start, but when they ask “Do you means ‘strawbale’?” the speaker has to be sure to say something like, “Bale is way more than just strawbales,” because it cements the word as separate with its own nuances and definition.

    Gold or Golden – This is probably my favorite. (I’ve ordered these four in order of my preference.) This immediately tells the first-time hearer that they don’t know what the speaker is talking about, but gives a very clear image and association to something beautiful. Very quickly the hearer would ask what the speaker means when they say “gold,” but without losing the picture. The speaker would explain that strawbales are golden, and not just in color but in so many other ways. It turns the quirk of reusing such a common word into an opportunity to explain away all the common misconceptions about strawbales. “Goldbales” might work even better. This wouldn’t work if strawbales weren’t golden, because then it would just be an unappreciated exaggeration, but luckily they are! In so many ways!

  18. In Oklahoma where straw is a waste product I was going to build a straw bale subdivision of 220 homes in 2005 and use Strawmat panels for all interior walls from a company in TX where straw is also a waste product. The subdivision was to be built in OKC, the city refused to permit a unconventional subdivision and we had backlash from the State and many builder associations. I was disappointed and built stick homes with brick veneer. So until you get the farmers involved along with the grower associations it is going to be a fad. I did attempt to get the National Wheat Growers Association and their mega Wheat Check Off funds, the said they market the harvested grain and products from that grain not the straw. With that said, I would suggest that for the Straw Bale FAD to become a common option as a building system like stick and brick, the industry needs to set up a farm to market supply chain, kind of like a local COOP for Grain, Cotton, and other commodities but for Straw Bale Purchase, Storage, and marketing. This is the only way to assure a supply of building material. Additionally, I would store the stray in large round bales and then then use a small square bailer on the building site to produce the need bales. We did this a few times when we had a surplus of Alfalfa in round bales but only had buyers for small square bales so we set the bales up to unroll into the small bailer and sold the small bales of alfalfa and made twice what we would have after cost. Any way just a thought. As for a name, I do not think that is the issue. The issue is initial cost, learning curve, comfort zone, consumer awareness, FHA//HUD/VA/Congenital lending/financing, insurance, marketing, consistence in building method/products/materials, and farm to market supply chain for year round building options in lieu of seasonal supply. I live in a place they call the gateway to the golden spread and Gods country and not a single Straw bale house because we are also in Tornado Alley and cannot get a permit to build one or I would build only Straw bale homes in my subdivisions. over 6 million acres of wheat straw goes to waste every year within a 100mi radius of me.

  19. I hear your frustration Daniel; however, I believe things have changed quite a bit. In fact, I’ll be building a straw bale house in Oklahoma this year as part of our workshop schedule. Tornados are not an issue with bale homes as there is tornado-specific testing that shows they perform VERY well. That testing needs to be updated, but it’s very good for the wall systems they tested. In terms of the name, I think it is a big part of the equation. Everything you mentioned is true: we need better initial costs, consumer awareness, insurance, financing, etc., but the fact that people have a knee jerk reaction to the words straw bale and immediately start forming judgments of what that means, is a problem. I think it needs to be something we address ALONG with the aspects you mention. Cheers and happy Thanksgiving (yesterday).

  20. I had only read the title of this article at the time your latest email arrived but I immediately started to ponder the scenario it presented. And now reading your info on the WHY behind this search and the info which Destin supplied in his comments, I would like to submit “ADOBE NOUVEAU” in support of your comment “same materials, sexier name”. Or with respect to Destin’s comments on pronunciation, foreign words, etc, “MODERN ADOBE”. Both are simple, straight-forward and easy to recognize and understand.
    Hope this helps!

  21. If adopted, BSC Bio-silage construction materials for an eco-conscious, eco-friendly impact as a marketing term….I meant the “total package” as a winning prize. Please!

  22. Super-Insulated Adobe
    Thick Adobe

    Both are easy to understand by a novice. Some of the suggested eco names are are mouthful and are uncommon to the average Joe.

  23. The 3 little pig…

    Yes. We all grew up with this story..

    For 25+ years I like strawbale construction, and now we are finally building one.
    Why not sooner?
    Local regulations!
    If I build for 50.000, and the rest of the street uses brick, and spend 100.000 I am not allowed to build..
    Strange? Yes, but reality in Holland.

    And this is prior all the building regulations.
    Calculations refused, as “they must be wong”
    Walls do not insulate this good.. you need to use more energy to heat your house…
    Air re-circulation inside the house, pushed by regulations, some whole area have high COPD amongst children.. (oeps.. not enough fresh air)
    And many, many more regulations a strawbale house can not do.

    Yes, Tesla car, and it works!
    Not only for Tesla, Nissan and many other benefit from the success of Tesla, and while Tesla will stay low in numbers, the masses accept electric.
    (Tesla = sexy, Prius “for old folks”)

    Nothing wrong with the name!
    Marketing is the game..

    Electric car was available 100 years ago..
    And it took a man like Elton Musk to make it sexy and popular.

    We only have to beat the story of the 3 pig..
    That is strong competition!!!

  24. Andrew,

    I realize this is an old thread, but what the hay.

    A few key ideas that strike me are that the name Strawbale Construction on first glance might give the impression of building with straw bales as a structural device, and weakness of materials comes to mind. So I’d definitely try to find key words that identify post and beam or other common structural materials.

    Maybe identifying straw as a natural and inexpensive insulation material as part of the name would help.

    For example:

    Straw Insulated Post and Beam (SIPB)

    Straw Insulated Stick Framed, or Straw Insulated Standard Framing (SISF)

    Straw Insulated Common Framing (SICF) to reaffirm that the construction is common to other homes.

    I’ve been researching the possibility of a Larsen Truss Framed straw-bale home. I saw this done on the episode of Grand Designs with giant arc-shaped Glu-Lams on a Ireland Coastal area by a Architect / Builder who owned the home. So maybe,

    Straw Insulated Larsen Truss (SILT)

    I just read the article on Earthquake properties of strawbale and was intrigued to learn that the entire wall acts like a SIP panel, and since the Post and Beam method is recommended as your personal favorite in your book, maybe that one makes the most sense.

    I also think any means of highlighting that this is an old world craft that has hundreds of year old examples still standing in a quick tagline could be worth considering.

    Maybe this will help to narrow some ideas down!

    Thanks for all the content online. Great supplement to your book!

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