The dearth of affordable housing is one of the great conundrums of our time. Even during the good times they are unpopular with developers.
However, the owner of a 16th century coaching inn believes he may have the answer.
The classic nursery rhyme suggests that a house of straw is not the most stable of building but Peter Rowan begs to differ.
Peter is building two semi-detached three bedroom houses from bales of straw for the families of his staff to live in at his hotel and restaurant Ralegh’s Cross, in Exmoor, Somerset.
Made of 530 bales of straw they form part of Mr Rowan’s plan to reduce the inn’s energy bills and carbon footprint along with installing solar panels and a 20 kilowatt wind turbine.
The two homes cost around £60,000 each to build using straw from a farmer in Devon and built on foundations of recycled glass and rock from Welsh quarries.
The straw provides thermal insulation that is five times building regulation standards.
The bales will be in place by the end of next week and the houses will be ready for their new residents in spring next year.
Used for centuries by our ancestors, Mr Rowan said straw could be the way forward for house building in hard economic.
“If you mention building a house made of straw these days, people assume you’re either joking or putting up a temporary structure.
“Straw is a completely sustainable resource, which can be used to make sturdy, well-insulated buildings. This building method is cheap too, as the main material is a renewable resource.
“It is a means of building that has been around for hundreds of years.
“While moving towards being carbon neutral is the goal, energy costs are only moving one way so it seems crazy not to make use of the wind and the sun.
“We don’t rely on mains water either - instead we have a borehole which taps directly into the Exmoor Aquifer. We’re also aiming to install a reed-bed sewage disposal system next year.
“I’ve heard all the jokes about building out of straw, but times really have moved on since the days of the Big Bad Wolf.”
The roof is constructed first which is then lowered onto the walls, compressing the bales into a strong load-bearing structure.
The houses are being built by Amazonails, based in Todmorden, West Yorkshire.
Project manager Bee Rowan said: “Straw bale technology has only been in the UK for ten years but in the USA these houses people will pay a premium for them because they know the value of the thermal properties no matter what happens to fuel costs.
“They are still finding straw buildings intact from 2,000 years ago so we’ve always had these materials but its about understanding how to use them in the modern world and they will last many thousands of years into the future.”
The hotel’s head chef Andre Korreman and his wife, receptionist Karin, will live in one of the houses with son Alex, seven.
From October 18 Amazonails are running courses for people wanting to learn the art of strawbale building and are staging a seminar at Ralegh’s Cross Inn on October 30.