I founded Huff and Puff construction to realise a simple ambition I’d held since childhood to do something to help our environment, not make it worse. To find and promote ways to ‘live lightly’ and co-exist with the rest of nature – the lack of which, for all the positives of human progress, seems to me to be our kind’s biggest failing. I’d always enjoyed the building work I’d done throughout my life so it seemed a natural choice. For several years now I’ve been studying and retraining in ‘natural’ or ‘sustainable’ building. The training never ends and it’s fascinating!

Why build with straw?

Straw – and reeds and other similar materials – have been used in buildings and shelters the world over for as long as we’ve existed. With the vast amount of arable crops we grow we have more straw than we know what to do with. In the UK alone, we could build at least half a million houses each year from surplus straw. And like trees, straw captures carbon when it grows. Unlike trees, straw grows every year. Lock that straw up in a building for 200 plus years and we’re making a massive contribution to carbon capture – with no massively complicated technology required.

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bale roof
Inside of Sherborne Arts Cabin

Straw bale buildings vs cement

We have lost – or nearly lost – so much information about how we used to build before modern cement. And modern cement (which does have the occasional use) has generally been a disaster in our building fabric and is a bigger disaster for our climate. Traditional materials such as lime and clay work ‘with’ buildings. They are mostly weaker than the materials they glue together, like brick and stone, which means buildings can actually move, without failing. They are also breathable, whereas cement traps water and has been responsible for destroying many a fine building with its overuse. Globally, cement production alone accounts for 5-10% of global manmade CO2 emissions. Where we don’t need it, we shouldn’t be using it. That easily covers most housing under three stories.

Types of straw bale building

Simple and affordable

And that’s the beauty of building with straw. There are details to learn, like any other craft, but it’s inherently simple. Everyone can have a go without breaking the bank. This doesn’t translate well to our corporate world, of course, where a big company always has to make big bucks. A system where things are made more complicated to make sure individuals can’t do things for themselves. So, buck the trend. Get natural, get local, get your hands dirty and let’s do it for ourselves!

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Phil teaching bale notching