Natural Building Materials Conversation Notes

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Notes from Phone Conversation with Darcey, founder of PAKSBAB

She was excited to think that technology being used in Pakistan could have something to contribute to Western technology.

Informing here and there is difficult. Here because people are afraid of losing their investment (don’t know if the homes can sell), want to have a custom dwelling, cost of labor is high, etc. There because it’s not the normal brick or concrete, the super poor are afraid of losing what little they have (more than not having) because straw houses are less durable. Darcey and her husband live in a straw bale house they’re currently trying to sell, and she says they’d build one again. They also permitted and built a revised a project near Clear Lake. In the long run, the benefit of an efficient home would win out, but the actual building process is more CO2 intensive because it requires a bigger footprint (thicker walls), and we’re already doing okay because we’re using wood and not so much concrete/bricks for the walls.

In Pakistan, there’s little to no literacy, no internet, so outreach and education for marketing are difficult. The challenge is to convince them that it’s worth it. Of the 40 houses PAKSBAB has built so far, some middle class citizens have asked for them, but most were just given to the super poor. Because a house is basically the biggest investment a family ever makes, it’s scary. Darcey builds things to the 1997 uniform building code because it has values for the seismic design equations she uses to make sure the structures will be stable.

If it’s going to be in the international building code, then building officials can be convinced to listen to it. There’s not much resistance coming from building officials (this point was also emphasized by Ben Werner). Many building codes have an “alternate methods of materials” section that allows builders to submit building plans that are otherwise not allowed.

Residential building isn’t currently regulated, but the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority is trying to start. If PAKSBAB could get recognition from them, it would help a lot when it comes to getting money (they’d have access to donors).

In the States, straw bale houses cost 10-15% more because electricians and plumbers don’t know how to deal with it, the cost of labor is higher, it’s time consuming to plaster the walls, and the overall footprint of the house is larger (wide walls!). It would actually help if the 12x12x24” bales PAKSBAB makes were available here.

23x16x43” is the approximate straw bale standard size here. Can get 2-string bales that are 18x16x45”.

Various architects and other people involved in this… Arkin Tilt, Dan Smith & Associates, Ken Haggard

The ecological building network has all the straw bale code, resources, etc. The test results are available from the initial shake table testing.

They’re having scaling issues, some of which include spreading the word about the viability of straw bale homes, others include being able to build more grandiose homes. They don’t have the resources for testing a 2-story building.
The West could offset carbon production in areas where concrete and brick are widely used.