From the Iowa Department of Economic Development Tools & Trends • October 2004 • Volume 13 • Number 3

When the MidAmerica Housing Partnership (MAHP) in Washington, Iowa undertook a new project, they had two goals in mind:
• To build an affordable, durable house built for energy efficiency and low maintenance.

• To incorporate renewable agricultural products from Iowa into the home’s construction.

Both goals were met.

Completed in 2003, the 1,525 square-foot suburban home has three bedrooms, an attached garage, passive solar heating and was built with locally manufactured products. The cost to build was $98,986; the sale price, $130,000.

And, in between the stucco exterior and the plaster interior walls are STRAW BALES.


Straw—the stalks remaining after the harvest of grain—has been incorporated in construction for most of human history.

In the United States, plastered straw bale construction began in the late 19th century and has evolved into an energy efficient, environ- mentally-sound building solution for the 21st century.

Because grains are grown in almost every region of the country, straw bales are readily available with minimal transportation costs. And, unlike some conventional homes, straw bale homes release no toxic materials.

Sustainable design (using straw bales, recycled materials and those with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and synthetic materials to replace diminishing natural resources) helps to lower maintenance costs, gives better indoor air quality and has less environ- mental impact.

The Iowa Straw Bale Home is a beautiful example of cooperation and craftsmanship, according to Julie Myers of MAHP.

“It is healthy, affordable and energy efficient. It actually exceeded our expectations,” she said. “The project would not be the success it is without many people working together.”

Using volunteers in building the showcase home was essential in order to complete the project near budget. Volunteers not only did the physical work but also provided valuable feedback on improving the work flow and building methods.

The project also had many partners including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Iowa Department of Economic Development, the City of Washington, the Fannie Mae Foundation and the Federation Bank in Washington, Iowa.

This article is on page 3 of Tools & Trends: