Straw bale construction is a centuries-old technology that has been revived in recent decades by people desiring a healthy and ecological alternative to wood framed construction. This method of thick wall construction can triple or quadruple insulation values in a very economical and beautiful manner. Combined with passive solar, this method of building nearly eliminates heating and cooling costs, with many other benefits as well.

Straw bale construction is a natural companion to the passive solar, energy efficient house. The thick walls add a component of insulation and mass difficult to obtain with a wood framed building. A well-designed straw bale home remains cool and comfortable on the hottest summer days with no air conditioning, and is exceptionally economical to heat in winter.

Semmes & Co. Builders, Inc. uses rice straw, a waste product of California agriculture, which has a high silica content, making it resistant to rot and termites. A high-lime content plaster is also used to seal walls as it “breathes”, allowing moisture to escape from inside of the walls and blocking water from the outside. Seismic studies have proven that straw bale construction performs very well in earthquakes. The concrete-based wall system also acts as a fire retardant, performing well in high-fire hazard areas.

The beautiful walls lend themselves well to old-world and contemporary styles alike. A straw bale wall can be constructed fairly simply, making it conducive to homeowner and community participation. We host straw bale workshops at most homes we build, inviting the owners’ friends as well as the community to participate in a festive straw bale stacking event. Come to one of our straw bale construction workshops to learn about the technique and to be a part of the construction of a natural house!

Contact Jessica Steely at or at (805) 466-6737, ext. 203 to learn more about our straw bale construction workshops.

For more information on straw bale construction or for straw bale resources in your area, visit the California Straw Building Association website: or consult our archives for technical articles & other information.