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July 29, 2005

A straw house

Myrna Fletcher is building the first house in Norman made with straw bales — and that ain’t hay.

About 500 bales of tightly bound straw will insulate the 2,700-square-foot structure on 24th Avenue N.E., just north of Franklin Road. Fletcher will build the home, with help from volunteers and friends, on her farm in front of her present house.

A foundation is in place and the bales are ready to go. Other materials are being gathered, but the construction pace depends on the flow of volunteers (that’s easy) and money (a tad tougher). Yet, progress almost always continues.

“We started the plans two years ago, but I’ve wanted a straw-bale house for 12 years,” Fletcher said.

Straw bales and mud will be key components to the house, but that won’t make it a primitive structure. Norman architect Dave Boeck designed the home as a post-and-beam structure. A concrete foundation recently was poured, and the house will have sheet rock, plaster and interior cedar posts that are quite artistic for support.

The three-bedroom, 21/2-bathroom home will have large windows for beauty and ventilation, a safe room in its middle, and insulation that can’t be beat — thanks to the straw bales.

Fletcher and Boeck say straw provides oustanding insulation from noise and outdoor weather. Architects measure insulation by a scale called R-value, and Boeck said the straw-bale house will measure better than R-50.

“The standard requirement is R-19 for the home and R-32 for a roof,” he said. Put another way, “Normally, it would take about $200 a month to heat a house this size, but this could cost $20 to $30.” For Fletcher, a widow on a fixed income, saving that much on energy would be a huge benefit.

Nevertheless, isn’t straw vulnerable to fire, let alone the huffing and puffing big, bad wolf? Apparently not.

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