Natural materials becoming popular in modern home building

On a small lot tucked between conventional homes on Boise Avenue, Mark Lung is hard at work stacking bales of straw and mixing mud.

He is building a new home using local, recycled agricultural waste to form and insulate exterior walls. Plaster made from clay, sand, lime, straw and water will be used on both the interior and exterior instead of drywall, siding and paint.

Similar in appearance to Southwestern adobes, straw bale structures are earth-friendly and energy-efficient, Lung said.

Unlike the wall in a typical home, which is about 6 inches thick, a straw-bale wall is 18 to 23 inches thick, providing greater insulation against winter cold, summer heat and sound. Fire and pests are not a problem, advocates say, and straw is a cheap, easily renewable building material.

"Straw makes sense. It is the building material of the future," Lung said.

"The building industry is in a real revolution," said Lung's builder, Ron Hixson. Hixson's local company, Earthcraft, specializes in innovative, energy-efficient design and construction. With rising construction costs and a new economy, natural materials like straw are becoming more popular.