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HAY FEVER STRAW WALLS IN BUILDING CONSTRUCTION A GROWTH INDUSTRY.

Byline: Eugene Tong Staff Writer

VALENCIA - Two-foot-thick rice straw bales were piled Monday like toy blocks on steel rebar as a 20,000-square-foot office building at the city of Santa Clarita's new bus maintenance yard takes shape.

Part of the city's $15.9 million Transit Maintenance Facility slated to be completed early next year, the building with straw walls is a bid by city leaders to promote energy efficient ``green building,'' said Heather Merenda, the city's sustainability planner.

The city also is pursuing certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, a coalition of builders promoting environmentally responsible construction, she said.

But officials were skeptical when project architect Tom Nelson of HOK Sustainable Design pitched straw bale as a building material more than a year ago, Merenda said.

``We did some visiting of some other very well-built straw bale structures in California,'' she said. ``Based on those two buildings and getting more information and pricing, the group felt more comfortable.''

While straw buildings have appeared in Nebraska since at least the 1800s, the byproduct of rice and grain farming only became an option in California construction in 1995 when lawmakers began drafting building codes.

Official building codes for straw also exist for parts of Arizona, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico.

``We've seen it really take off, and it's really exciting,'' said Joy Bennett, co-executive director of the California Straw Building Association, an Angels Camp-based group of 130 contractors and architects seeking to promote the material in construction.

``We've seen an awful lot of buildings in the Sierra Nevada foothills and in San Luis Obispo. There are private residences, and there have been a couple of schools built, and the Shorebird Park Nature Center in Berkeley.''

Boosters tout straw bales' insulation rating - up to R58 compared to R19 found in typical tract homes. But the walls have to be about 2 feet thick, more than twice that of drywall. The bales also can withstand fire, and are sturdy when properly reinforced.

``If you light the bale on fire, it kind of just fizzles because there is no oxygen in the middle,'' Merenda said, citing it takes a wall about two hours to burn through.

At the transit facility site off Copperhill Road on Monday, workers carefully laid the bales like oversize bricks, impaling the blocks on steel rods that will hold the wall together. Another rolled up some excess trimmed-off by a weed whacker and packed it under the window.

When they're done, the bales will be tied down with steel cables, then covered with stucco.

``You take something that's basically trash and you're reusing it,'' said Jim Ament, the project's construction manager. ``To me, that's worth it.''

Eugene Tong, (661) 257-5253

eugene.tong(at)dailynews.com

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(color) Workers line up straw walls on a new bus maintenance facility in the Valencia Industrial Park.

David Crane/Staff Photographer
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mikepulskamp
Michael Pulskamp (Member): Well actually... 12/17/2009 11:46 PM
Actually when the burn tests were done I believe that it took over three hr. to get the read on the thermometer on the "inside" of the test wall. To be rated for habitation it must not rise more than 100 degrees in one half hour with the 1800 degree torch on the "outside". I could be wrong, but i think I'm closer than the report. If you want the test search for Bruce King. I think he documented the test.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 28, 2004
Words:481
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