Straw Bale Construction/Characteristics/Resistance to fire

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Resistance to fire[edit]

Although loose straw is quite flammable, once packed into a bale it is too dense to allow enough air for combustion. By analogy, it is easy to light a single piece of paper on fire, but difficult and time consuming to burn an entire phone book. In construction it is critical to have, at a minimum, a parge coat of plaster on all surfaces of the wall. Parge coating the wall involves troweling on a thin coating of mortar and brushing it smooth.

Typical failure of straw-bale homes involves frame walls set against straw-bale walls without a parge coat. A spark from an electrical short or an error by a plumber ignites the hair-like fuzz on the exposed bale. The flame spreads upward and sets the wood framing on fire causing the wood framing to burn. The typical fire results in little fire damage to bales, but extensive water damage due to the fire suppression activities.

The ASTM E-119 fire resistance test for plastered straw-bale wall assemblies in 1993 passed for a 2 hour fire-wall assembly. In this test a gas flame blows on one side of the wall at approximately 2000 degree Fahrenheit (1100 degrees Celsius) while the temperature of the other side of the wall is continuously measured. The results of this test had no burn-through and a maximum temperature rise of 60 degrees Fahrenheit (33.3 degrees Celsius).