The Balehaus – doing it with straw.

image: day two constructing the Balehaus for Grand Designs Live

Modcell , a UK company based in Bristol, have ambitions to widen the appeal and use of straw in house construction. They have designed a super insulating system that meets the PassivHaus specification for zero heat homes using hemp and straw.

The Modcell concept was central to the building of a sustainable house on Channel 4’s Grand Designs Live show in May. RIBA award-winning architect Duncan Baker Brown of BBM Sustainable Design designed the home that was built for the show.

The home was constructed using ModCell™ – a sustainable, prefabricated straw bale and hemp cladding panels. This innovative, offsite-manufactured cladding system can be quickly and efficiently installed, creating a building with thermal performance up to three times higher than the current building regulations require.

Other recycled material were also used within Brown’s design, including old mobile phones, glass bottles and newspapers.

Photos of Balehaus construction

* images of the 6 day construction of the Balehaus at the Grand Designs Live show here.

* some inside images of finished construction of Grand Designs Live’s Balehaus.

* see other strawbale building pictures.

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6 Responses to The Balehaus – doing it with straw.

  1. the Grit says:


    It’s an interesting concept, and, historically speaking, straw roofing was highly regarded as an inexpensive and quite functional roofing material. Of course, (sorry matt) while this type of construction might be acceptable for country homes that are widely separated, the reason straw roofs went out of style as soon as alternatives were available will probably make using this material in densely packed urban areas a bad idea. Straw burns! It burns quite well and starts to do so quite easily! Not to mention that it breaks down rapidly, so in its traditional use had to be constantly replaced.

    On a slight side note, since it’s totally illegal over here to grow hemp in any form, even the rope making variety, I’d love to know if the status of this product in England. Is it a commercial success? Do you find it in common products? Stuff like that. All the information I’ve found points toward the conclusion that we’re screwing ourselves by banning hemp production, but our pot worshiping community has gone to a lot of effort to warp Internet content in their favor.

    the Grit

  2. matt says:

    Hemp is good and govt is paranoid! I believe trials are happening within the UK at the moment. If a teenager wants to raid a hemp field to get high they’ll end up smoking themselves into oblivion, the THC content is so low!

    As to straw use … I had wondered regards it’s properties but no one is advocating using straw for the roof, just walls. As any fire video will show, a house goes up in minutes largely to do with furnishings & the like that burn with ease. Best not smoke in da house. 🙂

    Btw, roof thatching is still used quite widely in certain regions of the UK, using reeds.

  3. the Grit says:

    Hi matt,

    After finding out last year that redoing our roof was going to cost several thousand dollars, I threatened to go with thatching. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on one’s point of view, my wife insisted on the modern solution.

    the Grit

  4. matt says:

    Just think, if you’d gone for thatching Prince Charles (who loves a bit of conservation) might have popped by for the re-opening celebration. Now I call that a missed opportunity to have shown off your BBQ-ing skills there ‘pebble’. 🙂

  5. Finlay White says:


    Nice to see the interest in the building. As a member of the ModCell team I thought I would clarify some of the points raised in the above comments.
    The Modcell Straw or Hemp panels have a 2 hour fire rating, this is higher than steel structures. This is due to the monolithic nature of the panel. Think of throwing the Yellow pages on to a fire. It takes ages to burn. You require oxygen for fire to take place. The straw/hemp is encased in lime render and a timber frame, as a result there is very little oxygen in the panel, hence the 2 hour rating.
    Straw starts to compost/decompose only when it reaches a certain level of relative humidity. Due to the breathable nature of the ModCell paneland the way it is used this level is not reached. Therefore the straw does not decompose. There has been straw discovered in the pyramids that is thousands of years old and is as good as the day it was put in there.
    Hemp is grown as a crop in the UK and main land Europe. It is not illegal to
    grow the hemp crop for this purpose. Check out

    There have been a number of commercial buildings built in the UK using Modcell.
    If your interested check out our web site, to find out more.

    Finlay White

  6. matt says:


    Appreciate your clarifying those points and thank you for contributing. Will certainly check out your link.

Comments are closed.