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Straw Bale building - a viable alternative for Georgia and the EECCA region!

Straw bale building and clay plastering have been successfully introduced in Georgia as efficient and ecological alternative for hazardous conventional building materials for rich and poor during a practical workshop and public info day 1-4 July 2011

21.08.2011 |Anna Samwel

Conventional houses in Georgia are expensive to build, energy inefficient and on top of that (banned) asbestos is still widely used as construction material. Many families cannot afford to build a house at all, or if they can, economize on insulation and security and tend to use cheap but toxic materials.

Straw is considered as a waste material and is sometimes burned on the fields. Clay is available for free in all regions in Georgia. Building with straw and clay can be internalized fairly easy, could solve many problems in the building sector and substitute many hazardous building materials. 

However, knowledge about ecological building is lacking among the population. One participant from a local municipality noted: 'If we bring the knowledge from this seminar to the rural areas, there will be a huge interest. Straw and clay is available everywhere, and straw bale building can become a viable alternative, also in the eco-tourism sector.'

During the practical seminar, the first of the walls for the future sustainable conference hall on the RCDA premises was built by 12 workshop participants using wood, straw and clay. Theoretical lessons and discussions accompanied the practical work, to ensure the appropriate background info was given to the future builders from different regions in Georgia. Initially, the new idea encountered skepticism and anecdotes from the straw house build by a foolish pig.

However, the experienced trainers from the Netherlands, Harry and Oliver Capiau of the company 'Leembouwcapiau' and the practical experience could convince the participants that the technique is durable and safe. All participants worked with great enthusiasm for four days and future plans for a straw brigade came up spontaneously. According to Harry 'straw is the building material of the future – it has an extremely low Energy footprint, the material is renewable and highest insulation values can be reached for an affordable price.' In the Netherlands the trainers work mainly on clay building and plastering and could show examples of beautiful straw and clay houses in the EU and USA from the beginning of the 20th century and now.

For more information on technical issues download ‘Frequently Asked Questions on Straw Building

Public Info Day
On 4th of July an information day for the general public has been announced through the local environmental networks and attracted 30 interested stakeholders, among them different architects, experts in natural building, architect school, universities and institutes, a representative of a national park, government representatives and different NGOs.

The principles of 'cradle to cradle' and Straw bale building were explained by Harry Capiau, provoking enthusiastic reactions and in depths inquiries of the participants. The practical work on the straw and clay wall was presented.
WECF, Greens Movement, GEBMA and RCDA presented the hazards of conventional building materials, mainly asbestos, which poses serious health threats for Georgia, though there are no monitoring data available on health effects. Asbestos is officially banned in Georgia, but imported in a regular manner due to the absence of appropriate legislation.

The afternoon was spend brainstorming in small groups about the future of straw bale building in Georgia and the necessary pre conditions for its development, followed by a plenary discussion. All groups agreed that there is a high potential for straw bale building in Georgia because of its ecological and economical benefits. The implementation of small demonstration houses in different regions of Georgia adapted to the local conditions should be the first step. Relevant infrastructure, knowledge and skills need to be build, where quality is of utmost importance, according to the workshop participants and trainers.

Follow up
The seminar provoked high public interest - a 7 minutes  broadcast by TV channel Rustaveli 2, upon which at least 20 interested people visited RCDA resource center to inform themselves about the straw wall. Georgian Architects have started to research the building technique in detail now, and several families are planning their straw houses. Political will needs to be created, and technical prerequisites should be ensured. Follow up projects to guarantee the necessary infrastructure for providing straw and clay in a standardized quality need to be implemented in close cooperation with our partners from 'Leembouwcapiau' and other experts.

The training took place in the frame of the project: Reducing the use of hazardous chemicals in developing countries: potential of implementing safer chemicals including non-chemical alternatives - tools for Georgia and the EECCA region", financed by the ‘Quick Start Programme Trust Fund, UNEP’

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