Design & DIY

Cottage Q&A: Skirting with straw bales

A close up shot of a straw bale By Bastian Kienitz/Shutterstock

What are the pros and cons of using straw bales as skirting under a slightly raised cottage?—Name withheld, via email

Straw bales have plenty of pros: they’re energy efficient, inexpensive, eco-conscious, DIY-able… 

“But straw bale insulation really doesn’t sound like the best choice for this application,” says Deirdre McGahern, the owner of Straworks in Peterborough, Ont. “Usually using bales in a retrofit situation doesn’t work.”

The bales would need to be 12″ to 18″ off the ground and supported in some way, she explains. “Chances are the floor wasn’t framed for them to fit between the joists. They would also need to be plastered on both faces to be effective insulators, and in order to be fire- and pest-resistant.”

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Maybe you’re just looking for a quick-and-dirty solution for the cold season: shoving some bales around the perimeter of the cottage. Sure, people do it, but unfortunately, cons come with this insulation strategy too. 

If your goal is to ward off frost heave by keeping the ground around the piers from freezing and being displaced, straw won’t deliver. With exposed piers, and no heat source, cold air will still blow between the bales and cool the soil’s subgrade. 

Plus, “the bales will collect moisture and start to rot,” says Barrie-based home inspector Roger Frost. They’ll also collect rodents. “Over time, this can lead to an infestation in the cabin.” Also? The local fire department and your insurance company may not be wild about you sticking something flammable so close to your cottage.

“Straw bales can be made to work to some degree,” says former Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation building scientist Don Fugler. “But it’s not really good practice.”

Seems like the cons win out this time. Sad emoji.

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This article was originally published in the August/September 2021 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

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