Straw Bale Housing For Pakistan

Posted on March 24, 2010
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Architecture, Environment
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Owais Mughal

This post is about alternative, cheaper and earthquake resistant housing for Pakistan. At ATP we’ve covered alternative building styles before when S.A.J. Shirazi wrote about using mud to build homes. A couple of my friends recently pointed out to me an earthquake resistant straw bale housing style that was practised in Pakistan (and also other countries) after the devastating earthquake of 2005. This project was started in Pakistan by a non-profit group called Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate building (PAKSBAB). These houses were built for the poor by using straw, an agricultural by-product, compressed and tied into bales, as building blocks.

Following photo shows a straw-bale house under construction in Pakistan. Photo credits: PAKSBAB.

This technique makes the structures earthquake resistant. The project’s founder is Darcey Dononvan who is a mechanical engineer by profession. The reason for us sharing this post here is to provide food for thought for alternate housing styles in earthquake zones – and Pakistan has quite a few of them. I also want to thank PAKSBAB for carrying out this project in Pakistan.

I found following video by University of Nevada, Reno at youtube where Darcey is explaining her project in Pakistan as well as it shows the results of earthquake simulation.

February 5, 2010’s Science Magazine also mentioned this project. An excerpt from there goes like this:

Some engineers want to rethink the basic materials used in developing countries. Darcey Donovan advocates replacing concrete walls with load-bearing straw bales. Her nonprofit group, PakistanStraw Bale and Appropriate Building, erects 7.3-m-by-7.3- m houses in northwest Pakistan, which was ravaged by an earthquake in 2005. The bales are stacked and bound together top to bottom with a fishnet, which keeps them from slipping apart during shaking, then plastered over. Her team has built 11 houses so far, with six more coming. The design recently survived, with minimal damage, a violent test on a shake table, a large platform that simulates earthquakes. Because the tough, fibrous plantsused for straw are ubiquitous, Donovan believes the bale design could easily be exported, and her team is discussing traveling to Haiti.


1. Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building (PAKSBAB)
2. Science Magazine
3. University of Nevada, Reno – Earthquake Engineering Simulation

16 responses to “Straw Bale Housing For Pakistan”

  1. Assalamu’ alaikum,

    I’m not sure who Matt is and where he obtained his misinformation regarding PAKSBAB’s price per straw bale, but our latest cost per bale is 57 PKR, including straw and labor. This was with a newly trained baling crew – the labor cost should decrease as their skills improve.

    One straw bale covers 2 square feet of wall area. A standard 8” x 8” x 16” concrete block (CMU) currently costs 22 PKR in the Abbottabad area where we’re currently working. When multiplied by 2.25 (the number of concrete blocks needed to cover the equivalent wall area) it comes to 50 PKR, which doesn’t yet include the cost of rebar and grout necessary to provide earthquake resistance. The cost of cement continues to rise in Pakistan, which is experiencing double-digit inflation.

    The bigger picture is that comparing concrete blocks to straw bales is like comparing apples to oranges. It would be more informative to consider the cost and performance of the whole house building system. PAKSBAB’s current building material cost, including finish detailing, is about 200,000 PKR ($2381 @ 84 PKR/$) for our standard 24 x 24 square foot design, and should continue to decrease as we scale up.

    In response to earlier questions regarding fire, plastered straw bale walls are very fire resistant and have passed a 1-hour ASTM fire test with earth plaster and a 2-hour fire test with cement stucco. Go to for additional information and reports on fire, moisture, durability and strength for straw bale walls.

    Bohut shukria, Owais Sahib, for writing the article and for helping to spread knowledge and peace throughout our communities.

    Darcey Donovan, P.E., C.E.O.
    Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building (PAKSBAB)

  2. Umar Shah says:

    This was a good article. Thanks for the education. Too many non-Pakistanis and non-Pakistani organisations are doing such good work in Pakistan but unfortunately we lump them all together as gora and our enemy thereafter. While I understand Pakistaniat has a more broad minded readership the average person on the street views such programs with suspicion or is quick to write it off as not viable or practical for eg some of the questions raised about fire related safety of straw bales. Even wood which is used widely as a construction block in most Western hemisphere countries is treated with fire retardant chemicals and materials to make it safer. One would assume that similar thought must have been given to straw bale construction by the academics who have the intelligence to test it to 2X the Northridge 6.7 earthquake that devastated Los Angeles in 1994.
    Lastly the wish is to see such programs advertised in mainstream media to dispel the perception that everyone living outside Pakistan is either unaware of Pakistan’s problems or has some secret agenda to destablize the country. Afterall when the West lumps us all together as terrorists we do cry foul and do want them to see us as who we truly are, right?

  3. Matt says:

    Having worked with PAKSBAB I would like to answer two objections and add a more significant one: First, Strawbale houses are very fire resistant. You can study this yourself; surprising, but true. Second, they provide excellent insulation from both heat and cold, the houses we’ve built are very temperature efficient. Finally, the rather huge problem is that so far all houses built by PAKSBAB are very expensive. Too expensive to compete in this market, which unfortunately means that they will build only as many as they manage to provide funding for. A worker recently told me 135 PKR/bale is what it costs them … do the math, the local folk will not bear that kind of expense for an ethereal concept like being “green” when concrete blocks are available for 18 PKR.

  4. Faisal says:

    Not to forget that straw bale walls provide great insulation making them suitable for both hot and cold climates, and very environmentally friendly. Spread the word!
    More facts on Straw bale housing:

  5. kashif says:

    Another technique worth looking into might be earthbag construction as popularized by Nader Khalili.

    The building material is readily available and one can provide training in building such houses while building one on site. Such buildings not only insulate against heat but are also earthquake proof, as opposed to straw bale which are more suited I believe for colder weathers.

    A good reference is the book by Kaki Hunter and Donald Kiffmeyer “Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques”.

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