The last straw: green building alternatives to particle boards

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ October 15, 2011

I'm not a big fan of particle board construction. First and foremost, I don't care for the off-gassing of toxic resins, binding materials and fillers. Second, I've seen too many shabby "budget" particle board cabinets, ceiling materials and building panels. If the home improvement materials and supply industry wants to protect homeowners while producing low-cost alternatives for particle board, I'm all for it.

That's why I'm keenly interested in strawboard building panels used to substitute for 2x4 stud and drywall construction, floors, decking, load-bearing ceilings and other applications. Writers at Holistic Interior Designs say strawboard has been a popular alternative in 20 countries for more than 50 years and we're just finding out about it now.

Green building benefits of strawboard

Strawboard is manufactured without formaldehyde, using a low VOC binder in production. It's light, easy to transport, moisture resistant, and receptive to painting and staining. You can use it in any green home improvement project where you'd otherwise choose medium density fiberboard (MDF). Even better, the basic materials are available wherever we grow agricultural products in the United States. Farmers round up an estimated 150 million tons of straw each year!

American manufacturer Agriboard has a record of successful strawboard residential use as well as having satisfyied commercial customers including Wells Fargo, Bank of Wachovia, US Post Office and The U.S. Army at Fort Hood. The Defense Department, says Agriboard, has qualified the panels as "Blast Resistant". That ought to be a solid enough endorsement for any homeowner considering a green building project.

Looking at strawboard performance

Agriboard says its products are factory- built in 4-6 weeks, tested in high winds in Miami and were found to hold in F-5 wind speeds. They claim it is mold and insect resistant, seven- times more air-tight that particle board, and has up to a 2.5-hour fire rating.

Green builder Kelly Hart reports on his Green Home Building and Sustainable Architecture blog that strawboard panels have an R-value of between 3 and 25, depending on product and your choice of thickness. You can nail it, route it, drill it, glue it and cut it with conventional shop or building saws.

The Washington State Cooperative Extension also has high praise for strawboard panels. The extension reports that a house made using structural fiberboard panels requires 85 percent less timber than a conventional wood-frame home.

Convinced? It's time to go straw!

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