Straw Bale Built Home Declined by Toronto But The City Built one in High Park

April 24th, 2014 by Contributor Leave a reply »

My friend, Architect Terrell Wong, a passive house and green building specialist, has been having quite the time with the City of Toronto, trying to get an addition to a home built with straw bale. She figured that since the city had built its own straw bale building in High Park, they’d be open to others building straw bale structures.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with straw bale, it is a method of home building that’s been around for hundreds of years and is still common in Europe. It has a low embodied energy, is recyclable/bio-degradable at end of life, is durable, has a good R-value because it’s so thick and doesn’t need a vapor barrier…or does it? The city denied her application for a straw bale addition to a Toronto home on several grounds, including lack of a vapor barrier. I guess with the city it’s “Do as I say and not as I do.”

Here is Terrell’s own entry regarding her frustrations with the city:

Straw bale built teaching kitchen - located in High Park, Toronto

Straw bale built teaching kitchen – located in High Park, Toronto

 

I assumed that since the City of Toronto owns its own straw bale building in High Park, The Children’s Teaching Kitchen that it would finally be a snap to get a permit to use straw bale as insulation.  NOT SO, from my first encounter at City Hall Dec 2013, it has been an uphill battle.  The policy at the city seems to be that straw bale should get funneled through a process called third party materials evaluation and that alternative solutions would not be appropriate.  The cost is $5000 to apply with all the additional expense of the third party testing to be borne on the applicant. This could be tens of thousands of dollars!   Even though the Ministry of Housing guide to Alternative Solutions clearly indicates straw bale as an example for the process.

Getting nowhere at the bottom, I contacted the Chief Building Official’s office and the local Councillor, Mary-Margaret McMahon.  This got me a conversation with the Deputy Chief Building Officer, Mario Angelucci.  Things seemed to go well with assurances that they would look at my alternative solutions document and get back to me shortly.  That was three weeks ago and I am impatient.  Luckily, I got the opportunity to tell my story to the Architourist  this week.  I emailed all my contacts at City Hall and here is hoping they want to contribute something to the article.  If no other story trumps it I am hoping it will be in the April 25th edition of the Globe and Mail real estate section. If I succeed in getting a building permit, I will post my entire Straw Bale Alternative Solution on my website for anyone to use to get a building permit in Ontario!

PS

After sending it to the press the City has agreed to meet with me next week [April 28-May 1, 2014]. As of yet nothing has been sent in writing to tell me why straw bale in North York is not the same as straw bale in the Beach.  My idea is to meet the City in their own straw bale building so that they can see firsthand what it is all about.  I have invited the Natural Building Coalition, Llyod Alter, Chris Magwood, Dave LeBlanc, Ben Poley, Derek Satnik and Melinda Zytaruk.  I am hoping that local Ward 32 councillor Mary Margaret McMahon will be present to support our cause.

Terrell Wong B.Arch OAA

 Terrell Wong is an architect with over 25 years experience.  Her passion for the environment and design has greatly influenced her career.  In 2006, Terrell lead the winning team to the National Archetype Sustainable House Award.  Their “Building Blocks” modular home concept was constructed at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s Kortright Centre as a showcase for sustainable design. 

 In 2009, Terrell was a founding member and President of Passive Buildings Canada, a national membership-based, non-profit organization that promotes the Passive House concept.   www.passivebuildings.ca

Terrell’s firm, Stone’s Throw Design Inc., specializes in low energy residential design.  With its focus on building science, the firm creates designs utilizing cutting edge materials and techniques.  In 2011, they completed the first insulated rammed earth house in Ontario.  Utilizing integrated design, they provide their clients with the gamut of residential services.  Our respect for natural systems guides our company philosophy: 

  • Conservation over Technology
  • Longevity over Fashion

 

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2 comments

  1. Bettina Hoar says:

    I just spent the weekend at the Kortwright Center hearing Paula Baker Laporte (econest.com) discuss strawbale. She mentioned two excellent resources to help in the fight for strawbale builds in building codes:
    1) contact David Eizenberg http://www.dcat.net/about_dcat/staff.php who is a strong advocate with much experience battling building code and 2) present the 2015 version of the IRC (US based “international” residential code) A proposed appendix on straw bale construction was approved at the International Code Council’s (ICC) Final Action Hearings in Atlantic City on October 4, 2013! The appendix will be included in the 2015 IRC for one- and two-family dwellings.

    Hope that helps!
    Bettina

  2. Cathy Rust says:

    Hi Bettina,
    Thanks for adding your information regarding straw bale homes and building codes. I will forward to Terrell.
    Best,
    Cathy

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