It took about 600 bales of straw to build Susie and Chris Phillips' Whakamarama home.

And yes, the couple has heard numerous Three Little Pig jokes about the Big Bad Wolf huffing and puffing and blowing their house down.

But it is still standing, 22 years on.

The couple moved into their two-storey straw home on an abandoned kiwifruit orchard in 1997.


It took about 600 bales of straw, wood the couple felled themselves, diamond mesh wire, and about 30ml of plaster to build their home - decorated with a lick of silicon-based German Keim paint.

"We didn't do it to be green and hippy," Susie said.

"We did it to be practical financially and to build within a sensible code for the area that we were in ... it just makes sense."

No, there are no stray bits of straw spilling through the joinery. The only exposed straw is visible through a "truth window" purposely put there as proof.

A straw house stacks up well with the Phillips.

"The straw gives us a soundproofing and the warmth that we wanted. It is cool in the summer and warm in the winter," Susie said.

"The benefits are the character that it has and the feel of the place. It's warm, it's quiet ... there is a softness about it."

Chris and Susie Phillips in their straw house in 2001. Photo / Country News
Chris and Susie Phillips in their straw house in 2001. Photo / Country News

Back in the 1990s, the couple looked at various building options before settling on straw.


"At the time we didn't have a lot of money," Susie said. "We even looked at making our own bricks ... then we saw somebody had built a shed down in Marlborough using straw."

Susie wanted something that represented her Welsh upbringing and decided on a two-level home with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and an upstairs and downstairs lounge.

The pair was now building a workshop garage and store shed. This time, only 300 bales of straw were needed.

Experienced builder Evan Crawford from Straw Built Homes has been hired for the job.

Crawford has been building with bales since the early 1990s and had also been on the receiving end of Three Little Pigs jokes when he first started the business.

Now, he said straw homes had become more talked about and had since featured on television series such as Grand Designs.

Susie Phillips has been living in a straw house for 22 years with husband Chris. Photo/George Novak
Susie Phillips has been living in a straw house for 22 years with husband Chris. Photo/George Novak

He believed there were about 10 straw-bale homes in Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty - but did not believe the idea would catch on in the area.

"I think you have to be brave ... Pretty much everyone dines in a gib board house," he said.

Many people worried a house made of straw would easily burst into flames, Crawford said.

But that is not the case.

"If you get the straw and sprinkle it into a rubbish bin and set it alight it will burn like crazy," Crawford said. "But when it is dense and it is plastered it does not burn."

Straw was sourced from farms anywhere south of Taihape. Why? "Wind," Crawford said.


"It needs a certain sort of wind to get the product to germinate."

Crawford said it was not necessarily cheaper to build with bales, with straw homes costing between $2000 to $7000 per square metre.

"We can build a cheap house and then people go and up-spec all the joinery," he said. "Twenty per cent of your project is in the walls."

But the build benefits were "far more energy efficient".

"It has an insulation value of about five times that of a regular New Zealand house.

"It is a natural product, and is really breathable, not to be confused with draughty."


Builders could also be flexible with the design. "With straw, it doesn't matter what shape you make it," Crawford said.


People are invited to view the straw build in progress from 10am to 2pm on Sunday, June 24, for a gold coin donation.
All funds will go towards building an extension to the Whakamarama Hall.
The building will be sign-posted off Whakamarama Rd.