I was recently told about some new research results that have posted on line. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has just published a report authored by Colin MacDougall called “Effect of Mesh and Bale Orientation on the Strength of Straw Bale Walls“. The report is co-authored by Chris Magwood and Steve Vardy.
The findings of the study about mesh and bale orientation, in general, support what many of us straw bale builders have believed for some time, although I was surprised by one of the findings: plastic mesh by Tenax may actually reduce the compressive strength of the bale walls. Although not discussed as part of the study, I think it is important to recognize that even though the inclusion of plastic mesh may decrease the compressive strength of the bale wall assembly, it can play a role in the lateral strength of the wall.
Tenax does not supply a lot of shear strength to wall assemblies; however, the use of welded wire mesh can supply significant shear strength as disclosed in Cale Ash, Mark Aschheim and David Mar’s study “In-Plane Cyclic Tests of Plastered Straw Bale Wall Assemblies.” If the mesh is used as part of the overal engineering of the structure, then it must be considered from more than one angle. Of course, the purpose of this study by MacDougall was to test one aspect of the wall strength and so isolation from other engineering affects was necessary to achieve clear results.
According to Don Fugler of CMHC Policy and Research: “The report looks at the effects of bale orientation, mesh vs no mesh, and clay vs cement based plasters on the strength of the walls under compression, and adds to the accumulating scientific literature on straw bale wall testing.”