Sensum straw panel house for Kids Under Cover

Straw panels: A sustainable building material supporting at risk youth

The three little pigs didn’t get it all wrong after all – straw houses are offering strong, fast, low-cost, sustainable building solutions for youth in need across Australia.

Melbourne based not-for-profit Kids Under Cover are dedicated to preventing youth homelessness in Australia through a variety of different support solutions. Sensum are working with Kids Under Cover in Victoria and South Australia to deliver prefabricated studios that can be installed in the backyards of existing dwellings. These studios support families by offering an independent living and study space.

The studios use Ortech’s Durra Panels, with internal walls and ceilings constructed from straw panels.

Why are straw panels such a great solution?

They’re extremely environmentally friendly:

  • Low carbon footprint
  • Low processing and lack of transportation = lower embodied energy
  • Extremely fire resistant and durable
  • Simple, natural material that offers great acoustic and thermal performance
  • Efficient – 2 giant bales make 100sq metres of panels!
  • Can withstand point loads of 600-800 kilograms per square metre

Main Image (above): The first family to receive a studio as part of Kids Under Cover’s South Australian pilot program alongside Sensum Project Manager Hassan Mehmoodul and James Klappers from FUSCO Constructions.

So why aren’t we using these panels more?

At first glance we think of straw as a mere straw bale, which is not at all the case. After the grain is removed from the straw, Ortech uses the leftover product that self-binds to make building panels that can be used in walls and ceilings. Amazingly, when fused together at the right temperatures, they can create a very strong, dense panel using no glue or chemical additives.

Straw is usually burned after harvest and releases stored carbon back into the atmosphere, an environmental hazard. Each square meter of Durra Panel is storing 8.5kg of carbon and at the end of its useful life (60+ Years), the panels can be shredded back into earth to help grow more food, a complete cradle to cradle cycle.

New occupants cutting the ribbon on their Kids Under Cover studio.

Some of Australia’s most famous public buildings use these straw Durra Panels – The International Convention Centre, Melbourne Park Tennis Centre, and Docklands Studios.

Project Manager Craig Artemiou (Sensum Vic) explains that “Durra Panels are a fantastic sustainable product that considers end of life use for social infrastructure projects like the Kids Under Cover studios. We’re excited to find opportunities to incorporate them into other projects that support the community.”

Sensum recognise the growing worldwide demand for lower and zero-carbon materials, and endeavour to help drive this change. “We’re passionate about being good ancestors by delivering social infrastructure projects that add value to the community now, and into the future. This aligns with our: One Pack | One Planet.”, says CEO Nick Strongman.


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