Using local materials for fencing constructions Print
Ecologization - Peoples Eco-Life Project
Wednesday, 30 September 2009 08:39


(Monograph thesis)

Bogdan Popov


1. Introduction

Using local materials such as thatch, rush and so on has been often done in house building in Ukraine since old times. Human beings were using first what is near by. People have a great experience in using these materials and on their basis create extremely advances and reasonable building techniques which are adapted to specific conditions.

Nowadays using local materials is reasonable for same reasons as before.

Sustainable development strategy is the only way for people to survive demand such constructions that consumes the lowest number of resources, but at the same time ensures quality living conditions for human being. Using natural materials with suitable technologies gives a possibility to ensure not only high level of heat insulation indexes and reduce construction cost, but also, not less important, reduce  bad influence to human health that is authentic in the case of applying artificially produced construction materials.

From 70-s of the XX century in developed countries we can observe revival of interest to such technologies. Many things that were done on individual and experimental level nowadays become a standard construction practice which is supported by the government through financial and other institutions. Accumulated experience allows us to confirm that using local natural materials is important part of environmentally reasonable housing.

Ukraine has a great potential using local materials as building resource which is not really used nowadays.  Mostly it concerns to thatch of grain crop. Annually its accessible amount is about 5 millions tones. No doubt that certain part of it can be used to provide Ukrainian people with cheap, energy efficient and secure housing.

2. Low-rise estate construction

Low-rise estate construction as one of the promising types of housing is prioritized direction which development is foreseen by the State Housing Programme of Ukraine. It can be applied both in the city and in the village.

Its major advantages compare to multi-storey buildings are:

  • It fulfils biological nature of the human being as territorial type;
  • It has positive influence to the birth rate together with other factors of positive influence;
  • It uses energy and material resources more effectively on condition that certain technologies are used in projecting;
  • It corresponds with traditions and lifestyle of Ukrainian people;
  • Allows wide usage of local building (constructional) materials;
  • It allows to build unaided;
  • Availability of private plot of land that can be used for farming and other activities;
  • High security level during fires, earthquakes and other extreme cases that can be dangerous for human lives and health.

Low-rise estate construction is the main building type in many developed countries.

For instance, in 2004 in the USA 355 millions of living quarters were built. Out of them 305 millions of living quarters are wooden bungalows. Similar scenarios can be seen in other countries.

Unfortunately, during soviet times only multi-storey building has been developed by using reinforced concrete construction and ceramic bricks. This situation, up to certain extend, also remains nowadays in independent Ukraine. In 2006 at least 6709 square meters of housing out of the 8 626 thousand square meters put in to operation are urban multi-storey buildings made of reinforced concrete.

Major problems that hold back development of low-rise building in Ukraine are:

  • Lack of proper state policy with regard to low-rise construction;
  • Corporate wars between building companies;
  • Lack of state support concerning infrastructure developments as well as social;
  • Lack of building industry that secures needs of proper construction materials for low-rise building;
  • Urban population is not ready morally and psychologically to change their lifestyles;
  • Discrepancy in prices for the common building materials and building technologies based on financial possibilities of major population;

Therefore, low-rise building development is dependent on resolving complex interconnected problems that requires very detailed state action programme and state support in financial and social spheres.

3. Energy efficiency

Significant (almost 42%) part of housing and communal services is on the balance of energy consumption of Ukraine determines the importance of effective and urgent problem solving of  energy-efficiency within housing and communal sphere.

Let us refer to the state document – concept of national strategy in house building:

«Further increase in tariff prices for electric power and transport brings a question about the increase heat-shielding housing elements that substantially influence the cost of house maintenance.

Priority tasks within house building should be oriented to the further decrease in energy consumption while using houses with new heat-engineering norms introduced in year 2007, which allows drawing their consumption closer to the average European level. This problem should be resolved for the new house building as well as for already existing housing funds.

To resolve these problems it is important to ensure transition on to using heat-effective fencing constructions of housing development according to the new heat-engineering norms and with the purpose of their mass implementation is to develop a sectoral programme  “Energy saving in house building”»

Therefore, in Ukraine technologies that are used in mass low-rise estate construction should meet the following requirements:

  • To be cheap;
  • To ensure high level of  heat-insulation;
  • Production and material usage should not have negative environmental effects;
  • As much as possible correspond to local traditions;
  • To consume minimum quantity of wood;
  • Building should have a low level of time and workload consumption.

4. Widespread materials and technologies in modern few floors construction

4.1  Wooden houses


  • Good aesthetic look;
  • Correspondence to national traditions (in certain regions of Ukraine);
  • Good bio-positive features (subject to using harmless decorations and other materials);
  • High level of gas penetrability (the house is «breathing»).

4.2  Frame constructions


  • Speed of construction;
  • Efficient usage of timber;
  • High heat engineering indexes (applying certain type of filling it in);
  • Possibility of using local material for stuffing;
  • Possibility to build by own means.


  • Necessity to have prepared wood and other factory materials which consume certain amount of energy while produced and also pollute the environment (ecological price);
  • Some types of fillings can have potential danger for the health;
  • Possible low level of gas penetrability (the house is not «breathing») and necessity to use additional ventilation systems.

4.3  Brick walls


  • High performance indicators (durability and firmness);
  • Possibility to create complex architect frames;
  • Well developed production basis;
  • Prestige;
  • High level of heat-retaining characteristics (when using external heat insulating).


  • High eco production price (clay extraction, baking etc.);
  • Low heat-holding characteristics (coefficient of thermal conductivity is 0,7 Vt/mК);
  • Time consuming building, necessity in maturing to perform contraction;
  • Necessity to employ skilled workers for walls brickwork;
  • Low level of gas penetrability (the house is not «breathing») and necessity to use additional ventilation systems.

4.4  Light-weight concrete (foam concrete, lightweight aggregate concrete, polystyrene concrete)


  • Relatively low pricing (apart from polystirol concrete);
  • Availability of production materials (cement);
  • Speed of construction;
  • High level of heat-retaining characteristics (0,12 – 0,16 Vt/mК);
  • Possibility of local production (foam concrete);
  • High level of thermal receiving ability;
  • Fire safety;
  • Gas penetrability (apart from polystirol concrete).


  • High ecological price of cement production (air emission of carbon dioxide, air pollution with solid parts);
  • High level of water absorption, necessity to apply protection layers that can worsen gas penetrability;
  • In the case of using gas concrete, polystirol concrete and clayite concrete energy consumption and pollution from aluminium production, sterol and clayite.

4.5 High-density concrete


  • Technology is economically effective (cost of 1 square meter) only in case of big construction volumes, for instance building few cottages or one settlement;
  • Low weight of indestructible frameworks, simple technology and there is no need to use heavy machinery;
  • Building house frame by using the above technology is 10-20% cheaper than building bricks frame (depends on the house project and type of the front treatment)


  • Low coefficient index of gas penetrability;
  • Low level of heat and sound insulating properties;
  • Cement production is one of the environmentally nasty: emission of carbon dioxide from limestone when firing cement clinker, dust from the raw material mix and clinker pounding, thermal pollution of the atmosphere.
  • During the production of 1 tone of the cement, about 1461600 kilocalories of heat energy or equivalent of natural gas is used up.

4.6  Heat insulators

Heat insulating materials by its type of major raw material are divided into organic and non-organic.

Organic heat insulating materials depending on their origin type can be conditionally divided in to two types:

  • Natural organic raw material base (wood, wood waste, peat, one-year plants, animal wool etc.);
  • Materials with synthetic pitch base, so called heat insulating plastic.

4.6.1 Wood-fibrous heat insulating plates


  • Well developed raw material base;
  • Easiness of assembling;
  • Low prices;
  • Elimination of waste.


  • High ecological price of production (air and water pollution, energy consumption, using unhealthy materials);
  • Astringent (phenol pitch) can be dangerous for residents;
  • Low level of gas penetrability;
  • Necessity to organize special production.

4.6.2 Peat plates


  • Availability of raw material base in certain regions and possibilities to use local materials;
  • Absence of unhealthy substances and environmental pollution during the production and operational cycle.


  • Demolishing bog ecosystems while extracting peat;
  • Necessity to have special equipment;
  • Energy consumption in production cycle;
  • High level of water absorption.

4.6.3 Building portage


  • Using cattle breeding waste;
  • High level of gas penetrability;
  • Local material is available


  • High level of water absorption ;
  • Good environment for insects reproduction;
  • Special factory equipment is required.

4.6.4 Heat – insulating plastic materials

Thermoplastic (styrene, polyvinylchloride, polyurethane) and thermosetting (urea-formaldehyde) pitches, gas and foam generating substances, fillers, plasticizer, dye stuff etc are raw materials for heat insulating plastic manufacturing.

Depending on the structure of heat insulation plastic can be divided into two groups: foam plastic and pore plastic.

Foam plastic is sponginess plastic with low solidity and availability of no connected between themselves cavities or cells fill in with gas or air.

Poroplast is pore plastic which structure is characterized by connected cavities.


  • High level of heat-insulating property;
  • Certain types are health secure during maintenance;
  • Simple assembling;
  • Low level of water absorption gives a possibility to use foundations and other elements for heat insulating in humid environment.


  • Environmental pollution and energy consumption in production cycle;
  • Discharging of harmful substances during production cycle and operation of certain types;
  • It is important to have good quality equipment;
  • Short duration with bad quality production;
  • Low level of gas penetrability (the house is not «breathing»).

To non-organic heat insulating materials belong mineral wool, glass fibre, perlite and vemiculite, asbestos-containing heat insulating materials, sponginess concrete, etc.

4.6.5 Mineral and glass wool


  • Elimination of waste;
  • High level of heat insulating characteristics;
  • Simple using.


  • Formation of dust, dangerous to health, during the production cycle and operation;
  • Environment  pollution during  production cycle;
  • High level of energy consumption in production cycle.

4.6.6 Foam glass


  • Elimination of waste;
  • Possibility to use as decoration;
  • Safe for health during the operation cycle;


  • High level of energy consumption and carbon dioxide during the operation cycle;
  • Low level of heat insulating characteristics.

4.6.7 Aluminium foil (alu foil)


  • Low weight and thickness for high level of thermal protection characteristics.


  • Energy and recourses consumption during production cycle of paper and aluminum;
  • Environmental pollution during production cycle;
  • Possible formation of electromagnetic fields as a result of aluminum application.

5. Conclusion with regard to the group of widespread materials

In our opinion from the above list, the most suitable for mass low-rise building in Ukraine are spongy concrete and silicates (foam concrete, gas concrete and gas silicates). This conclusion is based on the following joint characteristics:

  • Relatively low material price;
  • Good heat insulating characteristics;
  • Low level of time and workload consumption;
  • Low level of timber demand;
  • High level of gas penetrability;
  • there are no recorded negative health consequence.

Other materials and technologies do not have listed joint characteristics; however some variables can be valuable enough. Otherwise increase of some parameters brings to the reduction of others. For instance revetment with plastic sterol improves heat insulating characteristics, but at the same time causes price increase and also lowers gas penetrability. Some heat insulations can be cheap but not healthy. Even though wooden house have a natural look they are very expensive and have inside heat holding properties. Therefore mentioned materials can be used somewhere close to production site   to eliminate logistic costs or for building elite housing or to be used for office and other types of similar constructions (shops).

6. Usage of local material

6.1  Bulrush


  • Low level of sheaves solidity does not create a strong wall;
  • Empty spaces between sheaves reduce heat-shielding characteristics;
  • High level of time and workload consumption.

6.2  Reed-fiber mat


  • Cheap material is possible to get only when production is done close to the construction site;
  • Good heat insulating characteristics;
  • Very fast construction method;
  • Low level of workload consumption when building;
  • Good gas penetrability;
  • Traditional.


  • Plate production is dependent o special equipment (presses);
  • Possibility to damage bogs ecosystems while preparing raw materials;
  • Necessity to use metal wire;
  • Possibility to be damaged by rodent;
  • Necessity to use wooden frames;
  • High level of work consumption while preparing and shifting raw materials;
  • Necessity to use plasterboards;
  • Walls are not very good to hold nails;
  • Decaying is possible when moisture hits.

6.3  Adobe


  • Good heat-accumulating indexes;
  • low price;
  • Good indexes of gas penetrability;
  • Speed construction;
  • Cement saving;
  • Possibility to built main frames without additional frameworks (for bricks with high level of clay).


  • High level of moisture capacity;
  • Average heat insulating characteristics;
  • Relatively high level of workload consumption;
  • Necessity to use special equipment to form blocks;
  • Long hours for drying.

6.4  Clay–stover filling material for framework walls


  • Simple method that does not require special equipment.
  • High level of heat-reflecting and heat-retaining characteristics;
  • High level of gas penetrability;
  • Fire resistance during construction as well as operation process;


  • Double wooden main frame is necessary;
  • Long drying and contraction time;
  • Necessity of additional filling after shrinking;
  • Relatively high level of workload while building.

6.5  Straw mat


  • Good heat insulating characteristics (about 0,045 W/m °С) when using two or more layers;
  • Material availability;
  • Low price;
  • High level of gas penetrability;
  • Speed of construction;
  • Lack of  contraction  (plastering can be done straight away);
  • Opportunity to apply for external heat-insulation of already existing walls;


  • High level of ventilation;
  • Necessity to use special equipment to produce plates (presses) and other additional material (wires)
  • Low level of heat accumulating ability;
  • Wooden frame is mandatory to use.

6.6  Straw bales

As we can see from practical experience and theoretical analysis technology is absolutely reasonable to be used. However, like many other building technologies it has its niche that limits its application. Therefore, by no means we can discuss its universality. For instance, statements about extremely low construction price we can only hear from enthusiasts, and they do not respond the reality.  In modern house made by to taking into account modern demand level to comfort and lifestyle, the cost of walls is about 15% from the total construction cost.  So for instance if we presume that straw bales are twice as cheap as other materials used in construction we can talk about savings not more than 7.5 %.  But we can state that major advantage of this technology is extremely high heat engineering indexes and also material safety for the environment as well as human health.

In spite of compared walls building speed it is difficult to link it to the potentially industrial construction methods. During construction time there are many moments that require taking individual decisions and overall technology is characterized as the one that requires high attentiveness to details.

Straw bales building technology is mostly suitable in those cases when you build the house on your own without inviting contract workers. Only from such houses we can receive expected results with regard to construction cost and exploitation and also comfort level which consists only of objective indexes and feelings that receive those who are going to live in such houses.

Using technology is mostly reasonable with the following conditions:

  • Ability to buy well pressed straw bales on reasonable prices close to the construction site;
  • Building very simple for small size housing (50-60 square meters);
  • Main wall is made of straw bales with the small snow alls (possible in steppe zone).

7. Conclusion concerning comparative analysis within the group of local materials

Applying reed-fiber mat to the walls as it is or combining it (external heat-insulating) which is more reasonable when it is possible to get enough of it close to the construction site and also have a possibility to store raw material by using environmentally friendly methods. Appropriateness can be influenced only by the mechanical logistic process. Certain interest is attracted by using rush from biological system of water cleaning (artificial bogs), but only under the conditions of excluding accumulating of heavy metals and other harmful substances inside the materials which can be in sewage.

In other cases to build using straw bales is more reasonable considering more mechanical level of straw preparation and moving bales, extremely high level of heat engineering indexes and also possibility to reduce consumption of timber. Under energy cost increase conditions the last factor becomes very crucial. When it is impossible to use straw bales, monolithic wall made of clay straw is an alternative method. This method has high level of time and work consumption during construction and also it is compulsory to apply wooden frame which should be duplex. Building from pugging stuff and clay rolls can be used as an extreme case because of the lack of the above mentioned materials and wood deficit to make a frame.  It is mostly reasonable under the conditions of atmospheric precipitation and big number of sunny days.

8. Conclusion with regard to comparative analysis between groups of common and local materials

Analysis within the group of widespread materials shows that for mass low-rise building spongy concrete and silicate have the best joint characteristics.

Comparison of these materials with local shows us the following picture.

By heat protective characteristics straw bales exceed spongy concrete as twice as much. However, spongy concrete has better heat accumulating indexes.

It is difficult to compare the building speed by using straw bales and spongy concrete, because it depends upon many factors. However, majority of analyzed sources indicate that both technologies are speedy building method which does not require endurance of drying, absorbing etc.  The advantage of spongy concrete is lack of plastering, besides it is important to cover it with moisture-resistant liquid.

While comparing these materials work consumption is almost on the same level. Building by using spongy concrete requires less use of timber compare to straw bale construction, but when doing the main wall with straw bales these indexes comes down to the same level.

Spongy concrete has worse influence indexes to the environment due to atmosphere pollution and high level of energy consumption during production. Cement production from spongy concrete also can have negative influence to the people health. Straw is a waste and during its manufacturing there is no additional pollution or energy consumption.

Spongy concrete has a high level of fire safety. However plastered straw bales also allow reaching high level of fire safety.

Spongy concrete price is higher compare to straw bales (the same volume). To the price of spongy concrete we should also add the price of viscous (cement or glue) that helps to pile bricks and the price of moisture-resistant covering. However, straw bales plastering can be very costly.

Gas penetrability of both materials is very high, however better indexes has a wall made of straw bales plastered with clay.

Taking into the consideration all the above information it can be concluded that only using ecological indexes straw bales are better material to use compare to spongy concrete. However in the real life, nowadays other factors can be not less reasonable (industrialization and availability of production base).  As it was mentioned above straw bale suit better when you decide to build yourself and not inviting contract workers and perhaps this type of building has its niche these days.

9. Conclusion

Low-rise construction by using local materials such as straw and rush is one of the powerful ways to resolve sharp housing problems in Ukraine. Using these technologies compare to conventional construction methods has got the following advantages:

  • High level of energy efficiency (low level of energy consumption) during both, production and maintenance cycle;
  • Availability of good resource base;
  • Less negative influence to the environment from production cycle;
  • Lack of negative influence to the human health during exploitation (operation);
  • Possibility to build his/her house with own hands;
  • Heritage with traditional national construction.

By now, from many points of view, both in national as well as in alternative building big experience of using straw and rush is accumulated and that allows us to confirm that cheap, long-lasting and ecologically secure houses can be built. Compare to ordinary building technologies (bricks and concrete) qualitative analysis of energy balance and environmental risks shows the effectiveness of using mentioned local materials. Particular attention deserves using pressed straw bales building technology. This method allows us to receive the best heat protective properties under the conditions of low energy consumption that can be 30 times less compare to modern houses using artificial heat-insulating materials (mineral wool or polystirol).  Up to date thousands of houses have been built in many parts of the world. It is a pity that Ukraine having lack of energy resources and housing and owns such a huge resource of straw, remains aside to this process. Every year out of 5 million tones of straw, which is available in Ukraine theoretically 42 millions square meters of housing or 699300 buildings with an area of 60 square meters can be built and they consume heating 3-4 times less energy compare to the housing premises that are used now.

Construction with local material also has its disadvantages and restrictions as any other building technology. However, major restrictions that limit these technologies have subjective attitude compare to objective factors like:

  • mistaken opinion of prestige when choosing building material;
  • major part of the population has information insufficiency about alternative building technologies;
  • low level of environmental awareness;
  • disadvantage of wide application of local materials for institutions that control modern construction market in Ukraine.

Analysis of the situation shows that, in order to introduce building from local materials the following steps are necessary:

  • state support;
  • dissemination of information;
  • demonstration of expediency.

It is important to emphasize that there are no universal construction technologies and expediency is first of all conformity to certain location, conditions and other factors. Both materials and techniques can be used or not used under different circumstances. Also using one type of materials does not exclude using the other that means that various types of material could be combined or used in different parts of the building. To establish such suitability can be very complicated task which we think should be resolved based upon synthesis of ecological and construction sciences.

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