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Straw, Stick, or Brick House? Take your pick.

The Zach Theater is sharing a very fun version of the Three Little Pigs this month. Since the story has a lot to do with building homes (in addition to some good music and thoughtful characters), TreeHouse has partnered with the theater to offer some advice on what the pigs could have done a little differently to make their homes a better match for the Big Bad Wolf. These suggestions work just as well for those of you with a “brick house” to make your home a little more healthful and efficient.

None of the houses were built from a “bad” material. Depending on their location, people have built homes out of anything they can get their hands on. Shelter is one of the most essential human needs, which has human creativity to extremes in order to survive. For Sui, Cha, and Bao (the three pig siblings), it all came down to how their material was used. Poor Siu and Cha should have asked Bao what is the best way to use straw or sticks to build a home. He had probably read a book or two about it, and I’m confident he could have helped them build something strong enough to withstand the Big Bad Wolf’s mighty blast, or for that matter, a Gulf Coast wind or Big Bend summer day.

Siu’s Straw House

Oh, the straw house. No one is surprised when the Wolf is able to blow it down with a single puff. A sneeze could have brought that house down. But straw doesn’t make a bad house. Despite her best attempt “to build an environmentally friendly house,” Siu failed to use straw in a way that would make her house sturdy.

Straw has been used to build homes for centuries. My grandmother was born in a straw bale home in northern South Dakota, a place known for howling winds and blizzards in the winter, as well as hot, blistering summers with days over 100 degrees. When the plains states were settled, straw bale homes and dug-ins (houses actually dug into the ground), were common due to the abundance of the resources necessary to build them: straw for the main structure and clay and mud to coat the walls.

Due to the thickness of the walls and the way the bales trap so much air, straw bales are incredible insulators, with R-values easily topping R-40. By comparison, to meet code in Austin, a new construction only needs to have walls at R-15.

The thicker walls provide a different aesthetic than standard framing, with deep-set windows and doors. They also provide the opportunity to use natural materials, like stucco or other plaster, for the finishing. You can even blend standard framing with the straw bale to install drywall inside, giving you the ability to use paint if you want.

Cha’s Stick House

When the second pig set out to build a house out of sticks, I had something like this in mind, which doesn’t exactly elicit confidence in its ability to hold up to anything. While it is possible to build something sturdy from those sticks, most people (or pigs) probably don’t have the time or luxury to do something quite as laborious.

The problem may be that the word “stick” makes you think almost exclusively of twigs and bendy, wispy branches. The beauty of wood, though, is that it comes in so many sizes. Long before we had the technology to carve a tree down into 2×4’s, people knew how to cut down a tree and use the trunk and larger limbs for building beautiful and durable homes in any climate. Assuming all the seams are properly sealed, these can be very energy efficient, something Cha probably wasn’t thinking about when he built his home from the first sticks he could find.

And that’s one of the main points of the story, isn’t it: take the time to think about all your options before making such an important decision. If he and Siu had brain-stormed a little more or anticipated how their finished project would perform, they could have used their first idea as inspiration for something better.

Bao’s Brick House

Of the three choices from the story, brick is the strongest material the pig siblings used. It is also the most energy-intensive to make, considering you’re taking combinations of clay, sand, and lime and baking them. They can be air- or kiln-dried, but in either case, a lot of heat has to get into the material to make it suitable for building.

The traditional way to make bricks or earth blocks is by forming the blocks and leaving them in the sun. If the site where you’re building has access to some good clay and sand, these earth blocks could be a good choice for building your home. They won’t give you that traditional brick look, but they will make a strong and comfortable home.

I’m sure when you think about your own home you like to imagine it more like the brick house: strong; built with care; the kind of house that could never fall victim to a wheezing wolf. Big strong gusts, however, aren’t the real problem with houses these days. Most of the time, our homes really need protection from the little gusts and breezes that sneak in through cracks and around windows. And over the course of time, it’s those little huffs and puffs that ruin the electric bill and blow your bank account to the ground or make you feel uncomfortable.

The story of the Three Little Pigs has a lot to teach about making wise decisions and the value of hard work. After all, the first two built their homes just about as fast as they could. It must have taken much longer to build that brick house, but the hard work paid off. With a little bit of thoughtfulness, any house can be comfortable and efficient, capable of standing up to the Big Bad Wolf, no matter what form it takes.

Three Little Pigs, presented by ZACH Theatre at the Kleberg Stage, will run from February 27-April 25, 2015. Each weekend of the show from March 28-April 25, ZACH will host petting zoos before the weekend shows. Tickets are available at zachtheatre.org and by phone at (512)-476-0541.

ZACH Theatre- A non-profit organization, ZACH creates intimate theatre experiences that ignite the imagination, inspire the spirit, and engage the community.