evaluating thermal resistivity of cement plastered strawbale masonry

Adeola Abdullah Adedeji Department of Civil Engineering, University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria Email: amadeji@yahoo.com

Abstract: Cement plastered straw bale specimens of sorghum and maize strawbale thermal specimens were prepared and cured for 28 days. Thermal conductivity tests were performed on the specimens using Lee’s disc apparatus. Thermal resistivity of the plastered straw bale specimens were calculated as the reciprocal of the apparent thermal conductivity. The results of the experiment tests and calculations have shown that increase in the thickness of the plastered strawbale masonry would increase their thermal resistivity. Though, this effect varies slightly from sorghum to maize strawbale masonry, but at the thickness of 400 mm. The thermal resistivity of wood specimens measured with the same apparatus agreed to within 1.21 of the published values. Keywords: Thermal resistivity, thermal conductivity, sorghum, masonry.

1. Introduction Maize and sorghum are the 4th and 5th most important world cereals, after wheat, rice, and barley (SFCRC, 1994). These crops can be grown on a wide range of soil types ranging from clay to sand. To obtain the maximum yield, the soil should be deep loamy clay with good drainage, high fertility with a pH between 5.5 and 7.5. Grain yields range from between 7 and 9 t/ha when soil moisture is not a limiting factor. Sorghum, compared to other field crops, is particularly tolerant to unfavorable environmental conditions, such as drought and salinity. Unlike other building construction materials and types, strawbale construction does not require the tight tolerances that most building systems demand. This project involved laboratory tests on the cement plastered bales of sorghum and maize straw materials, for comparison, and to obtain the value of their thermal resistivity Bales of the two materials were plastered with portland cement to form wall panels. Sorghum and maize stalks waste, after harvest, were examined. Thermal resistivity, which is the measure of the resistance of the material to heat flows, is influenced by specimen composition. Typical compositions were represented by the thermal specimens that were tested.

2. Strawbale Thermal Properties All buildings must be energy efficient and contribute to the comfort of the occupants. These objectives are accomplished by using insulation of one sort or another. In brick or block walls this often takes the form of expanded polystyrene, spray foam polyurethane boards, rock wool (Al-Sanea et al, 2003) installed against the blocks inside the cavity of the wall. In the case of straw bale insulation bales are a structural component of the wall.

Building regulations currently require walls of domestic dwellings in UK to have a U-value of 0.45 W/m2K or less (Jones, 2001). Straw bales with thicknesses ranging between 350 to 450 mm have U-values of about 0.13 W/m2K (Jones 2001, Adedeji 2003). Surface-to-surface R-value (the reciprocal of the U-value minus the film surface resistances) is another term used by designers to estimate the heat loss and gain through a wall. The R-value related to a unit of thickness is referred to thermal resistivity (r-value) For a 400 mm thick straw bale McCabe (1993) showed in British units R = 52 (ft2 oF hr)/(BTU in), which can be compared with a nominal R = 13(ft2 oF hr)/(BTU in) for 89 mm thick fiberglass. This means that after recalculation to SI units fiberglass has a resistivity (r-value) of about 0.026 mK/W and straw bale having r-value of 0.023 mK/W The high insulation value of straw depends on the thickness of the bales and the type of plaster material. Straw, according to Peter (1988) is an excellent thermal insulation. As shown in Table 1 straw bale walls has a very low U-value compared to other materials.

Table 1 Comparison of the U-Value of Straw-Bale Walls with other Types of Walls Materials U- value (W/m2K) 105mm brickwork, 75mm mineral fibre, 100mm light weight concrete block, 13mm light weight plaster: 100mm heavy weight concrete block 75mm mineral fibre, 100mm heavy weight concrete block, 13mm light weight plaster 100mm light weight concrete block, 75mm mineral fibre, 100mm light weight concrete block, 13mm light weight plaster. 450mm straw wall: Source: Adedeji (2003) 0.33


0.29 0.13

3. History of Tests on Thermal Performance

There are different types of tests methods that can be used to determine the thermal performance of strawbale masonry. Nehemiah (2003) These include: (1) the guarded hot plate or thermal probe tests, (2) the guarded-box facility, 3) monitoring of the specimens using ambient conditions (i.e. full-scale testing of experimental houses and (4) use of known or assumed physical properties of composite materials. The first two methods allow the estimation of thermal resistance of the material. Method (3) is used to estimate the amount of heat loss through the entire envelope over a specific period of time while the last method uses known resistances of the material components. These aforementioned methods can be compared with each other\

Determination of the thermal resistance (R-value) of wheat and rice straw-bale masonries was first conducted by McCabe (1993) using a guarded hot plate. The result of the R-value for the rice straw-bale masonries varied between 0.419 and 0.44 m2K/W A thermal probe test carried out by Acton (1994) using a single bale resulted in an estimated R-value of 0.478 m2K/W. The actual R-value of strawbale masonry varied with number of factors including the type of straw used, its moisture content, density and the orientation of the plastered straw.

4. Methodology

4.1 Acquisition and quality of bale

The straw materials used were fully dried (sun dried, air-dried) and clean. The material was free of debris and other leaves. The matured sorghum straw used were thick, long stemmed and free of seed heads. Matured straw (sorghum and maize stalk) was manually taken bit by bit and cut into pieces, then twine was used to tie the bale together lengthwise and transversely to achieve the desired size and dimensions.

Particle size distribution of sand particles Sieve analysis was carried out to determine the particle-size distribution of the fine aggregate used in the mortar/plaster mix in accordance to BS410. A 1000g specimen of dry fine aggregate sample was used to obtain the results shown in Table 2.

Table 2 Result of Sieve Analysis Sieve size (mm) 5 4 2.36 1 0.5 0.4 555 480 521 493 479 Sieve weight (g) Sieve weight Retained (g) 558.3 511.5 664.5 765.5 585 Retained weight (g) Percentage Retained % 3.5 2 31.5 143.5 272.5 106.5 0 0.35 3.15 14.35 27.25 10.65 0 0.35 3.5 17.85 45.1 55.1 100 99.65 96.5 82.15 54.9 44.25 Cumulative percentage retained % Cumulative percentage passing %

0.25 0.063 Recording pan P

481 451 269

711 640.5 291.5

230.5 189.5 22.5

23.05 18.95 2.25

78.8 97.75 100

21.2 2.125 0

ercentage retained = Weight retained x 100% 1000

4.3 Batching and mixing of mortar

Proportions of the ordinary portland cement and fine aggregate were used to produce the mortar/plaster mix. In this project, batching was made by volume. The plastering mortar was made from a mix of 1:8 (cement to sand ratio) with an average dry density of 1874 kg/m3 and average compressive strength of 2.81 N/mm2 and moisture content of 2.13% Water was added intermittently to the batched mortar to provide sufficient workability for application. Mixing was done by hand using trowels. The cement and sand were thoroughly mixed dry such that no trace of unmixed cement was found in the mixture before adding water and thoroughly mixed again. A sufficient amount of water was added to the mix to avoid shrinkage and distortion of the plaster on drying.

Quality control tests on strawbale specimen

The following tests conducted are briefly explained.

Dry Unit Weight (BS 6073, Part 2, 1981)

The dry unit weight of strawbale was determined to within +/- 0.05 grams

Gross Density

The gross density was obtained as the complete dry plastered strawbale unit mass divided by its volume.

Absorption Test (ASTM C140-75)

This test, which is fully described in ASTM C 140-75, measures the absorption of water by the plastered strawbale for a period of 24 hrs.

Moisture Content

This was determined by putting the separately weighed specimen in a dry oven (100+/-5oC) for three days. They were removed, put in desiccators and allowed to cool before weighing. Table 3 shows the test results for 120x80x60 mm model specimens.

Table 3. Tests Results S/No Gross volume (x103 mm3) 1 2 3 57.6 57.6 57.6 Gross density (kg/m3) 1878.5 1888.9 1871.5 13.72 11.90 12.25 2.807 1.745 1.587 % Absorption % Moisture content

4.5 Plastering and Curing of Strawbale specimen

Portland cement mortar was used to plaster the two sides of the straw-bale specimen panel Plastering aggregates composed of particles of high porosity resulted in a low bulk density. Mixing was done by hand until uniform consistency was obtained. “Mixing action”, according to George (1990), involves a working or vigorous rubbing of the cement paste onto

the surface of the aggregate particle as well as a general blending of all the ingredients. The proportions of the ingredients (when not premixed) are measured by volume. Mortars were shoveled from the board on to the wood formwork with a metal trowel and transferred to the strawbale panel and spread with a trowel. In order to ensure adequate bond (Grundy, 1977) the plaster must be able to paste well to the surface. In order to cover uneven surfaces a second coat with thickness about 8 mm was applied. The thickness of the strawbale was varied for analysis while the plaster thickness remained constant. In order to prevent surface evaporation and over heating from the action of sun and wind, the curing method applied during this work is spreading of straw over the plastered strawbale surface and suitably damped. This is to provide insulation as well as moisture – holding medium. The specimen was moist cured for 7 days and then cured for 28 days before testing.

4.6 Experimental Tests on Thermal Performance

The Standard Laboratory form of Lee’s Disc apparatus was used and it consists of a cylindrical slab of metal C made of copper or brass suspended from a retort stand as shown in Figure 1. On this rests a hollow cylinder through which steam from a steam chamber was passed and the specimen (i.e. the round plastered strawbale) was placed between two cylinders A and C. A hole was bored near the bottom of cylinder A and another in C for 110 oC mercury-in-glass calibrated thermometers. The two metal cylinders were nickel plated to give them the same emissive power. The apparatus was suspended using a retort stand with the flat surfaces of the disc horizontal. Heat moves from the steam chest through the specimen to the nickel plated copper block. The temperature of the block rose till all the heat reaching it through the specimen was lost to the atmosphere until steady-state is achieved.. The temperature of the steam chest and cylinder block C were measured by thermometers whose bulbs have been dipped into petroleum jelly to ensure good thermal contact.

Fig. 1 Diagram of the Experimental Apparatus

The room temperature was noted before reading were taken, then the steam chamber was filled with water and heated with a Bunsen burner until the steam condensed out from the other end of cylinder block A. After that, the thermometers T1 and T2 were then inserted into the hollow blocks to read the temperatures at steady state when each temperature changes by less than 0.5oC. Figure 2 is a photograph of the apparatus. The readings were taken at 10-second intervals. After steady state was attained the rate at which heat is conducted across the plastered sorghum strawbale is equal to the rate at which

Thermometer reading

Thermometer reading

Time (s)

Temperature difference (θ1-θ2) (OC)

1 (

2 (


75.0 88.0 90.0 92.0 Average 86.25

32.0 33.0 33.1 33.3 32.83

0 10 20 30

43.0 55.0 56.0 59.7 53.65

Table 4: Test Results for the plastered strawbales and wood specimens

it is emitted from the exposed surfaces of the metal slab C. At equilibrium, heat entering the slab C equals the loss due to cooling. The heat loss was determined by measuring the cooling rate at the equilibrium temperature θ2, with the copper slab C covered with a pad of insulation

The rate at which heat is conducted across the specimens is expressed (George, 1990) as,

where K is the apparent thermal conductivity (W/mK) of the plastered strawbale, D is the diameter (m) and d the thickness (m) and the readings of the thermometer T1 and T2 at steady state are θ1 and θ2 ( oC), If the mass of the metal slab C is m, its specific heat capacity c, and the rate of cooling at θ2 (OC) is (dθ/dt)2 (Obtained by drawing a target to the cooling current at θ2), then the rate of loss of heat from the lower face and the sides of the slab C is Q = mc (dθ /dt)2 (2)

Specimen Thickness (mm) 16 34 38 42

External temperature θ1 ( OC)

Internal temperature θ2 (OC)

Temperature difference

1-θ2 (OC)
92.0 93.0 93.8 95.0 63.0 62.8 62.0 61.2 29 30.2 31.8 33.8

Hence equating (1) and (2) K is determined and Equation (3) gives the thermal resistivity.

r = 1/K (3)

Table 5: Average temperature differences across the sorghum strawbale panels of different thicknesses

Figure 2 shows the Lee’s disc apparatus setup and plastered strawbale under testing.

Fig. 2: Plastered strawbale under testing in Lee’s apparatus

For the purpose of comparison, the above experimental procedure was repeated for the wood (mahogany of density between 0.34 - 0.75 g/cm3) disc of the same size as in the strawbale specimen).

5. Results and Test Analysis

Results obtained from the tests carried out on the cement-plastered sorghum and maize strawbales, with thicknesses 0.016, 0.034, 0.038 and 0.042 m, are shown in Table 4. A typical example of the results of temperature measurement at time interval for the specimen of 16 mm thickness is shown in Table 4. All other results for other thickness for sorghum and maize are not shown here, but the average values for sorghum and maize are shown in Table 5 and 6 respectively. The graphs of temperature θ2OC against time are shown in Figures 3. to 6 respectively. Values of the Cooling rate of the slab C used in the calculation of the thermal conductivity are shown in Figures 3 to 6 for different thickness of the specimens. Statistical analysis was done using the results of the temperature measurement at time interval. The mean, standard deviation and coefficient of variation are the resulting statistical parameters.

Table 6: Average temperature differences across the maize strawbale panels of different thicknesses Specimen Thickness (mm) 16 86.25 32.83 External temperature θ1 ( OC) Internal temperature θ2 (OC) Temperature difference

1-θ2 (OC)

34 38 42

87.25 77.75 92.75

32.53 31.53 31.15

54.73 55.23 61.6

standard deviation =7.36 coefficient of variation = 13.72%

6. Analysis of Results
The mean diameter of the plastered strawbales was 0.095m. The plastered strawbales had the following thicknesses: 0.016, 0.034, 0.038 and 0.042m. The mass of metal slab C was measured to be 0.981Kg, The specific heat capacity of metal C was taken from a standard table as 400J/KgK (Tyler, 1970, Callister, 1997). Rates of heating of slab C at θ2oC were obtained from data like that shown in Figures 3 to 6.

w here m = mass, c = specific heat capacity, d = thickness, D = diameter and Calculation of the absolute error (∆Κ) in K was done. The maximum relative error (∆Κ/Κ) in K was estimated using the following equation (errors in m and c can be neglected)

The chosen value of various thicknesses (d), calculated mean values of temperature change (Ө1-Ө2), thermal conductivity (K), and thermal resistivity (r) were shown Tables 6.

7. Discussion of Results

In Figure 7, the graphs of average thermal resistivity (r) against thickness (d) are shown. The thermal resistivity of maize remains constant for the varying thickness sizes while that of sorghum increases with the increase in specimen thickness. Wood was also tested as standard (control) measure for the two straw materials, showing low resistivity than the straw bale specimens

Table 6 Average results for Maize, Sorghum and wood (control)
Average of 5 Samples each Thickness, d (m) Mean Values (θ1-θ2) OC Thermal Mean Mean Values Conductivity, K W/mK) (θ1-θ2) OC (θ1-θ2) OC Maize 1 2 3 4 0.016 0.034 0.038 0.042 51.00 50.85 51.30 53.00 Sorghum 50.65 54.73 52.58 61.6 Wood 29.0 30.2 31.8 33.8 Maize 0.090 0.085 0.082 0.083 Maxi mum relativ e error Maxi Sorghum 0.1439 0.0820 0.0769 0.0758 0.03 Wood 0.20 0.195 0.180 0.202 0.014 Values Thermal Thermal Thermal Resistivity, r (mK/W) Conductivity, K W/mK) Conductivity, K W/mK) Maize Sorghum 11.00 12.10 13.00 12.92 6.95 12.19 13.00 13.21

Wood 5.000 5.125 5.556 4.95

Maximum relative error

mum relativ e error Maxi mum relativ e error Maxi mum relativ e error 0.018

Fig. 7 Thermal resistivity r against thickness d

In Table 7 however, using calculations based on physical properties of selected building materials (Callister 1996, ASHRAE 1997), the results were compared with the strawbale panel insulating properties. The results have shown the variation of the insulating properties by the thermo-physical properties with high value of straw bale over the other materials. Further, from experimental tests on strawbale specimen in the Department of Civil Engineering, University of Ilorin, carried out by Abioye (2006) on the cement plastered maize and sorghum straw bales, Table 8 shows the comparison between the Lee’s Disc apparatus carried out in this work indicating negligible variation in the results of the two tests.



Thermal Conducti -vity (W/mK) 0.77 1.32 1.04-1.09 1.73 8.65

Thermal Resistivity (mK/W) 1.298 0.758 0.9620.917 0.116 0.578 5.26


Common Face brick Fire brick

Masonry materials

Plaster cement Concrete

Wooden panel


Slab(density:= 1300 kg/m3 Strawbale panel (sorghum density = 1874.42 kg/m3) *(%absorption =12.67, % moisture content = 3.66) Strawbale panel (maize of density =1700 kg/m3) (% absorption =13.0, % moisture content = 3.61)

Compressed straw Plastered with cement mortar

0.09 0.085

11.1 12.3

Plastered with cement mortar



Table 7: Thermo-physical properties of selected building materials (Callister, 1997) compared with the strawbale panel insulating properties

Table 8. Results of comparison thermal resistivity of strawbale masonry from Two Sources with the use of properties of materials Determination of Thermal Performance Maize Thermal Conductivity W/mK 0.09 Thermal Resistivity mK/W 11.10 Maize Sorghum Thermal Conductivity W/mK 0.087 Thermal Resistivity mK/W 11.49

Abioye (2006)

(density = 1700 kg/m3) , (% absorption =13.0, % moisture content = 3.61) Use Lee’s Disc Apparatus 0.083 (properties as in Table 3) 12.2 (properties as in Table 3)

(density = 1874.42 kg/m3) (%absorption =12.67, % moisture content = 3.66) 0.085 (properties as in Table 3) 12.3 (properties as in Table 3)

8. Conclusion The results of the experiment tests and calculations have shown that increase in the thickness of the plastered strawbale masonry would increase their thermal resistivity. Though, this effect varies slightly from sorghum to maize strawbale masonry, but at the thickness of 400 mm, their thermal resistivity remains constant and their average values are 12.3 mK/W and 12.2 mK/W for sorghum and the maize respectively. These values are high if compared with the other insulating materials used in this experiment, making a strawbale masonry a good insulating material. The higher r-value of the plastered strawbale may be obtained if plastering was done by mechanical means of plastering by hand, because mechanical plastering may virtually eliminate the air gap between the bale and the plaster.

9. References Abioye, O. N., (2006), Characteristic Strength of cement Plastered Wall Model, A Thesis submitted to the Department of Civil Engineering, University of Ilorin, Ilorin. Acton, R. U., (1994), Thermal Performance of Straw Bale Wall Systems, www.ecobuildnetwork.org/pdfs/thermal Adedeji, A. A., (2003), Introduction and Guide to Design and Construction of Strawbale Building, University of Ilorin, Ilorin Kwara State, Nigeria.

Al-Sanea, S. A., Zedan, M. F., Al-Ajlan, S. A. and Abdul-Hadi, A. S. (2003)Heat Transfer Characteristic Insulation Thickness for Cavity Wall, Journal of Building Physics, 30 American Society of Heating and Refrigerating Association of Engineers (ASHRAE) handbook, (1997). ASHRAE Handbook of Fundamental American Society for Testing and Materials ASTM C140-75(80). Test for Absorption.

British Standards Institution, BS 410:1976, Specification for Test Sieves, BSI, London. British Standards Institution, BS 6073:1981, Precast Cocrete Masonry Units, Part 1: Specification for Precast Masonry Units, Part 2: Method for Specifying Precast Masonry Units,, BSI London Callister, W. D, (1997), Material Science and Engineering: An Introduction, John Wiley & Sons Inc, pp 544-646, 788-793. George, S. B., (1990), Materials Handbook, 13th edition McGraw Hill (Publishers) Ltd, New York, pp. 178. Callister, W. D, (1997), Material Science and Engineering: An Introduction, John Wiley & Sons Inc, pp 544-646. Grundy, J. T., (1977), Construction Technology, Volume 2: Edward Arnold, pp. 125 – 133. Jones, B., (2001), Information Guide to Strawbale Building for Self Builders and the Construction Industry. www. Strawbale Futures. org. uk McCabe, S. (1993), Thermal Performance of Straw Bale Wall Systems. www.ecobuildnetwork.org/pdfs/thermal. Nehemiah, S., (2003) Thermal Performance of a Straw Bale Wall Systems and Ecological Building Net Work, http//:www.ecobuildnetwork.org, pp 1-7. Peter, B., (1988), Fire rating in Straw Bale Building, Journal of the British Strawbale Building Association, Vol.2, No. 3, pp 234-238. SFCRC Technical Working Group. (1994), Grain Sorghum Production in Thailand. Suphur Buri Field Crops Research center, suphan Buri. pp. 23. Tyler. F., (1970), A Laboratory manual of physics, 4th edition. (Publisher) Edward Arnold Ltd London, pp. 118-119. Wikibooks (2006), Introduction to Building with Straw Bales, Collection of Open-content Text Books. www.strawbale construction-wikipedia/ the free encyclopedia.html.

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