Build A Gorgeous Straw Bale Home for Around $20,000

I work with people from all over the world who are looking to build their own dream straw bale home. One thing is always a concern: the cost. I know that times are tough for a lot of people these days when it comes to finances and building a home is a large undertaking to be sure. It doesn’t matter if you live in Australia, the United States, Canada, Europe, or anywhere else on the planet, housing is still a major part of the cost of being human. How to build a house for yourself that fits within a budget is always a challenge and one thing that ends up being lost very often in that process, is the architecture. After all, it’s cheap and easy to build a box.

Many of us don’t want to live in a box though. In fact, we want to live in something that has style, clean lines, and architectural interest. That’s not to take anything away from a simple design, as I also love simplicity and believe there most definitely is a place for it in home construction. For me, however, it’s simply not what I want. Because of this, Gabriella (my wife for those of you who don’t know her) and our friend Chris Keefe (Organicforms Design) have come up with a great design for a simple house that has a fantastic “curb appeal.” Take a look for yourself…

Many of you have already seen this structure as I recently put out a blog post in hopes of finding someone to build the home during a workshop. We really want to start putting this plan out there in the world because we believe it fills a real need for “reasonably sized” housing. There is so much in the way of large housing out there these days. You know the stuff, 2000sf, 3000sf and bigger. Some call them McMansions. Some even dare to call them Green construction because they use reclaimed kitchen cabinets or some other detail. The reality is that a home that size is simply full of wasted space in most cases, if not all. Do you really need a home that big? I doubt it. It’s true that I don’t know what’s best for you, but I can tell you that smaller spaces take less energy to live in, less time to clean, less cost to build, and less time/effort/money to maintain. Sounds pretty good to me.

The house above is roughly 770 sf. The main floor is 570 sf and the sleeping loft (one of two bedrooms) is 200 sf. You can check out the floor plans at www.StrawBalePlans.com and learn more about the design there if you want.  What’s amazing is that the house only costs about $20,000 to build (depending on the finish materials you choose). Wouldn’t you love to have an attractive house with a simple and functional floor plan on your land while maintaining little or no mortgage to speak of? I would.

It often seems like we, at least here in the US, work harder and harder each year to make more money to pay for the details of our lives. The problem is, that the details of our lives get more expensive each year too. Why? There are lots of reasons, but building a house bigger than you need is a great place to start looking. Look at your money situation. Where do you spend the most money each month? Your mortgage/rent? Your food costs? Your car? Chances are that the single biggest expense you have is related to your house. And it’s not just the mortgage/rent payment. It’s the utility costs associated with the home. Take a look at the numbers and then consider what you can do to make a change. Consider building a smaller house that’s super efficient. Chances are that will make a big difference on your wallet and, more importantly, the joy and free time you experience in your day to day life.

Build Smart. Build Small(er). Build Efficient. Enjoy Life…every day!

48 Responses to Build A Gorgeous Straw Bale Home for Around $20,000

  1. Elizabeth Kubicki Wed, July 6, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

    Andrew, Everything you write is so true, and have been my sentiments about build small, work less, need less. Love this Applegate house looks just what I’ve been dreaming of. Been through a strange transition since Dec. Planned to move back to Tucson build get off the grid. Bought a small roadtrek rv thought i could live in it but after 3 weeks couldn’t hack it bought a house in Tucson spent 2 months fixing it up then got homesick for my grandkids and sold the house put that into a 5 year cd to help supliment the high coast of living back in chicago where the kids are. Guess i did that also so as to keep myself from doing anymore crazy fast moves. Love Tucson, the desert, as Gabrella said in blog, there is something about the desert. But honestly, did not feel safe back there this last time. Guess 5 years in a second floor apt. even in rough and tumble chicago, I felt safer than Tucson. Stoped in Colorado on the way back east. Never been there. Air smelt so good. Was in Loveland Sister there. Now need to find land somewhere. I could afford to build that Applegate. Keep an eye open for land in your travels. Wish could have made that Creston build. Little tired after Tucson. Could have built Applegate for what I put into Tucson house. Must do a workshop with you next year, and maybe for the next five then we can do mine. Thanks for being you, and for all you and Gabrella do. Beth

  2. Siri Thu, July 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    What a cute home, thank you for posting it. We are in the market for land in Maine right now and as soon as we have a more certain spot, we’ll be exploring the possiblity of hosting a workshop with this plan (possibly modified slightly).

    We are curious about adding a geothermal system. Would it be a waste of money considering the R-value of the bales? Would there be space for the unit?

    Your sites are such an awesome resource – thank you!

    -Siri

  3. Jay Fri, July 8, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    I love that homes like these not only encourage us to live efficiently, but simply as well. It’s amazing to think that what most of us spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on can really be accomplished with so much less.

  4. steel building Tue, July 12, 2011 at 2:05 am #

    I love the pictures. Everything is well presented. Nice one. Thanks.

  5. Andrew Morrison Tue, July 19, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Hi Siri. Geothermal can be expensive and the units do take up some space. In a small structure like this, you would probably be better off building a utility shed for the unit. In terms of efficiency, you would have to consider over all costs versus savings. With the structure as small and efficient as it is, you may be better off with a less expensive heating/cooling system.

  6. Tamra Sun, July 31, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    hi,

    this is so awesome! =) I love the house. I do have something that I would change on it though, I think it would be safer to have a stairway rather than a ladder to the loft. You could use the area under the stairway for storage. If might make the house a little bigger, but as a mom I think that the stairway is safer. And those with some disabilities could use a stairway easier than a ladder.

  7. Avery M Jones Sat, August 13, 2011 at 9:25 am #

    Andrew I just had twin daughters and we need a home. I have land and the money can we get something rollin?

  8. Andrew Morrison Sat, August 13, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    Congratulations! I can’t do anything before the end of April at best. Even that is a push. Let me know if that’s an option.

  9. Avery M Jones Sun, August 14, 2011 at 8:30 am #

    Yeah by then the girls will actually sleep through the night. You have my email right? Should i have a soil sample analyzed or something?

  10. Joe Wasden Mon, August 15, 2011 at 7:17 am #

    I just stumbled onto this website a few days ago, and I love the information you provide. Particularly, I really like this house design and how efficient everything is. Was that a wood burning stove in the livingroom by the front door?

    Also, I had similar thoughts as Tamra regarding stairs vs. a ladder. Maybe a spiral staircase could be added somewhere to replace the ladder, yet still not take too much space?

    If stairs were an option I would be more interested in building something like this for me and my wife.

  11. John Camp Mon, August 15, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    Thanks for the Applegate. Will spread the word. Great solution for the “new home” builders. But, I keep having a nagging feeling about all this “already- existing” home supply, and strawbale retrofit starts to look like the real “green” solution we’re looking for to save the planet and our pocketbooks as well. Should we be pushing for good retrofit solutions, and propagating that concept…working that angle to possibly have an even
    smaller carbon footprint. I’m certain you’ve considered all of this, and have posted much about it. That nagging concern of mine won’t go away until I’m convinced we’ve given proper consideration to retrofit technologies. I’m sure you’ve bandied about With some of your mates and others on this subject. My feeling is, a concern for straw bale retrofit has got to be at the top of the list for anyone truly interested in sustainable building. Architects and engineers alike can make the biggest difference in this world by turning there energies to solving the retrofit questions and problems, so cost effective and sustainable are synonymous terms.
    Feel free to point me at relevant posts and any reading I might do to contribute to my education. Thanks for all you do. You are one of my heroes.

  12. Joe Wasden Tue, August 16, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    One more question; is this $20,000 (or thereabouts) estimated using subcontractors, or does it assume that the work all be done by the owner?

  13. Gabriella
    Gabriella Tue, August 16, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

    This assumes that the owner-builder does all of the labor

  14. jane Thu, August 25, 2011 at 7:13 am #

    To follow up on Tamra’s question regarding installing a staircase instead of a ladder to the loft as a safer option, I wonder if it is possible to do this without making the building larger?

  15. Andrew Morrison Thu, August 25, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    If one uses a spiral staircase and is ok with losing some space, it could potentially be done. It might be awkward though.

  16. Stephanie Mon, August 29, 2011 at 9:49 pm #

    I agree with everything you have written. It is a struggle for me to choose between a simple house like this, and a larger design. However, I have two small kids living in 750 sq ft right now, and we are quickly outgrowing it. On one hand, I love that the small space would encourage the children to play more outside and be more involved with their natural surroundings. On the other hand, we definitely need room for a full dining table and a space dedicated to homeschooling. I feel so guilty for even considering a large house though.
    I actually did fall in love with another layout by the same designer. His plans for the “rustic family”, possibly more spacious than I need, but totally my dream house!

  17. Joshua Mon, September 5, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    I DO want to live in a rectangular box, how cheap can it get? LOL I have been trying to determine costs for weeks now and it seems the bulk will be in the foundation. Planning to buy one of the DVD’s this week, thank you for the website efforts and continual contribution to it.

  18. Andrew Morrison Mon, September 5, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    Plaster can be expensive too if you hire it out and depending on what materials you use. Best of luck!

    Andrew

  19. Lynda Fri, September 16, 2011 at 5:00 am #

    Hi Andrew,
    I live in Australia so wondering if DVDs could cause problems because of different names for bits and pieces, procedures etc. Any thoughts or had any feed back from other Aussies? So grateful for this site..I now know I have a chance of having my own house.
    Thanks..Lynda

  20. Andrew Morrison Tue, September 20, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    Shouldn’t be an issue. I have sold many DVDs to folks down under and everyone seems very happy with them. I did a workshop in SA last year and have another planned for NSW in March.

  21. Andrew Morrison Thu, September 29, 2011 at 5:24 am #

    John, this is such an important point. We have a massive stock of old homes and foreclosed homes here in the US and could certainly make a full time effort to retrofit them all moving forward. Thank you for bringing up such an important conversation.

  22. Miles Thu, November 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    Hey there,
    I have just stumbled upon this website and think the content is great. My wife and I are really excited about building a strawbale structure and this little Applegate house fits our bill perfectly. We are still pretty far from being able to begin but are seriously trying to figurelout what we can do. We even discussed hosting a workshop just this morning. One question we came up with was about the cost of the Applegate. Does $20,000 take into account foundation, rough wiring, basic rough plumbing, and roofing materials? We have found so many resources on this type of building and really like what you offer here on your site. Thanks.

  23. Andrew Morrison Sat, November 19, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    Hi Miles. The $20,000 does include the rough in for those items. It basically covers the “shell” of the house but not any of the finish work such as final plumbing and electrical fittings, etc… Of course that cost is based on my area (Oregon) and so could be a little different depending on the area it’s built in.

  24. deb Thu, June 13, 2013 at 9:51 am #

    I don’t have time to peruse through all this literature online, I just need a simple answer: Will it cost $20,000. for EVERYTHING (hook up of plumbing, electrical, etc.) contractors, permits, and the like… to build this small 1 bedroom strawbale home that I need just for myself? Do I have to buy the book too?

  25. deb Thu, June 13, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    sorry, didn’t read the posts just above me (read no further…lol) where my answer lies. I think I’ll consider moving to Oregon.

  26. Patrick S. McGinnity Thu, January 30, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    I too am a big fan of this little house. My wife and I spent our summers until recently in an 8 x 12 cabin with a sleeping loft. After the third child, however, we realized it was time to get something bigger. We are also in the area full time now, rather than seasonally, so we are getting serious about building a home. I like the small designs, but we’ll need a couple of bedrooms, so we’re thinking of going with a 1.5 story timber frame over a basement.

  27. Heather Thu, March 6, 2014 at 2:12 am #

    Hello. Wonderful site and wonderful information! I am planning on building in 2015. Would you consider dong a workshop in Nova Scotia Canada in 2015? I am considering attending the Mass workshop this summer. Hope to hear from you in the near future!!

  28. Andrew Morrison Fri, March 7, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    Hi Heather. Thanks for the kind words. I don’t think Nova Scotia is an option for me for 2015. I hope to meet you in Massachusetts this year. Sorry I cannot commit to Nova Scotia.

  29. Erin Fri, May 9, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    I love the house, and am interesting in building this straw house when I am finished school. But I want it to be off grid, with a green roof. Would these things be easy to incorporate in these plans? Thanks

  30. Andrew Morrison Fri, May 9, 2014 at 7:08 pm #

    The green roof would be the hardest part to incorporate, but it would be possible. The potential slope change would be the impact I am most concerned about, but you may be able to make it work with the slope of the current roof design. The off grid part is easy.

  31. Scott Sat, May 24, 2014 at 7:46 am #

    Dear Andrew, Has the Applegate been built? If so, are there photos and/or a blog?

  32. Jeff Carter Sun, June 8, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    Hi Andrew,
    My partner and I live in SW Florida in Naples. We both work at the Rookery Bay National Estuarine research Reserve doing coastal ecosystem conservation and land management of 110,000 acres of coastal habitat for the state of Florida. We do REALLY important work for the environment but of course don’t make a lot of money. We hope to find a small piece of land soon. We really want to build something small, cheap, functional, and of course ecologically responsible. The climate here is dry in the winter and wet in the rainy season in our sub tropical summer with daily afternoon storms and high humidity. Would a straw ale house be readable for our climate? The work that you are doing for people and the environment is way awesome and commendable. Thank you so much for what you are doing. Check out our work website at http://www.rookerybay.org. Maybe you can help my partner and I finally have hope for owning our own small home sometime in the future. Thanks Again, Jeffrey Carter.

  33. Andrew Morrison Sun, July 20, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    It has been built, but I don’t have any photos yet.

  34. Andrew Morrison Sun, July 20, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    Hi Jeffrey. Thanks for doing good work for the planet. It is so important! A bale house can work in a climate like yours; however, you would need to change some design details so that you can incorporate a mechanical system to help draw moisture out of the house during the humid times of year. Not to pull you away from straw bale, because it is indeed my passion, but if you find that the climate is too difficult for straw bale, you might also consider a tiny home (we have one) as it pulls so few resources to build and live in. Check out our other site: http://www.tinyhousebuild.com if you are curious.

  35. Chris Johnson Wed, July 30, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    Might be a stupid question… but how do you hang pictures on the wall or heavy items if there are no studs? Maybe I missed something, forgive me if so. Thanks!

  36. Chris Johnson Wed, July 30, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    Also, I live in CO and was curious about settling etc… Do the walls start cracking easily? If so, are they easy to mend?

  37. Andrew Morrison Fri, August 1, 2014 at 11:20 am #

    Not a stupid question at all. You can hang things right in the plaster as long as they 1) are not too heavy and 2) you don’t move them often as the holes are hard to patch on a standard straw bale wall. If you want to hang heavy items, then you would want to provide backing in the walls during construction similar to that which we add for cabinets. Another option for art work (especially if you plan to move it a lot) is to use a picture rail on the wall and hang your art from there. You can achieve different levels, locations, etc. with wires and other custom art hanging gear. This allows for a more fluid use of space without any damage to the walls.

  38. Andrew Morrison Fri, August 1, 2014 at 11:21 am #

    If built properly, the walls won’t settle much at all and you will get very few structural cracks. You will get “spider cracks,” small surficial cracks in the plaster, which are not a danger to the longevity of the home.

  39. Kim Hamilton Eklund Sun, August 17, 2014 at 11:54 am #

    I have the DVD’s and perused through them thinking that the “future” was a ways away. The future is now! I am interested in building your Applegate on our family ranch in Wyoming as a cabin to live in for awhile and a guest cabin later. I realize an old post I read was 2011, but are you still interested in doing a workshop on that floorplan. Have done workshops in Wyoming? Would you be interested? The ranch is next to Lander. I would like to build it next summer 2015. You may be aware that we don’t have building codes in Wyoming outside of town limits and that may make my proposition more appealing!
    Do I need to look for straw bales now and barn store it? Being ranchers in the area we are aware who thrashes and would have bales.

    Sincerely,
    KIM Hamilton

  40. Andrew Morrison Sun, August 17, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    Hi Kim. Thanks for your message. We are pretty booked up for next year’s workshop season and we have a class scheduled for Idaho which would likely be too close to Lander in terms of competing against each other. If you would be interested in 2016, then we could definitely consider it; however, I think 2015 may be out of reach for us. Sorry about that and let me know if 2016 is an option for you.

  41. Andreas Mon, May 25, 2015 at 9:42 pm #

    Hi,

    I would love to build a small efficient and economical home like this one, I am based in the north of NZ and I am just wondering if the plans you can purchase for this home will be up to NZ buidling code?

    Look forward to your response.

    Thanks, Andreas

  42. Andrew Morrison
    Andrew Morrison Wed, May 27, 2015 at 10:07 am #

    Hi Andreas. Thanks for your message. I am not sure how the NZ building code differs from ours here in the States; however, I can say that the structure has never had an issue with permitting in all of the cases I know about, around the world. It may be necessary to have a local engineer review the drawings; however, you may want to submit them to the building council first to see if that is necessary. One potential issue would be the use of the Imperial system as opposed to Metric. I imagine that we can make the change to metric, but I don’t know what the designer would charge for that work. It may be just as easy for you to do that on your own or with a local designer. Cheers.

  43. Jaiden Wed, May 27, 2015 at 9:16 pm #

    Hi I have been looking into cob homes and straw bale homes. This would be something more in the future but I like planning ahead. What I was planning was a 750sqft. layout with an upper loft/attic similar to this but but still really different. However that is why I thought I would ask you. One thing I was wondering is I wanted to use stones or bricks to raise the structure a foot or two off the ground, and I want a specific laminate flooring, but can you even have laminate flooring in a straw bale home, and if so can you still have cob interior walls. Another question is can I have cob counters with a farmers sink in them if I tile the counter tops or would it create too much moisture the cob so near to a sink.

  44. Tina Fri, May 29, 2015 at 7:35 pm #

    My husband and I also live in Wyoming and would be very interested in a workshop as we plan on buying land this summer. I love this idea of building but I also am wondering if the harsh weathers would be an obstacle for this type of building.

  45. Andrew Morrison
    Andrew Morrison Sun, June 7, 2015 at 9:26 am #

    Hi Tina. A straw bale house would do fine in Wyoming winters. Construction quality will have to be high as the harsh conditions will test any house, but that should not be a problem and should be the goal of anyone building a house in any location.

  46. Andrew Morrison
    Andrew Morrison Sun, June 7, 2015 at 9:28 am #

    The foundation type would be fine as long as it meets code. Laminate flooring is not a problem either. For internal cob walls, you would have to provide foundation support directly underneath them and could not simply build them on top of a raised floor deck as they would be too heavy. I am not sure about the cob counter as I don’t work enough with the material to know for sure. It sounds risky to me from a builder’s perspective.

  47. Brittany O Sun, June 28, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    Hi, I’m just wondering… is that $20,000 estimate if it’s owner built or contractor built? We would really love to build a cob house and get something up in the next year, and I know we couldn’t do that between our jobs and traveling for work. We would have to hire someone. This looks perfect for what we are looking for.

  48. Andrew Morrison
    Andrew Morrison Sun, July 5, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    This is material costs and does not include labor. In addition, there are finish materials that are not included either as those can range from $15-$500 per fixture (plumbing fixtures for example). The folks that I know who have built this home have paid roughly $25,000 for their materials. Not sure about their labor costs as most built it themselves.

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