Here’s a short article about straw bale construction in the most recent version of the on line Green Builder magazine. Short but sweet. The article starts on page 44 and can be viewed at this link.
Archive for the ‘Green Building/Living’ Category
Do you love straw bale construction? Do you love tiny houses? Do you like what I have to share (you know…for the most part??) Then listen in while I am interviewed by Ryan Mitchell of The Tiny Life and Macy Miller of MiniMotives! We have really enjoyed getting to know those two and love what they are doing to help recalibrate the world’s view on housing size. We would love to have your company!
The show will air at 8pm Eastern Time Monday, January 20th, 2014. To join us go to:
This post below was written for us by our friend Scott Allison. As we all know, straw has multiple uses and this is a pretty easy/economical/functional use for bales. This is a quick a simple project that you can do to extend your growing season. The details below are for a simple, what I would call “annual” cold frame. In other words, this would need to be rebuilt each year because it is not plastered and protected from the elements. That said, it could be upgraded with ease to be a permanent structure if that’s what you are after. Here’s what Scott had to share:
As a sustainable builder I have always loved working with natural materials and I myself have a fondness for reusing as much as I can whenever I can. So when my friend and long time client asked me about building a cold frame on the south side of her little urban farm I thought it would make sense to work with straw bales.
The project took me just a few hours to complete and I was working by myself.
First I built what I understand to be a Ben Franklin style foundation with out infill other than a few cross red bricks to keep my spacing. With hindsight I would suggest a few screws and fastening some 2×4 spacers to keep the foundation from falling on its side while placing the bales.
Second I placed the bales side by side. Two high on the north side and a single row on the south. Then I took apart a single bale and stepped the sides down, filling in where I needed to.
Next, I placed wooden spacers on the top of the north and south rows and screwed them into wooden 1×1’s so they would support the poly carbon plastic panels on top. The 1x material can be doweled into the bales to keep it in place and the poly roof attached with roofing screws (with washers) to the 1x runners.
I planted a few broccoli, arugula, lettuce, collard greens, and chives and they all seem really happy. The night that I built the cold frame turned out to be the second frost in our area; however, the temperature inside the cold frame stayed well above freezing. The broccoli is now blooming so I think it’s gonna work pretty well. I intend to place some red brick towers in the north side corners as thermal mass and I imagine a few candles (in coffee cans of course) might go a long way to make for a really warm place to grow food during the winter.
I hope you enjoy the concept and creation,
Gabriella and I have noticed a recent surge in new subscribers to StrawBale.com and many who have signed up have contacted us to let us know they are brand new to the world of straw bale construction. We want to welcome all of you here and we figured it would be helpful to give you an introduction to what it’s like to build a straw bale home. It occurred to me that one place I tend to enter into conversation about straw bale houses with folks who have never heard of them before is when I fly somewhere to teach a workshop. Once the person in the seat next to me gets me going it’s hard to shut me up! “So what do you do?” is generally all it takes to trigger a familiar dialogue.
“Wait, you teach people how to build houses out of what? Straw bales? You need to say more about that.” And so it goes…
Grab your favorite mug, fill it with delicious tea or coffee and enjoy this video interview we just created on the topic of “Living SMALL In A big World”. In it, a lot is covered from how we converted our closet into a master bedroom, to living in a 125 sqft pop up tent trailer in Baja with our 12 year old daughter, to designing your home to reflect your personal connection and love with nature, to the role of straw bale construction in the tiny house movement, and how to create your own off-grid forever home with your own two hands.
“A Modern Look at Straw Bale Construction”, our new book, is set to launch on November 23, 2012. If you’d like a free chapter from his book, please click here. You’ll also have the chance to enter your name to be one of the 25 people that receives the book for free.
Imagine if we had to make our straw bales with a hand baling machine like this one from 1916. That would certainly slow down the process of building a straw bale house. I guess it’s fair to say that it’s green construction because there are no emissions, unless of course you consider sweat to be an emission! As if the work isn’t hard enough as is, let’s make the men wear heavy wool clothing to sweeten the smell!
Seriously though, the fact that hand balers can be used to make quality bales is actually important. There are parts of the world where building a straw bale home would be fantastic; however, the machinery does not exist in the area to do so. That’s where the hand balers come in. There are parts of Africa, for example, where the labor rates are very low (in relation to what we are used to paying here in the States) and large labor forces exist. If one could employ those laborers to make bales, stack them, and create beautiful and efficient homes from them, a whole new perspective on housing could be created.
The efficiency of straw bale homes would be a wonderful thing to share with those living in extreme climates and the existence, or lack there of, of local modern baling machinery should not deter people from making this happen.
Have you caught the bug? Are you interested in building a tiny house? If so, I suggest you attend a hands-on workshop to learn how to do it right before you jump into your own project. In line with that, I have a great opportunity for you, but first, I want to talk a little bit about the insanity of living in a large home.
There is no question that we, especially here in America, have built our houses too big in the last 50 years. The last 20 years especially have been the worst in terms of super sizing our homes. We have gone over the deep end and for some reason, we continue to build houses that have enough space to shelter 30 people and yet only 2 or 3 actually live in them. The amount of resources necessary to build and maintain these homes is immense and the impacts, both environmentally and financially, are huge. You’ll likely be shocked to know just how much each hour you spend awake in your home actually costs!
Check out this quick news story I did today with Kevin Lollis of News Channel 10 here in Southern Oregon. It was for their weekly series “Green Wednesday.” We plan to do another follow up later this summer. Click here to watch the video.
Gabriella recently connected on Planet Straw Bale with an American man living in Thailand who had built his own straw bale cottage. She asked him to share his story and he has accepted that request. Below, you can read how his interest in straw bale construction, which started some 20 years ago in Texas, finally came to fruition in Thailand. It’s a cool story. As you can see in the photos, this is a humid area of Thailand, so I’m excited to hear how the building fairs over the years with no special or mechanical dehumidifying additions. This will truly be a test of straw bale homes in humid climates. Here’s his story…
I’m Paul Younger, an architect and associate with Hewitt Studios LLP in the UK. Our practice focuses on high-quality, non-traditional sustainable design – just because its green, doesn’t mean it has to be twee or old-fashioned!
Our practice approached by Herefordshire College of Technology to extend and refurbish the refectory facilities on their Holme Lacy agricultural campus to create a 100 seat student cafe. In visiting the site and talking to the users, two things struck us: The first was the abundance of natural resources that the campus possessed (it is effectively a training farm, set in acres of fields and woodland), the second was the enthusiasm of the College staff and students to get involved. It was agreed that, rather than just build an ‘extension’, the new project should be a social ‘hub’ at the heart of the campus. The College would be involved in the design, construction and ongoing maintenance of the building, using as many of their on-site ‘riches’ as possible.
Straw was a readily available organic resource on the farm – a by-product of the agricultural industry – and an obvious choice for insulation. We had not built with it before, but did a little research and found a local subcontractor (Modcell) who were experienced in constructing pre-fabricated straw bale panels. The pre-fabrication was an attractive feature to us – it would avoid the need for certain lengthy and disruptive on-site processes – an important consideration on an occupied student campus. The load-bearing panels were assembled in a ‘flying-factory’ in one of the farm’s outbuildings by members of the College, architecture students from Nottingham University and staff from Hewitt Studios LLP.
3. What did you think about the process of working with straw bales? What worked well, what was challenging?
We found the process of working with Straw Bales reassuringly ‘low-tech’ and forgiving – we were effectively just stuffing straw in a box! Most of the labour was ‘unskilled’, but we still managed to produce a very credible result under the watchful eye of Modcell. The most challenging part of the process was probably the alignment of the timber frame – this is where the professionals stepped in!
4. Would you work on another straw bale again?
Most certainly, yes! In fact, we are working on four other straw bale buildings as I speak – another for the same client and three more private houses. We have found it to be a very cost-effective and low-impact form of construction, easily within the realms of most contractor’s capabilities.
We had all the usual comments of ‘won’t it burn down?’, ‘what if it gets damp?’, ‘won’t it smell?’ and ‘will mice/rats/birds live in it?’, but probably the funniest reaction was from one of the College students (who had not been involved in the build) after completion. He was absolutely convinced that our straw bale ‘truth window’ was just a sham and that the building was really made by conventional means. ‘I’ve been round the back’ he said, ‘I’ve seen how thin the walls are’. He’d actually seen some of the cladding we’d added to the existing building to make it blend in, but couldn’t be persuaded of this fact!
We do think that this technology represents a viable solution to future building needs and we would love to try it on a larger scale. It is fair to say that there is some reluctance in the British building industry to embrace this method of construction – most contractor’s are quite conservative and see this as a ‘unproven’ or ‘risky’ method of construction. Hopefully, with the example of trail-blazing projects like the Straw Bale Cafe, we can demonstrate that this low-cost, low-carbon technology has the power to make a positive impact on our planet and our lives.
If you’d like to read a full article about this fantastic story, click here.
I was sent a link to a great video today that I want to share with you all. To me, this is a perfect example of simplicity. Why over think the problem? Address the issue with simple solutions and you will likely find success. In this case, the issue was a lack of light in homes in the Philippines. Because the homes in the neighborhoods involved in this story are made of tin and are not outfitted with windows, even the brightest days of the week don’t affords the inhabitants much, if any, light indoors. With the cost of electricity too high, many are left to live in the dark day in and day out. I hope you enjoy this inspiring video on how plastic soda bottles became the simple solution to brightening the homes, and lives, of these people. There are other equally inspiring videos out there that speak to this same solution. In one of them, it is said that the bottles actually provide light equal to 55 watt bulbs! That’s amazing. You can see the happiness in the faces of the people who have received these “lights.” It’s amazing what a simple solution can do to change someone’s world.
Check out this great video from our good friends Dennis and Leslie. It shows you how to build a simple and super efficient fire that not only burns stronger, but gives off less smoke.
It’s not unusual to end up with extra bales after building a straw bale house. In fact, I recommend it. Those extra bales are great to have around as steps or scaffolding supports when plastering. Furthermore, I would always rather have a few too many bales than not enough when building. The question is, what to do with the extra bales when the project is done?
If you live on a big piece of land, you can spread the bales out as mulch in your garden, bedding for chickens or other livestock, or simply to decay back into the soil. If you don’t have a spread of land big enough to accomplish that, you can try and find someone who does and offer them the bales either for a price or for free. This is also a great idea (either of those two ideas) for the loose straw created during construction. Believe me, there will be lots!
Another great way to use the bales if you dont have that room to spread them out is as a gardening tool. Straw Bale Gardening is a good way to grow plants in limited space, or if you have poor soil. It also helps if you have a hard time bending over as the bales lift the plants 18″ or so off of the ground. If you just finished building your own house, the idea of not having to bend over to harvest your lettuce may sound pretty good! Anyway, there are some good advantages to using straw bale gardening techniques, not the least of which is that you will use your excess bales in a healthy, positive way. Here’s a good website to get you started on this process. Enjoy!
If you are interested in different ways of creating a sustainable community, this website may be of interest to you. Here’s some information I pulled off of their website (I hope they don’t mind, but I want to let their own words inspire you).
To be the open-source blueprint for a sustainable civilization.
To demonstrate a new way of living that addresses the pressing problems of today and prepares the world for the challenges of the next century through a duplicable model of large-scale sustainability for the complete human experience founded on a simple celebration of what we are capable of: completely sustainable lifestyle practices, inspired collaboration and global contribution, zero-waste living, and unconditional love for each other.
At One Community our vision is to transform the world by being the change we wish to see through a thriving culture of seamless cooperation, creativity, contribution, spiritual growth, meaningful relationships, personal expression, partnerships with like-minded businesses and individuals, and abundance that we happily share with the world.
As many of us know, it is time for our cultures and communities to come together in a new way, in a sustainable way. The One Community Ranch has a vision of how that can look. I hope you enjoy visiting their website and that you decide to help in some way to speed up the transition to a more aware way of being.
Here’s a guest article by Paige Taylor. Paige is a creative writer from the University of Texas El Paso. As an aspiring writer she specializes in writing about travel detestations and tourism. I hope you enjoy her perspective. If you too would like to write a guest article for us, please let me know. Here’s Paige’s article…
As more and more people continue to take on holistic lifestyles, it seems the benefits of doing so continue to grow in awareness. As has been shown through many examples, when it comes to the actual building process, using materials such as earth bags and straw bale can not only keep sustainability at a maximum, but also come at a low cost, while still giving the option of a traditional or designs that defy conventionality. What is not as well known, however, is that using an option like earth bags for building can cut down the risk of health problems that may be present in some older building structures.
Many people looking into earth bag building may be on the fence for different reasons such as cost, time, or just to gain more knowledge. For some that may be interested while currently living in some older homes, a switch to using straw bale earth bags can be particularly beneficial to health and sustainability at the same time. The health benefits of sustainable building through use of earth bags or straw bale can prevent people from minor to major health risks.
The use of straw bale is certainly a departure from some of the toxins that may be present in traditional forms of building and construction; this could include the use of common paints, which are high in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s). VOC’s are common to lead to health risks like asthma and other respiratory problems.
Another example of use of earth bags as a healthy home substitution could involve the fact that many people in older homes are seeing some problems with insulation in their homes, possibly putting them at risk of health problems such as nausea or dizziness.
Straw bale building is beginning to gain great notoriety in a number of different areas. For example, in a high humid area such as Houston, TX using straw bale to build can ensure no overheating or constant sweating occurs at home. With the right moisture control techniques, a straw bale house would certainly be an upgrade over an energy consuming Houston apartment or home.
These are just a few of the health risks that may be present in traditional construction and building styles as opposed to earth bag or straw bale buliding. Using organic, earth made materials can not only do wonders in sustainability and helping the carbon footprint, but also in ensuring the best possible home in regards to health risks.
How amazing would it be to send your kids to school in a building made from straw? Imagine if all of our public school systems actually took that kind of care when designing and building new structures for our public schools. Here’s the good news. Some school districts, including the Upper Grand District in Ontario Canada, are doing just that. In fact, this could become a trend and may already be poised for that. There are several schools and learning centers (or centres since we’re talking about Canada) that are implementing straw bale construction in their comprehensive plans for school expansion. It’s very exciting. Check out the article below for more about the Upper Grand District School Board’s decision and implementation of straw bale construction on campus.
ROCKWOOD — This fall, students at Centennial Public School will be sitting in a classroom made primarily of straw.
Designed by the Guelph-based Evolve Builders Group Inc., the new portable at Rockwood Centennial would put the three little pigs construction efforts to shame. It is completely made out of natural materials, providing a healthier and more educational learning environment for students. Evolve said it is the world’s first portable constructed with strawbale walls.
“Kids learn by investigating,” said Paul Scinocca, the building manager for the Upper Grand District School Board. “As a group that just builds buildings for them to live in, we would like to try and build some buildings that they can learn from too.”
The portable was assembled in Mount Forest and delivered in two pieces to the Rockwood school on Friday. A total of 180 bales of straw and plaster make up the walls that have an insulation rating of R-50, which is very high. The roof is steel, the paint is mineral-based; even the adhesives used are water based. The entire building is free of volatile organic compounds, which should mean cleaner air for students.
Scinocca said the comparison between traditional portables and this eco-building is like comparing apples and oranges. Outside of the different materials used, the new green classroom has many different bells and whistles.
In the winter, the air in the portable is to be moved out of the classroom, heated by the sun and then recirculated back into the room, cutting down on the heat bill. Photovoltaic cells will be on the roof to help provide power to the classroom, which will be lit by LED light bulbs. As opposed to normal portables which use particleboard, all the wood trim in the classroom was milled locally.
The president of Evolve, Ben Polley said the eco-building out performs the standard portable classrooms in every respect. Because it is so efficient, the operating costs will be much lower, helping shave a little bit off its price tag over time.
“If you can get a better outcome for the same cost it’s worth considering,” he said.
While Scinocca couldn’t reveal the actual price of the new portable because not all the bills have come in, he said the school board usually gets these buildings from the Ontario-based Niagara Relocatable Buildings company. The company said the portables purchased by the school board several years ago would run at about $60,000 plus tax if purchased today.
Polley said the new green building cost roughly 70 per cent more than these standard portables mainly because of all the extra add-ons. If it were just the basic unit without the solar cells and air recirculating unit and other extras, he said the cost would be within a 20 per cent price difference.
“We’re interested in showing kids things can be done differently than our parents did it.” Scinocca said.
“If you want to get a different outcome, you need to look at doing things in a different way.”
He said this classroom is the perfect marriage between a sustainable, long lasting building and a teaching tool for students. Inside the portable, the builders have left a spot on the wall so the students can see how the structure was built.
“Instead of a building that just houses the students, it’s now a teaching resource,” Polley said.
If you find this inspiring, talk to your school board. Talk to those people in a position to do something about it near you. This type of work can make such a difference in a child’s ability to learn, grow, and be inspired. To me, there is nothing quite as important as creating a healthy and inspiring world for our kids. I hope you’ll join me in spreading the word about this important work.
I am no fan of Monsanto. In fact, I think it’s safe to say I actually hate the company and the massive destruction they cause the world over. I wanted to forward to you some information about the Canadian Organic Growers and what they are doing to take on Monsanto. Please get involved if you value healthy, NATURAL food because when Monsanto gets its way, food is no longer “natural” and that’s a scary reality.
Canadian Organic Growers (COG), Canada’s largest organic farming organization has joined 59 other farming associations, seed companies and farmers in a legal action against Monsanto to challenge the chemical giant’s patents on transgenic (genetically modified) seed.
In a law suit filed Tuesday, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), a Manhattan-based public interest law association, asks the court to consider whether Monsanto has the right to sue farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto’s genetically modified seed lands on their farm. Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT’s Executive Director, said “It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer whose land is contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement, but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement, so we had to act to protect the interests of our clients.”
One of the goals of the suit is to demonstrate that the biotechnology patents issued to Monsanto, the manufacturer of DDT, Agent Orange, PCBs and a host of other toxins, are not in the public interest. In 1817, U.S. Justice Story wrote that to be patentable, an invention must not be “injurious to the well-being, good policy, or sound morals of society,” and “a new invention to poison people … is not a patentable invention.”
COG member and organic farmer Arnold Taylor said “I’m thrilled that Canadian Organic Growers and other farm organizations are not afraid to stand up to the most dominant chemical company on the planet to defend the rights of farmers. Genetically modified seeds threaten the diversity of our seed supply, farmers’ rights to save seed and jeopardize the livelihoods of farmers who could lose access to international markets.”
According to Laura Telford, National Director of Canadian Organic Growers, “Organic standards place the responsibility to produce crops free of genetic contamination on the shoulders of organic farmers. Farmers are required to take appropriate measures to ensure that their crops are not subject to contamination from neighbouring fields. With the proliferation of patents for new transgenic crops from Monsanto, including most recently, a patent for Roundup Ready herbicide tolerant alfalfa, farmers’ ability to grow organic crops is becoming increasingly difficult”.
The full legal complaint is available at:
For more information, contact:
Canadian Organic Growers
613 298-8848 (cell)
If you have not already heard about Colin Beavan’s blog and lifestyle dubbed “No Impact Man” then I strongly suggest you check it out. He and his wife and young child are living a life that has as close to zero impact on the planet as possible. It’s pretty fascinating stuff. I imagine all of us have considered walking instead of driving, or using cloth grocery bags instead of plastic or paper, but how many of us have taken it to the next level? Not many.
There was a great documentary about the Beavans on PBS a few months ago and I really enjoyed watching it. I was amazed at how many people actually got mad at them and pointed what seemed like hatred in their direction. Why? Because they are living a life with no impact (or really close) on our planet? It’s weird how the human mind can find a way to get angry when someone else does something that in truth has no direct bearing on them personally. I mean, when a guy decides to use cloth instead of toilet paper, does that affect any of us in a way that we need to get mad at him? I don’t think so. Any way, I think his story is fascinating and I hope you’ll check him out and find inspiration to green up even a little more from where you are today.
Last month I challenged myself as a result of watching the documentary. Nothing huge, just something I can actually do. If I find myself at the grocery store without my reusable bags and I can’t carry out the goods without the use of a bag, I will buy a new reusable bag and skip the paper or plastic. Then, when I’m next at the store with my new bag and my old bags, I will donate my new bag to someone who is about to use paper for their purchase. I hope it will inspire others to stop using thrown away bags. I’ve already had to buy and donate two bags, so either my level of inspiration will stay the same or get higher, or my memory will improve and I’ll start bringing my bags EVERY time I go shopping!
Here’s another thing I am planning to bring to my local grocery stores. Charge for every bag that a customer uses. I was just in Ontario, Canada and while there I noticed that people at the supermarket were charged $.05 for every paper or plastic bag they used. I like that. Here in my part of Oregon, you can save $.05 when you use your own bag. The problem is that people in this country seem to respond better when they are charged for it. I believe that if people knew they were going to be charged $1.00 for the 20 bags they use on a large shop, they might actually start buying the reusable bags and start saving that dollar. After all, if they clip coupons, they understand what it means to save, a little at a time.
I’ll be speaking at the Generation Green Expo at the San Jose Convention Center this June on the Main Stage. I’m speaking both Saturday and Sunday. I have been asked to give an introduction to straw bale construction and I plan to elaborate a little on Sunday. The idea is to present a basic introduction on Saturday and then see what the crowd is open for on Sunday. I may even ask the participants on Saturday what they’d like to talk about the next day and present something in line with that. I like to play things by ear, so I imagine it will be a little free form in the end. It should be a fun event though, no matter how it comes together. Right now the only other speaker I know if is Ed Begley, Jr. I know they plan to release a speaker list soon, so the full details will be out in a couple weeks I would imagine.
Admission to the event with hundreds of exhibitors (not exhibitionists by the way) is only $10. They have a long list of people planning to show their green products and services and I think you can learn a lot about what’s happening in the world of Green Technology at this event. It should be a great time. Here’s a little of what the Generation Green Website has to say: “Beginning June 26th and 27th, 2010 Home 1st will be bringing to the San Jose Convention Center the first of many nation wide Generation Green Expos. These Expos will help educate the community to the available environmental products and programs in the United States. Both individuals and companies will be invited to attend to learn all there is to know about how to convert their homes and business to be green. All manufactures, vendors, organization and programs displayed at the Generation Green Expos are United States owned and operated.”
I hope you’ll come visit me in San Jose and take part in this great event. Bring your questions and I’ll see you June 26th and 27th!