Archive for the ‘Helping Each Other/Personal Stories’ Category

Andrew’s TEDx Talk on Tiny House Living

This past October I was invited to Colorado Springs to give a TEDx talk on tiny house living, living within one’s means, and living a deliberate life that supports one’s joy and wellness. The subject matter will be a natural carry over to the straw bale community (who is comprised of so many amazing people looking for a better way to live) so I wanted to share it with you.

By choosing to live in a small space, we were able to build our house with cash and now have no housing payments (and won’t for the rest of our lives if we stay living here).  I hear from so many of you that this is a dream: to live without a housing payment and to live free of debt. Well, it’s not just a dream. It is an obtainable reality.

I hope you enjoy the talk and it inspires you towards achieving the dreams you hold dear.

Article In Green Builder Magazine Online

Green Builder MagHere’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.

Straw Bale Home is Cover of Fine Homebuilding

Fine HomebuildingFor those of you who have been wondering what it will take to help straw bale homes become more mainstream, this may be a part of the answer. David Arkin and Annie Tilt (Arkin-Tilt Architects) are well known for their beautiful and functional designs. They have received many awards over the years and their straw bale homes have at least twice graced the covers of Fine Homebuilding Magazine, this time in the fall 2014 edition of Small Homes Cabins and Cottages.

I have said for many years that we as a group of individuals, a community of straw bale fans, really need to focus on bringing straw bale construction into the light of everyday people. One way to do that is to start with inspiring design. As an example, when I would walk prospective clients through a home of mine, I would leave out the words “straw bale” and focus on the beauty, energy efficiency and overall design of the home. Once the prospective clients were drawn into those details, the words straw bale had much less scare factor to them.

Let’s keep building on this exposure that Arkin-Tilt Architects, and others with a similar passion for straw bale construction are sharing with the world. Getting the word out to the masses will take time and effort. Every time a beautiful straw bale home is shared with the world, that steep mountain we seem to be climbing gets a little smaller. Keep it positive. Keep it beautiful.

And of course, way to go David and Annie! Feel free to congratulate them yourselves…

Straw Bale Broker Delivers Across the United States

Bales of Straw in the FieldI recently met a bale broker during the New York straw bale workshop. He delivered the bales for our project in Montgomery, and I was very happy with the bale quality. In fact, they were the best bales I have seen all season. I assumed he was a local farmer until he visited the site. That’s when I learned that he is actually a bale broker and that he can arrange for bale deliveries all over the United States. He works with over 120 different farms across the country and many different trucking companies. They not only deliver the bales but stack them on site as well. He is definitely worth the call if you are looking for quality bales.

Here’s his contact information:

Nick Fitzpatrick

845.901.1892 (cell)

800.747.3811 (office)

Some Mind-Numbing Facts about Ferncliff’s Eco Center

Last year’s straw bale construction workshop season started with a huge project: the Eco Learning Center at Ferncliff outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. I recently hear from the host of that workshop that the 5300 Sf structure is just about finished. I am amazed at how quickly the project has moved towards completion, especially having read the mind-numbing facts that the host shared with me. It’s a great example of some of the “behind the scenes” numbers that go into building a house. I hope you enjoy the numbers.

Eco Center Front

-The slab has 3,300 fee (.62 miles) of ½ inch PEX tubing that was tied with 5000 zip ties in a serpentine fashion for the 3,900 square feet of hydronic radiant floor heat. The 5300 sq ft building is heated with a wood furnace/boiler with pumps using less than 7% of the power the 12 solar panels can produce.

 -The total weight of the steel framing is 28,000 pounds and it was all hand-carried from the staging area to the slab, then assembled.

 -The Straw bale “toe up” consists of 89; 4×4’s each 10’ in length running twice end to end around the 445 foot perimeter. To fasten these timbers to the concrete, 380, half-inch holes were drilled in the concrete, 380 wedge anchors driven and 380 more holes drilled in the timbers. For “grabbers,”  2,136 large nails (20 penny) were partially driven every 5 inches into the 4×4 timbers.

 -4.26 miles of baler twine was used for “sewing” the walls and re-tying custom-sized bales.

 -556 ceiling panels 30”x30” were milled out of OSB and pre-painted, two coats on each side adding up to 13,900 square feet of surface area painted. This is for the ceilings over the bedrooms.  95% of this painting was done by volunteers. and 95% of that was done by two women (Carol and Jo).

 -25 pallets of rice hulls at 800 pounds per pallet equal 20,000 lbs. or 10 tons of material. This material was toted, poured, slung, scattered for interior wall and attic insulation.  Another perspective:  A five gallon bucket of rice hulls weighs 7 pounds and carried two at a time would constitute 1,429 trips to its final destination.

 -Approximately 43 tons of sand and 14.5 tons of hydraulic lime, plus water were handled into a mixer, wheel barrowed to work area, transferred to scaffold to hawk and trowel to wall. This was done to plaster an 8,888 feet of straw bale wall area three times (26,664 square feet).  It took 120 for the plastering and walls were wetted down at least twice per day during this process.

 -Each of the four large bedrooms employed a different locally available material.  A rock floor was made with rock salvaged from the old camp pool.  A cement stepping stone clock was put in the middle of the floor to make it a “Rock Around the Clock” room.  Another floor was made by putting about 3000 beer bottles bottom up in sand and then mortaring them.  The third floor was made to look like field stone but is actually made from paper mache.  The fourth floor was made with used conveyor belt that was cut into tiles laid over compressed gravel.

Speak for the Trees

For those of you who support the important work of protecting the Earth, this is a subject close to home for me. The bakery that is mentioned in the video is a friend of ours. The people in this video are the people of our community here in Southern Oregon. The acres that are being clear cut are here, in OUR community. I hope you will be inspired by the humanity of this video and do what you can to help maintain balance on the acres in question.

Thanks for your support.

International Straw Bale Registry

strawbaleregistryDid you know that there is an International Straw Bale Registry? Just a quick note to remind those of you who have built a straw bale house to register that home with the Straw Bale Registry. This is a great resource for people who are considering building and are looking for local contacts in their area to connect with. Please consider sharing your experience with the next person to help simplify the process and grow the exposure of straw bale construction around the world.

This is a great resource for those of you looking to build as well so be sure to reach out to those already registered on the list in your area. Click here to check it out today.

The Last Straw is Coming Back to Life!

The Last Straw

Many of you will remember the publication The Last Straw and may have spent many hours reading through the informative articles over the years. Some of you may have never heard of it because it has been “on sabbatical” for some time. The good news is that it is coming back. Please take a few minutes to read the information below from the new editor, Jeff Rupert.

Update on Issue #62 and Our Funding Campaign

Here at TLS we are working feverishly to get Issue #62 out.  If you are a subscriber, expect to receive it around the beginning of February. Many of the articles are already up on our website and are accessible to current subscribers.

To re-start The Last Straw we knew it would require more resources than we would collect through  subscriptions alone.  That is why we have always planned to ask for donations. This is your chance to support us and ensure we will continue delivering your favorite natural building journal.


Help Our Friends In Romania Get Straw Bale Construction Off The Ground

Here in the US (and in many other countries), straw bale construction is pretty widely accepted. There are supporting building codes, resources and products sold in English. But this is not the reality in many countries around the world and it is up to highly motivated, passionate folks like our friends Maria and Grzegorz to pound the pavement and get the word out there.

Grzegorz and Maria have done an awesome job of getting the word out in Romania and now are asking for support in the form of an IndieGoGo campaign. They are raising money to be able to go to one of the largest building expos in Romania where they can get information about straw bale construction in front of a huge amount of people. We hope you will support them reach their goal and take a step towards making Romania one of the hot spots for straw bale construction.

To visit their campaign, please click HERE


Andrew to be interviewed on the “Tiny House Chat”

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:


Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 9.13.35 PMScreen Shot 2014-01-19 at 9.02.24 PM


Rhode Island Workshop: Learn How To Build Your Own Straw Bale House While Giving Back

“As you reach forward with one hand, accept the advice of those who have gone before you, and in the same manner reach back with the other hand to those that follow you; for life is a fragile chain of experiences held together by love. Take pride in being a strong link in that chain” –Author Unknown

 lindaLinda Phelan, the host of our Rhode Island workshop, is the founder of the Healing Co-Op, a very special center dedicated entirely to providing women and their families a supportive space where they may begin their healing process through and beyond cancer. She is cheerful, loving, and kind. Strong, resilient, and compassionate. Dedicated, trusting, and sincere.

After her own diagnosis at the age of 28 in the 80s, it was recommended that she attend a support group. The only one available to Linda convened at the local hospital. Her experience at the meeting left much to be desired. The women were wallowing. The social worker (who herself had never had cancer), was consumed with telling the women what they needed to do and how they needed to feel.  Linda felt unsupported and realized that she needed something entirely different. In that meeting was birthed the vision of a nurturing, loving, cancer support center set in a home like environment.

Linda's landLinda created the Healing Co-Op on the foundation of community. When women and families walk onto the beautiful property, they feel like it’s their place. At the center, all emotions are welcome. There are no agendas, right or wrong ways to be, or people without experience with cancer. It was also founded on the principle that it always be free to everyone that walks through its doors. All funds to run the center come through donations.

When I asked Linda for a poignant story about the center, she shared this one. A few years ago, she asked one of the groups what, if anything, they would like to do within the art program (art is a large component of what the Healing Co-Op offers). This group comprised of 17 women shared something in common; they all had advanced stages of cancer and had experienced a reoccurance of their cancer, some as many as 5 times. One of the women responded, “Theater” and elaborated; Theater because it was a place where they could share their story, their voice. To say what they wanted to say to friends, family, and the community within a container that encouraged honesty and creativity.

Chemo BrainLinda wrote the play based on the stories of the 8 women who wished to challenge themselves in this way. With the help and emotional support of their “sisters” in the group, each of the 8 women played themselves and were the stars of their own stories. The process of writing the theatrical production was incredibly healing and beautiful for all involved. Linda’s sister, a Canadian singer/songwriter, wrote the musical score. The play was described as “An open, honest, hysterical and poignant dialog which represents an actual support group meeting of the women”. In the end, the play, titled “Chemo Brain”, was performed on Rhode Island’s largest stage in front of an audience of 1,500. Family, friends, co-workers, and members of the general public all attended to honor this brave group of 8. What a sight that must have been!

Being given a prognosis of just 3 years to live at the young age of 28 while raising two young girls, Linda’s priorities in life shifted and became crystal clear. One of the core principles she embraced was to lead a life that leaves the smallest footprint on the planet possible. Straw bale construction fits that bill for her. Building this straw bale house is a dream come true for Linda, tying in her love for the Earth with cherished childhood memories of spending time in her grandparents’ naturally built home in Germany.

Linda's houseLinda’s 1,200 sqft, one story straw bale house will be run entirely on solar power. There will be a grey water system as well as rain catchment and solar hot water. Its heat source will be wood. Most of the building materials will be from reclaimed wood and locally-harvested and milled lumber. The south facing part of the home will have lots of windows to take advantage of the passive-solar opportunities the land has to offer. Designed by Chris Keefe, this home embodies grace, simplicity and elegance.  Linda describes this home as her forever home.

Linda loves the idea of hosting a workshop because she lives and breathes community. It seems only fitting that such an amazing person who has done so much for the greater world, even in the face of her own adversities, would have people come to help build her house. We feel tremendously honored and proud to be a link in the chain of experiences held together by love by bringing a straw bale workshop to her. For every participant that signs up, we will donate $100 to the Healing Co-Op. For more information on how you can help us build Linda’s forever home, please click here.

p.s. Last year alone the Co-Op supported over 1,600 women and their families. If you feel inspired to donate, financial contributions are very welcome. You can click here to read more about the center and to donate.


Happy Holidays!!

Snow Bale

We want to wish you an amazing, beautiful, fulfilling and peaceful holiday! We feel incredibly grateful to have made so many wonderful friends in this incredible community of straw bale enthusiasts. The experiences we have had with all of you since we started in 2004 have been beyond our wildest hopes.

Just for fun, we went back into our archives and pulled up our very first newsletter ever. Do any of you remember this one?? The newsletter was called “The Innovator” and our first issue went out to 444 people. At the time we were psyched and blown away that there were a few hundred people in the world that were interested in straw bale construction!

We had no idea what was in store for the future of and never did any initial market research to determine if there was even an audience out there (an extremely risky move looking back!). We just kind of went for it because we saw a need for step by step instruction for people to learn how to build their own dream homes.

Our first production was filmed with a $200 video camera. Neither of us had any experience with camera work, editing, producing, etc. We also had never started a web site and knew nothing about internet marketing, or e-commerce. But we were passionate and that fueled the whole process. The right people always showed up at the right time and with a lot of time, effort, support and encouragement it all ligned up. We haven’t looked back since! A lot to be grateful for.  

Scholarship Opportunities


One of the many ways we like to express gratitude to our readers is by offering scholarship spots in all of our workshops. If you have been unable to attend one of our workshops for financial reasons, we hope you’ll apply for a scholarship. We have had an amazing time with our scholarship winners so far and feel that this is an incredibly rewarding program for all parties involved. You will find all of the information and application deadlines here. We look forward to reading the applications!

Workshop Updates

As promised, here is list of workshops and update on space availability in each. 


Montana-3/4 FULL

Mass-2/3 FULL

Arizona-1/2 FULL

Missouri-1/2 FULL


New York

Rhode Island


How To Build A Cold Frame Using Straw Bales

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:

cold frame 5As 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.

cold frame 1First 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.

cold frame 4Next, 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,

Sustainably yours,

Scott Allison


Farewell to Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

The world is without one of the most incredible people to ever grace its shores. Nelson Mandela is one of my heroes and a man who lived well outside of the average man’s world. He created his reality and change the reality of a generation. Below are some of his quotes. Words cannot truly express the core of Mandela, but it is what we have now that he is gone.

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

“One of the most difficult things is not to change society – but to change yourself.”

“Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished”

Rest in peace Nelson Mandela.

Help Save a Historic Straw Bale Building

la Maison FeuilletteI received this email today and want to share it with you all. We can all play a part in saving a piece of straw bale history: a bale home built in 1920 in France. This is not the first time I have posted this request and I am glad to see that the campaign is still moving forward with the goal of purchasing the home. You can read more below and see how you can get involved in saving a piece of straw bale history! (more…)

Lessons In Simple Living From A Pilot In Afghanistan

We would like to introduce you to one of our readers, Tim, and to share with you a letter he recently sent us. Tim is a pilot flying in Afghanistan and living on a base in a converted 20′ shipping container. Threats of attack are a part of day to day life and the sounds of war are nearly constant. In reading his letter, we were moved, touched and inspired to feel gratitude for so many of the things we sometimes take for granted. Living in a converted container, Tim has been inspired not only by his experience of inhabiting a tiny home but also by seeing how the locals inhabit space. Upon his return to the US, he looks forward to being able to sell his 4,000sqft home and building a well designed and small straw bale home on land in the Grand Canyon region. We hope you enjoy reading Tim’s story as much as we did. 

TimI have been interested in building something off grid for some time and a series of “visits” to a certain part of the world has opened my eyes to living more simply. I am a pilot and am currently flying in Afghanistan. Fewer places in the world demonstrate the ability to live simply. Many have no running water, no power, and build homes using what the earth provides..and many of these structures are centuries old. They have stood the test of time and the ravages of near constant war. By contrast, we live in the relative comfort of a base, and we live in a very small space, that being a 20 foot converted storage container. There are two of us in here and although we have very little, we are comfortable. It has proven to me that I do need the vast majority of what is in my 4000 square foot home back in Arizona. When I go home, I feel foolish and selfish…we simply do not need that much space.

Another aspect of being here has driven my desire to simplify life…and that is life itself. We are surrounded by daily struggle, poverty, and too much death. These people are subjected to things you cannot imagine. They are tribal by nature and share much of what they have, which is not much. They live a simple life…so can we.

Lastly, I want a quiet place and with clear skies. You can never escape the sounds of war. The rumbling trucks and constant noise of airplanes is deafening at times. On occasion, the base comes under rocket attack which sends people scrambling and alarms wailing. Its just never quiet and it does take a mental toll. Ironically, the things that make this place so desolate sometimes lends itself to the wonder of the stars. There is very little cultural lighting here that when we climb above the ever present dust, the stars are brilliant and abundant. If Afghanistan were secure, this would the ideal place for a telescope.

So, I envision a home, made from the earth, sitting quietly on a small footprint of reddish dirt near the gateway to Grand Canyon. A place where we can spend sunny days exploring and quiet nights looking up at the celestial gift of the heavens. In fact, we want to call our home “Casa en las estrellas”..home in the stars.

Tim, Donna, and Sydney.

May Free Workshop Winner

World, meet Rebecca…

RebeccaRebecca is a Colorado native who currently resides in Carbondale, Colorado.  Her wide-ranging administrative support roles in education recently led her to a 9-12 experiential learning based boarding school in Carbondale, where she serves as the Executive Assistant to the Headmaster.

She became captivated with straw bale home construction after visiting and staying in one in southwest Colorado when she was in her 30’s.  Further interest developed after visiting a retreat center in California and doing volunteer work on a structure for four days.

Rebecca stated, “For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been happiest and most fulfilled when working with my hands and building things; whether that was a garden, a stone patio, or a dinner for 20.  Being part of a workshop team will be my next step in putting the puzzle pieces together for a new career I’m building for myself.  The opportunity could not have come at a better time, and I’m thrilled to be this month’s winner.”


Community Building For A Community

Arkansas Group PhotoIt’s not everyday that people come together and build with each other. Not in these “modern times” at least; however, that is precisely what happened this last week outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. More than 40 people came together to learn, connect, have fun, and share in the experience of building a 5,300 SF Eco Solar Learning Center at the Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center. With a common goal in mind (to bale and plaster the Eco Solar Learning Center), the group put out an amazing effort to bale a space that will help teach both adults and children about living green, getting power from the sun, and the effects of our actions and inactions on the earth we all walk on together.

Solar CenterPeople from different walks of life and different countries came together to work side by side. What we received was far more than an education in straw bale construction. We connected with each other and gained friendships that span across borders to Mexico and across the seas to the UK. We learned about different religions from Prespatarian Christians to Buddhists.  We worked side by side with young adults volunteering their service through Americorps, as well as with retired men and women, architects, builders, and many other individuals: again, all inspired by a common goal.


The House That Jack Built


“When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.” –Paulo Coelho

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 12.39.36 PMJack has always had a strong desire to use his own hands to build his and his wife Nancie’s forever home. But, for most of their married years together, they were fulfilled and busy with raising their three kids and supporting the family. Nancie shares that to have built their own home when the kids were younger would have taken too much of their precious time away from raising the family.

The kids are now all grown, living exciting and wonderful lives of their own. The large home in which they raised their beautiful family no longer meets Jack and Nancie’s needs and, in fact, poses several challenges to them. A one acre parcel of land that they fell in love with and purchased in 2007 has been calling to them more and more over the years. That calling has finally culminated in their realized dream of building their own home.


Straw Bale Construction, Health, and Real Life

I spent a few hours cruising through online news sources recently to get a sense of what is happening in the world. I try to stay in touch with environmental and health issues as well as home design, spiritual growth & deepening, and other topics close to my heart. Unfortunately, I’m finding that there are more and more articles that concern me about the health of our planet and our people. Here’s a quote from a recent article from the newspaper The Telegraph. “Shares in a Chinese face mask manufacturer have soared as investors looked for opportunities to cash in on the severe air pollution that has blanketed large swathes of China.” I was immediately impacted by the obvious: the fact that the air quality in parts of China is so bad that many, many people choose to wear masks to stay “safe and healthy.” What hit me later was the disturbing reality that companies, i.e. people, are moving to profit from the situation. It seems to me that investing in technologies to reduce the air pollution is a much better course of action than investing in face masks.