Perhaps the most commonly asked question about straw bale construction is: “How do I finance it?” Unfortunately, the answer hasn’t gotten much easier over the years as straw bale construction is still considered alternative to the mainstream and, as we all know, banks are not big fans of taking risks on alternative construction techniques. That said, there are some things that you can do to improve your efforts and increase your chance of receiving funding.
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Susan is the energetic, fun, and charismatic host of the Butler, MO workshop coming up May 5-11. Raised on a farm in Iowa, she grew up surrounded by animals, home crafting and that good, wholesome attitude that comes from living in connection with nature.
As life would have it, a series of events and a college degree led her to a computer programming job in a city. Her residences turned into apartments and she immersed herself into the lifestyle that comes from living in a metropolitan area. Years passed in this manner until her country girl spirit began to emerge again. Her daydreams of chickens, growing her own food, and being self sufficient became so loud that a drastic lifestyle change emerged. She bought land in Missouri and has been busy homesteading it since.
Evident in her ‘can do’ attitude, Susan is an independent woman reconnecting with her love and passion for living off the land once again. Her days are now filled with the day to day care of her pig, goats, chickens, dogs, cat, guinea hens, home crafting, building her dream forever home, and enjoying the sounds of silence in her newly reconnected life.
She has a great list of suggestions/advice for anyone wanting to homestead (in her own words):
• DO IT! Even if you live in town, there are things you can start doing to prepare. I’m guilty of just jumping into things head first, but good planning is your friend. (more…)
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:
“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
Linda 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 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.
Linda 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 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.
So, Gabriella and I are nearly giddy with excitement at the possibility of running a workshop in Niseko, the St. Moritz of Japan. One of the premier ski destinations in the world, it is also a stunningly beautiful area in the summer. The hosts are two awesome guys that are super excited to make a go of this. We are wanting to get a sense of how many of you would join us at a workshop in Niseko in September 2014. One of the really fun perks of this workshop is that lodging for all of us will be essentially free at a ski lodge just 5 minutes from site (a shuttle will take us to the site each day and then back again). To see more about the ski lodge accomodations, click here. If you are potentially interested, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. There wouldn’t be any obligation to participate of couse, we are just getting a pulse for level of interest. Below is a description in the hosts’ own words:
This is Joshua and Jed and we are the potential hosts. The Applegate Cottage build workshop would take place in Niseko. The workshop site has a great view of Yotei-san (the local volcano) and is really close to the ski resort. Niseko is an amazing place to live. It is one of the best places for skiing and snowboarding in the world because of how much snow we get. In the summer it offers mountain biking, hiking, and rafting. There are heaps of hot springs in the area too! We will be using a ski lodge as accommodation for the workshop. The ski lodge is about a five-minute drive from our building site, and it has a huge kitchen and about 16 rooms that we can use. We will shuttle everyone to and from the site. Japan is an amazing place to travel, and it is not nearly as expensive as you might expect. I recommend getting a JR rail pass which lets you travel around for a week on every train including the shinkansen (bullet train).
Contrary to popular belief, Japan is really easy to get around as a foreigner. Almost all of the signs are in English, and the transportation system is amazing. If you do decide to attend, we
would recommend spending an additional week and visiting Tokyo and Kyoto. Tokyo is incredible! It is a huge city with many high-end shopping districts, Temples and other sites. However, it also has amazing parks. You can walk from Shinjuku station, where 1.5 million people pass through each day, to Shinjuku Gyoen park where you will forget you are still in the largest city in Japan. After a few days in Tokyo, take the bullet train to Kyoto. Kyoto is famous for its temples. Kiyomizu temple (pure water temple), Ginkakuji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion), and Kinkakuji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion) should not be missed. We think you would have an amazing time at taking part in our workshop and travelling around Japan!
We receive several emails each week from people all around the US looking for recommendations for certified balers and professional contractors that have experience with straw bale construction. The truth is that most of the time we don’t have leads on whom to recommend. It seems like a shame since we know that there are talented balers all over the country (and world!).
We really want to change this and to set up a resource list on www.StrawBale.com linking up those looking for balers with those that can bale. It is also our wish to help support any of you who want to earn a living baling houses by offering the resources and training to help make that dream come true.
So, starting with the 2014 straw bale workshop season, we invite anyone interested in becoming a Certified Baler to join us and start moving forward on that goal.
Here’s how it will work:
IF YOU ARE A GENERAL CONTRACTOR AND WANT TO BECOME A CERTIFIED BALER and have not attended a workshop with us yet, please let us know that you want to be certified when you sign up for a workshop. We need to know before the workshop starts so that during the week we can personally work closely with you and make sure that you are understanding the process well and so we can be there as a resource for you if you have further questions. Upon completion of the workshop, assuming your performance shows that you understand the baling process at a proficient level, you will officially be a Certified Baler.** Upon your request, we will provide you a free spot in our General Contractor Certified Baler Resource Page for you to post your bio and contact information.
IF YOU ARE NOT A GC*, BUT WANT TO BECOME A CERTIFIED BALER and have not attended a workshop with us yet, at workshop sign up, please let us know that you want to be certified. We need to know before the workshop starts so that during the week we can personally work closely with you and make sure that you are understanding the process well and so we can be there as a resource for you if you have further questions. Upon completion of the workshop, assuming your performance shows that you understand the baling process at a proficient level, you will officially be a Certified Baler.** Upon your request, we will provide you a free spot in our Unlicensed Certified Baler Resource Page for you to post your bio and contact information.
IF YOU HAVE ALREADY ATTENDED A WORKSHOP WITH US and want to be listed as a Certified Baler for free in our Resource Page, please email us at email@example.com as this option may still be available to you.**
IF YOU ARE A HOME/LAND OWNER looking for a Certified Baler to work on your project, please check back in with us once the 2014 workshop season has begun. We will be adding names to our Resource pages as we receive them. We will do everything in our power to only certify balers that have demonstrated a thorough understanding of the baling process; however, it will be up to you personally to interview baling candidates and to obtain references as you feel necessary.
We will be opening up registration for our 2014 workshop season in just a few weeks (November 29th). Stay tuned to our newsletter for more information on the time and specifics of the season launch release.
*Contractor boards in your area may dictate that only licensed contractors are able to legally work on someone else’s project. It is up to the individual to investigate what restrictions apply to their area.
** Please note that we can not guarantee certification. Certification will be based on workshop participation and showing that a deep understanding of the covered material has been achieved.
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.
I 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.
Congratulations to Kevin! His name was picked as the April, 2013 free 7 day workshop winner. Though we have had several aviators attend our workshops, he will be the first Army pilot (that we know of at least!). We are delighted that he will be joining us at a workshop soon! World, meet Kevin:
Thank you much for the opportunity to attend your workshop. I am a 24 year Army veteran and would be retired but for a break in service after Desert Storm. My wife and I both went to Portland State University before I went back in the Army for the opportunity to fly helicopters. We now have two daughters and are stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
It’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.
People 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.
Ferncliff Camp is a special place. Located just a few miles outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, this beautiful 1,200 acre learning center has been a gathering place for youth and adults for decades. At the helm of this amazing mecca for sustainability, outreach work and 130 or so retreat groups per year is David Gill, a man deeply committed to caring for the Earth. His mission: for Ferncliff to be one of the greenest camps in the country. Ferncliff is the location for our April 8-14 workshop during which we will help them bale a 5,300 sq ft Eco Center. It’s an exciting project that is drawing people from all walks of life, including 10 AmeriCorps volunteers that are eager to learn about creating sustainable housing. David has noticed an increase in the youth’s desire to be the best land stewards that they can be and as such, he feels it’s vitally important that they new center reflect the value of sustainability.
We were approached a few weeks ago by a writer for Organic Magazine in Taiwan looking for photos. The issue went to print and here are images of a couple pages from the article.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and in the case of Branislav Prvanovic, a Serbian innovator and businessman involved in the building trades, a gigantic straw bale building project turned out to be the mother load of necessities. Charged with the task of rendering 150,000 sqft of straw bale walls on his industrial complex, he knew he had to get innovative and quickly in order to get the job done. Here we enter the story of how a progressive couple, Branislav and Gorica (his wife), living in Serbia came to design and create what may become the new standard for mortar sprayers around the world.
Serbia is a very small country in the Balkan region of Europe that is on it’s way to joining the European Union. This is an exciting time for this tiny nation and Brainslav and Gorica are on the forefront of environmental progress in the building sector of their country. They are both passionate about building their industrial facilities as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. As such, in between 2007–2009, they brought together the best Serbian team of engineers and prepared for investing in the largest straw bale industrial facility in all of Europe (50,000sqft). The team chose straw bale technology because they love how sustainable, cost effective, healthy, and energy efficient it is. In the process they intend to prove that it doesn’t matter if you are dealing with residential, commercial, or industrial projects, straw bale technology can be a solution for each of those situations.
When presented with the mega task of rendering the 150,000sqft of wall surface, they had to devise a solution that would produce excellent quality, be cost effective, and be able to plaster much faster than anything else on the market. Branislav, being the innovator that he is, took to the drawing boards and began to conceptualize a mortar sprayer that would suit their needs. After many renditions, trials and errors, and modifications, they were able to fine tune the mortar sprayer to be a sleek, lightweight and highly-productive tool. At the time, they were calling this sprayer the “Revolutionar”, however, one day Gorica was looking at the sprayer and was struck by how it looked like a dragonfly. The sprayer has been called the DragOn PRO ever since.
The DragOn PRO mortar sprayer is a heavy duty pneumatic tool which delivers all kinds of plasters and rendering mortars to the walls surface quickly. One of the best details is the design ergonomics. It’s balanced well, so it’s possible to plaster for several hours without the strain that is typically associated with plastering work. Okay, it’s still hard work, don’t get me wrong, but it does take less physical strength to deliver the plaster to the wall than using a hawk and trowel. It’s also cool that the DragOn PRO can apply all density mixtures with fillers up to 6mm including mortar of all types, plasters, clay renders, papercrete, and micro concretes. It works in conjunction with a compressor test which generates the force to push the plaster through the sprayer and out of the nozzle. Make sure you have a big enough compressor so that it can keep up with the required air supply!
One of the qualities we love about the DragOn PRO mortar sprayer is that it has been designed to be super easy to learn to use (it takes just minutes and can be used by pretty much anyone). We always appreciate innovations that are geared not only towards professionals but also towards the do-it-yourselfer. It weighs less than a shovel when empty and is actually quite comfortable to use (especially when compared to the job of applying plaster by hand with a trowel all day!). It is pretty much indestructible so one can spray plaster with confidence. That said, if you don’t wash it after each use it will get heavier and heavier each time. I’ve seen that happen with other sprayers, and it makes the job more tiring and less efficient, so take the time to keep the tool clean.
It’s true that other mortar sprayers exist on the market today, however, Branislav and Gorica are confident that the DragOn PRO outperforms them all. They tout that their sprayer is significantly faster and more efficient than other sprayers because of the unique concept of their nozzle design and how it manages to spray the plaster. They have patented this solution in order to protect their innovation, so they obviously believe in it. The reception from buyers around Europe and the Southern Hemisphere has been tremendous. The cost is reasonable and pays itself off after several working days, making it an obvious fit for not only professionals but also for owner-builders with their projects. Branislav and Gorica are also very pleased with how well the sprayer applies plaster in vertical, horizontal, slanted, curved and very high walls. I think the strong pressure of the application really helps in those situations too.
The DragOn PRO can be purchased at either wholesale or retail. The retail cost is 279€ and there is always an additional 10% discount applied for anyone that is building with straw bales. They also offer a retail program if you have an interest in becoming a retailer. By the way, Straw Bale Innovations makes no financial gain from writing about the DragOn PRO sprayer. In fact, we are not retailers or otherwise associated with DragOn, we simply thought this was a great product created by an amazing couple trying to make a positive impact on how green construction is developing in the world and we wanted to share their story.
Plastering is no easy task. Anyone who has done it can attest to the intensity of the labor and the time that it takes to do a job well. The DragOn PRO is a solution for easing this process. So, we want to thank Branislav and Gorica for believing in the benefits of straw bale construction and for creating a product that will make the plastering of bale walls much more manageable for everyone! To visit their website, please go to www.dragongpb.com and to email Branislav with any questions, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. To watch a video of the sprayer in action click here.
Jill Plumer and David Clark were married 10 years ago and soon after the joyous occasion, began dreaming up plans for the home in which they planned to spend the rest of their lives. They decided on a beautiful timber framed house design and eight years ago, the construction process began. David is a carpenter, and for those years, the couple tenderly built their home, even felling their own trees to create the timber, while living in a trailer on the property to be close to the build. The home was nearly done and they planned on moving into it this fall.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans in store. On April 27, 2011, the tornado sirens seemed to go all day long. In Chattanooga, where Jill works as Human Resources Director for the YMCA, there were 5 warnings and staff spent much of the day shuttling members down to the tornado cellar. Jill made the decision to stay on site for the night to help remaining, rather than drive the 45 miles home to their property. Upon telling David this, he agreed whole heartedly, noting that it wasn’t worth the risky drive to make it back to their land.
Meanwhile in their trailer home, David lay down to sleep, unaware that life as he knew it was about to change. To say that David’s survival is a miracle is an understatement. In fact, no words can truly describe or explain what happened that night. As a mega EF4 tornado barreled down on their property at 9:28pm, David found himself at the mercy of fate and the paper-thin walls of his trailer. In no time, the roof and walls tore away around him, flying into the surrounding woods and landing as a tangled web of twisted debris. In the end, the only remaining unharmed object was David.
The tornado passed and David found himself outside in the pitch black of this horrific night, cold and battered by the driving wind and rain that consumed the landscape. During the tornado, David’s emergency flashlight had been tossed into oblivion, leaving him with nothing but the sporadic flashes of the lightning storm to light his way. He was disoriented by the darkness as well as the devastation of his property. He turned in circles, looking for the house they had spent the last eight years building. To his disbelief, he finally realized that he couldn’t find it because it no longer existed. The home lay in complete collapse. The next day they would see that the tornado had been so powerful that it had flung the four principal trusses, each weighing 1.5 tons, up to 50’ from the structure’s original site.
Sadly, others weren’t so fortunate, and that night Jill and David lost not only their dream home but also friends, neighbors, and some of their alpacas. Jill shares that she and David have been affected greatly by this sad turn of events. Going through this experience has been a major turning point for both of them. They are touched and moved by the outpouring of support they have received from people in their small community; people with nothing extra to spare, showing up at their property, chainsaws in hand asking, “How can we help? Where do you want me to start?” They are deeply grateful for how embraced they have felt and are not taking an ounce of this generosity and kindness for granted. They are even more committed now to rebuild their dream home as soon as possible so that they can start giving back. David and Jill have no intentions of moving away and plan to remain in this amazing community for a very long time.
Since the tornado, the couple has been moving from place to place, staying with friends while they figure out how to rebuild on their land. Recently they stayed with an artist friend, Frances McDonald, in Chattanooga, who is the first person to have built a straw bale home in the area. Jill and David were so taken by their experience of staying in the straw bale home that Jill says, “There’s no way I can build a conventional home after living in a straw bale for a week!” They love the look and feel of straw bale construction and are amazed that during their stay, when it was so “beastly” hot outside, whenever they came into the bale home, it was like stepping into a “cool, dry cave.” They’ve been bitten by the straw bale bug and recently contacted us about hosting a straw bale workshop to build the Applegate Residence on their beloved property, which we will do from September 22-28.
There remains a lot of clean up on their land, once heavily forested and now littered with fallen trees. Friends and family are still coming in from out of town to help in the clean up process and slowly but surely, things are getting done. Stories such as this remind us of the fragility of our lives here in this beautiful and sometimes harsh world, where have no control over the elements and can only rely upon the generosity of friends and neighbors in times of great need. We wish Jill and David all the best and look forward to being a part of their rebuild.
To read a newspaper article that was written up shortly after the tornado about David and Jill’s experience, click here. To find out more about the workshop to rebuild a home for them with the Applegate Residence, click here.
Frank and Lorraine are the charismatic and wonderfully entertaining hosts for the Culyer, NY September 12-18 workshop. We spent some time on the phone and I was instantly captivated by their stories and enthusiasm. They are a great reminder that when we decide to bring our dreams into reality, it is inspiring to the world around us and sometimes the world can’t help but join us in the process.
Frank, who goes by Frankie, began early in construction. In fact, he claims that he began swinging a hammer straight out of the womb. His father, a builder and a Spaniard, raised his son with a strong work ethic and for many years Frankie worked at his side after school. That is until Frankie at the age of 12 began to appreciate the value of money, which he wasn’t making working for his dad. Being the industrious person that he was even at that age, Frankie set his sights on getting a job, a real job and begged his mother for her permission to go hunting for one.
Frankie’s mother conceded with one strict stipulation; the job would need to be found within the city block in which they lived in Elisabeth, NJ. The only business establishment within that area was an Italian restaurant. So, with purpose, he walked to the restaurant, introduced himself to the owner and stated that he would like to work for him. Dismissively, the owner told him that he was not hiring and that Frankie should come back in a month. Each month Frankie appeared at the restaurant only to be told to return the following month. On the third month and finally, the owner agreed to give him a job.
Frankie began as a stock boy. Several months passed in his routine until one evening the head chef didn’t show up. The manager, somewhat desperate to not lose business that night, put young Frankie up for the job stating that if he did well, he would have the chef’s job. The next day, Frankie, not yet 13, was the new head chef for the local Italian restaurant; the young chef’s natural talents emerged.
Lorraine and Frankie met 6 years ago and together they are living out another dream; to build their own home from the ground up. It doesn’t surprise me one bit as Frankie is the kind of hands-on guys that needs to know his environment intimately. They share that this house is their “baby” and that they want to know every nook and cranny in it. So, rather than hiring someone to build it for them, Frankie has left his job and will be doing all of the work himself from the ground up.
Soon after declaring to his family that he was taking the next several months off to live out his dream, Lorraine’s son Ryan became inspired and did the same exact thing; leaving his job to go help his parents build their dream home. Like wildfire this news spread amongst those closest to them and in no time at all, two Ryan’s closest friends decided to join in the quest as well and quit their own jobs and have dedicated the next several months to living on the beautiful, off-grid, 19 acre property to help build the straw bale home. The young guys are “totally psyched” to be getting to do this and see it as the “opportunity of a lifetime”. Frankie and Lorraine couldn’t be happier to have them joining the team. Lorraine’s daughter Keri, and the ‘girlfriends’ won’t be swinging a hammer but will be a part of the experience behind the scenes.
They are all also super excited about their choice to build with straw bales. To them it just makes sense. They knew they wanted to build their 5 bedroom off-grid home/B&B using green technology and the more they found out about straw bale, the more they became convinced that this was the solution for their wants of an environmentally friendly, cost effective, healthy and beautiful home space.
When I asked them what their friends and family have to say about them all going up and building this straw bale home on their own, they roared with laughter saying that everyone thinks they are “crazy”…but in a good kind of way. They have everyone’s support and people are extremely curious to see how it all goes for them. And as for Lorraine’s fathers view on the endeavor? Frankie and Lorraine have earned a new level of respect from him. Asked what he thinks about the build, father says, “You guys have got backbone!” And I would ad, a whole lot of heart, humor, and passion…a recipe for success!
Mary, the host for the July 7-13 Castlegar, BC workshop is a woman on a radically needed mission: To help humanity transition from life to death with dignity and peace. The building of her 3 bedroom straw bale home is the merger of a 15 year dream of building with bales and a 40 year career of caring for people and their health. More recently she has moved from supporting people with developmental disabilities to focusing her passion for caring on people who are transitioning from life to death.
Mary was touched and changed after she watched a client of hers, an older man in the final stages of cancer, reluctantly move from the rural setting that he loved and had raised his family, to spend his last living days in hospital because support was not available to allow him to die in the comfort of his home. For him, these new surroundings caused fear and stress and his final moments were spent alone She’s quick to add that it’s not that people don’t receive good care in hospitals, but the reality is that the staff are busy and have many patients to tend to. Our medical system just isn’t designed to give one on one care in a hospital setting. Mary has a deep belief that no one should have to die alone so it is her heartfelt desire that “Swallowtail Ridge” will fill the gap in service to palliative care patients in her area. (Note: The butterfly is used as a symbol by many hospice societies worldwide. It represents the transition between life and death. The caterpillar forms its cocoon and prepares to leave life as he knows it, to become a lovely butterfly!)
Mary’s vision for her home hospice is beautiful. She shares that the site itself is breathtaking and has a magnificent view. She has designed a sunroom into her plans so that her clients can spend time overlooking the vista while basking in the warmth of the sun. Each bedroom will be a “room with a view” that will allow its occupants to experience serenity through the sights and sounds of nature. She will build an organic vegetable garden and from those harvests create healthy, nutritionally rich foods for her guests. Free range chickens will also occupy the land to provide fresh eggs. Mary enjoys grinding her own fresh cereal and flour from organic grains to make porridge, muffins and bread. She values food as medicine and loves to nurture people by providing healthy meals prepared with love.
Mary is not afraid to speak about death. In fact, she shares that it is so important that we as a culture learn to be more comfortable with communicating about it. She draws an analogy that when a new mother becomes pregnant, she usually starts to prepare herself by reading books, networking with others, eating well, learning breathing techniques, etc. in anticipation of the amazing beginning of life transition that is about to happen. If we could take that same kind of focus and interest with the end of life transition, we would be so much better able to support others in their process as well as develop our own inner peace with regards to passing from this life.
Straw bale construction feels like a perfect fit for Mary because straw bale homes create soothing environments. She appreciates how the walls, with their natural plaster finishes, “breathe” to enhance air quality. Since there are no sharp corners, “chi” flows easily through the home, instilling positive energy and sense of peaceful harmony throughout. She plans on incorporating earthen floors, clay plaster wall finishes….and, of course, a large outdoor earthen clay oven!
Mary acts as her own General Contractor. She planned the home design and oversees every stage of the build; however, due to time constraints with the development of her home care business, she leaves most of the actual construction work to her two gifted carpenters, one of whom is her son-in-law.
Through it all though, Mary senses that her vision for this build is Divinely inspired and she feels incredibly blessed and guided. The local community is also elated in hearing that this center is going to be opening up. Mary will be filling a very important need in this community. Being a part of this build will be so much more than just learning how to construct a straw bale home. Being a part of this build will also mean making an incredibly important contribution to Mary’s dream for her local palliative care community.
Although this workshop is technically full, Mary has decided to extend attendance to 30 people. There are still a few slots left open so if you’d like to sign up, you are welcome to. We hope to see you there!
Dylana and Ron are the hosts for the Ashland, OR, August 15-21 workshop. Hosting this workshop represents a lifelong goal of Dylana’s, an Ashland native, who has dreamed of building a straw bale home since she was just a 15 year old teenager. She grew up in the beautiful mountains that surround Ashland and for her, a love of nature, conservation, and sustainable living is ingrained into her core. Now a wife and mother of two, the family has embarked on bringing to life the dream of building a beautiful, energy efficient and sustainable straw bale home.
This home build is a labor of love for Ron and Dylana and they have chosen to self-build it, with a little help from friends along the way. They share that it is important to them to have their hands on every part of the process, making the relationship with the home much more personal and intimate. This is a common theme for straw bale home owners and I so admire the willingness of owner-builders to get their hands dirty and take the risk of building themselves in order to have the deep connection with their new house. I believe that this desire to build one’s own shelter is deeply rooted into our DNA and when we reconnect with that process, we are fulfilled in ways that we are rarely given the opportunity to do anymore in this day and age.
Ron is a firefighter for the downtown Ashland station (don’t you love that the firefighter is building a straw bale home?!) and Dylana is currently finishing up her first year in the Masters of Art and Teaching program at Southern Oregon University. We have had the rare chance to spend time with them since they live locally and I will be so bold as to say that anyone who attends this workshop is in for a real treat. I know they will be attentive, entertaining, and amazing hosts. Plus, Dylana bakes absolutely outrageous chocolate chip cookies. We have been up to their site and the camping on the property has unprecedented views of mountain peaks. They also live quite close to some beautiful lakes as well as all that Ashland has to offer. We hope that anyone that attends gives themselves at least an extra day to soak in the area.
Dylana has always been interested in straw bale construction because of the energy efficiency the walls create, the amazingly deep window sills, and the organic and beautiful forms you can create within the space. The home is large at 2,400 sq.ft. (4bed/3bath) and is being built with a modified post and beam system with rice straw infill. This project is a great opportunity for anyone that really wants to see a full sized home come together with the baling process. One will have the opportunity to learn hands on how to install toe-ups, bale various wall scenarios and angles, install the electrical wires as well as how to deal with the plumbing systems to keep bale walls safe and dry always. Also covered will be how to install the mesh system for the structural bracing and plaster backing and finally how to mix and apply the first coat of plaster. Many of the materials that are being used in the build are relics from their past and the home will be full of stories from past experiences and places.
Ron and Dylana are really looking forward to hosting the August workshop and to getting to meet everyone. They also are extremely happy to be creating a natural and safe home in which to raise their family. We hope you will join us in this workshop!
Gabriella here…I am pleased to post that all of the 200 sq.ft. cottages that we built over the years when we lived out on my mother’s land have been completed and they look amazing! These cabins were built largely during the several workshops we help up on the land so some of you may recognize them from that. My mother, Margareta, has finished them up completely and configured the 90 acre property to be a retreat center. I have to say that it looks beautiful and having the straw bale cabins on the property ads perfectly to the feel of a calm and peaceful healing space. Anyone can rent the cabins for $45 each per night which also gives one access to the bathing straw bale cabin (full bathroom plus a beautiful straw bale sauna!), access to thousands of acres of hiking, ponds, and is just 15 minutes from historic Jacksonville. There is also a large retreat space (about 1,500 sq.ft.) that can be rented if you want to host your own workshop on the property. If you’ve ever been curious about how it feels to sleep in a straw bale cabin, this is a great opportunity!
For more info visit www.ramsayrealty.com, click on vacation rentals
If so, and you would like to be photographed in your home and interviewed, please let me know. I was recently contacted by a woman working on an ad for Northwest Credit Union who wants to feature a SMALL straw bale home and the owners for the ad. She would pay $500 as well!
This could be a great thing for Straw Bale in the Northwest.
She needs to interview/photograph you THIS SUNDAY (April 24th) so please contact me right away or contact her directly at email@example.com. Her name is Ariana. Please tell her that you heard about this through me (Andrew) at strawbale.com so she knows where you are coming from. Have fun!!!