We are having a sale on everything in our store including workshop tuitions (up to $200 off!), all of our How-To DVDs, my new book: “A Modern Look At Straw Bale Construction,” and two sets of professional construction plans for small or tiny houses. You’ll even discover that I have created discounts on the three most popular ways to work with me directly. You can get my help with a construction plan review, have me come to your site and train your baling crew for three days, or get both of those plus a year of consulting and more. Please visit our store today to get in on the sale and learn all about what we are offering.
Here’s a look at the 2013 workshop schedule for those of you interested in learning hands-on in the coming year.
I hope to meet many of you this year at a workshop or by helping you on your own project. I love the experiences I have both with consulting and with running workshops. I truly love my job and I hope to share that enthusiasm with you soon!
Check out the video below of Fine Homebuilding Magazine’s “2012 Houses Award-Best New Home.” This is a straw bale house designed by Anni Tilt of Arkin Tilt Architects. Congratulations on a beautiful straw bale design and to the builders for creating this amazing straw bale home. After all, great design is not always translated into great construction. In this case, it sure looks like it was.
Those of you who receive our newsletters already know about our upcoming framing DVD and the FREE Framing Report that we are offering to people to “wet their whistle” for the details of framing a straw bale structure. The report is an excerpt from my upcoming book: A Modern Look at Straw Bale Construction Details and is full of juicy details about what it takes to frame a bale house. It’s a big report too, not just a bunch of pictures and a few notes here and there. It is 34 pages long and has 12,442 words detailing the process. I tell you about the number of words so you can see that it’s the real deal.
Funnily enough, Gabriella (my wife) mentioned to me today that I had not written anything on the blog about the framing DVD or the FREE report. That’s crazy! After all, this is our own website, you’d think I would tell people about the products we are creating. Sorry about that. I guess I just got used to communicating through my newsletters and forgot to put the information up here too. Anyway, here it is, the information on the upcoming DVD sale and a link to get your own FREE copy of the framing report.
The Framing DVD is a 2 DVD set, with 2hrs and 53min worth of detailed instruction on how to frame your own straw bale structure. In it, you will find a step-by-step teaching style that will walk you through the entire framing process from start to finish. We have done everything in our power to provide this information in a manner that will be easy to understand to even those with no previous framing experience. We even have a bonus section dedicated to breaking down each framing term so that you don’t get lost by the technical terms while watching the DVD.
I hope you’ll take a minute to check out a short preview of the DVD so that you can get a glimpse of what the footage looks like. Below, I’ll lay out the details for the upcoming DVD launch sale and how you can get a great price on this awesome new production.
But first…let’s talk about the FREE Framing Report.
It all started with the creation of my upcoming book, but accelerated into this FREE report when I asked myself: what are the five most important details I would share with anyone interested in framing a straw bale structure? I have been teaching people all about these details for years at my workshops, but I realized I was missing the chance to teach even more people, those who cannot make it to a hands-on class. So, I came up with my top five and put pen to paper (or in this case cyber-pen to computer). I have had over 1900 people download the report already and the feedback has been amazing. I trust you too will enjoy the report and learn a ton in the process.
For those of you who are wondering, I want to be totally clear that this report is FREE. You can give it away to anyone you want to, if you so choose. You are under no obligation whatsoever to buy my book or my DVD. I simply want you to learn how to do these five important framing details. Period. So, if you want to get the FREE report, please click here. You will be taken to a new window, so don’t forget to finish reading this page as all of the details of the upcoming Framing DVD Launch Sale are coming up right now…
Okay, check out the below details for the upcoming DVD launch sale:
Our Launch Sale will go Live at 6am, Friday, July 6.
The sale will end promptly at 6am, Thursday, July 12.
In the sale you will be able to buy our DVDs at 30% Off retail for the first DVD and 55% Off for each subsequent video.
Look for the new Combo Package which will save you nearly 70% Off retail costs.
There will be a sale on our Plans as well, including our brand new Mountain View Cabin design which are the plans we used to frame the cabin on the Framing DVD.
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.
That’s a pretty general question, I know, but I meant it to be that way. The reason is that if you have any plans to build a structure, you can benefit from my new Be Your Own Contractor Training Program. Okay, so that was a bit of a sales line, true, but it is the products that I sell that allow me to spend my entire day focusing on straw bale details and creating free content for the website. It is, after all, my job! (Be aware that the rest of this blog entry does indeed talk about the BYOC Training. If you don’t want to know about it, sorry for the shameless promotion of the product!)
Okay, back to the training. Although called the Be Your Own Contractor Training Program, this 7 disc set will help anyone interested in building whether you plan to hire a contractor, build it yourself, or if you land somewhere in between those tow. There is so much detail in the program that I won’t bother to go into it here as it would take up too much space and I’ve already written it all down on the BYOCTraining website. You can learn all about the details at www.BeYourOwnContractorTraining.com. There is a lot of FREE information on that site that is worth a read, if nothing else, so please do visit the site.
Like I said, if you have any plans of building, this program is something you really must buy. The amount of money you spend on it is absolutely nothing compared to what you will save. Currently listed at $149.99, you can either buy yourself a cup of coffee every day for 2 months, or you could learn the tips and secrets that will save you literally tens of thousands of dollars on your project. Your call.
I am launching the initial sale of the product this Friday morning and will be offering a sales price of $99.99 (even less than 2 months of coffee!) for the first 300 people who buy. I hope you will be one of them. You can sign up for an advanced notice to get you into the sale on Thursday by joining the E-Course at www.BeYourOwnContractorTraining.com or simply visit that site on Friday morning to get started. One quick note: I will be giving away a $500 gift certificate to the Real Goods Catalog for one lucky winner out of the first 100 people who purchase the 7 disc set. Buy early to be enrolled in that drawing!
Building a straw bale house on top of a concrete slab is certainly the most common system employed; however, it’s not the only way to go. If you have reason to build a raised floor system, you can. In the photo to the left, you’ll notice the change in grade from one side of the picture to the other. That’s a great reason not to build a slab as the amount of either back fill or concrete would be insane to make it work as a flat slab. There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to each type of construction, as with anything in life, so let’s take a look at some of those now to help you decide what is best for your build. (Remember, there are lots of other options too from earthen floors to pole structures. Don’t get stuck in the belief that you have limited choices. The largest limitation will likely be the building department, not the fact that you’re using bales for your walls.
Rather than focus on the negative and talk about disadvantages, I’ll simply discuss the advantages of each. Let’s lay it out here.
Concrete Slab Advantages:
1. Large amounts of thermal mass. The ability to use that mass for passive heating and cooling is large.
2. Radiant heating. Again, the mass comes into play. Radiant tubing installed directly in the floors is an extremely efficient way to heat a house.
3. Durable. Nothing is more durable than hard concrete over time. It just gets harder with age.
4. Ease of installation. Built all over the world, concrete slabs are installed by many tradespeople. This brings down the cost as well.
5. Back to cost. Because the slab acts as the structural element of the floor AND the finished floor, it is a relatively low cost option.
Wood Floor Advantages:
1. Perfect for working with uneven terrain. Like the photo at the top of the article, a raised floor can accommodate a sloping lot.
2. Deep excavations requiring basement walls lend themselves well to framed floors. Why not use a daylight basement or a full basement?
3. Applying wood, bamboo, cork, natural wool carpet, or any other finish flooring type is easy, and in many cases, easier than with concrete.
4. Comfort under foot. Wood floors have built-in, limited deflection which allows the floor to “give” under foot. This makes it very comfortable to walk on.
5. Access to utilities. Raised wood floors allow you to maintain access to things like plumbing waste lines which would be buried in a concrete slab. Should they ever fail, you have easy access for repairs.
There are some differences with the installation of bales over a wood floor as compared to a concrete slab. In most case, working over a wood floor is easier in terms of the bale installation; however, you need to decide what advantages are important to you and also what disadvantages come along with them. In my soon to be released, new production I show the details of working over a wood floor where as my old production focused on installations over slab construction.
I was recently invited to be a guest on the Jefferson Exchange, a popular morning talk show here in Oregon and California to discuss straw bale construction. The program is an hour long and covers many aspects of building with bales.
The first fifteen minutes or so is primarily a conversation between me and the host. The remainder of the show is in a question and answer format whereby I answer caller’s questions. I hope you enjoy the audio podcast. I had fun making it.
On November 16th, I wrote a blog entry about retying straw bales, the new way! The new way is to use the Miller’s knot instead of the trucker’s hitch which has been used for years. In the first half of this two part entry, I showed you the basics of how the knot works and why I use it on all my straw bale homes. In this entry, I have included a video that shows you, in depth, how to tie the knot….well, you know what I mean.
Watch closely as the video below walks you through the steps of tying the Miller’s knot. If you have questions about how this knot works or why it is such a powerful tool for you as a straw bale builder, please comment below and I will try to quickly answer your question.
I have been asked many times in the past and once again recently how straw bale houses perform in high wind environments. The answer: extremely well. I can go on about this in written form, but I honestly don’t have time today as I am busy finalizing a house in town and also have recently started a new framing project I need to get a handle on. So, without further delay….Check out the following video for a more complete response to this question.
Retying bales is one of the most important techniques on a straw bale construction job site. You will be required to retie many bales over the course of the construction and each retying episode will take time. It is not a fast process to retie bales so every step that can be done more efficiently will impact the overall timeline of the job. In the following video, the first in a series of two, I teach you how to make two bales out of one bale with speed and accuracy. I also talk about spreading the bales and other details that will save you time and energy.
Obviously a quality baling needle is needed for retying bales. You can get the design for our needles at strawbale.com/store which you can then take to a local metal worker. Our needle design is the best and most efficient needle I have ever used and is well worth the time to build. In fact, I suggest you build at least two and perhaps even four needles before you start building. The needle design package at the above website includes an e-book on how to most efficiently use the needle, a scaled shop drawing for the metal shop, and a separate video on how to use the needles on everything from sewing and retying bales to cooking rotisserie style! Everything you need to know about baling needles is in that package.
Although the above video offers a lot of information about retying bales, the more you practice, the better you will get. Be patient with yourself as you get started, especially with the miller’s knot. Most balers are used to using a trucker’s hitch knot which is an adequate knot, but not nearly as fast or strong as the miller’s knot. If you are used to tying a trucker’s hitch, it may take you some time to learn the new knot. Stick with it and you will be thrilled in the end. Next week I will post the second half of this video which shows you step by step and up close how to tie a miller’s knot. This single technique will save you hours on the job and a lot of headaches during construction. Happy Baling.
I often tell people the first step in building a straw bale house, or any house for that matter, does not actually take place during construction but rather in the design room. In truth, this is not quite accurate. For a really good design, the first steps must take place in the field during site evaluation.
Every site is different and therefore requires attention to different details. For example, does your building site have drainage concerns? Where does the sun travel during the day? How much organic material and fill will need to be removed from the site prior to construction? These and other questions like these need to be addressed early on in the design process in order to yield a home design that truly incorporates the house into the site. In the following video, I walk you through a sample site evaluation. This evaluation is obviously truncated for time, but gives you an idea of what is involved in performing a site evaluation. Take as much time as you can spare for the evaluation. You will be happy you did in the end.
People often contact me asking for stock straw bale house plans. I tell them that I can offer them several options; however, the best option is a custom design for their specific site. Although it is possible to use plans from a different site on your property, it is not ideal. Consider that the subtle differences in topography, wind, solar access, drainage, and more can have a huge impact on the efficiency of any home, even a super efficient straw bale home. If the original design depends heavily on prevailing winds for cooling and solar gain for heating and both of those aspects are missing or limited on your building site, the home will not perform the way it was designed. For that reason, it is always best to design the home for the site you are working with. In order to best design that home, a site evaluation must be performed so that all of the assets and short comings of the site are known from the beginning.
How much time is needed for a site evaluation depends on the site itself and the amount of detail you want to collect. Some of my clients have spent a year or more living on their land in a yurt, tent, or mobile home so that they can get to know the ins and outs of the property. In the end, the site that one of my clients had originally chosen for their home was abandoned and a second site was used. Had they not spent the time they did on the property prior to building, they would have made a fairly significant mistake in the placement of the home. Although not always as drastic as this first case, all of my clients who spend time on their land before they build have reported gratitude for doing so. Of course, spending a year or more on a piece of land before starting design and construction is very often not possible. Just keep in mind that the more detail you can gather about the land before you break ground or even start designing, the better.
Here’s a cool tip I learned several years ago.
The full moon follows the same path as the sun will 6 months and 12 hours later. In other words, if you want to see how the winter sun will enter your home, watch the full moon in a summer month. If you want to know how to keep the sun out of a building during the summer, watch a full moon in the winter and see how it travels across your land. This simple tip can save you thousands on your heating and cooling bills.
Another tip along the same lines is this: contact you local power company. Boring you may say, but it is actually very powerful. Some companies will provide a free service and give you a disposable heliodon. This device is used to simulate the path of the sun across the sky on a model of your home. The value of this is that you can place a scale model of your home on the site or even on a desk with a small, stationary spotlight and investigate how the sun will play into the house at different times of the day, month and year. This simple tool can help you make adjustments to your design before you break ground…very cool!
Be sure to perform your site evaluation early and gather as much detail as you can. The more you learn about your land before you start designing the better. You may even discover new things about your property you had not previously noticed. One thing is for sure, you will know in the end that the site you chose is the best one available and you will know how best to take advantage of all the assets your land has to offer. When all is said and done, you will have a house that becomes part of the site, rather than a house that simply sits on top of the site. There is a very big difference between the two!
For more information on this topic please click this link to enjoy the article on Site Evaluation written by my design colleague Chris Keefe.
As always please feel free to comment on this post. Scroll down to leave your feedback or comments.
I recently received the following question from a visitor to my blog named Pat. I get this question and variations of it quite often. Here is the question:
I have a house built in 1911, the wood frame is 2×10 and 2×4 pine construction the wood is now so strong that a nail must have a pilot hole drilled first. Is it possible to add additions to this house using straw bale construction and tie the two together somehow? I live in Minnesota so I love the high R value of bale construction. I had also thought about completely encompassing the whole house and slowly removing the exterior of the existing house. The purpose would be to allow us to live here while we are building the additions. If you have done this how did or would you do it?
Here’s my answer
The idea of wrapping the house in bales is a common one and sounds like it would be a good idea in Pat’s climate. I have attached a video below that discusses three of the major areas of concern when working with wrapping an existing house with bales.
When attaching a straw bale addition to an existing house, the biggest concern is to make sure that the two structures are tied together well. The easiest way to do this is with expanded metal lath at each course. Lay a swath of lath on top of the bales and pin it to the top of the bale surface with dowels or landscape pins, the latter being easier. Then bend the lath up at a 90 degree angle and staple it to the framing of the existing house. The two structures are now tied together. Be sure to use lath spanning the face of the joint created between the bales and the existing structure before you plaster because the two building materials will move at different rates under different weather conditions.
Finally, make sure the face of the bales and the face of the existing walls are lined up properly “in plane” so that the finish plaster will not have a bump in the transition. The exact line up depends on the thickness of the plaster on the two substrates and the transition used. Just be aware that some thought will need to go into this before you even form the new foundation. Happy Baling!
There are a lot of myths out there about straw bale construction. There are people who will tell you that homes built with straw bales will encourage rodents and other pests. They may also warn you against the high likelihood of fire in a straw bale home. Perhaps they would even go so far as to suggest that straw bale houses cannot hold their value over time. The naysayers are around, and that is not likely to change anytime soon; however, you can find out the facts for yourself by watching this video below. Don’t rely on those who would speak false information as if it were truth. My goal with http://www.strawbale.com is to get the truth about straw bale construction in front of as many people as possible.
The above video is a short clip about the myths of straw bale construction. It quickly sums up some of the biggest myths. Like those mentioned above, and counters them with facts about the reality of straw bale construction. At the end, there is a 3 minute (or so) slide show with music through some beautiful straw bale homes. I hope you enjoy it.
We add new listings to the green building resource center every week and new blog entries and comments are posted throughout the week. What’s more, if you can’t find exactly what you are looking for on our site, we give you several ‘on-page’ links, like those to the left, to take your search out into the fabulous world of Google where you can find anything you can dream of. In fact, we even have a Google search bar at the top of our site. You can use this to search the depths of strawbale.com or the Web, it’s up to you.
Here’s an idea: why not make us your home page? You will find out about the new blog entries right away and you will also have an active search link through Google available to you when you need it. I hope you find everything you need with us at strawbale.com. We are happy to provide you with the world’s number one straw bale blog and information source for straw bale construction.
Welcome to the “Building Green” podcast. This is my monthly Q&A session where I answer your green building and straw bale construction questions.
This month I answer the following questions:
1. Any thoughts on how to go about looking for land that is suitable for straw bale building?
2. Metal roof or composition? Or other? Which is the best environmentally speaking?
3. Must you have an architect/engineer that is experienced with bale construction approve your plans to ensure that the building codes are fulfilled?
4. How do you go about finding a structural engineer who is versed in straw bale?
5. Our interior plaster walls are very rough and sandy. Is it possible to paint the interior walls? If so what would you recommend?
To listen to this podcast on your computer please click the play button at the bottom of this post. Right click the following to download the podcast to your hard drive: Building Green Podcast: April 2007 Edition
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To listen to this podcast please press the play button below
The strawbale.com team just came back from a much needed break. We took our kids skiing over the Spring Break vacation and had a blast. Dicken Weatherby, the web guy for strawbale.com, and I had a chance to chat about the advantages of Load Bearing Straw Bale Construction. Dicken brought a small digital recorder with him so we were able to record the conversation.
Welcome to the March 2007 “Building Green” podcast. This is my monthly Q&A session where I answer your green building and straw bale construction questions. Sorry it has been so long since I uploaded a Q & A podcast. I have been super busy putting together a brand new Load Bearing production and writing a straw bale construction field manual. This month I answer the following questions:
1. Are you limited to just stucco on the outside and plaster on the inside for a straw bale house, or can you use wood siding or brick on the outside and inside? Is there a system to attach wood siding to the bales rather than plaster?
2. Can you use shotcrete or stucco blowers on the walls instead of hand trowelled plaster?
3. What’s your advice on finding local lenders who can help with straw bale?
4. Do straw bale houses have to be rectangular? How about an octagon?
I recently posted a new “straw bale minute” video clip in which I argue that bale walls don’t breathe the way they have long been described as breathing. There is a divided crowd on this one. My understanding of how bale walls work is that the plaster is too thick to allow moisture to move through it. That does not mean that moisture laden air does not still find its way in and out of the walls.
Numerous outlet boxes and other penetrations supply ample space for such sir infiltration to take place. The idea of pushing moisture laden air through the plaster seems, to me, to be a false thought per recent studies and a PhD thesis I have read. Still, others disagree. For example, check out a response I got to my video clip:
“Maybe bales up in your neck of the woods don’t breathe after plastering, but they sure do breathe down here in the Southwest! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen ample evidence of that. Just one eg: a gray water system that went through a straw bale wall broke and released probably 100 gal into the straw. I ran a sleeve around the 2 inch pipe, fixing the leak—and then just waited. Within 2 months, and with no other assistance than being exposed to sun and wind, all traces of the moisture was gone. I had occasion to open up the wall from the inside a bit later, and was able to confirm that the moisture had transpired THROUGH the cement stucco. By the way, I specialize in straw construction here in New Mexico, have built about 50 houses and over 300 privacy walls.”
Clearly, the jury is still out on this one. I would like to hear more about how the author of this comment could know that the moisture moved THROUGH the plaster as he indicates. If he is correct, I would love to investigate this further and see how the two findings might be able to exist together. I like to live my life under the assumption of “Both/And” rather than “Either/Or.”
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