Welcome to StrawBale.com
My name is Andrew Morrison and welcome to my straw bale building site dedicated to anyone interested in building their own straw bale house. If you are brand new to straw bale or are a straw bale construction specialist there's something for you at StrawBale.com.
Click here if you are NEW TO STRAW BALE BUILDING and want to know the basics about straw bale construction.
I have a ton of information for you including: photo gallery, step-by-step instructional videos, information about straw bale workshops around the world, free straw bale articles, free straw bale social network, and a full straw bale building blog.
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I like to stay open to new ideas and techniques. I think it is really important as no single person can possibly have all the right answers, all the time. I am not exception to this rule, so I like to hear what ideas other people have and I like to try the ideas that sound and/or look promising. That was the case with the idea to use jute netting on a recent woodshop we built in Ontario during a workshop. The host was very interested in using the netting as a means to lower his costs and use a natural material. I agreed with the idea after researching it a bit and learning that it had been used to supposed success on other projects.
Now you probably know by now that I am a huge fan of using welded wire mesh on my structures for many reasons, so opting for the jute netting in place of the mesh was a big step for me. It’s not like I went to therapy to get over making the decision, but it was, nonetheless, a stretch of my comfort zone!
The title of this entry mentions the word “why” so I will get to that now. I will not use use jute again in my structures, unless for some absolute necessity, because:
- There is absolutely no “real” strength in the material. When I pulled on sections of the jute to see if I could tighten it across the face of the bales, it ripped. I’m strong, but not that strong! If I pull on mesh all that happens is I hurt my hand.
- The material is woven. This, once again, means there is no strength in the material; this time for shear resistance. If you pull the material one way, the weave opens up. This is great for stuffing because you can literally open the jute up as wide as you want, right in the middle of the sheet; however, it makes for a weak material to hold the bales in place or provide shear strength.
- It’s bulky when not pulled super tight. If the material is not pulled really tightly apart, the ropes of the weave lie close to each other, creating a sheet of jute rather than a net of it. This sheet would keep any plaster attached to it separate from the bales. Not a good way to key the plaster into the straw for sure. As I mentioned in reason #1, you can’t pull the material that tight because it rips if you do.
- Sewing the jute to the walls only makes the loose areas stand out more. I had hoped that the stretchy material would tighten to the bales once sewn but this was not as I had hoped. It did tighten up directly under the sewing, but the sewn area did not lend any strength to immediate adjacent areas like welded mesh does.
I know some people will say that jute works and they will mention that they have used it themselves with success. Great! I am glad it worked for you. This is a material I am clear about for my own projects and those that I teach on. I will not use it again. Welded wire mesh is superior for several reasons and I am completely sure that the mesh is the best way to go.
I am not a huge fan of using battens to strengthen my bale walls. I much prefer to use welded wire mesh as I believe it not only provides a stronger hold, but also a superior “all around” structure for the walls. There are, however, specific cases where battens are needed and if you find yourself in one of those situations, this is the system I suggest you use.
One of the major problems with battens is that they sit proud of the surface of the bale wall so plastering around them is difficult. For starters, it’s all but impossible to get plaster behind the batten so to fully seal the wall in the scratch coat application. This leave the wall susceptible to air infiltration later on. Secondly, the battens, once covered with plaster, become a weak spot in the finish because the plaster is obviously thinner over the top of them and it also does not have as strong of a key as it does in the bales themselves. So how to fix this issue?
Use an angled batten. The battens that we used on a recent workshop build are shown here. Notice the profile is such that the triangular shape helps to pull the face of the batten flush with the face of the bale walls. This still leaves plenty of surface area to tie them to the walls (inside and out) and it also leaves a flat surface to be covered with roofing felt (all wood should be covered with felt if plaster is to go over it). It may take a little effort to work the battens into the bales so to get them flush with the wall, but it is well worth it and your plastering will be significantly easier as a result.
The last trick to an easy installation was given to me by John, a recent workshop participant. He created “the ultimate batten needle” which I have shown here as well. It is a simple wood jig designed to automatically space two needles to fit around the battens with ease. Plunge the batten needle through the bales (one needle on either side of the batten) and then have a friend on the outside attach the twine to both needles.
As you pull the needles back through the wall, the helper inserts their batten in between the twine and their side of the wall which is then pulled tight to the wall. Once you have the twines back on your side, tie them off in a tight miller’s knot. Simple and efficient. Thanks for the great jig John!!!
When most people think of niche in straw bale walls, they picture the flat bottom, arched top nook with a statue or flower pot in it. I love that look myself and have made many of them. Recently, I had a workshop host who wanted something sweeter in their bedroom. The heart niche was the result of that idea. Made in the same steps as a typical niche, there’s nothing terribly different about it other than the shape.
What I want you to gather from this blog entry is that the only limitation to the niche you install in your project is your imagination. If you can think about it, you can most likely create it. That’s a great advantage of working with straw and plaster. So have it! Have fun and create beautiful things!
One thing that I have done in the past which can be fun is to combine a truth window with the niche. As an example, the heart niche here would have a glass back to it which would reveal the magic of the bale construction. It’s a cool way to bring some depth to any niche. Throw a couple built in shelves into the assembly and now you’ve got a useful and beautiful addition to the home.
Remember: Have Fun With It!
I’m looking for someone to build this specific cottage in a workshop. It’s an amazing design for one or two people to live in, or it can be used as a guest cottage, or even a B&B building. It is 475 square feet and has a sleeping loft and full home amenities including a full kitchen, bathroom , and washer dryer.
I hope to teach a workshop on the structure in September or October of this year, so I hope you have a warm and dry climate that time of year. If you’re interested, please review the hosting details on my workshops website and then contact me by leaving a comment here.
I currently have a few people interested in building this great cottage during a workshop, and I’m still open to hearing from more of you. If you think you have the perfect spot for this structure, please let me know right away so we can get things organized and officially released. If you’re one of the folks I have been talking with already, don’t worry, I still plan on discussing the details with you and being that we have already started our conversations, you have a head start and a “place in line.”
Below you can see the floor plans and the elevations for the cottage. Click on the images to make them bigger and easier to see. Use your “back” button to come back to this page once you have viewed the images.
Analisa was the lucky winner of our April Free Workshop Drawing. Analisa has a lot of experience when it comes to living in alternative structures, both on and off the grid. She has done everything from living in yurts to a camping tent, to handmade cabins in the Pacific Northwest. All of these experiences have given her a true appreciation for walls with good thermal insulation! She plans a move to the Southwest in the very near future with her partner and is thrilled to be moving to a climate that is so ideally suited for straw bale construction.
Analisa shares that upon receiving the email that she was the winner of the free workshop, she was ecstatic and that she couldn’t have been more excited. She has chosen to attend the Crestone, Colorado workshop since she is very interested in the Load Bearing technique. She let us know that she learns best through experience and that a hands-on workshop is the way to go.
Her own goal for building with straw bales is to start with a single-story bale studio, maybe a round one. Eventually she wants to help design and build a small single-story straw home, probably around 1,000 square feet. Analisa plans to use the sun to heat it in the winter, and the thick walls to keep it cool in the summer. She loves permaculture and organic gardening so she plans on incorporating those practices into her homestead as well.
Analisa is passionate about helping others. She is currently finishing an internship for her Master’s in Counseling degree (she was a therapist at a homeless shelter for teens). Analisa plans on opening a private healing practice. She has a Holistic Coaching and Expressive Arts Healing website is www.heartsong-wellness.com. Her personal blog, called “A Year of the Living Heart,” is www.analisalee.wordpress.com.
This is a very generous offer from Carol Atkinson. She traveled the world and prepared this report about her study of straw bale projects from the United States to Canada and Europe. Please click here to view the report.
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!!!
SOUTHWEST MOUNTAIN HOME
Longs Canyon – Trinidad Colorado
Combining southwestern luxury and charm with a unique earth-friendly design, this 9-year old, 4,788 + sq. ft. straw-bale home is nestled on 35 acres above a evergreen canyon west of Trinidad Colorado.
This custom Rocky Mountain homestead is situated in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. About 320 days a year the sun warms this neo-southwestern home with it’s 2-foot thick, R-55, straw-bale walls with tan stucco outside and European-style hand troweled plaster in. The energy-efficient passive solar design is supplemented by a totally quiet and efficient in-floor radiant heating system covered by Italian, terracotta ceramic tile and a massive kiva-style fireplace.
The spacious design boasts vaulted 16-foot ceilings and two enclosed gardens. The floor plan is accented by round corners, sweeping curved walls and plenty of double-insulated casement windows which reveal a landscape that is home to native elk, deer, wild turkey, coyotes, jack rabbits, cottontails and too many birds to name.
The entire home is handcrafted, with one-of-a-kind solid maple, mission-style doors with rain-glass lights, solid cherry kitchen cabinets and hand carved garden gates.
The about 3,800 feet of living space includes an inviting 38’ x 20’ living room, 3 large bedrooms, and bonus room over the garage.
This quiet and protected 35-acre property is completely fenced and has approximately 5 acres of pasture-land, 15 acres of ponderosa pine forest, and 15 acres of piñon, cedar and oak brush. The parcel is part of a small enclave called River Ranch Longs Canyon located 13 miles west of Trinidad Colorado – and 14 miles north of the New Mexico border.
This special home is currently a year around residence, but would also be idea for a vacation get-away, retreat center, bed & breakfast inn, or even a shared two-family home.
The code for sustainable homes is an environmental assessment method for rating and certifying the performance of new homes. It is a national standard for use in the design and construction of new homes with a view to encouraging continuous improvement in sustainable construction. It was launched in 2006 and became operational in April 2007. Where building regulations apply, compliance is necessary at all times.
Straw bale construction can greatly enhance your credit scoring within the Code Assessment as it attracts an excellent rating in the Green Guide – by the BRE.
The concept of Codewizard was based on two fundamentals. To Facilitate and Educate on the Code for Sustainable Homes process.
The system was designed by Architects and Code Assessors and was developed in conjunction with Liverpool John Moores University and the North West Development Agency over a 2 year period. It uses the very latest database technology on a dedicated and encrypted server.
It is our intention to make the process of achieving Code compliance as straightforward as possible. The system gives the Client a simple snapshot of where they are in the CSH process for every project and also gives the Assessor a way of tracking the evidence in one secure place.
By cutting down the amount of time spent educating and chasing the client, we hope we have created a system that makes it easier for all concerned.
If you would like to see further features incorporated or have general feedback, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
This is by Ian Winduss, a participant at the 2011 Australia workshop. It is really nicely done and I wanted to share it with you all. I hope you enjoy it!
And here’s one by Dell Weingarten as well. Another perspective!
And yet another by Davina Turner.