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.
Be sure to sign up for my e-mail updates and my free 16 day straw bale e-course so we can keep you posted of the latest developments in the ever-changing world of straw bale.
p.s. If you are eager to fast track your education in straw bale construction, click here.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
There may be no more beautiful look than a timber frame house wrapped with straw bales and plaster. It’s as if the two were made for each other. Although the look is fantastic, the actuality of creating that look can be a bit troublesome if you don’t approach the project from the right angles. There are most definitely some differences in techniques when it comes to creating a straw bale wrap on a timber frame house. Get it wrong and the look will still be there, you will just end up more tired and frustrated than you need to be!
I can tell you that the techniques you need to include are simple and that with proper execution, you can have the look you want. What I can’t tell you, via a blog post or email, is exactly how to implement the techniques. That’s because seeing it and doing it in person is much easier than describing it in words. That said, here it goes…
The biggest secret to timber frame and bale unions is to be sure to create a tight joint between the two different materials: wood and straw/plaster. If you don’t do that, you will get cracks at every joint and those cracks will become areas of moisture infiltration into the bales, increasing the chance of moisture damage. The best way to do that is to install plaster lath, also known as blood lath or diamond lath, to the back side of the posts and beams before you install the bales. Hang it over the edges of the wood by about 3-4″. This will allow you to tie your mesh into the lath and then have a tight, structurally supported plaster/wood joint later on. You can see the lath extending beyond the edge of the post in the picture to the right (not the 2″x2″ mesh, but the tighter lath).
Secondly, you’ll need to attach the bales to the frame in some way so they don’t simply peel away from the structure over time. The easiest way to accomplish this is to use a fold of plaster lath on top of each course of bales and at every post intersection. Simply fold a roughly 9″ wide x 18″ long section of lath in half so that you end up with a 12″ fold and a 6″ fold, 9″ wide. The 12″ section lays on top of the bale course and the 6″ section is stapled to the post on the back side. With the bales in place, the 12″ section is then stapled, using 9″ landscape pins to the top of the bales. This creates a positive connection between the posts and the bales. You can see an example of what I mean in the photo to the left. This is a corner on a building with bales on edge, so the lath is not as long as 12″ as mentioned above. Same concept though.
Like I said, this is not easy to describe in words, so I hope I’ve done it justice. There is more to it than this. This is just the tip of the iceberg as they say and the basics that you’ll need to know about in order to create success with this style of design. Again, the best way to learn the ins and outs is to get some hands on experience with a structure that uses this technique. If you’ll forgive the plug, I want to mention that I am teaching a seven day straw bale workshop May 16-22, 2011 on a timber frame house in Caledon, Ontario. This would be a great opportunity for anyone interested in learning how to do this right for their own structure. I’m sure the host would be happy to answer questions about the frame itself as well. Hope to see you there, and if not, I wish you the best of success with your timber frame/straw bale project.
Newly elected Mayor David Criswell of Wilson, Kansas (population 781) is not your typical mayor. In fact, no other mayor in the US likely includes ‘straw bale builder’ on their job resume. I recently had the distinct pleasure of catching up with him on the phone and while we spoke it quickly became clear to me that David is a man of enormous heart, kindness, and courage. Fueled by a passion for creating low income housing for seniors that is safe, healthy, dignified and energy efficient, he saw straw bale construction as an obvious fit. The end result was a six unit, low-income, senior housing development constructed with straw bales and funded in large part by the Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC).
Mayor Criswell’s journey with straw bale construction began after he picked up a copy of The Straw Bale House nearly 12 years ago. Curiosity piqued, he and his wife, Kim, went on an outing to Nebraska to tour two historic bale homes built in the 1920s. The Mayor recounts that the wind had been howling that day, ripping loudly through the landscape. As they entered one of the straw bale homes and closed the door, to their absolute amazement they found themselves in peaceful silence. Just to confirm, they peered out the window and noticed that the wind was indeed still bending everything in it’s path. He shares that the experience he and Kim had in the straw bale historic home was, “Unlike anything we’d ever felt before in a house.” He remembers that “Inside, it was so peaceful and quiet.”
From that point on, Mayor Criswell was sold on the idea of straw bale construction and began to intensely study the construction method, reading everything and watching every video available on the topic. It became obvious to him that this technology would be the perfect solution for fulfilling a dream of his: to build energy efficient, inexpensive to run, and tornado safe housing for low-income seniors in Wilson.
Undeterred by his lack of significant building and contracting experience (he was a County Administrator at the time, not a builder), David Criswell decided to apply for the highly competitive Low Income Housing Tax Credit to help fund the project. Keep in mind that this was the year 2000 and straw bale construction was not nearly as popular as it is today. The application process for the tax credit is grueling and time intensive to begin with, so throw in that David needed to educate the federal, state and local governments about straw bale construction and one gets a sense of the breadth of his passion and conviction.
David worked tirelessly at the local level to gain the approval letters required to complete the application process. He went from the Fire Department, to the City Council, to the Senior Center giving presentations, showing videos and giving out multiple copies of straw bale books. In the end, he was able to send 15 letters of approval from major local organizations with his application. Several months later, to his complete surprise, a letter of approval from the review board arrived and the Czech Cottages senior low-income housing center was born.
David and two other locals spent the next three years, working tirelessly to build the 6 units that comprise Czech Cottages. David himself did the baling work on the modified post and beam homes while the others took care of the other building aspects. He describes humorously that during the baling portion of the build hundreds of people drove by the job site and stopped, mouths agape. “People had never seen anything like that before” he shares. Still, locals were more curious than anything else and in time, he and two others became affectionately known as “The Three Little Pigs”. They had gained the support and approval of the community.
Countless hours of effort paid off and today the seniors living in the 6 units are thrilled. Mayor Criswell shares that those residents really are the best promoters of straw bale construction because they love living in their homes. After the initial move-in by the new residents, it became a ritual for them to meet up at the senior center armed with their utility bills for a utility cost ‘show-down’ so to speak. Seniors in conventional homes were paying around $200 per month whereas the ones in Czech Cottages had to pay out just $20 for that same time period. In the Mayor’s view, a home is only deserving of the title ‘affordable housing’ if it doesn’t have huge monthly utility bills. He makes a very good point.
Turnover has been extremely low and there is quite a long waiting list of seniors hoping to live in Czech Cottages and for good reason. They are not only very inexpensive to run, but are also intentionally located right across the street from the Senior Center. Other conveniences such as the Library, Post Office, supermarket, and doctor are all within easy walking distance as well. Further, each home contains a “Safe Room”, which is a FEMA approved tornado emergency shelter. So, in case of a tornado warning, the seniors don’t need to risk leaving their homes to find shelter elsewhere.
What now for Wilson, Kansas (recently voted by Bloomberg.com the #1 place in Kansas to Raise a Family) you may wonder? With his new title, Mayor Criswell plans on creating business, job, and housing expansion for this small close-knit community. He fears that without some real changes and planning that the town will essentially die off. Fortunately for Wilson and its’ good people, Mayor Criswell is not afraid of being a visionary, putting himself out there and doing the hard work. He says, “We’ve got to be open minded to doing things differently if we’re going to survive the long term”. If anyone can be open minded and think ahead of the curve, it is Mayor Criswell.
I quietly reflected after my conversation with the Mayor that there are some common qualities we all seem to share as straw bale enthusiasts: a willingness to do things differently than others, to take risks, to experiment, and to believe that we actually do have the ability to create positive change. Each time one of us takes action to create the change we want to see in the world, we lessen the challenges for the next person. So rise to the challenge. Be bold and create something amazing in your neighborhood.
To learn more about David or the town of Wilson, KS, please click here.
To learn more about Czech Cottages, please click here.
Anyone looking for elephant dung for their natural plaster? If so, I have a good contact for you. Gavin Wuttken (email@example.com) from the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington is looking for a good home for some elephant dung. Could you be that good home? If so, please contact him directly to set things up. Good luck.
I am no fan of Monsanto. In fact, I think it’s safe to say I actually hate the company and the massive destruction they cause the world over. I wanted to forward to you some information about the Canadian Organic Growers and what they are doing to take on Monsanto. Please get involved if you value healthy, NATURAL food because when Monsanto gets its way, food is no longer “natural” and that’s a scary reality.
Canadian Organic Growers (COG), Canada’s largest organic farming organization has joined 59 other farming associations, seed companies and farmers in a legal action against Monsanto to challenge the chemical giant’s patents on transgenic (genetically modified) seed.
In a law suit filed Tuesday, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), a Manhattan-based public interest law association, asks the court to consider whether Monsanto has the right to sue farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto’s genetically modified seed lands on their farm. Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT’s Executive Director, said “It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer whose land is contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement, but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement, so we had to act to protect the interests of our clients.”
One of the goals of the suit is to demonstrate that the biotechnology patents issued to Monsanto, the manufacturer of DDT, Agent Orange, PCBs and a host of other toxins, are not in the public interest. In 1817, U.S. Justice Story wrote that to be patentable, an invention must not be “injurious to the well-being, good policy, or sound morals of society,” and “a new invention to poison people … is not a patentable invention.”
COG member and organic farmer Arnold Taylor said “I’m thrilled that Canadian Organic Growers and other farm organizations are not afraid to stand up to the most dominant chemical company on the planet to defend the rights of farmers. Genetically modified seeds threaten the diversity of our seed supply, farmers’ rights to save seed and jeopardize the livelihoods of farmers who could lose access to international markets.”
According to Laura Telford, National Director of Canadian Organic Growers, “Organic standards place the responsibility to produce crops free of genetic contamination on the shoulders of organic farmers. Farmers are required to take appropriate measures to ensure that their crops are not subject to contamination from neighbouring fields. With the proliferation of patents for new transgenic crops from Monsanto, including most recently, a patent for Roundup Ready herbicide tolerant alfalfa, farmers’ ability to grow organic crops is becoming increasingly difficult”.
The full legal complaint is available at:
For more information, contact:
Canadian Organic Growers
613 298-8848 (cell)
Carol F. from New York State is the newest winner of a FREE workshop. She will be joining us in Castlegar, British Columbia in July. I would like to introduce you to her in her own words…
I have long wanted to build a straw bale home both for its looks as well as the natural insulation qualities and use of natural materials. I am just an ordinary 66 year old, from the Mother Earth generation with an adventuresome spirit (Mom calls me a gypsy) who has come to love the look and feel of Straw bale homes. As I reflect back on how I became interested in straw bale construction, I sort of backed into it. The exterior aesthetics appealed to me as did the recycle/reuse theory. The straw bale in-fill came later.
I have always loved to build things. My brothers and I built our first tree house in the old apple tree at the edge of the yard down near the NY /PA border before I was even 6 years old. Several tree houses later, I am starting my next one in a couple of months to use as temporary housing while I build my house. Which brings me to how I became interested in the straw bale concept.
It hit me like a ton of bricks on my first trip west when I discovered Southwestern-style adobes. A 25 year marriage, raising 3 great kids, was over. That phase of my life ended and a new one began. 3 years later I fell in love again – with an Irish roadman- a tour caddy on the PGA Tour. I bought a little camper and criss-crossed the country, too, working for CBS Sports on the tour circuit and as a free lance writer/tour scout . On my first annual trek west, cresting a hill, a small adobe ruin set against the sunset of the Sonoran Desert struck me with an unforgettable force that will last a lifetime. That irresistible draw to the Southwestern style house was strengthened even more by visiting the Anasazi cliff dwellings. Then Santa Fe soon became my favorite vacation spot as I poked around building sites and talking with construction workers. I knew I had found my lifestyle. In researching adobe construction ideas I discovered Andrew’s Straw bale website and was hooked. I attended an open house at a straw bale home in my area realizing just how simple yet efficient straw bale homes are. But life got in the way of my plans. I live in the Northeast. my kids have families of their own, I have a grandson that I have the honor of watching while his Mom works so moving to the southwest is out of the question. So, I will replicate the ambiance here.
Fast forward to 10 years as the unpaid director of a pioneer museum, producing, with my daughters, an annual 10,000 sq. ft. Haunted House fundraiser, researching actual paranormal activity experienced in the buildings. I further studied earthen houses as I traced my British ancestry and scouted the UK for my paranormal investigation tours. Castles and Tudor construction fascinated me. In Edinburgh, standing next to a huge, craggy rock outcropping (all of Scotland is build on one big rock) I was struck by the construction. A few handfuls of mud/mortar slapped onto the side of the rock then more and more stones and suddenly one has a wall. Coat it with more natural “mud” , add 2 more, perpendicularly, and you have a room; add more of the same and you have a house. (or castle as it were.) It was the smooth, irregular, natural walls that went to my core-comfortable, familiar and “home”. That is the feel I get from Straw bale homes. Must be my caveman beginnings bubbling to the surface.
Straw bale in-fill is more than just insulation – it is the sub-surface that gives the walls their “look” -irregular, primitive yet so inviting you want to just run your hand over it with your eyes closed and “feel” it. It is also appealing to my do-it-yourself attitude in life. I have long been a scrounger and I now have a whole barn filled with building supplies and fixtures. I dislike paying full price for things that I can reclaim and work I can do myself. Straw bale construction seems to fit the bill for that.
For the past 30 + years I have earned a living remodeling houses, doing much of the work myself from framing to drywalling, plumbing, electrical and flooring so I am no stranger to a Saws-all, chainsaw and hammer. This workshop will be an invaluable pre-cursor to building my own home this year on my 10 + acres of woods, hillocks, cliff and stream, nestled in the Finger Lakes Region of NY. I have cleared the land (hence the chainsaw), perk test is done-bad news- solid clay necessitating a raised bed septic system bumping up the project cost by $10,000 so saving money building it mostly myself is even more important than ever. The “turning lemons to lemonade” factor would suggest the acres of clay pit can be used for the interior wall surfacing and maybe even my own line of pottery for my art studio. (Hopefully, a next year’s Straw bale workshop site.)
Each of the Straw bale newsletters have become a welcome reminder of things forgotten and new things to learn to get myself back on-track and thinking again about my straw bale/adobe-look goal.
I am so grateful for this opportunity to study with you, Andrew, and learn through the hands-on work at this workshop. I am eagerly looking forward to getting started.
Although The 2011 Ontario, Canada workshop is closest to me geographically, I have chosen the British Columbia location as it struck a cord with me. First off, another travel adventure to a territory I have yet to explore but more importantly, the workshop host’s spirit and mission struck a cord with my age and life role as a caregiver, I would be honored to be a part of helping that project along. See you in a few months. (Argh, I wish it were days)
Just a quick reminder to those of you who have a straw bale home to register your home on the International Straw Bale Registry Project through www.GreenBuilder.com. This is a great resource for other people who are looking to build their own straw bale home. I often contact people who have listed their homes on the registry to see if they are open to helping a “newcomer” find resources, builders, architects, and more for their own project. Sometimes, all it takes is for that newcomer to know that someone else has already blazed a trail which they can follow in the creation of their own home. Registering your house is a great way to inspire others. Please take a few minutes to visit the site and register your home today!