Andrew MorrisonWelcome 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.

Happy Baling!
Andrew

p.s. If you are eager to fast track your education in straw bale construction, click here.

My Latest Blog Entries Are Below

Want to Host a Workshop to Build This Cottage?

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 Wins a FREE Workshop

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.

Carol Atkinson’s Straw Bale Report

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.

Do You Live in a Straw Bale Home in Portland, Oregon?

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 ariana@arianaharley.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 For Sale in Colorado

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.

To see more pictures and a slide show on how this unique Straw-bale home was built, check out www.southwestmountainhome.com or www.coloradoretreat.org.

Help With Understanding the Code for Sustainable Homes

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.

Slide Shows by Participants at the Australia Workshop

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!

Australian Strawbale Workshop 2011 Slideshow: Ian’s trip from Melton, Victoria, Australia to Marama (near Pinnaroo, South Australia) was created by TripAdvisor. See another Pinnaroo slideshow. Create your own stunning slideshow with our free photo slideshow maker.

And here’s one by Dell Weingarten as well. Another perspective!

Strawbale Workshop, Presented by Andrew Morrison. Slideshow: Dell’s trip from Las Vegas, Nevada, United States to Lameroo (near Pinnaroo, South Australia), Australia was created by TripAdvisor. See another Pinnaroo slideshow. Create your own stunning slideshow with our free photo slideshow maker.

And yet another by Davina Turner.

Straw House Building :) Slideshow: Davina’s trip from Karoonda (near Tailem Bend, South Australia, Australia) to Marama (near Pinnaroo) was created by TripAdvisor. See another Pinnaroo slideshow. Create your own stunning free slideshow from your travel photos.

Timber Frame and Straw Bale

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!

straw bale timber frameI 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.

The Straw Bale Mayor

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.

Elephant Dung for Earthen Plaster Available

Anyone looking for elephant dung for their natural plaster? If so, I have a good contact for you. Gavin Wuttken (gavin.wuttken@pdza.org) 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.

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