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

How To Build A Cold Frame Using Straw Bales

This post below was written for us by our friend Scott Allison. As we all know, straw has multiple uses and this is a pretty easy/economical/functional use for bales. This is a quick a simple project that you can do to extend your growing season. The details below are for a simple, what I would call “annual” cold frame. In other words, this would need to be rebuilt each year because it is not  plastered and protected from the elements. That said, it could be upgraded with ease to be a permanent structure if that’s what you are after. Here’s what Scott had to share:

cold frame 5As a sustainable builder I have always loved working with natural materials and I myself have a fondness for reusing as much as I can whenever I can. So when my friend and long time client asked me about building a cold frame on the south side of her little urban farm I thought it would make sense to work with straw bales.

The project took me just a few hours to complete and I was working by myself.

cold frame 1First I built what I understand to be a Ben Franklin style foundation with out infill other than a few cross red bricks to keep my spacing. With hindsight I would suggest a few screws and fastening some 2×4 spacers to keep the foundation from falling on its side while placing the bales.

Second I placed the bales side by side. Two high on the north side and a single row on the south. Then I took apart a single bale and stepped the sides down, filling in where I needed to.

cold frame 4Next, I placed wooden spacers on the top of the north and south rows and screwed them into wooden 1×1’s so they would support the poly carbon plastic panels on top. The 1x material can be doweled into the bales to keep it in place and the poly roof attached with roofing screws (with washers) to the 1x runners.

I planted a few broccoli, arugula, lettuce, collard greens, and chives and they all seem really happy. The night that I built the cold frame turned out to be the second frost in our area; however, the temperature inside the cold frame stayed well above freezing. The broccoli is now blooming so I think it’s gonna work pretty well. I intend to place some red brick towers in the north side corners as thermal mass and I imagine a few candles (in coffee cans of course) might go a long way to make for a really warm place to grow food during the winter.

I hope you enjoy the concept and creation,

Sustainably yours,

Scott Allison

Gaianlogic@gmail.com

GaianlogicConsulting.blogspot.com

503.886.9731

Farewell to Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

The world is without one of the most incredible people to ever grace its shores. Nelson Mandela is one of my heroes and a man who lived well outside of the average man’s world. He created his reality and change the reality of a generation. Below are some of his quotes. Words cannot truly express the core of Mandela, but it is what we have now that he is gone.

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

“One of the most difficult things is not to change society – but to change yourself.”

“Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished”

Rest in peace Nelson Mandela.

Colorado Straw Bale Workshop is Full

Lime Plastering PartyIn record time, our Walsenburg, Colorado workshop filled in 6 days. We added 5 spots this afternoon to that workshop and in a few hours those last spots were accounted for as well. If you would like to be added to the Colorado wait list, please email info@strawbale.com.

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December Free Workshop Winner!

Congratulations Leanne for being selected as this month’s Free Workshop Winner! We are delighted that you will be joining us at a workshop this summer. World, meet Leanne…

Workshop WinnerI’m Leanne Repetto, an elementary school teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I am bouncing-off-the-walls THRILLED to be this month’s winner of a free Strawbale Workshop.  Strawbale construction first captured my imagination decades ago, and it has remained in the back of my mind for all these years. Until recently, though, life circumstances did not suggest it was worth pursuing. But there’s this beautiful little cottage in my mind, on a hill overlooking some body of water. Might be a river. Might be a lake. The cottage embodies my beliefs about how to live in the world – comfortably, but with care for the generations who have to live with the results of my choices. With a bit of determination, I will have the wherewithal to make my dream a reality within the next several years, so the question becomes, where and how? Enter strawbale!

But there’s even a greater dream. In 2003, my healthy, athletic brother got ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and soon was a vent-dependent quadriplegic. For the next six years I watched how stressed and isolated he and his wife became, despite supportive friends and family. Later, another ALS caregiver and I started brainstorming how things could be better. We believe the central problem is our cultural notion that disability, and therefore the need for care, is some rare catastrophe that happens to the old or the sick, or anyways, always to other people. Out of that notion comes the way we design our homes and neighborhoods. We looked into co-housing, but no one seems to have created exactly what we imagine: an eco-friendly community of private and public spaces, built on the understanding that unless you get hit by a bus early on, disability and care are a normal part of life. We imagine accessible features like wider doorways and hallways … we see open floor plans, so people in wheelchairs and hospital beds can always be part of the action, but well-insulated spaces where people with loud ventilators can blast their TVs.  We see private structures linked by public paths and courtyards. And we have many other ideas as well.

It was in thinking about this grander dream that I googled “strawbale construction” to see what was going on with my old fantasy these days. And wow! You guys have been busy!! I know there can be a cottage on a hill someday. I hope – though it will take some real doing – that my cottage might one day be the first structure of a strawbale co-housing project that helps the abled and disabled enrich each others’ lives. And I can’t WAIT for the workshop this summer!!

Want To Join Us In Japan?!

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 info@strawbale.com. 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:

JapanThis 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 Japan 2rafting.  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
Japan 6would 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, Japan 4take 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!

Announcing the 2014 Straw Bale Workshop Locations…and a Sale!

Montana 2013 Group PhotoIt is with tremendous excitement that we officially announce our 2014 Workshop Schedule! After months of preparation we have selected 8 phenomenal hosts and locations that we are thrilled to share with you today. We essentially sold out ALL of our workshops last year and we have received more emails expressing interest in the 2014 schedule than ever before, so if you plan to attend a workshop with us, we suggest you don’t wait too long to sign up.

Please click here to view our 2014 locations and to sign up for the class of your choice. We are also having a 7 Day Sale (starting today, November 29th and ending December 6th at 9am Pacific Time), in which we are offering our workshops at a discounted price.

If you haven’t picked up our Straw Bale DVDs or our book “A Modern Look At Straw Bale Construction” yet, this is a great opportunity to do that at sale prices as well. As always, our Shipping and Handling are Free Globally (sorry, Books are not shipped
internationally) and your purchase comes complete with our full line of Free Bonuses available as Instant Downloads so you can get started right away in learning how to build your own straw bale house.

Please click here to gain access to the Sale Pricing on our DVDs and Book.

If you are interested in a Consulting Package with Andrew, he only has a couple of slots left open for 2014. To see what Consulting Package is best for you and your build please click here.

We hope to meet YOU in person at one of our 2014 workshops!

Happy Baling!

Andrew and Gabriella

p.s. If you are one of the many who wants to sign up for the Niseko, Japan workshop, we will be opening up those registration doors in about 10 days. We have been absolutely blown away by how many people want to come and are thrilled that this workshop is becoming a reality!

Step By Step Guide To Creating Niches

Finished Niche

One of the most artistic expressions of a straw bale wall are the niches that are carved into it. There are about as many options of what a niche can be as there are ideas, so describing how to create each one would take just shy of forever. For that reason, I have decided to lay out a step-by-step process for the most common niche I see in straw bale homes: the arch top.

  • Golden RatioDecide on the location for your niche. As much as it’s a good idea to lay out potential locations on your construction drawings, I always recommend that people walk the house once the bales are all in place as new locations that you had not considered before may reveal themselves.
  • Pay attention to scale. Once you know where the niche will go, be sure to properly size it for the space. I suggest you use “the Golden Ratio” to determine your height to width. No matter which way you orient the niche, the ratio would be 1 to 1.618. This ratio appears all over in nature; the most commonly known example is the chambers of the nautilus shell.
  • Back CameraCalculate the space in and around the niche. Keep in mind that the plaster will reduce the width of the niche so be sure to add in enough “extra width” for that. Look at perpendicular walls or window and door openings and estimate where the finish walls will land so that you can properly center (or not) your niche.
  • Use a cardboard template to test your niche out on the wall. Hang it with landscape pins or nails in the desired location and then take a step back to see if it is what you had hoped for.
  • Once you are happy with the size and location, mark the outside of the template with spray paint to transfer the shape onto the wall.
  • Niche ChainsawUse a chainsaw to cut out the niche to the desired depth. I prefer to stay around 6″ – 8″ deep in a two-string bale wall and 12″ – 14″ for a three string bale wall. I mark the bar of my chainsaw with spray paint so that I know when I have plunged the blade in far enough. Be aware that you WILL cut the strings of the bales at this depth. As soon as you feel one pop, stop the chainsaw and remove the string from the area. If you don’t, it will wrap itself around the chainsaw sprocket and you will spend a lot of time unravelling it.
  • Install the wire mesh on the wall (both sides) as if the niche were not there. Just go right over the top of it for now. If you try to cut the niche out before the mesh is attached top and bottom, it will weaken the mesh and you won’t be able to get it as tight as you need.
  • Use wire cutters to cut the mesh out of the niche. It’s best to cut the mesh a little bigger than the opening so that your plaster lath installation is not hindered by the mesh.
  • Niche 6Place the section of mesh that you cut away in the back of the niche and sew it to the mesh on the opposite side of the wall with baling twine. This tightens the mesh on the opposite side of the wall and it provides extra plaster reinforcement in the niche.
  • Cut a strip of plaster lath so that it fits tightly in the bottom of the niche from side to side. Cut it at least 6″ wider than the niche is deep so that you can fold the excess lath down over the face of the wall. This provides extra strength for the plaster as it turns from inside the niche to the face of the bale wall.
  • Fold the lath over and secure to the mesh with tie wire, cable ties, or landscape pins (into the bales).
  • Niche 7Cut another strip of plaster lath (also at least 6″ wider than the niche is deep) long enough to measure from the bottom of the niche on one side to the bottom of the niche on the other side in one continuous piece. This piece will shape the arch and, once folded over on to the face of the wall, reinforce the plaster for the rest of the niche to wall transition.
  • Cut the lath in small sections as necessary to conform to the shape you have created. Use stuffing behind the lath to fine tune the shape.
  • Fold the lath over and secure to the mesh with tie wire, cable ties, or landscape pins (into the bales).
  • Niche 8You may need to use some landscape pins on the interior surface of the niche to hold the lath in place. If you cut the lath big enough, you will be able to jamb it tightly into the wall and avoid the pins. Do whatever it takes to make the lath tight and sturdy. You don’t want it bouncing around when you plaster.
  • Eat a lot of yogurt. Okay, that’s not entirely necessary, but the yogurt lids make the perfect plastering tool for the soft edges and tight corners of the niche. Cut the rigid part of the top off and use the pliable plastic as a curved trowel. You will proceed with the plastering the same way you would on the rest of the wall and at the same time. Just be careful when working in the niche as it is a small and delicate space that can be difficult to plaster well.
  • Niche 9Decorate as you will…Now you get to turn the show piece (the niche) into a vessel for other items you wish to showcase.

Even if you don’t choose an arch top niche for your straw bale home, you can transfer the steps of this tutorial to just about any style you choose. You may have to tweak a step here or there, but the overall process is the same. Happy Baling, and create something beautiful!


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Insurance for Straw Bale Homes in New York

I received an email from an insurance agent in New York State who has written policies on two straw bale homes and is eager to write more. He can only write in New York, but it’s great to have him reach out in search of more homes to insure! His information is below.

Mark W. Fingar, Vice President

Commercial Lines Account Executive

Certified Insurance Counselor

Fingar Insurance

1 Livingston Parkway

Hudson, NY  12534

(518) 828-4500 v

(518) 828-5843 f

(518) 821-4454 c

mark@fingarinsurance.com

Wanted: Certifiable Straw Balers

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 info@strawbale.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 Have a National Straw Bale Building Code!

Fireworks

This is perhaps the most exciting day in straw bale construction history. A proposed appendix on straw bale construction was approved at the International Code Council’s (ICC) Final Action Hearings in Atlantic City on October 4, 2013!  The appendix will be included in the 2015 International Residential Code (IRC) for one- and two-family dwellings. In case it is not clear exactly what this means and why I’m so excited, let me explain.

Code ApprovalThe IRC is the basis for the Residential Building Code in virtually every jurisdiction in the US.   So once these jurisdictions adopt the 2015 IRC, there will be a straw bale code for almost every jurisdiction in the United States. No more convincing building inspectors that your idea isn’t crazy. No more wondering if the plan checker will allow you to build the house of your dreams. You will be able to cite the national code and move forward with your construction process, with a permit.

It should be noted that appendices in the IRC are not integral with the body of the IRC, and must be explicitly adopted by jurisdictions using the IRC.  But it is expected that the vast majority will adopt the straw bale appendix because it fills a great need.  Even if your jurisdiction does not adopt the appendix, you could cite it in the NATIONAL model code, which would carry enormous weight, and likely be used as the de facto code.

There are some restrictions within the straw bale appendix, most of which are appropriate for the proper use of straw bale construction; however, others are a bit conservative as a means of gaining acceptance in ICC’s approval process.   The appendix is a living document, and will evolve over time through ICC’s review process every three years. It was an important step to get “in the door” and now we can allow the appendix to evolve over time.

This is a huge and historic step for straw bale construction with far reaching implications. For example, obtaining financing through conventional channels should become easier with the acceptance of straw bale construction into the IRC. Banks’ concerns about structural longevity, fire resistance, moisture issues, etc. are clearly addressed in the code. The same can be said about the insurance industry. These establishments shy away from risk so having the IRC approval will help put lenders and insurer’s minds at ease. That can certainly make the process much simpler for homeowners moving forward.

ICC Approval HearingThe lead author of the appendix is California architect Martin Hammer. Martin has been working on draft straw bale codes since 2001 for the State of California, the International Green Construction Code, and the International Building Code. But these efforts and the approved IRC appendix were made possible by invaluable efforts and contributions from many other straw bale practitioners and experts. In particular, Kevin Donahue SE, Mark Aschheim PE, Dan Smith, Architect, John Swearingen, David Eisenberg, and Jane Andersen PE. Members of the Global Straw Building Network also contributed, including Laura Bartels, Andy Mueller, Bill Steen, Derek Roff, Graeme North, and Jacob Racusin. Ongoing support from Maurice and Joy Bennett, former directors of the California Straw Building Association (CASBA), was also vital to the effort.

Of course the fruit of any labor can be traced to its roots and branches. Martin Hammer wishes to acknowledge the pioneers of straw bale building, especially Matts Myhrman and Judy Knox, and Bill and Athena Steen. He also acknowledges Matts Myhrrman and David Eisenberg as authors of the first-ever straw bale code, in Arizona in 1995,  the many people involved in testing and research of straw bale building over the last 20 years, and the entire inspiring straw bale building community worldwide.

Moving forward in a continuing effort to increase acceptance of straw bale building techniques in an even wider market, a straw bale construction appendix is expected to be proposed for the 2018 International Building Code (IBC) in January 2015. The IBC governs all structures in its jurisdictions except one- and two-family dwellings which are covered by the IRC. This would create a path to permits for all residential structures not covered by the IRC (multi family dwellings, for example) as well as commercial and all other governed structures (churches, schools, offices, etc.). In addition, a peer review is under way regarding a FEMA P-695 analysis of the seismic performance of plastered straw bale wall systems. This analysis and review is required for new structural systems in the IBC.

IRC Approved Appendix Click on the PDF to check out the straw bale construction appendix in its approved form.   (Note that an effort will also be made to add illustrations and explanations for the 2015 IRC with Commentary)

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