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.
“As you reach forward with one hand, accept the advice of those who have gone before you, and in the same manner reach back with the other hand to those that follow you; for life is a fragile chain of experiences held together by love. Take pride in being a strong link in that chain” –Author Unknown
Linda Phelan, the host of our Rhode Island workshop, is the founder of the Healing Co-Op, a very special center dedicated entirely to providing women and their families a supportive space where they may begin their healing process through and beyond cancer. She is cheerful, loving, and kind. Strong, resilient, and compassionate. Dedicated, trusting, and sincere.
After her own diagnosis at the age of 28 in the 80s, it was recommended that she attend a support group. The only one available to Linda convened at the local hospital. Her experience at the meeting left much to be desired. The women were wallowing. The social worker (who herself had never had cancer), was consumed with telling the women what they needed to do and how they needed to feel. Linda felt unsupported and realized that she needed something entirely different. In that meeting was birthed the vision of a nurturing, loving, cancer support center set in a home like environment.
Linda created the Healing Co-Op on the foundation of community. When women and families walk onto the beautiful property, they feel like it’s their place. At the center, all emotions are welcome. There are no agendas, right or wrong ways to be, or people without experience with cancer. It was also founded on the principle that it always be free to everyone that walks through its doors. All funds to run the center come through donations.
When I asked Linda for a poignant story about the center, she shared this one. A few years ago, she asked one of the groups what, if anything, they would like to do within the art program (art is a large component of what the Healing Co-Op offers). This group comprised of 17 women shared something in common; they all had advanced stages of cancer and had experienced a reoccurance of their cancer, some as many as 5 times. One of the women responded, “Theater” and elaborated; Theater because it was a place where they could share their story, their voice. To say what they wanted to say to friends, family, and the community within a container that encouraged honesty and creativity.
Linda wrote the play based on the stories of the 8 women who wished to challenge themselves in this way. With the help and emotional support of their “sisters” in the group, each of the 8 women played themselves and were the stars of their own stories. The process of writing the theatrical production was incredibly healing and beautiful for all involved. Linda’s sister, a Canadian singer/songwriter, wrote the musical score. The play was described as “An open, honest, hysterical and poignant dialog which represents an actual support group meeting of the women”. In the end, the play, titled “Chemo Brain”, was performed on Rhode Island’s largest stage in front of an audience of 1,500. Family, friends, co-workers, and members of the general public all attended to honor this brave group of 8. What a sight that must have been!
Being given a prognosis of just 3 years to live at the young age of 28 while raising two young girls, Linda’s priorities in life shifted and became crystal clear. One of the core principles she embraced was to lead a life that leaves the smallest footprint on the planet possible. Straw bale construction fits that bill for her. Building this straw bale house is a dream come true for Linda, tying in her love for the Earth with cherished childhood memories of spending time in her grandparents’ naturally built home in Germany.
Linda’s 1,200 sqft, one story straw bale house will be run entirely on solar power. There will be a grey water system as well as rain catchment and solar hot water. Its heat source will be wood. Most of the building materials will be from reclaimed wood and locally-harvested and milled lumber. The south facing part of the home will have lots of windows to take advantage of the passive-solar opportunities the land has to offer. Designed by Chris Keefe, this home embodies grace, simplicity and elegance. Linda describes this home as her forever home.
Linda loves the idea of hosting a workshop because she lives and breathes community. It seems only fitting that such an amazing person who has done so much for the greater world, even in the face of her own adversities, would have people come to help build her house. We feel tremendously honored and proud to be a link in the chain of experiences held together by love by bringing a straw bale workshop to her. For every participant that signs up, we will donate $100 to the Healing Co-Op. For more information on how you can help us build Linda’s forever home, please click here.
p.s. Last year alone the Co-Op supported over 1,600 women and their families. If you feel inspired to donate, financial contributions are very welcome. You can click here to read more about the center and to donate.
We want to wish you an amazing, beautiful, fulfilling and peaceful holiday! We feel incredibly grateful to have made so many wonderful friends in this incredible community of straw bale enthusiasts. The experiences we have had with all of you since we started strawbale.com in 2004 have been beyond our wildest hopes.
Just for fun, we went back into our archives and pulled up our very first newsletter ever. Do any of you remember this one?? The newsletter was called “The Innovator” and our first issue went out to 444 people. At the time we were psyched and blown away that there were a few hundred people in the world that were interested in straw bale construction!
We had no idea what was in store for the future of strawbale.com and never did any initial market research to determine if there was even an audience out there (an extremely risky move looking back!). We just kind of went for it because we saw a need for step by step instruction for people to learn how to build their own dream homes.
Our first production was filmed with a $200 video camera. Neither of us had any experience with camera work, editing, producing, etc. We also had never started a web site and knew nothing about internet marketing, or e-commerce. But we were passionate and that fueled the whole process. The right people always showed up at the right time and with a lot of time, effort, support and encouragement it all ligned up. We haven’t looked back since! A lot to be grateful for.
One of the many ways we like to express gratitude to our readers is by offering scholarship spots in all of our workshops. If you have been unable to attend one of our workshops for financial reasons, we hope you’ll apply for a scholarship. We have had an amazing time with our scholarship winners so far and feel that this is an incredibly rewarding program for all parties involved. You will find all of the information and application deadlines here. We look forward to reading the applications!
As promised, here is list of workshops and update on space availability in each.
LESS THAN 1/2 FULL:
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:
As 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.
First 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.
Next, 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,
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.
In 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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…
I’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!!
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 email@example.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:
This 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 rafting. 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
would 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, take 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!
It 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!
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!
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.
- Decide 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.
- Calculate 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.
- Use 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.
- Place 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).
- Cut 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).
- You 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.
- Decorate 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!
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
1 Livingston Parkway
Hudson, NY 12534