One of the most stunning aspects of a straw bale home is the shape that window and door openings take. The gentle curves flood light across the room and lend a sense of calm and peace to the occupants. Almost every person who walks through a straw bale home for the first time makes some comment about just how beautiful the curves are.
These very same curves that bring so much joy and serenity can also drive home owners crazy. That sounds unlikely; however, when the curves are not properly built, they can cause all kinds of problems as the home is finished. Obviously, knowing how to avoid such problems is important, so I’ve given you a quick description of how to stay on the right side of the curves.
The two main problems that occur are: 1) The shape isn’t consistent from opening to opening, and 2) the curve protrudes into the opening too far. I’ll start with the second issue because it is the most problematic. Imagine what might happen if your bale curves extend too far into the space around your windows and doors. Being that most windows slide up and down (double and single hung), swing out (casement), or slide left and right (slider), the encroaching straw is merely a visual imperfection. If, however, the windows swing into the room (European style swing/tilt windows), or we are talking about a door, the encroaching straw can actually stop those elements from functioning properly or at all.
If your design does not have any interior window or door casings (trim), then you have to be very careful when shaping your openings. Be sure that the curve originates at the closest point of contact with the window or door. In other words, don’t plan for the curve to move out perpendicular to the window or door for the first few inches and then start your curve. There is too much room for error with such a detail. Instead, immediately start to move away from the window or door in the direction of the curve. This way, even an oddly shaped curve will at least still provide a functional opening. What’s more, a wall detail that starts to curve immediately will allow more light to filter into the room as well.
So what if the shapes aren’t consistent? In most cases, the curves will be somewhat organic in shape and trying to match each opening with a template from one window to the next will be an losing endeavor. That said, it is nice to have some symmetry from opening to opening, especially when those openings are in the same room. For this reason, I always suggest that people work on one window or door at a time and that they refer back to the first opening that they complete as a point of reference. Once you get one shape you like, you can try to match it each time you start a new one. If, on the other hand, you each time refer back to the last opening you worked on, you may be completely removed from the original look by the time you complete a few openings. Every play the game “telephone?” It’s the same concept: minor tweaks and changes each time, multiplied by the number of openings you work on, equals a large change from the original opening.
Take your time with each opening. Pay attention to the details that work for you to achieve the look you are after. Each opening you complete will get faster and easier to do and your level of consistency will also improve. Practice makes perfect. Just make sure that each practice session (each window or door opening) ends perfectly (within your tolerance for the organic nature of straw bale construction) before you move on to the next one.
About the Author
Andrew Morison is a specialist in straw bale and green construction. He has shown thousands of people how to build their own straw bale projects through his comprehensive series of instructional straw bale, concrete foundation, and plastering DVDs, as well as his hands on workshops. You can check these out at www.StrawBale.com/store.
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