Without doubt the #1 question I receive is how much does it cost to build a straw bale house? The problem is that answering this question is not easy. In fact, it’s not even really possible without a lot of information about the specific job and its location. This is not something special to straw bale construction. Rather it is true about all types of construction.
After all, if one doesn’t know exactly what is being built and where, there is no way to give an accurate price. Of course, this does not stop people from asking the question and wanting an answer, so I do what I can to inform people of what to expect in regards to pricing a straw bale project.
In hopes of reaching more people who might have the same question, I’ve outlined five things to consider when trying to get a handle on what your straw bale project might cost below. I’ve also included two examples of straw bale projects (the Applegate Residence and the Mountain View Cabin) and the material costs associated with them.
Investigate average building costs in your area. Even if there are no straw bale homes in your immediate, area you can still get a sense of what building one will cost by looking at conventional construction values. A typical straw bale home, built by a contractor, will cost about 10-12% more than a conventional home of the same square footage.
Keep in mind that if you compare a straw bale home with a conventional home built the same R-value as a straw bale, the straw bale home will actually be less expensive by about 15% or more. What’s more, your straw bale home will save you roughly 75% on heating and cooling costs year after year when compared to a conventional home. That is only likely to get better as energy costs increase.
Know your design details as best you can. The more you know about the home (roof lines, square footage, stories, etc.) the more accurate your estimate will be.
Consider your finishes. People are often amazed at how the finish materials can add up and quickly. For example, consider that a light fixture at a big box store might cost $12, while a similar looking fixture made to much higher standards of quality could cost upwards of $250. Now multiply that by all of the light fixtures in your home and you will see why this is an important detail to manage from the start.
Owner built or contractor built? The difference between the two is definitely noticeable. Building a home yourself, although difficult, can save you a lot of money. The typical difference is around 15-20% of the total cost of the home.When you consider your home may cost more than $100,000, that’s a lot of money to save. This 15-20% is the contractor’s overhead and profit margin that is charged on all labor and materials in a typical construction contract. Take the time to learn the details of contracting to make sure you avoid two major mistakes that can end up costing you more money than hiring a contractor. 1) Work with a definite timeline.
Remember that if you are not able to work at your regular job during the build, you are not earning your regular income. Time away form work is money that must be factored in to the cost of the home. 2) Put simply, pros are better and faster at construction work than owner builders, so they can sometimes be more cost effective. They also get contractor discounts on materials which can be hard to get as an owner builder. The overall point here is to make sure you have a sense of how the project will be completed so you can factor that in to the cost as well. By all means, build it yourself, just make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.
Location, location, location. You might be surprised to see how much a project cost varies based on its location. For example, a straw bale home built in Southern Oregon may cost about $180/SF while that same house in the California Bay Area might cost $350/SF and the same house, yet again, in rural Iowa could be no more than $100/SF. Labor costs and material costs all vary by region. If you want to get a sense of things in your area, talk to the local builders. If you want to translate a price from another area to your own, consider purchasing a book on estimating tables that offers location variables.
Here are a couple examples of how far your money can go when building yourself with straw bales. Keep in mind everything you have just read and then start dreaming of building your own beautiful straw bale cabin, home, or getaway.
This beautiful and simple cabin is ideal for anyone interested in learning straw bale construction techniques and/or wanting a special space on their property. The cabin can be the perfect art studio, meditation space, guest cabin, quiet getaway, or even a tiny house. The space feels special no matter how you use it. It is roughly 200 square feet (measured in the interior) and does not include plumbing. The material costs for this structure, priced in Southern Oregon, are roughly $5,500 complete.
The estimated cost to build the Applegate is $40,000 which includes the cost of the foundation, walls, bales, mesh, plaster, roof, interior walls, so everything that makes up the structure. It also includes $5,000 as an initial budget for finish flooring, cabinetry, appliances, wiring, plumbing, fixtures, and finish materials. In our experience, it is possible to find these items at very low cost or salvaged, depending on how motivated you are to find the best deals on those items. If you prefer new and higher end finishes, the cost will go up from there.
The cost was based on material prices in our region (Southern Oregon) and there are large market differences in materials prices depending on where you live. This cost does not include any labor, permits and fees. This home build is within the ability of people with some basic building experience. The structure is roughly 570 SF plus a 200SF sleeping loft. It includes all amenities of a normal home.
Several folks who have built the home themselves in recent years (Washington state, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New York) have reported back that they spent closer to $60,000 by the time they finished. The big difference in price was based entirely on material choices and the cost of some subcontractors. The houses that come in that price range were built almost entirely with owner labor. Even then, construction costs can add up quickly if you choose pricey finishes throughout the home. The key here is to understand what your budget is in advance of the build, and to make sure you stick to that budget as the project develops. It’s far to easy to be the drunken sailor in the showrooms: saying yes to every cool upgrade that you see; however, this will not support your long term goal of building a cost effective home. Stay on target by remembering what your goals are and what’s most important to you.