Reposted from greenspree.ca
So you want to build your own straw bale home. You’ve seen them in green home building books and on TV shows, you saw green home builders wax poetic about their homes low impact on the environment and connection to the local ecology. You’ve researched all the possible alternative home building techniques and the thought of conventional framing makes you shudder. You are going to build a straw bale home no matter what obstacles the MAN and doubters have to say! Well far be it for me to try and dissuade you!
There are some things you should know and experience first though. This, in all likely-hood, is going to be one of the most challenging things you will ever take on. Unless you are an experienced home builder, and maybe even if you are, building a straw bale home on your own is a daunting task from your POV and you are probably underestimating almost every aspect of it right now. You are underestimating the time, cost, effort and patience it will require. There are some things you need to realize before you start and some things you will not be able to realize till you do it for yourself.
If at all possible try and volunteer or take a course on straw bale building, and if you can participate in EVERY stage of building! Even if you think you don’t need to experience the finish carpentry parts of building a straw bale home because the bales are all done at that point, you should! Having uneven, lumpy and delicate walls makes every other step afterwards more difficult.
Doing a one day or even weekend workshop is not going to give you a feel for what the sustained level of work and care is required to construct a bale building of any size. Workshops and seminars are usually scheduled on dry weekends complete with large groups of volunteers and people who have done this many times organizing things and solving problems for you. You on the other hand cannot count on sustained levels of volunteer labour to help you finish your house, if you are lucky and well liked you will probably be able to convince friends and family to attend 2-3 work parties over the duration of the project, the rest you will be doing on your own.
You will spend an unimaginatively large amount of time tarping and untarping your house as you deal with weather unless you live in a desert. You will become attuned to the weather in a way only our pioneer/farmer forefathers were, you will constantly assess how much time you think you will have before bad weather rolls in on a given day and the time it takes to tarp you work for the day. You will buy more tarps than you think is possible, start looking for sales on them NOW!
Unless you are an expert on natural plasters, you’ll need to at least use lime in your stucco/plaster mixes if not portland cement. Earthen plasters may be romantic and extremely eco-friendly but a leaky, rotten bale wall isn’t exactly a sustainable building practise! If you can, hire experts for this step, it’s one of the most critical components of your house and by far the most time and labour consuming one. If you do your own stucco, buy a mixer and start collecting buckets of every size and shape you can.
Speaking of tools, here is a list you should seriously owning:
- scaffolding – Enough to completely cover one side of the house minimum! You can always sell it afterwards and if you are doing your own stucco the time frame you will be renting scaffolding for makes buying a much more affordable option.
- compressor -From spraying slip on bales, nailing trim and blowing straw dust out of your other tools, you will use this every day!
- chain saw – Cutting bales without one isn’t really feasible.
- concrete mixer – as romantic as mixing stucco in a pit with your feet sounds, mixing literally tons of stucco is a lot more realistic mechanically!
- common home-builder tools – you should have the basic tools used on any construction site: corded and cordless drills, circular saw, recipricating saw, jigsaw, table-saw, chop saw, hammers, levels, squares, chalkines, snips, pliers, screwdrivers, chisels, prybars, saw horses, etc, etc, etc
I naively estimated I would finish my house in 6 months working evenings, weekends and with 4 weeks vacation. I am not a builder but have construction experience, had help from a long time carpenter and lots of friends and family. Two years later we limped across the finish line (more on that below). Easily the biggest area of time and labour was spent on stucco, tarping and untarping walls, erecting and moving scaffolding. If you choose to subcontract any part of the building this is the part I would strongly suggest you leave to the experts. It is the most important part of keeping moisture out of your house, which of any building technique is the most susceptible to water damage! If you live in an area where there are companies with experience stuccoing straw bale I would definitely recommend hiring them!
This is a small list of the major hurdles and challenges of building your own straw bale home, the main thing you should remember is to remain flexible and adaptable, learn how to problem solve and think creatively. Take things one step at a time and remember that the hard work is part of the journey but completing the house isn’t the destination, just another road marker. If you spend the whole time thinking of the end as a finish line you’ll burn out. About half way through I had to stop dreaming of the day we’d be done and focus on the moments we were creating being builders. We weren’t enjoying the process anymore and the whole thing felt like a massive burden.
When I was able to accept that this was just a phase of my life that would last some unknown length of time and only carry the burden of the task I set out to finish that day/hour/moment was I able to set down the burden of the project as a whole and enjoy life again. It was still a struggle not to slip into the old way of thinking but I got a lot more done and felt a lo better if I could set that burden aside.
When you are done (for the moment, there are always future projects for a home owner!) take the time to enjoy your home and sit back and take it in now and then!