? about Building with Strawbales!

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by lvshrs, Nov 17, 2004.

  1. lvshrs

    lvshrs Well-Known Member

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    Hi Evevryone!

    I am looking into building my own home next year and have been doing alot of research about alternative building. I am really fascinated by building with strawbales and would like to hear from people about their experiences with strawbale homes. Such as...How did you go with climate control(central heating/air or ceiling fans/fireplace/masonry heater)? How long did it take to build? Square footage? Any good books/websites that you recommend? Also any other comments/suggestions will be greatly appreciated! Thanks Waterlogged in Austin,TX :D
     
  2. gobug

    gobug Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I'm the devils' advocate on strawbale. It has liabilities, especially in a wetter climate.

    Moisture content is critical. You must maintain less than 14% prior, during and after assembly. Since it is a cellulose product termites will find it quickly if it gets wet at all. Texas is definitely termite country.

    Additionally, in most counties, you must build a structure to support the roof. The strawbale is only the walls.

    Most people who have gone through the whole process will tell you it is not cheaper.

    You cannot put electricity or plumbing in the stuff, so you must find another path.

    Framing for doors and windows is more expensive and difficult because of the size irregularities.

    While the insulative value is high, just about anything 18 inches thick will give good sound and heat insulation. The R value per inch is not that good.

    That said, you certainly can make a beautiful house with strawbale walls, no argument. Although, most that I have seen are beautiful because of the design, not the strawbale. You don't really see the strawbale anyway, just the plaster covering. This can be put on anything.
     

  3. lvshrs

    lvshrs Well-Known Member

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    Thanks gobug! Anyone else? Positives or negatives. Thanks again! :)
     
  4. Thatch

    Thatch Well-Known Member

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    I'd agree with most of what gobug had to say.

    I will say that part of the beauty of strawbale homes is in their construction, or at least their type of construction. Thick plastered walls give a home real permanence, they possess a very solid feel when you are in them. I really don't like the thin walls of typical stick built construction. This look however is present in many alternative building techniques.

    I started out very interested in strawbale construction and I still think it is a viable construction technique for some folks. It's just doesn't fit with what I needed. There are many "gotchas" in strawbale building. The biggest issues as gobug addressed are moisture and the beefy framing needed for the walls. If these aren't right you could end up with catastrophic results.

    As far as books are concerned, I would suggest "Serious Strawbale" (not sure who wrote it off hand, my books are still packed) It deals with most all the practical issues of strawbale construction and leaves out all the touchy feely hug-a-tree philosophy stuff that too many alt construction books are weighed down with. I do have one problem with the book in that it suggests concrete stucco which I think is a BIG mistake with strawbale (and most alt building techniques actually) other than that the information is pretty good and should give you a realistic idea of what is involved.

    Personally if I was building in Texas I would be looking for a construction style based on thermal mass not insulation. Best of luck what ever you end up deciding on.

    Joe
     
  5. gobug

    gobug Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I just heard about an architect here in CO that has built a few barns using bales of recycled plastic. Apparently, recycling companies sort the plastic soda bottles and like items and shred them. Then they bale them just like straw bales. The size is similar, so many of the issues that accompany size with strawbale construction are present. However, you don't get the liability of water retention, water damage, and insect attraction. I heard this guy was getting them free. Once plastered, they would look exactly the same as strawbale.
     
  6. Thatch

    Thatch Well-Known Member

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    I've heard of that. I've also heard that the density of those bales varies widely. The result of this is that some bales crush under the weight of being built on, while others "explode". Perhaps this builder had a special agreement with or specially constructed bales by a recycler, or perhaps the bales were "rebaled" or reinforced on site. I would be interested if there is any online information concerning the building project you are referring to.

    Thanks,

    J
     
  7. Thoughthound

    Thoughthound Well-Known Member

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    I have not built with straw, however I do find it compelling.

    That being said, I do own a regular stick home that was built using "unorthodox" methods.

    The result is that any small change or repair turns out not to be small at all. It's usually costly and frustrating.

    My point is that, in terms of home building, getting it right the first time is very important.

    I think I would want to build a small outbuilding using straw before building an entire home to get a feel for it. Or perhaps help someone else build their home with straw before building my own--and I say that as someone who usually just jumps into things blindly.

    If time is money, then wasted time and wasted materials is at least twice as expensive as getting it right the first time.

    David
     
  8. anniew

    anniew keep it simple and honest Supporter

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    I have friends who are going to build a strawbale house next
    spring. But first, they went to a week long "class" this summer, and then
    after that, went and helped other friends do theirs. Sounds
    like the way to go.
     
  9. DrippingSprings

    DrippingSprings In Remembrance

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    Well I feel the opposite of you guys lol

    I have a 50x60 post and beam barn. The type that is a steel roof supported by 6x6 post with steel roof trusses. I have been filling it in for the last couple months now. I have yet to run into any problems with framing it etc. I poured a slab under the roof and with some ahead planning left slots in the concrete for things like wiring/plumbing. These slots dont go clear through the pad but are just deep enough to hold pipes and wiring etc. I plan on having all the wiring installed and pipes as well within the week. It is all run through pvc and wil have concrete poured in to fill the slots.

    I will have it completely filled in and have everything ready to plaster by January baring incliment weather etc.

    The roof ridge is 24 ft up so I willl have space for two stories and still have an ample attic.

    I am getting the outside walls completed then we will move in and build interior walls etc as we live in it.

    Not counting the cost of the original barn that I already owned I will have it in the dry and liveable for about 9 grand. My uncle has a contracting businesss and to finish it out as follows.

    50x60 ground floor
    30x50 second floor
    20x30 attic

    Now this is non finished ie wallpaper etc just framing and wiring and plumbing. I will be into it for right at 30,000 I figure maybe another 15000 for finsihing ie wall paper paneling trim etc.

    So for 45.000 I will have a 4000 plus sqft energy efficient(comapred to one of regular construction and size) home.

    The barn was free as I already owned it but one here runs about 12 grand. The hay is free as we baled it ourselves off of my property. But would have cost about 4 thousand if not self baled.

    All in all about 60-70 grand for it if bought from start to finish.

    Can anyone build me a stick home of this size and insulation values for the same price????

    I have been keeping a picture diary etc of construction so far and hope to have a web site up in a month or so.
     
  10. Paul Wheaton

    Paul Wheaton Well-Known Member

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    I like gobug's info too.

    Curious about why concrete stucco is a bad idea.
     
  11. YuccaFlatsRanch

    YuccaFlatsRanch Well-Known Member Supporter

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    My home is strawbale and 3200 SF. I live in the Hill Country. PM me if you want to drive down and see it.

    Its not finished totally yet so understand its a construction area. There are numerous methods of building strawbale - some easy - come not. I prefer modified post and beam.
     
  12. Nevada

    Nevada Voice of Reason Supporter

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    Like gobug said, most counties will require a post & beam construction, and the strawbales are only used for infill material. That will force you to lose most of the financial advantage of strawbale construction.

    In reality using strawbales as exterior wall supports works well, but most county building inspectors don't have any working knowledge of that. Their fear is that the strawbales will settle unevenly, but that shouldn't happen if it is done properly. They call that type of strawbale construction Nebraska-style construction, so named for the conspicous presence of that type of home in that state. Some of those homes have been standing for over 100 years. Regardless of the realities, you still have to deal with your county, and they probably won't allow it.

    However, I know an engineer in Arizona who has developed an economical alternative. The exterior walls are erected as a Nebraska-style house (without post & beam). A chainsaw is used to create a vertical V-shaped notch in the strawbale wall from top to bottom about 4 inches deep. Rebar is set into the notch and the notch is covered with form plywood. The notch is then filled with concrete and allowed to set. When the plywood is removed a vertical triangular-shaped concrete pillar is revealed. These pillars are created at regular intervals all around the structure. The concrete pillars support the roof, so the building inspectors are comfortable.

    The counties are accepting the concrete pillars as support beams in several projects in Arizona. One such project is the new Out of Africa wild animal park being constructed about an hour north of Phoenix. I am personal friends with the engineer who developed this type of construction. Let me know if you would like to give him a call. He loves to talk about it!
     
  13. ibcnya

    ibcnya Well-Known Member

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    I looked into this a few years back. Moisture seemed to be a big minus. However, west Texas would be a good plac I believe. Just remember to build a very long overhang to keep rain away from the stucco wall.
     
  14. Thatch

    Thatch Well-Known Member

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    Concrete is a bad idea because it is effectively waterproof. While this seems like a good idea at first, (after all we want to keep the water off the bails don't we?) it soon becomes a problem. What happens is that water always gets in. This can happen from some fault in the roof, rising damp, or maybe a busted pipe. It WILL eventually happen when the stucco cracks, which it most certainly will over time. The problem is that once the water gets in, it can not get out through the concrete. The walls are never able to dry themselves out. In the case of strawbale this causes the bales to rot within the walls. (lowers insulation values and can be a health hazard to boot) If you put on a breathable plaster such as clay or lime (often times clay with a lime finish or wash) then when the inevitable happens and water does get into the wall the bales can release that moisture. The need for breathable plasters is across the board with "natural" building techniques. I've seen concrete kill innumerable cob homes in my time in England, for basically the same reason. Water was trapped in the cob until it became super saturated and lost integrity, making the whole wall fail. Concrete stucco is bad stuff. Without it those cob homes made it 600 years, with it they failed in 50.

    J
     
  15. lvshrs

    lvshrs Well-Known Member

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    I want to thank everybody for all the info. I will definitly be doing a lot more research before I commit to strawbale building! Thanks again! :)
     
  16. Nevada

    Nevada Voice of Reason Supporter

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    Before you commit, consider why you want strawbale.

    Many people start out with romantic ideas of having friends & neighbors help stack bales and suddenly have a lovely home. The reality is that strawbale isn't necessarily less expensive than conventional construction. There are many alternatives to conventional construction, and some are delightfully inexpensive.

    One design that I have been delighted with is the Pyramodule:

    http://pyramodule.com/

    The single-pod Pyramodule can be built for about $5,000, and the double-pod about $10,000. That is said to include everything (foundation, enclosure, roofing, and even plumbing & electrical). It is even designed to be constructed by one non-professional person.

    Good luck!
     
  17. 65284

    65284 Well-Known Member Supporter

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    One critical thing I haven't seen mentione here. Resale value. If you knew with absolute certainty you were going to stay there for a long period of time it might not make as much difference. But as we all know a plethora of circumstances can force a person to move, health issues, loss of a partner or family member, inability to earn a living where you are now, etc.. I have no solid info to back it up but I suspect it migh be exceedingly difficult to find a buyer for a home this unconventional, at a price that wouldn't mean total financial disaster for the seller.
     
  18. snoozy

    snoozy Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Well, I am living in one we built here in a very soggy county in the soggy Pacific NW. We have moisture meters in each wall, and the north wall, which never sees sunlight, has never been higher than 14%, and the south wall about 8 or 9. We have 2 foot overhangs.

    Termites we also have in this area, and yet I think a stick-built will look more tasty to them. Not a problem so far. Once the stucco is on, it is sealed.

    Our is a post & beam with strawbale infill, as you describe. since I started construction rather late in the summer, we wouldn't have had time to wait for the bales to compact for a loadbearing structure. It also becomes a structure which is easy to insure. I don't know if insurance companies would want to insure a loadbearing house.

    Indeed, it is not cheaper.

    However, the wires are in the bales, no conduit and the plumbing is in the bales. The windows and doors were not more expensive to put in -- o'course, I don't know how much it costs to do them in a regular house, since this is the only house I ever built.

    The walls are approximately 2 feet thick, and you cannot imagine how solid, how quiet and how reassuring it is to have such walls.
     
  19. snoozy

    snoozy Well-Known Member Supporter

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    As for resale value, few of them have come onto the market because people build them to live in them a lifetime. However, we may be selling ours soon, if all goes well with our move to New Zealand. We don't expect the strawbale to be a drawback -- we expect it to be an enhancement in the valuing of the house.

    I think if possible we will eventually build a strawbale house in NZ. They have a lot of wind there, and strawbale is SOLID. Also excellent for earthquake and fire rating.
     
  20. westbrook

    westbrook In Remembrance

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    build a straw bale shed. Think of this as your house on a small scale! decide if this is something you want to do or not. Perhaps wire it for lights, maybe even a sink for clean up. If a shed isn't right for you, how about a milking parlor, goat barn, chicken coop? dog house?