Building with Straw Bale or Adobe: Three Options for Footings and Stem Walls

| 5/19/2011 12:10:01 PM

A photo of Dave LarsonIn keeping with our goal of creating a pay-as-you-build desert homestead, we used our own labor and, as much as we could, hand tools. This included digging out the trenches for the footings and stem walls of our first two buildings with a pick and shovel.

 By the time we were ready to build our main house, however, my age (the wrong side of 65) and the magnitude of the task at hand dictated acquiring something heavier than pick and shovel for moving dirt.  Buying a used mini-backhoe, dubbed the Tonka Toy, solved our problem. It was powerful enough for our tasks, while small enough to maneuver among our desert plants without too much damage.

       Tonka Toy

Building #1 – The Adobe Bear Cave 

When we built our three buildings here on the desert homestead, we had three different sets of conditions for our foundations. Our first building had the heaviest walls by far, being solid adobe. But it was also the thinnest wall, about half of our two-foot plus plaster straw bale walls.

       Bear Cave Stem Wall  

jim simpkins
7/11/2011 3:13:57 PM

How can I get a complete copy of this article? Great looking home.

Jacqueline Ryckman
5/25/2011 7:28:49 PM

Great article and an amazing job! Being a single person I do not think that I would attempt to do this by myself, as far as the house goes anyway. What caught my attention is that I am planning on building my own home in the Southwestern / Adobe style as I live is a desert area. I might attempt it on some very small out buildings though. Great pictures too!

Dave Larson
5/21/2011 8:04:14 AM

N. Dave, I will admit that Ibuprofen was a steady part of my diet for a time there. As to helpers, we did have periodic help for a day or so at a time from a sister and her husband, Becky and Joe, and, during the wall raising (future blog) on the straw bale main house, our neighbors, Dan and Anneke, came over every morning for a week. They had their own chores to do so only stayed til noon. Otherwise, all three building were just Barbara and me. That is (nearly) every weekend and 7 days per week during school vacations. I know that as someone who works with their hands as well, that you understand the satisfaction of sitting in a building and knowing every block and every bale that went into it. We did do a fair amount of reading and attended a weekend seminar on plastering. Mostly, after reading about many alternative ways of doing things, it was like a problem or puzzle. We adapted the methods we thought would work and did them. If you're ever out this way, I'd love to show you the place. Enjoy the Nebraska summer!

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