Straw Bale Building: Window and Door Bucks

| 5/24/2011 11:56:42 AM

Dave L HeadshotHanging doors and windows in a load-bearing, Nebraska-style straw bale building can be a challenge.  There’s just no way I that know to keep a two-foot wide straw bale wall from settling and no two bales are going to settle the same amount. To avoid jammed doors or cracked windows caused by shifting bucks, we built bucks with frames that extended from stem wall to bond beam.

Our bucks were built to do double duty. They were constructed to provide a secure and square opening for windows and doors as well as ensuring a strong mechanical connection between the stem wall and the bond beam, serving to tie our wall together. In this way, not only were our windows well secured, but our entire structure was strengthened.

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We adapted this building strategy after looking at the work of a few straw bale builders here in Arizona and New Mexico and reading about the work of others.

Connecting to the Stem Wall 

During construction of our stem walls, we identified and marked the location of our three and four foot windows on the stem wall. We inserted J-bolts in the core of the blocks when we filled them with concrete. These J-bolts provide the secure stem wall end of the mechanical connection to the roof via the bond beam.  For the two by two bathroom windows, we didn’t feel we needed the full support of a stem wall to bond beam buck. So we used a floating buck for the small windows.

Dave Larson
5/25/2011 12:27:14 PM

Hi Nebraska Dave, You're right about straw bale houses being common down here. There are three others, two of which we worked on, within 3 miles of our place. Even here, most of the bales put up are those mondo 1500 lb monsters. But fortunately, there are some family farms that do 3-string 65-75 pounders. There are even a few old 2-string outfits. It seems that you and I share some baling history. As a kid in Minnesota, I've ridden a skid behind an old New Holland quite a few times and can still handle a hay hook fairly well, although the older I get, the tougher it is to buck a bale more than four high. So it goes. Straw bale homes would be so practical in Nebraska. They are inexpensive, use an all-natural by-product of food production, go up quickly, and provide an R-value above 40. Even in weather down to 2 degrees, as we had this year, we turned our little propane heater off at 8 pm and when we got up, the inside temp was above 60. If you're thinking of building one, you might want to run down some of the farmers still baling a manageable 2 or 3 string bale. Meanwhile, enjoy your garden, Dave.

Nebraska Dave
5/25/2011 8:56:01 AM

Dave, from reading your blog entries, I get the impression that this kind of building although uncommon is not unheard of in your area. It's all new to me. I've read a couple articles about it in New Mother Earth but thought is really was not a workable thing. You have definitely changed my thinking about straw bale construction. It's getting more difficult to find the small bales in Nebraska. They're either the big round bales or the regular bale on steroids (about 10 times bigger then the old style bales). Gone are the days of bucking bales up into a hayloft or into a hay stack after dragging them out of the field on a flatbed wagon. Gone are the days of trying to keep balanced while the tractor and baler chugged along spitting out bales to be stacked on the towed flat bed wagon. I kind of miss those days. Have a great Arizonia bale house day.

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