Straw Bale House: A Four-Person Barn Raising

| 6/22/2011 5:04:03 PM

Tags: straw bale house, straw bale building, straw bale walls, barn raising, bale needles, Dave Larson,

Dave L HeadshotFrom installing the window and door bucks to topping the walls with bond beams, this crew of four completed the exterior walls on this DIY 720 sq ft house in four days. Next comes the roof!

Barbara and I retired from teaching high school the last week of May, 2009. With the help of our neighbors, Dan and Anneke, we moved lock, stock, and barrel from Tucson to Cochise with a couple round trips in a pickup with horse trailer, Chevy Blazer, and Barbara’s little Corolla. After a day of resting from the move and getting organized, we were ready to build. This blog is not just a chronicle of our straw bale house walls going up, it is a “thank you” to our neighbors, Dan and Anneke. They not only got us moved, but devoted their time and energy to helping us get our walls up. They are the kind of people that put the “good” in good neighbor.

       Crew Day Three 

About a week before we retired, our ranch supply store delivered about 180 straw bales freshly baled and tightly packed. Bales from different machines can vary in size, number of strings, and the length of the straw strands. Our bales averaged about 4 feet long x 15 inches high x 24 inches wide.  The bales we bought had long strands, which made a variety of building chores easier than a chopped straw bale. The market here at that time was $6.50 per bale. Thus, our walls, without rebar pinning or bucks, cost us $1,170 delivered. The bucks and rebar pinning added a couple hundred dollars more.

     Bale Needles 

To accommodate openings less than 4 feet, we had to retie bales into shorter lengths using baling twine and bale needles. Retying with long strand bales was a dream compared to the choppy bales our neighbors used. A long-strand bale holds its shape, while a short-strand or chopped straw bale tends to crumble when retying. Ugly!

11/22/2013 12:16:08 PM

We are in OK and looking at a similar structure. We have really sandy soil and no clay where we are. What kind of foundation should we use.

11/22/2013 8:07:38 AM

Hi, I am from southeast Colorado and we just bought 2 yrs ago a foreclosure straw bale house that needed lots done to it , mainly on the inside. I thought that we were unable to use a evaporation cooler due to the moisture it expelled and it gets hot here at about 90-110 for days! This house can really get warm sometimes , so is it ok to get a EV cooler?, Thanks!

dave larson
6/27/2011 7:24:40 AM

Hi Nebraska Dave, One of the bizarre things about straw bale houses. They are less combustible than a stick house. The tight bales covered by plaster don't permit aeration for fire growth. Because they are straw, assumptions are made - often by planning and zoning folk. Most states, don't know if Nebraska is one, have county level authority on most of the elements of building codes. In our country, P & Z was being driven by developers for a while. They did not want independent, owner/builders taking away their niche. Here in Cochise county, a group of citizens (Cochise County Individual and Property Rights - CCIPRA) started a grass roots movement which finally made the county supervisors change their minds. If an owner is also the builder and the primary resident, "non-traditional" building can happen on land that is zoned RU-4. Love to see that spread!Enjoy your Nebraska summer!

nebraska dave
6/25/2011 6:25:34 PM

Dave, your house really turned out great. I would suspect a house like the one you built would not pass the fire code inspection in my city. Nebraska has a lot of rules, regulations, and permits to acquire even in the rural areas. Even folks that wanted to build a under ground berm homes had a dickens of a time to get a permit. It's only been just a few years ago that geothermal heating was permitted in certain areas. It sure does keep the heat out in the summer and the cold winter nights from getting inside in the winter. You should be quite proud of your accomplishments. Have a great day enjoying your straw bale house.

oz girl
6/25/2011 3:17:11 PM

Hey Dave, thanks for popping by my blog... my parents had a place in Clarkdale, then Cottonwood, and now my mom still has a place in Cottonwood, so I've been to AZ more times than I can count and I LOVE IT there! Ah heck, I love all of the southwest. :) It was funny you commented on my Grit blog, because just yesterday I read your straw bale post, which I found immensely interesting. Didn't have time to comment then, so now I am. My mom is close to 70, and she is just like you and your wife, still extremely active. She and her new husband (my dad died in '06) are still buying and rehabbing houses (same as my mom and dad like to do). Kudos to everyone who keeps moving, even if we do start doing it slower -- hope I do the same, as I'm now on the plus side of 50. :) :)

dave larson
6/24/2011 9:27:16 AM

Hi N. Dave, The rack was fun to build and the price was right. We've been enjoying it. Good luck with yours!!

dave larson
6/24/2011 9:27:08 AM

Hi N. Dave, The rack was fun to build and the price was right. We've been enjoying it. Good luck with yours!!

dave larson
6/23/2011 4:53:06 PM

Hi Cin, Couldn't agree more about straw bale houses being a great option for DIY building. I have built with traditional stick and siding, adobe, and straw bale. I would definitely go with straw bales if I were to build again. It is above 103 F as I write this and the inside temp in our straw bale is about 72 with our evaporative cooler on low. Lovin' it. If you have more specific questions, please feel free to contact me. My website is Barbara and I enjoy writing about the many aspects of simple, self-reliant living in the desert. Glad you liked the blog and thanks for your kind words.

cindy rafter
6/23/2011 2:14:47 PM

Thank you so much for sharing your straw house build! I have seen them on tv being constucted but you view was very helpful! I will book mark this and show my Hubby and Mom (she wants a Yurt). I believe strw bale houses are the way to go!! Again, thanks so much! Cin

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