More Design Options Mechanical Systems

With the physical characteristics of your home well established, it's time to consider the mechanical systems that will provide you with water, heat, light, electrical power, and waste disposal. Your choices of mechanical systems will have a major impact on the cost and long-term performance of your house. Too many owners and builders do not consider their mechanical systems until too late in the design process, figuring that they can just be added into any design. But the best and most...

Energy Consumption Comparison

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation funded a study overseen by British Columbia bale builder Habib Gonzalez. Using energy consumption data from BC bale homes, they were compared to equivalent frame-walled homes via computer modeling. The following is an excerpt from that report While straw bale houses have a theoretical energy saving advantage over conventional houses, there is little good data on how they actually perform. This survey attempted to provide a first cut at comparing the...

An Interview with Bob Fowler

Q Why have you been willing to support the efforts of the straw bale construction community to reintroduce this building method A There are probably a dozen reasons. First, I have an adventurous spirit and see the need for finding more sustainable ways to build. I also have a farming background and know the properties of straw and the disposal problems straw in the field presents to farmers. So I appreciate that these problems can be turned into assets. As an architect and an engineer, as well...

Rammed Earth Tires Earthships

Used car and truck tires can serve as permanent forms for rammed earth, providing a long- lasting, stable, and strong building system. A style of building dubbed earthships was developed in the US by Michael Reynolds. Using rammed earth car tires as massive retaining walls, earthships are typically arranged with the north side of the building backed into a hill, or buried under the earth, with the south side exposed for passive solar gain. Earthship designs also tend to incorporate systems for...

Water Pumping Options

Regardless of where your water comes from, you will need a delivery system to bring it to your taps. Electric pumps are the standard. In either a submersible or non-submersible form, an electric pump will pull water from the source and push it into your house. Piston pumps use less power than jet pumps. Many pump options are available, including models designed for renewable energy power systems. It takes much less wind speed to pump water than to generate electricity, making wind pumps a...

The Owner as General Contractor

Basically, I think general contractors earn their money. General contracting is hard work, and you need lots of time to be able to do a good job. It was important to me that everybody I hired to work on the project was totally aligned with our goals and ideals. If a tradesperson wasn't supportive, I didn't want them on the project. You have to find people whose attitudes match your own. If any crews are resentful or aren't getting along with you, it can make it unpleasant to be at the building...

Scavenging

It is remarkable how many excellent building materials get thrown away. Dumpsters, construction sites, demolition sites, and neighborhood trash collection sites can be full of useful stuff. You can probably find lumber or plywood, doors, windows, toilets, sinks, furniture, and just about anything else that goes into a house, though your scavenged items may need a little repair or come in odd sizes or shapes. A clever scavenger will make note of piles of materials sitting in people's yards and...

Heat Recovery Ventilators

Modern airtight construction can lead to air-quality and moisture problems in the home, especially if indoor combustion is used to provide heat. Many jurisdictions now mandate the use of heat recovery vents (HRVs) that exchange stale, moist indoor air for fresher, drier outside air, with a minimum of heat loss. These units can be expensive, and installation and balancing usually require a trained professional. While we agree that there are some true benefits to having a source of fresh air in...

Sewage Options

We tend not to think much about what to do with our own sewage it's regarded as an impolite topic to consider. But we all create it and should be responsible for making proper disposal and treatment choices. As contamination from our own waste is becoming a more crucial issue, more and better treatment options are being conceived and used. Research well before making any decisions. Most urban and suburban lots are serviced by a municipal sewage system, in which wastewater from a building enters...

Reduce Your Heating and Cooling Bills

By significantly reducing the energy required to heat and cool your home, straw bale walls will save you a great deal of money over your home's lifetime. Research Program. The contractor located 11 straw bale houses that used measurable fuel types. He visited the houses, measured floor areas, windows, and doors, and examined the energy bills. From the bills, he was able to extract the energy used only for house space-heating, by subtracting the energy consumption of appliances, lighting, water...

The Hunter Sokolowski Residence

Glen Hunter and Joanne Sokolowski built an off-grid, passive solar, straw bale home on 100 acres of land near Peterborough in 2002 2003. Glen and his father, Ronald, acted as General Contractor for the 2,650-square-foot home. Paul Dowsett of ScottMorris Architects created a modern style home and incorporated the passive solar elements a wall of windows faces south to let in the sun in the winter, but an overhang keeps the sun out in the summer. The overhang sits on a cupola with windows on all...

Appendix The California Building Code

At the time of publication of this book, the State of California is nearing completion of an ambitious testing program and revised building code legislation based on this testing.When this code is approved, it will represent the best working code for using straw bales as a building material. Until that happens, the significant amendments made to the 2002 California code will stand, and still represents an important step forward from the earlier version. We reprint the 2002 code here, since it...

References To Strawbale

Harper Collins, 2003. ISBN 0-06-051359-4. Hilliard, Elizabeth, Ray Main, and Laura Hodgson. Perfect Order Simple Storage Solutions. Soma Books, 1999. ISBN 1-57959-046-2 Institute for Research in Construction. NRCC38726. Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes, 1995. Susanka, Susan. Creating the Not So Big House Insights and Ideas for the New American Home. Taunton Books, 2001. ISBN 1-56158-605-6 Susanka, Susan with Kira Obolensky. The Not So Big House A...

Post and Beam Details

Post and beam designs must be carefully adapted for use with straw bales to ensure that the two elements integrate well. First decide where to place the framework. It can be set interior to the bale walls, buried in them, or set exterior to them. 12.11 The top plate for a load-bearing building is usually a simple affair two side rails, some blocking, and a plywood base. It will be built on the foundation prior to the bales being raised. The cavities will be filled with insulation and the box...

Garage Sales and Flea Markets

Some people enjoy making regular rounds of local flea markets and garage sales where it is often possible to find excellent new and used building supplies. At garage sales, quantities will usually be small and consist of leftovers from other people's building projects. Prices are often low, since people want to get rid of these bulky and useless items. Larger flea market vendors are usually aware of market values and don't often offer outstanding bargains for building supplies. Still, materials...

Industrial and Commercial Buildings

Individual homes are not the only buildings that benefit from increased insulation value and decreased embodied energy.Vast amounts of square footage are contained in thin-walled, poorly insulated structures, and the energy wasted in heating and cooling them is likewise vast. In the past five years, numerous bale builders have endeavored to bring their knowledge from the residential experience to the commercial. Many of these projects have been well realized and have created effective solutions...

Passive Solar Design

Early cave dwellers knew about it, wild and domestic animals know about it, and some cultures still practice it, but passive solar design has been neglected in modern home design. Incorporating passive solar elements into your house is easy to do, and the rewards are significant. Given the importance of the sun in all aspects of how we function in our built environments,it is really quite remarkable that paying attention to the sun's interaction with our buildings isn't part of mainstream...

Barriers

Why Build without a Vapor Barrier In conventional building practice, moisture is prevented from migrating into the wall cavity through the use of continuous plastic vapor barriers. This addresses the very real concern of air leakage in stud-framed homes, but it is unnecessary and a structural compromise with bale walls. Attaching a vapor barrier to a straw wall offers many complications. The barrier can only be attached to the top and bottom of the wall, Inspection of mold in straw bale walls...

Rounds Curves and Creativity

One of the great attractions of bale building is the potential for creating spaces that are unique. The combination of bales and plaster offers endless possibilities for form and texture. At some point in your Design Game, don't forget to include some aspects that will make your home uniquely yours. Bales can be laid sideways underneath windows to create wide bench seats buttresses can grow into the interior or outside the building, the orientation of the bales can be changed over and or around...

From the Engineers Desk

Good Straw Tower

11.7 This straw bale research building at the University of Manitoba was designed by Kris Dick, and will be an important centre for alternative building materials testing. Design professionals face challenges from many directions. Working with alternative building materials adds new dimensions to those challenges. For me, as a structural engineer, it creates an opportunity to work with many interesting people on unique projects, to apply fundamental engineering principles to non-traditional...

Interview with Orville Thertell Licensed Electrician

Orville's list for getting an electrical permit 2. Contact the electrical safety authority. 3. Find out who the local inspector is, and get his her views on wiring a straw bale house, since he she represents the governing body for electrical work. 4. Draw up a set of plans and present them to your local inspector for feedback and approval. 5. Once you have the feedback, make any necessary changes and then install according to plan. 6. Don't forget to book any necessary inspections before...