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...

Note on Straw Bale and Codification

Many efforts have been made to have straw bale construction included in building codes.As time goes on, these efforts are likely to meet with greater and greater success. Success creates both benefits and disadvantages to bale builders. Inclusion in the building code allows owner-builders to use the code to create their own plans with some confidence that they will receive approval. The elimination of architects and engineers from the planning process removes a significant cost from straw bale...

Revising Your Plans

It is rare that a building does not undergo many changes throughout the planning process. Each person you add into the equation will have ideas and suggestions they believe will make the plans better. Remain open to suggestions. Be sure that your agreement with your design professional clearly outlines the provisions for revising the plans. Show your plans to people you trust and get their input. Start making some preliminary of writing, liability insurance has gone up fourfold in the last 18...

No Gaps No Leaks

A well-built bale wall creates an unbroken wall of high insulation. In a traditional frame wall, the space between the studs might be insulated to R-12 or R-20, but the wooden studs themselves only offer approximately R-1 per inch, or R-5.5 for a common 2-by-6-inch stud. The thermal efficiency of the building is broken by these regular cold bridges. Infrared photographs of frame homes taken on a cold day will show the outlines of the studs as cold strips on the interior wall surface. Problems...

Trim Carve and Straighten Walls

Your bale walls will continue to be adjustable until you apply the first coat of plaster. Homemade persuaders of many shapes and sizes have been employed in this task, as have feet, knees, arms, and hands. Work with a partner on opposite sides of the wall when you're straightening. By mutual consultation, you can arrive at a straight wall. Anybody who's ever had the pleasure of thumping a bale wall with a giant sledge will attest to the fun that can be had at this stage of the process Your bale...

Bit About Mold

Mold spores exist in the air all around us. With every breath we take we are likely inhaling at least one mold spore no matter where we live. These spores are the seeds of mold colonies and are released into the wind to settle in another area and start a new colony. Molds provide an important function when they break down plant matter, returning nutrients back to the soil just like when a pile of wet leaves are raked up and after a few days start to rot. Mold spores that settle into a moist,...

The Architect and Engineers Stamp

You can address many of the building officials' concerns by presenting plans that have been stamped by an architect and or an engineer. This approval often removes some of the weight of liability from the building official's shoulders and places it on the professional. Your building inspector may require professionally stamped plans before approving a bale design, in which case you don't have much choice but to commission I often see land advertised in straw bale-friendly publications as having...

What Are Pests Looking for

To be suitable for sheltering pests, our homes must offer them openings, nests, and food. Plastered bale walls are short on all three, since their plaster coating seals the bales from foundation to roof with a difficult-to-chew barrier. Should a gap be left open in the plaster, the bales themselves are too densely packed to make comfortable housing for mice and other rodents.All those comfy spaces in your neighbor's frame walls, lightly packed with batt insulation, make a much more inviting...

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...

Owner as General Contractor

If you are going to hire all or most of the labor for your project, you will be fulfilling the role of general contractor. In commercial construction, general contractors oversee entire projects, for which they hire other individuals or companies to complete particular tasks. General contracting can demand as much of your time as a full-time job. You must juggle the needs and schedules of many different professionals and are responsible for seeing that all work is done correctly and on time. It...

Approval Can Take Time

Whatever you do, don't rush your building inspector by imposing your own deadlines and time frames. Approval can take one day or, in extreme cases, a year or more. Even if the inspector has no problem with straw bale construction, other adjustments to your plans may be required. Be patient and courteous during this process. Building inspectors wield a fair bit of authority and can choose to seriously delay your project. Maintaining a positive attitude is your best defense. Gaining permit...

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...

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...

Resale Values

In current real estate markets, chances are good that a straw bale home will receive a lower resale value estimate than its frame-walled equivalent. However, low appraisals do not necessarily mean lower resale prices. Home buyers looking for a strong, unique, and super-insulated house may decide that the attractions of a straw bale house are worth more to them than its appraisal indicates. As a side beneft,lower official appraisals often mean lower property taxes. Since straw bale building is...