Straw Bale House Design #342

Refined & Redesigned House Design & Location

It seems like we’ve designed and redesigned our house so many times. Well … we have but then again it’s important to get it right if we’re going to spend lots of money on it, live in it for many years, and have it function properly so it’s worth refining the design over and over.

Part of the reason for this latest redesign is that we’ve changed the location. When walking on the property we found that placing the house so that the driveway would go straight into the garage with the rest of the house below it would easier for several reasons. First, that area is already terraced and has a bit of a swale at the end of it.

Water Aware

A lower placement on the hill will also allow us to add more water capturing features further up the hill. We’ll never be able to place a pond high enough that gravity could feed it to the second floor of the house but we could place it high enough that it can be used to gravity feed water lines for lower growing beds and if we needed it in the future the first floor. Too we could use a small pump and some tanks in the attic attached to a solar panel and/or wind turbine that could fill the tanks for gravity to feed water down to the upstairs bathroom and even to the first floor.

Front Yard Switch

Since the house will sit lower on the hill the “front yard” would be the eastern side of the house rather than the south. While this means that the bio-shelter wouldn’t be on the front it also means that the bio-shelter wouldn’t be on the front which should make it easier for the building inspector to approve of it.

Ease of Build and Less Waste

Another reason that we’ve redesigned is that we just completed a straw bale building workshop and realized that there were places where we had some things wrong and where we could be more efficient. We had a lot of cutting and notching of bales due to the post and beam design of the house we helped work on. Since we want to build a timber frame house it would make sense for us to put the posts entirely inside the bale walls and just use some braces to keep the bales from being loose.

That’s enough talking – let’s look at some photos. The goal is to have the house face solar south which means the north will sit further west than the south. The following images are of the framing without showing where it will be placed on the land.

The Front (East-Face-Framed)

This first image is of the east face of the house with shadows turned on showing how the sun will fall during the summer solstice. With the r-value of the bales, a mass floor, and the wide eves we shouldn’t need air-conditioning. Another thing to note in this design is the size of the garage. Since we’ll be doing a stick-frame on the garage, and not bales, and since we’ll not have a basement we’ll likely use the garage for some amount of storage.


This shows what the framing of the garage will look like. We plan to do a steel roof on the garage and a living roof on the rest of the house. This will allow us to harvest the water from the garage. At the back of the garage there is a large amount of space that we can use as a workshop and storage. In addition, due to the bale walls we’ll need to have supports for the roof trusses out away from the bales (so we can plaster them) and don’t need to notch the bales around them. Too this will give us the space for shelves/counters out there where we can store things and work.


This is an even closer look at the garage and the area where we’ll add shelves. Too this gives you a good look at how we’d like to do the roof trusses but we’re open to hearing what a professional truss company might have to say about how to do them.


These images of the kitchen show a big departure of our past kitchen designs. Teresa really wanted a big kitchen because we both love to cook and bake and we dislike small cramped kitchens (who doesn’t?) but we decided to look for ways to make a big impact in a smaller space. We think we’ve done that.


One thing to note here is that we’ve moved away from the duel oven. While we do like to make lots of food in advance we could better coordinate what we’re doing. Too with the masonry stove we’ll have roof to bake bread and things while the electric oven is making other things. Another thing that we added was inspired by (a direct rip-off) of a design I saw first-hand in another home here in Pittsburgh and that’s the vent behind the range. It’s high enough to not pull heat off but it save us from needing to add a hood and if we attach a fan on the other side of it (either in the garage or outside) it will run quieter.


Here is another look at the kitchen from overhead.


This is the northern face of the house (basically the back of the garage). We’ll have a door back here and one window up high. While we won’t heat the garage we will use it as a buffer in the winter and will use the mass floor in it in the summer.


This is a look at the roof. The bottom is the south and the 4 squares in the middle of the ridge is where the supports will be. So the outer ones plus 18″ out from them is where the bale walls will be meaning the rest is the eves. Notice the on the left the roof is split because of the stair case.


We’ve looked for how to maximize the windows on the south face (both in the bio shelter and the bale wall behind it). We found that Anderson has double-hung windows that have a rough-opening of 4′ x 4′. We could fit 5 of these on the front of the bio shelter and two on the wall behind it along with the french doors in the middle. This should provide a lot of light and allow us to heat the mass floor in the winter when the sun is out (which is sadly rare in the Pittsburgh area).


Here is a head-on look at the south face showing the bio shelter and the long balcony above it. In past designs we didn’t have the roof come over the bio shelter at all. It always ended before it but that meant that in July and especially Aug we’d have a lot of sun on that balcony and we’d rather have that area more shaded during the summer and just use the bio shelter more in the cooler months when the sun is lower in the sky. Even with it where it is here it probably won’t provide much if any shade over the bio shelter but should keep the balcony from heating up.