August 23, 2013

Summer 2013 straw bale house building update

Building Progress Made or Where Are We Now?

It’s late Aug 2013 and summer (for those of school age at least) is coming to a close. Even nearly a decade removed from higher education I still have a hard time remembering that summer doesn’t officially end until most of the way through September but I digress.

So many people know about our project and so many ask where we are, what the latest news is, when we’re going to move in (some even assume we’ve done it already). The truth is we’ve not even stuck a shovel in the ground. The closest we’ve gotten to working on the property is to show it off to a few people and to trim back the thorns and aggressive pioneer plants.

That said we’ve actually made progress in the behind-the-scenes areas.

Timber Framing for Straw Bale

We’ve found a great timber-framer who builds frames specifically for straw bale. You can see his work here: In addition to designing and building he’s agreed to work with me on tweaking the design that we’ve come up with (see below) to make it work from an engineering standpoint.

It’s very important to get a framer that understands building for straw bale infill. The workshop we attended taught us that lesson as the designer and framers didn’t have a lot of experience with straw bale buildings. The designer had worked on one previously but the framers I don’t believe had ever worked on one. As a result the bale work was more of a chore than it should have been.

Finding a General Contractor

We’ve also made some progress on the General Contractor front. I contacted a few local companies including one that has experience with straw and cob, Sota Construction. They’re a large company so I didn’t expect they’d take on such a small job but it would have been nice to have my inquiry returned (which they and several others didn’t).

It’s funny how sometimes the universe gives you just what you need at the right time as in a span of two days we found 2 general contractors that work on single family homes Bruce Construction and E5 (who doesn’t have a website). Both the guys we talked to seemed genuinely interested in being part of the project and excited to work on something that could be a real showpiece as well as something that could lead to more work as there are quite a few people we’ve come to know who are looking to build similar projects in the area.

Design Changes

For quite some time I’ve tried to design our home with a minimal amount of concrete, that’s meant that I didn’t want to have any part of the house bermed (or below ground level). With the spot where we’re wanting to place the house it will be fairly hard not to have the ground on the north meet the back of the house above where it hits the front.

This challenge has become a real opportunity. As much as I want to minimize concrete use the redesign with this wall being bermed has created a whole new set of opportunities. For example depending on how high the ground level ends up being we could place a cistern behind this wall to catch water from the roof as well as water flowing down the hill and use it to flush the toilet on the first floor and possibly even to wash our clothes (depending on how we filter it) using only gravity.

It’s really creating a chance for us to think about how we can harness the properties of the water the entire way through the property from the highest point to the lowest.

Latest Renderings

Enough talk, people want to see pretty pictures so here goes. Here are the latest renderings of the house design. Enjoy!

August 23, 2013 | W.D.Orkoskey
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