Two story straw bale house in Heathcote Victoria

You Can Build a Straw Bale House

Welcome! We are here to give you the confidence to know that you can build a straw bale house!

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Straw bale construction is one of the most intriguing methods of building that I have had the pleasure to be involved in. This form of building is without a doubt one of the most forgiving systems of construction, and is consequently an ideal medium for the owner builder.

Straw Bale House Building Workshop

There is nothing more inspiring than to see people rise to the challenge of building their own straw bale house. This environmentally friendly construction method dates back over 100 years, and with our new technology and materials the straw bale houses built today will last even longer. We want you to have the confidence to venture into one of the most rewarding ventures of your life. To be a part of that process is counted as a privilege.

We will help you discover your hidden ability as we strip away the facades and myths to reveal to you a clear and rational method of building your own straw bale house. From the ground to the roof, we will guide you all the way through the process of building your own home. Green building with straw is financially and emotionally liberating. To live in the peaceful atmosphere of a straw bale house is incomparable. Before you begin to build, make sure you go and stay in a straw bale bed and breakfast facility. It will inspire you, giving you the motivation to rise above the challenges and put downs of people who say you can’t do it..

We will guide you to the people that will make the journey possible. Draftspeople, engineers and building surveyors who will help you bring your dream to reality. People that will work with you rather than against you. For those of you with limited budgets we will show you how to provide your family with affordable housing. In 2005 one of our owner builders built a 10 square straw bale house for under $23,000. Imagine living free of loan payments. No millstone tied by the bank around your neck. We will advise you of new straw bale developments, help you locate the hard to get equipment and supplies associated with straw bale construction.

Whether you are going to build a mansion or the most affordable housing controlled by strict budgets, we are here to help.

 

7 Comments

  1. Marco Groot

    Hello Brian,

    Just a quick question for which I have not been able to find an answer in your book, how much compression (as in what size does a 35cm high bale compress to) can I expect with your polyester compression strapping method (I’d like to end up with 3m high load bearing walls)?

    Regards,

    Marco Groot

    • brian@anvill.com.au

      Straw bales are a magnificent building material as they provide incredible insulation, are easy to lay and are probably one of the most environmentally friendly building products, particularly given that straw is actually a waste product from a cereal crop. When the straw is baled the machine used will be adjusted periodically to try to minimize the variation in bale density, however you are always going to get some variation in density.
      When we compress a straw bale wall with standard good bales we would expect to get about 7% compression. At 7% we have negated the potential of the bales settling over the next couple of years under load, and yet have not reduced the thermal efficiency of the bales. If you compress the bales too much you will flatten out the tubes of straw and consequently loose a heap of insulation benefit as it will become a solid mass rather than a wall with lots of little air pockets.
      I can hear you saying, but what is a good bale? A good bale is one that is tightly packed and has never been wet. If you open up a bale you can smell mould and sometimes even see white or black spots on the straw where mould started and has not stopped growing due to the drying of the bale overtime. It is extremely important that you do not use bales that have any sign of mould as it is highly likely that the mould will be reactivated once it is in the process of building and living in the house. Good bales will have a sweet smell rather than a mouldy smell. Given that some moulds can cause incredible health complications, this is something that should be steered well clear of. The easiest test for the density of the bales is to lift the bale up by one string. If the string does not come off the bale then it is a reasonably tightly packed bale and would be good for building.
      Obviously my preferred method of compression is the orange woven polyester strapping which has a breaking strain of 1,100 kg. We use a standard tensioning tool used for plastic or polyester strapping to tighten the straps. It is important to put a joining buckle on each side of the wall so that you can compress the bales from both sides at once so that you don’t twist or bow the wall during compression. There is an expensive version of the compression tool that is purchased by timber yards and people doing a lot of work at very high tensions. The tool that I recommend is about half the price and is more than capable of doing a couple of houses.
      When building a load bearing straw bale building, where the weight of the roof is supported by the straw bales alone, you will be tempted to compress the bales so as to get a level surface at the top of the straw bale wall. This is understandable, but a big mistake. It is imperative that you compress your bales so as to get consistent compression and ignore the resultant variation in the height of the finished wall. If you compress to height and then add the weight of the roof and ceiling, it is highly likely that the load above will cause further compression of the bales not yet appropriately compressed and as a consequence you will get a dip in the roof. Then when you put on the fascia and guttering you will have a big problem trying to get the water to flow uphill where the straw bale wall has dropped.
      Once you have finished compressing the straw bales you will need to pack up the top boxing so as to create a level pitching point for the rafters or roof trusses to be fixed onto. Sorry to be so long winded but I didn’t want you to accidentally get yourself into a sticky situation. So to get back to your question, if you have a wall 9 bales high the relaxed height of the bales will be about 3115mm less 7% = 2928mm. You then add the bottom and top boxing which will increase the wall height by a further 180mm resulting in the approximate wall height of 3,108mm. Remember this is not an accurate height calculation as it is totally dependent on the original density of the straw bales.

  2. Marco Groot

    Thanks for that comprehensive reply

  3. Erik Christiansen

    Hello Brian,

    Is the 7% compression specifically for loadbearing strawbale walls?
    That’s about 170 mm compression on 7 x 350 mm courses, whereas some references talk about 50 to 75 mm compression for a “single storey”. That is beginning to sound a bit light on in comparison to your more solidly strapped down wall. Maybe 7% isn’t achievable with fencewire and gripples?

    • brian@anvill.com.au

      Hi Erik,
      The 7 % compression is generally what we get with the woven polyester strapping, however this obviously depends on the bales that you are working with. We had one job a few years back where the client told us that they got closer to 10%. He told me that the bales had been supplied by a friend. With friends like that I guess it saves having enemies. I am not a big fan of fencing wire and gripples. Apart from the cost there is the issue of metal fatigue in the fence wire. I had a cherry farmer attend one of my courses about 5 years back who informed me that he had used wire and gripples extensively throughout his farm to support the trees. He went on to explain that if he was to take hold of any of the wires he had installed and give it a couple of good tugs the wire would snap at the gripple. At the time he was gradually working through his property replacing all of the gripples.

      I trust this helps and look forward to hearing from you again soon.

  4. Katherine

    Hi Brian, I have wanted to build a straw bale house for a long time. Could you describe exactly what you offer someone like me who doesn’t know anything about building? How do I sign up to get your help?

    • brian@anvill.com.au

      Hi Katherine,
      Thanks for the question which has prompted me to put more information on the web site about our services, which I will have done shortly. For about 11 years I have concentrated on establishing construction methods and the supply of information specifically for owner builders with no building experience. Consequently I am now able to assist you with the design of your home including the supply of the required drafting for a building permit. I can also do the construction design, which is the establishment of the best method of construction, and takes into consideration the cost of materials and your personal building capacity. I can supply you with full engineering certification for your building permit application. This documentation includes as many as thirty A3 drawings marked up with information on what materials are to go where, which effectively breaks the building down into layers so that you just need to follow the instruction for each layer rather than worry about the roof when you are building the floor. In addition I will supply you with a pack of detail drawings showing you how the different components go together, and a document detailing the order of construction so that you do things in the right order.

      We also have a building surveyor that is familiar with straw bale construction that I will refer you to, as well as an insurance broker. Apart from all of the information that I can supply you, as an established client you can have the confidence to build, knowing that no matter what happens throughout the build, I am only a phone call away.

      HOWEVER:
      I must clarify this by making it clear that I cannot take on all the work that I am offered as time does not permit. I am only able to handle 10 jobs per year, and consequently have made the enrollment in our online owner builder course a prerequisite. The primary motivation for this decision is that it dramatically reduces the phone calls that I get to clarify issues as they are generally covered in the online course. This reduces the amount of time I need to spend with each client, and reduces your cost for consulting.

      How do you sign up?
      Under the heading of workshops on the web site you will find a red tag to the online course. If you click on that it will take you to the online course where you can enter enroll in the course.

      Regards

      Brian

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