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!

Here are some recent articles you may find interesting:

Finishing off the second render coat in preparation for the final coat

In this article for the The Owner Builder magazine I explain how to finish off the second coat of render ...
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I have a new respect for these little bits and pieces.  I always thought they looked a bit useless really ...
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Laying the flooring at the Patch

With the sheets of flooring weighing 40kg each, I was glad to have some helpers to finish it off.  We ...
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Strawbale at the Patch

My building has been a fascinating journey.  Here are a few snippets of the process to date. It was really ...
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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.



  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)?


    Marco Groot


      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?


      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?


      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.

      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.



  5. Oilin Bould

    Hi Brian.
    I have a steel roof carport which is about 10 x20 meters. And I wish to convert into my art studio by making strawbale. Do you think it works?
    Thank you


      Hi Oilin,
      conceptually this is OK, however there are many things that have to be addressed before you could move ahead with confidence. You will need to consider what protection the bales will have from weather and what foundations you have or have to add to support the bales. Unfortunately it is not a question with a simple answer, however these are all issues that can be addressed. If you are one of our online course participants you have access to all of our services so you could phone me on 0428 246 868 to discuss how to move forward from this point.

      I know this is a bit vague, but I trust it points you in the right direction.



  6. Alan Bandy

    Hi Brian, my wife and I are going through the process of looking at houses to build as owner builders and have stumbled across straw bale houses i am very interested in the idea but my wife has some concerns with it and would like to look at a completed home. The area we will be building around is Warracknabeal in Victoria an area known for termites and mice which is something that is a bit of a worry and the ground moves a lot winter to summer so I would be considering building on steel stumps. Any input would be great thanks for taking the time to read my comment
    Cheers Alan


      Hi Alan,
      thanks for contacting us. Unfortunately it is not all that easy to get into finished homes, as people would get swamped if they opened them up. If you keep an eye open for the sustainable house days they often have straw bale homes open, but I cannot guarantee what they are like or if they are cement or earthen/lime rendered. One of the main parts of our practical workshops is to let people have a good look at the finished product and ask questions as they stand in the room looking at it. Your wife is by no means the first to express concerns about termites and particularly mice.

      Firstly, lets look at the termite issue. The termites in Victoria are generally not interested in straw, as there preferred dinner is timber. The building regulations have very strict compliance requirements regarding termite protection which have to be complied with. We take this very seriously and provide all our clients with information to enable them to not only comply with the regulations, but understand the level of protection provided by the various methods. Generally speaking, termites are not appropriate house guests, and so they simply have to be kept out of the building, as they just don’t know when to stop eating.

      Regarding mice. Many people have concerns about mice which is quite valid. If the house is not built properly mice could become a real problem. Like most things, there is a right and a wrong way to build a straw bale home. Building it the right way will result in a house that is significantly better than standard building construction methods such as brick veneer homes. When people have strictly followed our building method we have not had any issues with mice. Like anything, if you take short cuts you are going to end up with a substandard troublesome home as a result.

      I trust this helps and look forward to hearing from you again. If you need further clarification please do not hesitate to phone me on 0428 246 868.

      Best regards


  7. Hi Brian, We live at Roma, SW QLD and plan to start our straw bale build this year. We are hoping you can give us some advice about our build. Our plans for infill walls have been signed off by the engineer but the cost of the slab, $70K, for a 15 x 17 mt slab has pulled us up. We can’t afford the cost with a limited budget so keen to consider other options.
    Our build plan is:
    Concrete slab – polished to form flooring
    Steel frame/clerestory roof
    Wrap exterior wall in corrugated orb
    Straw bale interior perimeter walls rendered (inner walls plaster sheet)

    We get extreme heat and cold here in Roma and figure the exterior walls in orb will protect the bales.

    I am reading your book presently and would like to ask, do we need to insert the rods into the slab and compress the interior infill walls? We are super keen to achieve our build but the cost of the slab is double what we budgeted. Is there any way we can reduce cost of slab and/or alternatives.
    Is the April work shop at Inglewood filled? My parents live at Wedderburn so would love to attend if possible. Thank you for your time. Cheers Jenny & Chris


      Hi Chris and Jenny,
      sorry for the delay in getting back to you online, however it was good to chat through your issues. There have been many occasions when the engineering presented to me to review is revealed to be an overkill, which would of course blow the budget. The challenge is to establish whether it is worth redoing the engineering in the hope of reducing the cost, however this is a bit of a gamble as it is difficult without doing the engineering just how much we can save you. From my experience, if you have a feeling that the engineering is overdone then it is most likely the case.

      Regarding steel into the slab for the bale tie down – We use a totally different system which is cheaper and easier. The only time we would use steel is if the building is in a cyclone area.



  8. Claire Wallace

    Hello! I am hoping you could recommend a supplier of render sand. I live in Mansfield, Vic, so close to that location would be ideal.
    Regards Claire

    • Brian Hodge

      Hi Claire, the sand you need is a course washed sand which has a range of granule sizes. If you rub it between your hands you should feel the sharp edges of the sand. River sand is of no value as the granuals are smooth and will not bond well together. We recommend that you use this sand combined with lime and clay which can be purchased in 20 kg bags. Boral supply a ball clay or you can buy it direct from Claypro in Bendigo Ph (03) 5449 3970.

  9. Eliot

    Hi Brian
    My local council says strawbale is not covered in legislation and therefore I have to get my design signed off by a fire engineer, are there any reports like the CSIRO report that can be purchased to give to council?
    Do know of any fire engineers that do this work?


    • Brian Hodge

      Hi Eliot,
      Most private building surveyors will accept the construction of straw bale in BAL 12.5 however private building surveyors can grant permits in higher ratings. The building surveyor we use accepts BAL 29, however they only take on straw bale jobs that have our engineering certification.

  10. bern callahan

    Dear Brian. I have heard you use a bread knife to shape straw bales with. Is this true?
    If so where could I get a big bread knife like you. Plus would some sort of motorised breadknife be a good thing perhaps? Should I ask at a bakery about sort of industrial-size breadknives? Your thoughts please Brian.
    Yours truly, Bern

    • Brian Hodge

      Hi Bern,
      We actually use a serated carving knife, which has a sharp point, as a bread knife will generally have a blunt end, which will make it near on impossible to plunge into bales. The knife we use is made by Dick. They have a pressed metal version and a forged knife. The forged knife is best as it will hold its edge much longer. The pressed metal knife will not hold its edge to do a single house. If you contact Micah by email he will be able to help you with strapping, knives, buckles and tensioning tools.

      I have tried the electric knife with two blades, but they tend to jamb up with straw between the blades, and the single carving knife is so efficient I haven’t bothered to look further.

  11. simon

    Hi Brian,
    Im currently reading your book as im wanting to build a straw bale house on a newly purchased block some distance from my current living arrangement… concerns with this situation is keeping the straw bales dry during construction especially if i cant complete it all in a short time frame….for this reason i was thinking it would be best to build the roof first, then use the in fill method… the bales are covered…..Is this a concern when building? How do you overcome it?

    • Brian Hodge

      Hi Simon,
      you are quite right in being concerned about bales getting wet. We recommend putting the roof on prior to installing the bales. We use a method referred to as structural infill, where the roof is supported on posts and beams, thereby allowing the roof to be installed prior to the bales. With this method the bales provide the bracing to the walls so temporary bracing is fixed to the posts and beams to stabilize the building prior to installing the roof. The primary concern in fitting the roof first is to ensure you have sufficient bracing and tie downs to prevent the structure from collapsing sideways or lifting off the foundations. Remember that with the roof and no bales you effectively have a huge sail sitting on a bunch of sticks.

  12. simon

    hi brian
    i found a supplier of straw bales which are bailed quite tight to the point that it may be difficult to pickup and handle and as a result are heavier. apart from the obvious difficulty in handling, what are your thoughts on the compression aspect. would this mess with your 3 day tightening sequence?

    • Brian Hodge

      Hi Simon,
      There is no benefit in using extra tight bales and there certainly are disadvantages. When normal straw bales (generally around 16 kg) are compressed the fibers of the straw from adjoining bales tend to interlock adding to the lateral strength of the wall. With our compression method we get around 7% compression on good bales. Apart from the obvious disadvantage of increased weight of extra tight bales, if the bales are compressed too much the fibers of straw may collapse, which will result in a reduction of the insulation property provided by the bale. If this occurs you will have an organic thermal mass wall which is way better than a solid earthen wall, but not ideal. The sealed sections of the straw provide great insulation and should be preserved. In addition to the physical issues, I would suspect that the extra tight bales will cost more per bale, unless they are trying to unload them cheap.

      A simple test to see if the bales are OK. Pick up a few bales by one string. If the bale can be lifted by one string then they are most likely sufficiently compressed to build with. Even if you end up with loose bales, the primary consequence will be that you get greater compression which means you have a bigger gap at the top of the walls to the ceiling to fill in, which is an easy fix. If you are buying bales that have been stored, it is also a good idea to break open a bale or two to make sure they have no sign of moisture damage. Moisture damage can be visual, however I am more inclined to trust smell as you nose is more likely to pick up the smell of mold before it is visible.

  13. Doug

    Hi Brian I’m doing a load bearing strawbale with curved walls. 24m radius for the length of the building and 5.5m radius on either end. Am i going to have problems with outward bowing of the walls as i compress them and if so what would be the options for overcoming this?

    • Brian Hodge

      Hi Doug,
      I am making the assumption that you are using our compression method with the woven polyester strapping as I cannot pass judgement on the success of any other method. You will need to construct the top boxing in the shape of the curve so that as you compress you are maintaining that shape rather than shorter straight sections of top boxing which could tend to cause deformation during compression. When we constructed a round house we laminated 90 x 19 pine together using construction adhesive and nails. The top boxing needs to match the shape of the wall below. It is important to keep the top boxing in the center of the bales and to tighten the strapping from both sides at the same time.

      I trust this helps.


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