Author: Brian Hodge (Page 1 of 2)

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 in preparation for the final coat. I also talk about:

  • Shaping the wall
  • Considerations when installing tiles
  • Skirting boards
  • Ceiling lining
  • Eaves lining
  • Sculptural features

I hope that you find the article helpful, click here to read it.

Owner Builder Article – Building an energy efficient straw bale home

Owner Builder magazine has recently published this article titled “Building an energy efficient straw bale home”

Click here to read it.

Cover of Owner Builder magazine article building an energy efficient straw bale home

Click the image above to read the article as a .pdf

What did you think of the article? Got questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


Steve & Shelley’s working bee.

I would like to express my sincerest appreciation for the generous offers of support, which have been overwhelming. At this point we have sufficient offers for help however I have so far been unable to get back to everyone. Hopefully this week I will be able to get more details for all those people coming to the working bee regarding fascilities, location etc. Please be patient with me whilst I tie up some loose ends this week. I will endeavour to get to all the volunteers as soon as possible with the information.

There have been so many responses expressing their love and concern for Shelley that it would be impossible to respond to all of them. Consequently can I offer the deepest appreciation from Steve, Shelley and me for all your kind words and prayers.

Thanks heaps for your support



Straw bale weekend to help lymphoma sufferer

We want your help NOT your money

Steve & Shelley are a lovely couple that need our help. Last year Shelley received treatment for lymphoma and they were excited at Christmas when the tests showed good results with treatment and they thought they were in the clear. Since then they have been working on their straw bale home and have done a great job thus far. Unfortunately I have just received an email from Steve asking me if there is anyone that could help as Shelley’s Lymphoma has returned and she is undergoing intensive chemo etc. which means that Steve has to be with her to care for her and is unable to fit the bales in his house. He knows it will be 7-8 months before he can get back onto the building, and in my opinion this is too long to leave things as they are so I decided to put on a not for profit working bee to help them out.

We all know people who have suffered from cancer, many of who survive which is what we pray for for Shelley. In most cases there is nothing we can do to help, BUT this time we can.

I am donating my time for a working bee over the three days from Saturday September 24th,   to Monday September 26th in anticipation of getting all of the bales up and the first coat of render on. I can’t do this on my own so I need your help. If you have bale laying experience all the better, but if not I can teach you. We will need people to cook meals and take care of the volunteers so if you can’t lay bales but can cook a barbecue you can still help.

Ideally we are looking for about 20 volunteers. We can camp on site, but facilities are very basic so if you decide to stay on site might I suggest that you bring appropriate deodorant. This will be a great opportunity to help people in need and have a lot of fun doing it. We will have a camp fire at night, so if you are musical bring along your voice and maybe guitar.

I trust you will be able to stand alongside me in support of these people that need our help. If you can help please let me know by email advising me of any experience you have in carpentry, laying straw bales or cooking. I will then get back to you with additional information about the weekend including the job location which is about 30 minutes from Geelong near Winchelsea Victoria.

Please let me know as soon as you can if you can help so that we can continue planning this weekend.

Kindest regards


Inglewood straw bale

We are finally over all of the setting up challenges and have started to build the Inglewood straw bale house. As part of the design changes due to the meter box location we had already put in place the hurdles to establish the outer bounds of the house. Consequently we are ready to simply mark out the stump hole positions based on those hurdles and start building. We got to site only to realize that one of the locals decided that it would be fun to kick off one of the cross bars of one of the hurdles.  This was no big deal as they had only removed one crossbar. As it happened it was the easiest to replace taking about 10 minutes to fix.

Given the interference with one crossbar we checked the other hurdles which were all OK. It only took a couple of hours to mark out the stump hole positions so we took the rest of the day off.

Inglewood straw bale house begins

Inglewood straw bale house begins

When you are ordering a digger, carefully check the engineer’s specification to establish depth and diameter. In addition, if you have silt stone or weathered rock you may be required to bore into it. If this is the case you need to book a digger capable of doing the job. A standard auger is fine for soil but not rock.

This sounds costly, but it is really no big deal in most instances if you get the right machine. On an average house you could expect the post hole digging to cost around $1,500 instead of $300 – $400. If this is the case we would design your house with bigger bigger spans for the bearers and floor joists to reduce the number of holes, there-by reducing the overall cost.

The Inglewood straw bale house has now officially begun. Before I close off I should mention that we arranged construction insurance prior to starting the work. In addition to standard insurance we took out extra cover for volunteers as we will most likely have family and friends help at some point.


Problems or challenges

Problems or challenges. Many would say we had a big problem with the incorrect location of our meter box, however this conjures up all sorts of negative emotions. Did this create a bunch of problems or challenges?  The term problem has all sorts of negative connotations that tend to put people into panic mode. I often get people phone me saying they have a big problem, where-as the issues are normally overcome quite easily. It is just a matter of being creative when finding a solution. The Oxford dictionary states that a challenge  is “a demanding or stimulating situation”.  I assure you you will have many stimulating moments when building your own home, just as we have at such an early stage with the incorrect positioning of our meter box.

Since my last blog we have redesigned the first stage of the house with a view keeping in mind that future extension. The drawings have been updated and we have also completed the floor plan of stage 2 to be sure that the meter box issue did not have any long term impact on the total design. I have redone the engineering and had it certified  and submitted the changes to our building surveyor which have now been approved and we have the building permit in hand.  As it happened it took up a bit of time, but has not delayed the project as we were doing all of this ground work well in advance. The issue of do we have problems or challenges? would have been much harder to keep in the correct perspective if we had left things to the last minute. Having time up your sleeve is always a good philosophy and saves lots of heart ache whilst reducing the risk of poorly thought through hurried decisions causing future issues.

We now have the profile hurdles in place and have established a list of materials for the frame of the first stage of the construction, which has come in at a cost of around $8,000, which is what I expected.  I have booked the post hole digger for next Wednesday and the stump hole inspection with our Building Surveyor for Thursday morning. I have also placed a booking for Redimix concrete from a local supplier to be delivered at about 3 pm on Thursday, however I have to confirm this booking once the inspector has given approval of our stump holes.

The soil report on this property showed silt stone at around 800 mm deep, which we have to penetrate by 100 mm. Consequently it would be of no value to get a small post hole digger or hire a dingo digger to dig the stump holes as the 100 mm penetration into the silt stone would not be achieved. Prior to arranging the machine to dig your stump holes please be sure to look and the foundation design by your engineer and advise your contractor of the requirement prior to booking a date to be sure that the engineering requirements can be met.

Challenges in building

I have just visited the site of our new home in Inglewood. This is home number 20 for us so many would think that we are well prepared and that nothing could possible go wrong, but this is not true. As planned the electrician has fitted the meter box and we have power to the property. However we have discovered our first of what will be many challenges in building this home. The meter box is in the wrong position. As to why is irrelevant, however it just goes to prove that you should always be on site when important things are happening. Unfortunately it was not possible for me to be on site when the trenches were dug so the responsibility is mine. The issue we now face is how to resolve it.

Having gotten over the various emotions raised by this issue, we have decided to adjust the design of the house to accommodate the new and creative position of the meter box. We intend to do an extension on this home at a later date and have decided to incorporate some of the stage 2 into the new stage 1 as part of the adjustment. Stage 2 connects to stage one like a boomerang, and there will be a few challenges in getting the two different roof lines to merge, so we have decided to incorporate this bend in stage 1 as it will make the merging of the two stages much easier. The reason this will be a challenge, is because the roof on both sections will be a curved roof, with one part of the roof having a 13 meter radius whilst the other has a 12 meter radius.

I recently had an article on the energy rating of this home published in the Owner Builder Magazine, which had a floor plan for the original stage one with a possible extension, however this will no longer be the way we are heading, so if you read that article please excuse the change of direction. At the end of the build these challenges in building will all fade into insignificance as we enjoy the final result, but that does not discount the disappointment along the way. I have no doubt that you will also have challenges in building but if you keep your eye focused on the end result, and look for the advantages that may come from the challenges you will not loose heart.

Budget built straw bale

We have a new project about to start in Inglewood Victoria. This is to be a budget built straw bale home where we will run straw bale workshops. We have chosen Inglewood as it is a dry climate which is ideal for running workshops. Apart from running workshops on the property we will spend considerable amounts of time in Inglewood in this small home taking holidays near to one of my sons, his wife and two grand children.

Rather than to simply build a small home we decided some time back that it would be a great opportunity to assess a number of common held beliefs regarding the inclusion of concrete rather than timber floors and the associated costs, as well as the impact of double glazing and building orientation. I recently wrote an article for the Owner Builder Magazine which can by clicking on this link.

As an ex builder carpenter I have a body that reflects many years working on the tools. Consequently my body is kind to me only when I am kind to it, and for this reason alone I would choose to live on a timber floor rather than a concrete floor. However, given that we are building a budget built straw bale home it was an obvious choice to go with a timber floor as it is so much cheaper than concrete. Actually on this project it is around $10,000 cheaper. Not only will it save a lot of money, but it is also more efficient than a standard concrete lab. The full article that I wrote on this subject can be seen in the February/March issue of the Owner Builder Magazine, titled Timber versus concrete floors.

A budget built straw bale home has very little waste floor space. A budget built straw bale home design also considers the cost and capacity of timber and the height of the building above ground. This home has an overall width of six meters which is the longest length of MGP10 pine available. As this property is almost level we will be using 90×45 MGP10 pine bearers and floor joists, which meets the design criteria for a budget built straw bale home on this property. for this home is the most cost effective material for bearer and floor joists The property is very level and the foundations are only about 900 mm deep so using these smaller timbers is appropriate for this site. If you were building on a steep site then it would be more appropriate to use larger bearers and floor joists in order to reduce the number of stumps. There are to be 5 bearers supporting the 90×45 MGP10 floor joists, which will result in a firm floor that is extremely cost effective. I have also calculated the length of the building based on the length of particle board flooring so there is no waste. Corrugated iron has a a cover of 760 mm, which has been considered in establishing the total roof length to eliminate wastage.

We have just received the building permit from our private building surveyor and are now gearing up to build our 20th home. I have been on site and pegged out the home position and given instructions for the electrician and the excavator so that they can dig the trenches for electrical installation to a meter box and container on the property. Once the trenches are dug the electrician will then lay the cable and book the connection of the meter box to the grid. I have made certain that we have two power points in the meter box, each on separate circuits so that when it comes time to do the rendering we have one circuit to run the render pump and another for the mixer and even more importantly the kettle for smoko. One must keep their priorities right.

Unfortunately due to a mix up with the electrician and the excavator the date for the work has been changed, and I am unable to be on site when the trenches are dug and the meter box installed, but I will be on site shortly.

Building an energy efficient straw bale home

Here is an article that I recently wrote for The Owner Builder Magazine, it is about building an energy efficient straw bale home. It discusses new building standards, the orientation of your building and the effects of double glazing.

The cover of the article 'energy efficient straw bale home building'

Click here to view the .pdf

If you have any questions, feel free to give me a call on 0428 246 868 or email me at

Time poor owner built straw bale

Time poor 

Many of our clients are time poor but have found it extremely difficult to find a competent straw bale builder. I think being time poor is now part of our every day life so how can you get the straw bale home that you have dreamt of without completely sacrificing your lifestyle

Time poor owner building

As an owner builder you can do the carpentry yourself, however if you are time poor you can employ a sub-contractor to do that work, and there are plenty of good carpenters able to do the work.The primary challenge is in getting someone to lay the bales, which is great, because this is the easiest part of building a straw bale house.  At 61 years of age I am capable of laying about 100 bales a day. If you, like most of our clients have a partner or friend to help you can be confident about laying around 70 bales a day together, which is very achievable. Given that the average home has around 400 – 500 bales that means that they will spend around a week to lay the bales. There is an additional week compressing the bales and preparing openings in the straw bale wall prior to rendering, but much of this work can be done by your carpenter, as there is some carpentry work involved with window openings.

Consequently, it is quite feasible to lay the straw bales and get the first coat of render on in two weeks. If you were to take 2 weeks holiday once the first part of carpentry is completed, by the time you have to go back to work you should have all the bales laid and the first coat of render on.

Depending on the weather it is likely that the following weekend you can get the second coat of render on, and with our method of construction all of the windows and fittings go in after the second coat of render, so you can then bring in the plasterers followed by the carpenter to do the remainder of the carpentry. Once all of the plastering and carpentry is completed you then do the final coat of render. Mark Beedle (Mob. 0411 042 363 has a render pump, and will work with you to do your rendering without taking over the job. With Mark you have the option of simply getting him to get the render onto the wall, which is the time consuming part, or he can assist with all aspects of the rendering depending on your budget. Obviously if you are willing to put in the work the cost of rendering is significantly lower.

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