Being an owner builder with straw bale building

Building your own home brings with it a raft of issues all of which I intend to address. But first and foremost, to build your own home with straw bales brings with it a sense of accomplishment and emotional elation with which nothing can compare. There is something in us that drives each of us to own our home, to provide shelter and protection for our family. Maybe it is a desire put in us before the beginning of time. This I don’t know, but what I do know is that the people who decided to build their own straw bale home almost without exception say two things. One, that to build your own home is the challenging and at times frustrating thing they have ever done. Two, and more-so, to build your own straw bale house is an experience that has been more rewarding and fulfilling than ever imagined, and that it has brought with it more personal growth and sense of achievement than anything else they have done before. In reality, an accomplishment that deserves a major position on any resume.

When considering whether or not to build your own straw bale home, you like many others may be asking the question; is it really possible to build your own straw bale home?

The answer is categorically yes. If you are rational and have the physical capacity to lift the required materials you can build your own straw bale house own. In my straw bale house workshops I explain at the beginning of the straw bale workshops that they should be able to build a straw bale home after completing the four day course. Given that they are able to accept their limitations and are willing to ask for help. In the past I have qualified that by explaining that they should be able to build a simple straw bale house, but not huge straw structures. I no longer qualify it in that manner, for I am constantly amazed at the capacity of my owner builders. The straw bale houses they are building range from 9 squares to 38 squares wit plans now being drawn up for a 50 square house in Lancefield Victoria. First and foremost, as owner builders you need to have the confidence that you can complete the whole process from beginning to end. To simply know how to build a straw bale wall is insufficient. Step by step building a straw bale house is the only way to go. Just like the old riddle of “how do you eat an elephant? Answer – A little bit at a time,” is so applicable when you want to build a house yourself. You need to know not only how to build each section of your new home, but also in what order to do it. The owner builder home no longer has to be a second rate citizen amongst professionally built homes. You have the information, equipment and materials available to you to compete with the professionals.

With over 30 years of experience in the building industry I am here to help you with whatever guidance you need. From drafting to engineering and finally the gaining of building permits for anywhere in Victoria and New South Wales (Australia). If you have a problem we can find a solution for you, whether it be prior to gaining a building permit or during construction.

If you are even considering to build your own straw bale house you might be interested in the practical 2 day straw bale building workshop or the online theory workshop which covers everything that you need to know from foundations to the roof. The aim of these workshops is to firstly equip you to make the decision as to whether the option to build your own home is feasible for you. The straw bale house workshops take you through all facets of how to build own home with straw, so at the end of the workshop you will really know if you are up for the challenge, and if a straw bale house is what you actually want.

Questions to ask before becoming an owner builder

If you answer no to question 1 or 2, I would strongly recommend that you give very serious consideration to your options before you finally decide to build your own home. It unquestionable that to build your own straw bale house is rewarding beyond words, but it is inappropriate to go ahead blindly. A no to any of the other questions will merely point out areas that might need some attention to reduce the pressure when you build your own straw bale house.

1. Do you have the physical capacity to lift a bale of straw?

2. Are you a rational person? Building a house is the most rational thing you will ever do. It is all about cause and affect.

3. Are you a good communicator? You will have to negotiate with suppliers, contractors and probably the building inspectors. To get upset and shout doesn’t achieve anything in the building industry. This is an industry that does not respond well to bullying.

4. Are you humble? To be a successful owner builder you will have to acknowledge your inadequacy and need for help. Many times throughout the construction of your home you will be unsure of what to do next. It is imperative that you seek help rather than to press on and make mistakes that might cost thousands to rectify.

5. Do you have the financial capacity to see the job through to the end? When building, particularly for the first time, there are always hidden extras. Make sure that you have the capacity to cover the extras. I would strongly recommend that you allow a minimum of 10% over and above your estimated costs to cover the unavoidable, but don’t use this allowance as an excuse to be sloppy in your costing of the job.

6. Are you generous. Owner builders who are themselves generous find little difficulty gaining assistance to lift the heavy beams, lay straw bales or spread render.

7. Do you enjoy a challenge, or are you going to collapse at the first sign of hardship? Building your own straw bale home is the most challenging and most rewarding thing you will ever do. For the average Joe, it is like climbing Mt. Everest. It will make you hurt. It will make you cry. It will probably cause you and your partner to have disagreements. But most of all, you will never forget the elation at the view from the top of the mountain of completion. The difference between building your own straw bale home and climbing Mt. Everest is that you get to live in that victory for as long as you choose.

Where to start as an owner builder.

Ideally, before you decide to build your own straw bale house, find people that can help you through the process. People that will stick with you till the end. The people that you can go to for information and/or physical help when you get bogged down or stuck with a situation beyond your physical ability or knowledge. Speak with other people that have built their own homes, ideally people that have built their own straw bale home.

Read up on the experiences and challenges of successful owner builders. Don’t go into this with your head in the clouds. There is not doubt about the elation of having built your own straw bale house, but you need to be aware of the path you are embarking on.

Your building consultant will be able to guide you through the legal requirements of construction and advise you of the most appropriate method of construction to meet your personal abilities, but the personal touches are in your hands. Speak with other straw bale owner builders to get ideas of how to make the house your home. Do you want a truth window and what form will it take? What about sculptures on the walls? Speak with other straw bale owner builders about the special things they have done, and ask them what pitfalls they faced so that you can avoid them.

Some owner builders start with a house design and then find land to suit it, whilst others already have the land and design a house to suit the land. Either way, the details of your dream home have to be put on paper for submission to the authorities for a building permit to construct your new straw bale home. In many instances you will be required to gain a town planning permit and sometimes a septic permit. In Australia these permits have to be gotten from the local authority. You might also be required to supply an environmental impact study.

In order to complete the drawings and specifications for the house you will need to establish the gradient of the land at the location of the straw bale house, and the soil type. Depending on the fall of the land, it might be possible to establish the gradient yourself with the use of a water level or dumpy level or you may need to employ the services of a land surveyor. A good building consultant should be able to assist you with this rather than to cop the additional expense of employing a land surveyor. Or simply hire a laser or dumpy level for a day.

There are many issues that must be presented as part of the application for a building permit, not the least of which are the construction specifications. A straw bale building consultant capable of construction design, an architect or engineer with up to date information on straw bale construction methods will establish the method of construction, which must finally be certified by a licensed engineer. These details will form part of your building permit application and will be represented on the drawings to be presented as part of the building permit application. Particularly if you are planning on doing much of the building yourself, it is imperative that the final construction design be within your capabilities, so discuss your expectations, experience and capacities at length with your consultant.

Ensure that the people you expect to deal with in providing the drawings and building specifications for your straw bale home are able to supply you with understandable information that you can refer to during the construction of your straw bale home. The drawings and additional information are like a road map to you. If it is in another language that only a builder or tradesman can understand, it is of little benefit to you, and will lead to frustrations and costly mistakes.


  1. Bruce Naylor

    Hi Brian, can you point me towards any banks that will lend to purchase an already constructed strawbale house.

    • Brian Hodge

      Hi Bruce,
      we never had a problem with our owner builders selling straw bale homes, and I have personally sold two straw bale homes to people who had to get finance. I don’t see that there should be any issues with selling a straw bale home regarding finance as long as the building has been constructed in accordance with the engineering specifications and passed all relevant building inspections. One of the primary things the bank will be looking for is that a certificate of occupancy has been attained. If it is an owner built house it will also have to a condition report done by a building surveyor and appropriate insurance if it is less than 7 years since the certificate of occupancy has been issued. Apart from these issues, it should then simply come down to the borrower meeting the financial requirements of the bank.

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