Another Great Workshop Completed! –

Written by Andrew Morrison

Last week I was teaching the last seven day workshop of the year in Grants, New Mexico. The town of Grants is not that amazing, in fact, it looks like hard times may have set in some time ago. The surrounding area on the other hand is amazing. The natural and cultural history of the area was fascinating. Of course, I did not get to see much of it as I was busy teaching the 27 people who where there to learn the details of straw bale construction.

I knew things would be different in this amazing part of the world the moment I arrived on site. On the neighboring property there is a beautiful Buddhist Stupa. When I arrived, there were roughly 300 people from all over the world taking part in a consecration ceremony for the new Stupa. The following morning, the Lamas performed a fire puja for teachers. This was a great honor and to be included, at what ever level, as one of the teachers honored by the ceremony was extremely humbling and an amazing experience. The puja was amazing and many great offerings were given to the fire. What a start to an amazing week.
fire pujaAs we moved through the process of building the cottage for a wonderfully kind man in the Zuni Canyon named Kent, we found ourselves playing in the rain almost everyday. The thunderstorms came in each afternoon and dropped rain and hail on us. Not the typical weather for a straw bale workshop in New Mexico, I must say! That said, it made for some beautiful light shows in the evening as we tried to stay warm around the fire. Of course, from time to time, the rain would chase us from the fire circle, sometimes for the night, others for only 10 minutes or so.
straw bale workshop site
Even with the weather, we managed to finish the workshop by completing the plaster on the inside and outside of the beautiful “Sunset Cottage.” The building turned out great, especially with the artwork of Kokopelli adorning the entry way to the cottage. This was provided by a wonderful Navajo woman which was truly the blessing on the cottage for Kent. What a wonderful experience the whole week was. I hope you can join me next year. I already have hosts lined up for all but three of the 2010 dates. I’ll be posting the full schedule soon at Stay tuned for more on the upcoming season.

Want to learn more about straw bale houses and how to build one? Want to do so for FREE? Sign up for our totally free 16 Day Straw Bale eCourse! Find out more HERE.

12 Responses

  1. This was truly an amazing week especially getting it started with the Fire Puja. If you are thinking of hosting a workshop please take Andrew’s advise and attend a workshop first. It will make your workshop much more sucessful. This is a truly rare opportunity to work with the nation’s leader in strawbale construction. Don’t miss it!! Come see us in Hico, Tx on 07/14/2009.

  2. This workshop really was an incredible experience, the straw bale work provided a fantastic back ground to visiting a beautiful and ancient country, meeting many colorful and inspiring people and escape from the hum drum. Good luck with hosting Charles, I look forward to seeing your structure finished. It’s a long way from Austalia however I am tempted to take another holiday as I expect it will be another unforgetable week. Good luck and thanks again Andrew.

  3. I truly found this workshop insightful and rewarding. It is always wonderful to get the opportunity to learn a new building technique that has been around for millennium. The chance to put all the information that I have read about Straw Bale (aka strale) building into practice and by doing so debunk some of the miss information out there was truly educational. As a professional builder interested in this style of construction I was wondering if I would find the workshop truly informative and worth while, I DID!! The chance to put all the pieces together and work through thoughts and theories with an accomplished straw bale builder and exceptional teacher was truly wonderful. I was overjoyed to find that all the members of the course were helpful, encouraging and friendly. Rarely have I ever been in a situation where such a large group of diverse people got along so harmoniously. I look forward to taking this knowledge and expanding on it for myself and others.

  4. I’ve wanted to build a strawbale home for years. finally, when it looks like I may have a real possibility of pursuing this dream–I find the place I may relocate to may not be suitable. (Coastal Washington near the Hood Canal and Olympia areas–Olympics National forest). As everyone knows, it is very humid in Washington with just a brief respite of dryness in the summer and very, very wet winters. Where I probably will end up there is lots of snow in the winter and lots of moss, ferns and dampness in the summer–not too much sun–but amazing rainforests. Undeterred, I ordered the videos, watched them and rewatched them. I think I could build the load bearing strawbale though my home would be far in excess of 1000 sq feet. I thought about a concrete base then 4 foot 18- 20 inch thick stone walls followed by the toe ups then the straw bale for about 9 feet, then the roof. Wanted to build either with the straw but due to moisture concerns, I am also looking into rammed earth. The strawbale home is my first choice though. I’m wondering how feasible it is to pursue this course and sign up for a 2010 workshop to participate in building. I am also wondering if anyone knows anything about a hybrid building where a very thick stone or rammed earth knee wall formed the base for the strawbale and plaster walls.

    Since I am a woman who plans to do almost all the work personally (maybe with the help of my husband–maybe not) I am interested in doing most of the carpentry, building and designing of my own home. I have basic and finish carpentry skills and have had for over 20 years, including framing, trimming out, tiling, hanging drywall, building cabinets and other small projects. I’ve rehabbed several homes, designed and built a two story kitchen…so I’m not coming to the table totally unprepared for the amount of time, work and perseverance this all takes. I don’t wire or do plumbing (my husband does) I know my limitations, but I determined to build my home and studio. The question is–with what materials. I have flown to Washington to buy property, but it did not pan out (the trees on the property were to be commercially logged within a few years and the rights had already been sold to a lumber concern) I want the trees and that view of trees–not stumpland. I became entranced with strawbale after reading the “Strawbale home” years ago, and it is very hard to realize that due to the climate, my choice may have to be changed. The thought of a stick built home is really a turn off at this point. So the questions are these:

    1. Is a strawbuilt home in the Olympics feasible?

    2. Is it feasible to build strawbale walls with toeups on top of a 4 foot stone or rammed earth knee wall? This 4 feet is necessary due to the possibility of flooding or long contact with deep snow.

    3. Would a load bearing structure have enough shear from the wire mesh if placed on top of 4 foot knee wall or do the dynamics change due to the height

    4. Would there be a problem at the connection between the toe ups and the knee wall? I would not want the strawbale walls to do the hula while the stone was just there–I also am worried about cracks in the plaster if such a placement away from the concrete base and up higher causes undue lateral movement.

    5. Does anyone know of strawbale homes effectively built in coastal WAshington?

    6. I have not yet checked but does anyone know if Washington codes have even considered such structures or rammed earth structures.

    Entire rammed earth buildings seem costly and more work than I want to deal with if I also must provide internal support with lots of rebar and also somehow get down in there to compact the earth. Not to mention the R value is not that good for rammed earth.

    Lots of questions, but since this will probably be my one shot to actually build myself (as opposed to hiring a contracter) I want to research, learn and learn –For some reason, it is not enough to finish the structure, I want to build it–and know the satisfaction of my work having achieved this from start to finish (almost start–I don’t think I will lay my own foundation). Thank you.

  5. Good workshop. I wish I could have seen more, but really…I was just glad to survive! Ha, ha!

    I have gotten my ducks in a row down here in the south, and should be breaking ground in a week or so. Look forward to more good insights here, Andrew! I am still hopeful to host a workshop here in Tennessee next year. We’ll have to see.

  6. Glad you are well Doug. For those who are wondering, poor Doug got a virus while at the workshop and had to go to the hospital for a day. He missed several days as a result. That said, I have images of him working on his days back. Hard core Doug!

  7. Hi Queen Bee. I can’t answer all these questions right now as I’m too busy with other projects. I bet you’ll get some answers from some other people in the cyber world on this page. If not, take some time to search the blog by using key words at the top of the page. You’ll find a lot of answers to your questions already described for you.

  8. Andrew, I wished I could have made the workshop in New Mexico while I was living there. I secured a piece of parcel here in Central Texas.
    I will be getting all my utilities by months end here.
    I am seriously considering a pier and beam foundation is this possible with straw bale and do your videos discuss this option?
    I also wondering if it is possible to get straw during winter months in this part of the country.

  9. The details of the pier and beam system are not that different in terms of the bale aspects. It is all possible to accomplish. I should have some other blog entries about this topic if you do a search at the top of the webpage. That specific system isn’t covered on the DVD as it’s really no different, as mentioned.

    Maybe you can join me in Hico, Texas this summer for a the workshop.

  10. hi andrew, you mentioned that details involving a pier and beam foundation aren’t that different. the austin straw bale code requires pinning to foundation every 2′. how do you think this could work with a pier and beam foundation? thanks! -lauren

  11. You would need to talk to the building department and let them know you plan to use a post and pier foundation system. They will likely have different requirements for that system. The pinning every 2′ is based on conventional, stem wall or slab foundations. In addition, the pinning of bales to the foundation via rebar impalers is a bad idea, even though it is still in many straw bale codes and guidelines. It simply doesn’t work very well. You’re much better off to use a 20d nail bed system on the toe ups to attach the bales. I can tell you more about that if the building department is open to it. Chances are, they’ll require you to have the building engineered anyway so you can make the changes to the norm at that time.

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