The Importance of Good Straw Bale Design

Written by Andrew Morrison

Notice that I use the words straw bale design in the title. That’s because good design alone is not enough. You have to incorporate all of the details that are specific to straw bale construction in your design to make it work. I see people design their homes either by themselves or with the help of a professional (non-straw bale architects and designers) and miss those straw bale specific details completely. This ends up costing them more during construction and often slows down the code approval process significantly.

Straw Bale Design Floor PlanThere is no sense in trying to figure out straw bale design on your own or in asking an architect or designer to make assumptions about what will or will not work. Instead, take the time to learn how to do it right from the start. Conventional design alone will not get you there. You need to know how bales affect the design process and to account for those adjustments.  For example, in conventional construction wall heights are typically determined by the stud size with standard ceilings at either 8’ or 10’. That’s not the case in straw bale design and construction, and getting the height of the top plate right is essential to a solid bale wall. Having it too tall or too short will leave you with a weak and wobbly wall.

An obvious place for straw bale design specific detailing is around windows and doors. These wall openings are not only visually important, but are also vital to the longevity of the house. If the structural, weather flashing, and trim details are not correct, a window or door could leak and cause significant damage to the bales. Also, from an aesthetic point of view, if they are not detailed properly, plaster stops and trim details can end up funky and can have that “I built this myself” look.

Although straw bale structures can be built on any type of foundation from a concrete slab to raised floor basements, the straw bale design details are important for success. A conventional system would be close, but not close enough. Without the bale specific details, you will end up needing to make “in the field” adjustments to accommodate the bales and their impact on the foundation. Furthermore, you may not make it out of the building department with the conventional details as most inspectors will be quick to notice the potential issues at hand.

As an example, consider that the interior toe ups may or may not be part of your lateral shear design. In one scenario, no additional detailing under the toe ups other than allowing for anchor points would be required; however, when used as part of the shear design, specific aspects of the load calculations must be transferred through the toe ups and into the foundation system. These details will need to be clearly shown on the plans to receive a permit for construction.

My point in all of this is that it is well worth the time and effort to learn the proper details for straw bale specific design. You will save yourself thousands of dollars in mistakes and many hours of frustration by starting out on the right foot. Read a book like my best selling eBook: A Modern Look at Straw Bale Construction, check out my instructional How-To Video Series, or talk to an accomplished bale builder and pick their brain on the details.

If you’re interested in really learning how to build with bales and you want to have perhaps one of the best weeks of your life in the process, then come to one of our workshops. We ALWAYS have a good time and you will gain the confidence to build your own house too. CLICK HERE to see what workshop locations and dates we have available this year!


15 Responses

  1. Hi Andrew.
    Great new concerning the straw bale design course. However, for us living at the various ends of the planet(yes there is another world outside of the American continent) It would be great if such a course could be available on CD or in book form. What are the chances of such a thing happening in the forseeable future?
    Best regards

    Guy Comyn
    South Africa

  2. The 2 day workshop sounds amazing! Maybe you could consider conducting one in australia and link it to the strawbale workshops, as an optional addition.
    Warm wishes

  3. Hi Guy. Indeed the world is a big place. I only wish I could travel the world more and teach in more places. I may be able to put a program together in time that summarizes the workshop; however, it’s the in-person aspect that often makes the big difference.

  4. Hi Gary. Not at all. I wonder if perhaps you are asking this because I did not mention my DVDs in the “ways to learn” straw bale design. I have added a note about them in the article now, so thanks for that. The reason I did not originally include them is that they are not specifically aimed at design. Rather, they are aimed at showing people how to BUILD. You can certainly learn a lot about straw bale design by “backing up” the construction process; however, to really get all of the details under your belt for design work, it’s best to focus on the design itself. Again, this workshop is set up to teach the details, such as the wall sections and how each aspect of the system comes together.

    That was the long answer. The short answer is: No, the DVDs are great and extremely useful. The design workshop is simply an additional resource available to you.

  5. As I live in the interior of Alaska and will not be able to attend a workshop if you do get the design details on a disk I would be interested in getting a copy!!! I plan on building two bale buildings this summer. Neither will be very large, 20×16 interior, one room with a weight bearing roof, and another the same size but with a loft that will be fill in. I would like to get them done with the least issues as summers this far north are short and winter can be deadly if your not ready for it!!!!

  6. We hope to see you at the spring-con next weekend!
    I want to reiterate just how awesome your DVD set is! And ask if the aforementioned design workshops (that I could not find on the website) are indeed different from the building workshops?

  7. Andrew,

    I am interested in learning the where and when details of your 2 day design workshops, but the links in your text (my DVDs) and (click here) are not functional. I either get a blank page or a “Sorry, no info”.

    Please respond with some specifics about these 2 day events.

    Many thanks.

  8. I clicked on the “click here” symbol and it couldn’t find it. So is there something wrong?

  9. Hi Tim,

    May I ask who you’re purchasing strawbales from, in the interior of Alaska, and how much the per bale cost is?

    Thank you,

  10. Sorry about that. I had a dead link in the article as it was going to a workshop that has already taken place. The new link takes you to the workshops page now. Thanks for letting me know.

  11. Hi Mike. I’m down in Mexico until June so won’t be at the conference. Sorry to miss you. Thanks so much for the kind feedback on the DVD series. Much appreciated. I don’t have a 2-day design workshop on the schedule right now. When I offer them, it is indeed a different workshop than the hands-on ones, which are 7-days long and a TON of fun! 🙂

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