Convincing Governments to Use Straw Bale Construction

Written by Andrew Morrison

governmentI would love to hear from people who may have experience working with convincing governments to use straw bale construction. In other words, building federal buildings out of bales. I know there are police stations, visitor centers, and more already built with bales. If you had any experience with these buildings, please help out Diane to achieve her goal. Thanks. More information about the goal is below along with my response to Diane.

Hello Andrew Morrison,

I did get the document, thank you. However, I have some questions not covered in your document and I have looked around the web and have not found the answers. I work for the US Forest Service and we are going to build a new office building in the next two years so I am hoping to get the District to consider Straw Bale construction.

1. Are there any floor plans around that address the larger buildings
such as an office for 20 people? I cannot visualize one but I imagine it
would have a main body with wings for support of the roof.

2. Are there any additional “sustainable green elements” that can be
built into the design such as wind power towers or attached solar

I wish my husband Richard and I could have had your 10 suggestions when we built our Nebraska style straw bale cabin. We tied every bale together with rebar, we stacked the straw on the raised floor, (no floods and no problems but it is something to think about, like don,t let the appliances get too old before replacing!). The other thing we would not do again is make a 1 bale window. The window over the sink looks like an arrow slot because we did not think about how much room the bucks and window frame would take up.

I love our little cabin. We use it for a guest house, art studio, aerobics studio, the women’s Bible study of our Church meets there it is just a terrific building. We had a wood stove in it but even though it was a very small stove it drove us out. We replaced it with the smallest of propane heaters and all I have to do to have it toasty for a meeting is to turn the thermostat up from 50 to 70 an hour before I plan to use it.

I am just shocked that straw bale construction has not exploded as a building method. Our cabin is 6 years old and we have shown it to many people yet no one has built one. Both of our sons helped build it and neither of them has a straw bale house. (we all live in the country and have no building codes to worry about). I am hoping the new Forest Service Office building will be straw bale but I have a lot of convincing to do.

Have a great day. Diane

How exciting! I sure hope you are successful with your desire to create the building out of straw. There have been a few commercial (wineries, stores, bakeries,etc…) built with bales and also a few government buildings (police station, highway sound walls, visitor centers, etc…) around the States. The idea of a super efficient building made of natural materials should be easy to grasp for the powers that be in your situation; however, some convincing may still be needed. Please direct the folks to the photo gallery on my site. That may help.

I do not know of any specific floor plans for a building that size, but straw bale structures can certainly be used for that scale. You could use any plans and simply modify the wall thickness to accommodate the bales. It is actually a bit more than that, but not might much. Solar, wind, and other green aspects (building materials and finish materials like flooring) can most definitely be used and should be in my opinion. For an office space, you might consider concrete floors with radiant heat for the heavy traffic areas and cork over the concrete for the areas where people stand a lot to soften the impact on their feet and back. Anyway, the options are endless.

Good luck and let me know if you want help presenting your idea.

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7 Responses

  1. To whom it may concern:
    I work as a project manager and I see that the Govt building is a great way for the up coming leaders of your community to show interest in the energy conservation and the greener way to assist in the rise in costs for the HVAC for the buildings, All Govt is looking to tighten up the belt on annual bugets, and to show support of the environment. Saved Dollar signs and more Votes. Helps to may your dream a reality. Thomas Landgrebe

  2. Hanh Andrew and you Bale-Builders out there. I built a heater house for a renovation I & my merry band are doing.. It’s not large, but when I was building it, a lot of people stopped and asked what it was or would be when finished. When I told them it would hold the heat source for the big building & would use less fuel & how, they were all impressed. Several have asked us to build similar units for them.
    There is no reason why a large building could not be built using straw bales. The biggest concern is how the bales are tied together vertically and horizontally more than anything.
    A government-built straw bale building would be a superb way for the government at any level to show serious intent to reduce global warming & to be greener. That alone should be a big incentive to build that way..
    As for supplementary heating – Along about November of last year there was an article in the Mother Earth News about a thermosiphon solar heater designed & built by a former aero-space engineer. Easy to build, works well, I know; I built one to see how it worked compared to his data & now we’re planning to put them on the east, south, and west walls of the renovation. Every sunny day will mean that much less wood we have to burn.. Not to mention, the area they cover means that much less siding we have to redo. IF I remember right, the man’s name is Gary Reysa & his web site is
    If a bale building were put up with thermosiphon heaters on the appropriate walls, the building could probably be heated with something the size of hotplates on cloudy days. Talk about putting a dent in global warming!
    I hope this helps.

  3. I have been a member of CASBA(Calif Straw Builders Assoc.)
    for approx. 12 years and have assised in building 5 straw
    bale homes. These are one of the most fire resistant buildings that are being built. They are also one of the most pollution reducing buildings being built. It’s time
    for all of us to wake up and start long range planning for
    our decendants and other life on earth. Thanks Sharif

  4. In Idaho, the forest service is using yurts. they require no upkeep. they are taken down every spring, and put up for the winter skiing crowd. the cost is about $2000, and if the canvas stays in good shape, it’s a no brainer.
    it’s very difficult to convince the forest service of anything, let alone straw bale houses. they would have to hire someone for upkeep, and the forest service does not have the funding it used to have even 10 years ago. you would have to have a system of volunteers who would keep the places up. plus, the roofs, unless they are metal, would need repair just like any house. i think it would be a great idea, but i think you would also have to have some benefactor who would volunteer the money for the structure.
    I’m not sure of where you are thinking these homes should be built. in Montana and Idaho, things have to be packed in with mules/horses. how you would get straw bales to the site, with no rain… i don’t know. there may be some areas where native grasses could be used for the straw. however, that would probably take an act of congress to be allowed to cut and bale those meadows. how would you get water to sites to build piers? wood piers would deteriorate sooner than cement piers. the forest service in Montana and Idaho have enough problems finding money for back country log structure upkeep. it might work in the plains areas, where there is access by roads. are you going to truck in the water for the wall coverings, using native mud? and the inside…even a dirt floor needs to be burnished and packed for stability.

  5. Andrew,

    I know that this response is to an old posting (Jan.12, 2008) however, we are working on a large scale Army project–much larger than what Diane is looking for. We are also working with some National Parks to do the same. Feel free to forward my contact info to her or vise versa; I’m sure we could help her with the sell as we work with policy makers all the time. We could also help them fund the project as we developed a tool kit for Federal Agencies to develop and finance zero-waste projects. Thanks.

    Ruth Newell
    New Millennium Development Corporation
    [email protected]
    (443) 205-0108

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