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How Much Does It Cost to Build a Straw Bale House?

Written by Andrew Morrison

large finished straw bale houseWithout doubt the #1 question I receive is how much does it cost to build a straw bale house? The problem is that answering this question is not easy. In fact, it’s not even really possible without a lot of information about the specific job and its location. This is not something special to straw bale construction. Rather it is true about all types of construction.

After all, if one doesn’t know exactly what is being built and where, there is no way to give an accurate price. Of course, this does not stop people from asking the question and wanting an answer, so I do what I can to inform people of what to expect in regards to pricing a straw bale project.

In hopes of reaching more people who might have the same question, I’ve outlined five things to consider when trying to get a handle on what your straw bale project might cost below. I’ve also included two examples of straw bale projects (the Applegate Residence and the Mountain View Cabin) and the material costs associated with them.

Investigate average building costs in your area. Even if there are no straw bale homes in your immediate, area you can still get a sense of what building one will cost by looking at conventional construction values. A typical straw bale home, built by a contractor, will cost about 10-12% more than a conventional home of the same square footage.

Keep in mind that if you compare a straw bale home with a conventional home built the same R-value as a straw bale, the straw bale home will actually be less expensive by about 15% or more. What’s more, your straw bale home will save you roughly 75% on heating and cooling costs year after year when compared to a conventional home. That is only likely to get better as energy costs increase.

Know your design details as best you can. The more you know about the home (roof lines, square footage, stories, etc.) the more accurate your estimate will be.

Consider your finishes. People are often amazed at how the finish materials can add up and quickly. For example, consider that a light fixture at a big box store might cost $12, while a similar looking fixture made to much higher standards of quality could cost upwards of $250. Now multiply that by all of the light fixtures in your home and you will see why this is an important detail to manage from the start.

Owner built or contractor built? The difference between the two is definitely noticeable. Building a home yourself, although difficult, can save you a lot of money. The typical difference is around 15-20% of the total cost of the home.When you consider your home may cost more than $100,000, that’s a lot of money to save. This 15-20% is the contractor’s overhead and profit margin that is charged on all labor and materials in a typical construction contract. Take the time to learn the details of contracting to make sure you avoid two major mistakes that can end up costing you more money than hiring a contractor. 1) Work with a definite timeline.

Remember that if you are not able to work at your regular job during the build, you are not earning your regular income. Time away form work is money that must be factored in to the cost of the home. 2) Put simply, pros are better and faster at construction work than owner builders, so they can sometimes be more cost effective. They also get contractor discounts on materials which can be hard to get as an owner builder. The overall point here is to make sure you have a sense of how the project will be completed so you can factor that in to the cost as well. By all means, build it yourself, just make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.

Location, location, location. You might be surprised to see how much a project cost varies based on its location. For example, a straw bale home built in Southern Oregon may cost about $180/SF while that same house in the California Bay Area might cost $350/SF and the same house, yet again, in rural Iowa could be no more than $100/SF. Labor costs and material costs all vary by region. If you want to get a sense of things in your area, talk to the local builders. If you want to translate a price from another area to your own, consider purchasing a book on estimating tables that offers location variables.

Here are a couple examples of how far your money can go when building yourself with straw bales. Keep in mind everything you have just read and then start dreaming of building your own beautiful straw bale cabin, home, or getaway.

Mountain View Cabin

straw bale bedroomThis beautiful and simple cabin is ideal for anyone interested in learning straw bale construction techniques and/or wanting a special space on their property. The cabin can be the perfect art studio, meditation space, guest cabin, quiet getaway, or even a tiny house. The space feels special no matter how you use it. It is roughly 200 square feet (measured in the interior) and does not include plumbing. The material costs for this structure, priced in Southern Oregon, are roughly $5,500 complete.

Applegate Residence

Applegate straw bale cottageThe estimated cost to build the Applegate is $40,000 which includes the cost of the foundation, walls, bales, mesh, plaster, roof, interior walls, so everything that makes up the structure. It also includes $5,000 as an initial budget for finish flooring, cabinetry, appliances, wiring, plumbing, fixtures, and finish materials. In our experience, it is possible to find these items at very low cost or salvaged, depending on how motivated you are to find the best deals on those items. If you prefer new and higher end finishes, the cost will go up from there.

The cost was based on material prices in our region (Southern Oregon) and there are large market differences in materials prices depending on where you live. This cost does not include any labor, permits and fees. This home build is within the ability of people with some basic building experience. The structure is roughly 570 SF plus a 200SF sleeping loft. It includes all amenities of a normal home.

Several folks who have built the home themselves in recent years (Washington state, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New York) have reported back that they spent closer to $60,000 by the time they finished. The big difference in price was based entirely on material choices and the cost of some subcontractors. The houses that come in that price range were built almost entirely with owner labor. Even then, construction costs can add up quickly if you choose pricey finishes throughout the home. The key here is to understand what your budget is in advance of the build, and to make sure you stick to that budget as the project develops. It’s far to easy to be the drunken sailor in the showrooms: saying yes to every cool upgrade that you see; however, this will not support your long term goal of building a cost effective home. Stay on target by remembering what your goals are and what’s most important to you.

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.

49 Responses

  1. Andrew, I don’t think you put a live (click ‘here’) link to this article in the e-mail you sent out. The only links in it were the ones to the workshops. I had to do a word search for ‘strawbale blog’ since I also couldn’t find a blog tab/link on your website – at least that I could see. Then when I found the blog, I chose ‘Costs’ to find this article. Just a head’s up. 🙂

  2. Man, am I ever stupid!

    <<<—-See blog roll to left!

    I'm thinking I didn't scroll down far enough the first time.

    Just a couple of questions. Can I generally assume that a 25" x 25" load-bearing structure would be less costly than a post & beam of the same size? Is the Applegate a load-bearing plan?

  3. A load bearing structure is less if you build it yourself; however, you are limited on design features like wall openings, wall height, shape, etc. Most contractors don’t do a lot of load bearing construction, so if you hire it out, it may be more expensive in the end. The Applegate is not load bearing.

  4. Andrew,

    Great article! One aspect I would be interested in is how climate affects cost. In the desert, for instance, where the temp/humidity cycles are perfect for SB, you can make design choices which leverage that advantage, and possibly save $ too. In our area (KY), there is more rain & humidity, so I expect this will affect the ultimate cost. An example would be the need to be almost anal about flashing around openings– in the desert a flashing mistake might be annoying; here it would probably destroy the wall.

    Any general thoughts on that?

  5. Thanks, Andrew. I’m still in the ‘dreaming’ stage & as long as need to care for my elderly mother, I’ll remain there. At my age, I’m certain I will need a contractor, as my thoughts are that one day, I’d like to build a duplex near Branson, MO & rent one side out for weekly vacations to inbound tourists who want something above & beyond the usual hotel room or RV park, complete with kitchenette. It’s an investment to gain a passive stream of income…(hehe…if the economy doesn’t completely tank & costs on everything skyrocket!) Later, I can turn it into a monthly rental for regular tenants. I vaguely know of the ranch that built a large home near Joplin, I think it was. Just can’t remember the name of it, but it’s in southwest MO, too. You probably know the name since they did a workshop there. When it comes to dealing with building officials, I’d think that would be a good reference, though it’s in a different county.

    I would also like to build the largest, least inexpensive shed I could as a ‘receiving dept.’ for my home-based business materials, which are bulky. No electrical or plumbing; just for storage. If I could buy those prefab roofing frames, how big could I make it? And can you give me a rough idea as to what that would cost?

    Also, are you familiar with any bale suppliers in Arkansas? It’s my understanding that the Riceland Corp. is there in northwest AR – a huge rice supplier with many acres of rice fields. That translates to me as the nearest ‘go-to’ company for bales.

    Thanks again!

  6. Hi Patricia. Sounds like you have a bead on your dream! I love that. I would suggest that you contact the folks at Ferncliff Retreat Center in Little Rock, Arkansas about bales as they built a 5,000+ SF eco center there with my help this year. They will surely know about where to get bales. You can find them here. David Gill is the director and a great guy. He can surely help you.

    In terms of size and cost, that will depend on each other to some extent. You can use SIP panels to get some large spans or you can go to steel trusses for even bigger spans like they did at Ferncliff. Cost will depend on how much you push the limits. If you are not pushing limits too far, then I think you can get a structure up for around $30/SF since it’s just a large storage building.

    You can also contact John in MO where we did the workshop in 2012. He is another great guy and would love to help you (I assume). His email is jainlay1@gmail.com.

  7. The designer will likely have a set of those plans that we could get a hold of. That said, this structure is actually a two family, “zero lot line” home. It’s a great one! Let me know if you want me to look into getting a copy of the plans.

  8. Hi Andrew,

    It might help a lot of people if those who have already built shared their costs with others. I know that was a HUGE concern for us when we built our straw bale home and we really had no idea how to estimate it. Some of the construction details of our home are listed on the International Straw Bale Registry. Here is our listing http://sbregistry.sustainablesources.com/search.straw?RID=939

    The things that aren’t mentioned in the registry listing is that it is a simple rectangular foot print, has a covered front porch and a metal roof. We built it ourselves (except for the concrete work, stucco, roof, plumbing and electrical) for about $175K not including the cost of the land or the infrastructure such as the road, septic, well, and utilities. This was right about at the height of the housing boom so labor and materials were pretty expensive. Now I think we could build this house for $150K because the cost of a lot of things have come way down and we’ve learned from a few of our mistakes one of which cost us $15K! We did a lot of high-end finishes, custom cabinets, double hung clad wood windows, oil rubbed bronze hardware throughout, willow panels on the ceilings in some rooms, built-in wood burning fireplace insert, solid wood doors and stained wood trim, 10 foot ceilings, 2 sets of 8 foot double French doors, custom blinds, closet built-ins, American Clay plaster interior walls, 2 huge full tile showers, a huge soaking tub and higher end appliances and plumbing fixtures.

    We saved some money by finding an 8 foot custom front door with a sidelight brand new at a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, doing acid-stained concrete floors, made our own concrete counter-tops, used “mostly” big-box store lighting fixtures or made our own and took advantage of a few really good close-out sales on a few items.

    If we had the time to hunt for salvage and/or I had been willing to settle for more “vanilla” fixtures and finishes I think we could have very easily built this home for much, much less.

    But probably the most important thing we learned is “over-estimate” your costs because somehow it will end up being more expensive than you thought. 🙂

    Anyway, I hope this info can help some people. It would be awesome if the SB registry had space for more detail, costs and pictures.

  9. Thanks, Andrew! It looks like Ferncliff did a workshop a year ago, this month to be exact. I hope the get their grant money as it looks like they have a number interesting projects going on, including the straw bale Eco Center. I will add their site to my straw bale Favorites folder.

    But who is John in MO? Was that the workshop at the ranch near Joplin I mentioned earlier, or did you host another one? I confess – I haven’t been keeping close tabs on you…lol. Most of this construction talk goes right over my head, but I have done several ‘concept’ rough draft floor plans. It seems the older I get, the smaller they get! The duplex idea only came up more recently & I’ve done a plan for that, too – & always taking into consideration furniture placement. Soon, I’ll be doing doll houses! Maybe not. 🙂

  10. Andrew and Gabriella – thanks to you, our strawbale dream is about to materialise! We have just had approval here in Western Australia to start construction 🙂 It has taken a long 18 months to do our own design (based heavily on “A Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander). We have the great advantage though to be able to work with a local strawbale building supervisor (no strawbale registered builders here = no registered contractors) so we have to be owner-builders and he has estimated costs locally as approximately $2000AUS/m2. We also had a professional estimate done which comes in slightly more than that – so it is a pretty good ball-park figure. Of course, we are certainly looking to save money (and the environment) by using salvaged materials where possible. PS – ‘normal’ building costs here are approx. $1500/m2 so we have been told…

  11. Funny Patricia! John was the host for the workshop I held in El Dorado, MO. I think that’s the one you were referring to. Smaller is usually a good idea, so listen to your inner wisdom. 🙂

  12. Hi Andrew
    I am writing to you from Christchurch, New Zealand. We substained severe damage to our home in the September 2010 earthquake and the numerous aftershocks. We have to leave our home and land (red zonend/land can not be rebuild on)no later then Jan.2014. We are looking into building a straw bale home on our new section. Our question is can you recommend anybody in New Zealand for us to aproach?

  13. Thank you Andrew for keeping us aware of the costs and tasks at hand! Man are you right about the differences in cost depending on where you live – and California is one of THE best examples. My daughter and I just moved out here this year for work related reasons as well as to make a change and build a straw bale home. I was shocked at how much things cost here and how quickly our money is spent each month! I mean even getting settled in cost an arm and a leg. Things like auto registration at DMV, large increase in monthly utilities, basic household items and food, etc. are so much more. We were spoiled living in rural Arizona for the last 12 1/2 years. At any rate, I’m paying more attention to the differences in cost and realizing we’ll be largely building as we go. Whew! Building this home is going to be something else!

  14. Hi Patricia! (at August 10, 2013 1:09 pm) You mentioned something that I’ve thought about oft and on and that is that I’m nearly 50 and sometimes wonder if I’m biting off more than I can chew in choosing to build my home myself. Here is a web link of an awesome couple in their early 60’s who are owner builders and whose story is motivation for me to continue to go for it: http://www.simple-living-today.com/straw-bale-house.html. Maybe their story will help you to feel more comfortable about building your home yourself too – plus, if you can do it yourself, you’ll save a good bit of money :D. Best of luck to you!

  15. Hi Andrew, have you had any experience building with “pine straw” at all? And if so, how would costs compare, and is it more flammable than wheat/oat straw

  16. Hi Gina. I have not built with pine bales. I also wonder about the flammability of them simply from the fact that pine needles are explosive when thrown into a fire, not just flammable. I suppose you could buy one and try to set it on fire! Let me know…

  17. I don’t know of any builders in New Zealand to recommend. I suggest you go to http://www.PlanetStrawBale.ning.com and post something to the group. I believe there is a NZ group there. If not, you can start one or create a conversation on the main page asking for guidance. It’s a great community of people there. Good luck.

  18. Niki, Thanks so much for your input. Very cool stuff. Estimating is certainly a hard task, especially for someone who has not built several houses before. Even the books are hard to use because what takes the author a week to do might take a beginner two weeks. It really depends on the individual’s skill and speed.

  19. I want to build a 40’X60′ storage shed with 16′ walls. My concern is that in Cheyenne Wyoming we have wind that gust up to 60 mph. Do I need to limit my wall height. How do you calculate cost of wall material. I know roof trusses and covering would be more straight forward. Thanks in advance!

  20. That is more of a question for an engineer; however, I would suggest that some additional wall reinforcement would be necessary to handle those kinds of wind loads. The plaster with welded wire mesh will do very well, especially because the walls are so thick; however, at some point the height to wall thickness ratio will come into play and additional support will be required. It could come in the form of internal walls placed perpendicular to the exterior walls at particular intervals. Costing depends so much on local labor and material. The best thing is to either get actual quotes from professionals or calculate the materials you will use and come up with a factor for your own labor (if you plan to do the work yourself). That cost will depend on how you address the wind load issues too.

  21. Is it possible to build a straw bale house that can withstand Canadian living? Our winters are cold, and i guess I’m curious if it can be done in my region.

  22. What is the avg cost per SF for a well finished (wall finish internal/external) with good quality windows/doors, passive solar with propane back up excluding water/septic, in southern CO?

  23. Hello Andrew,
    Thank you for the site – it’s just wonderful and we like the community and the host. 🙂

    We are new to Ontario and looking for a piece of land to build a straw house.
    Do you happen to know where we can get (or share with someone) a building plan for a 1500 sq. feet house which is good for the Northern part of Canada?

    I don’t mean to give you an extra work. If it is not a big deal, I would appreciate any info you provide.

    Thank you and wish you all the success.

    God bless you,


  24. Hi Mila. You can check out the plans on this website. Any of them would work in the northern climate because of the high efficiency of the bales. You may need to adjust the foundation plan and/or add a little insulation to the roof to make it perfect, but perhaps not even that. Be well.

  25. Hello Andrew,

    I’m from Rochester, NY which is Upstate. We have long cold winters and a good amount of rain. For the past few years I have been planning to develop a sustainable sports community to house homeless high school athletes living in my city consisting of strawbale homes, aquaponic farms, holistic healing areas, and a small gym with a basketball court.

    My question is are you familiar or have you experienced the process of getting permits, building codes, etc. for a strawbale home in my area?

    I would like to build 12-15 500-800 sq ft straw bale homes for each player and coaches. I would also like to build a 500 sq ft structure for a dining/kitchen area.

    I’m VERY passionate about this project but I just don’t know where to start in order to gain the legal knowledge to begin the process of planning the straw bale homes. I guess I’m asking where would you start or who would you speak to if you were me?

    Thank you!

  26. Also wondering if you could possible give me an estimate cost for a 500sq ft straw bale home to be built in my area. We wish to have our volunteer team complete each home with the guidance of a professional so we aim for no labor cost.

  27. VERY cool Jamar. I love your vision. I would talk to the building department and the planning department. The planning department can help you connect with the zoning issues that will be in play and the building department can tell you about code restrictions that may be of issue for your project. That said, there is a straw bale national code in the 2015 IRC, so ask the building department if they are using the 2015 version of the IRC or if they will recognize the document if they’re not. It is a nationally approved code. Good luck!!!

  28. I am needing to expand my dog boarding business. want to go straw! did not see any barn like structures in your building plans. do you have any- also do you know of anyone doing this in the Austin/central texas area?

  29. Hi Charlotte. I don’t have any barn plans on the site. I suggest you contact Chris Keefe at Organicforms Design (chris@organicformsdesign.com) to see if he can create a plan for you. He’s a great guy and is fun to work with. I worked on a house in Thrall a couple years ago that was owner built. I know there are other straw bale houses in the Austin area too. You may want to see if you can find out more by visiting THIS PAGE.

  30. Like the cottage but would like the home to be on an elevated concrete foundation with a covered porch around the entire home. This will protect the walls more from sideways rain. I am very sensitive to mold and can’t have wet straw.
    A simple rectangular structure would be all we would need. Looking to live in Colorado near Marble or Redstone. Do you know anyone reputable with much experience close by?
    Post and beam straw bale would be super too!

  31. Hello Andrew!

    I have been keeping one of your straw bale homes in the back of my mind for year’s (the natural habitat). And go back to look and dream some more periodically. I am having a hard time getting my husband on board with a lot of unknown variables. Like if we host a workshop, how would we find a contractor to get us to the point of having the workshop? What variables do we have to worry about after the workshop if everything isn’t finished when the workshop is done? Cost of hiring contactor if we decide to and not to host a workshop. All this on top of buying land and paying to prep the sight (i.e. road access, electricity, sewer, etc.) does the contractor do that as well? We live in SW Oregon, and with rain during the winter I wouldn’t know if it would cause problems.

    It seems like a lot. Just hoping you could point me in the right direction for information.


  32. Hi Erin. Thanks for reaching out. Your location is not an issue at all. In fact, I will be teaching a workshop this coming year in Eugene, OR where it rains a lot. I strongly suggest you join us at that workshop so that you can get some first hand experience with not only the build techniques, but also what it takes to host. You can learn more about that class HERE. I actually require all of my hosts to attend a workshop before hosting their own event so that they can gain the very necessary experience. If your location is chosen to host a workshop in the future, your tuition is refunded (minus the food budget fee which is paid to the host).

    Finding a contractor can be hard, but it isn’t always a problem. There are lots of folks who are familiar with straw bale construction and even those that are not are fully capable of building a bale house if they are excited to learn something new. I have had many contractors come to workshops to learn at the request of their clients (the homeowners buy a spot for their contractor to attend so that they can learn first hand). As long as they are a quality contractor and are excited about doing something new (i.e. straw bale) they will be fine to build the house.

    There will be lots to do after the workshop no matter how far we get. At our very best, we will get the first coat of plaster finished on the exterior. There are still several more coats of plaster to do inside and out, and all the other details of the house will need attention as well: cabinets, floors, trim, interior doors, drywall, etc. As much as hosting a workshop saves time and money, it is not a “quick fix” to get a house built. There are many systems within a home and the bale walls are just one of those systems.

    I hope to see you in Eugene and talk more about your vision for a house on your own property.

  33. Hi, my husband and I are planning on a move to Kanab Utah and I would really love to build a strawbale home. However my husband has multiple health issues and we would need a builder. Is there any place to locate builders? I’ve been scouring the Internet and find most people build them themselves. We are currently in Tucson.

  34. Hi Katherine, I would suggest reaching out to Community Rebuilds in Moab. They are not a “for hire” builder, but they are very well connected in the straw bale community and may be able to provide you a contact in your area.

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