How to Build a Home in Seven Days

Written by Andrew Morrison

Men setting corner studs on a straw bale house

Do you want to learn how to build a home in seven days? Really? Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but we sure did get a lot accomplished at the load bearing workshop in Crestone, Colorado. Consider that when we got to the site, there was a rubble trench foundation with an 8″ concrete cap and nothing else.

When we left, there was a building with windows, roof trusses and plastered walls. That’s pretty cool! It’s amazing what a group of people can accomplish in a short time, especially when you consider that they were learning the whole time too. It’s not like this was a group of professional builders, after all.

We had our challenges along the way, but in the end the desire to help build a home in seven days won out over every little speed bump and hiccup. This truly was an example of community coming together to build a home. Several of the workshop participants lived near by and were able to help out immensely by bringing in tools, materials, and even extra generators and compressors (the compressor actually saved the day). Thanks Jenna, Skip and Zach!!!

Tent in field

Then there were the locals from Crestone who were not even part of the workshop, but who helped out by sharing their materials, connections, and know how before I even showed up for the class (and during as well). Thanks Paul and Heather! It definitely takes a village to build a home in seven days!

So what did we learn? We learned a ton about straw bale construction as is always the case with the workshops; however, we learned more than just that.  1) We learned that solid planning is worth its weight in gold or even lead! Building with an “on the fly” plan is very difficult and ends up slowing down progress immensely. Many of us knew this already, but to experience it first hand was actually very helpful as it showed all of us, so clearly, just how important a good set of construction drawings really is.

Plywood braced against a load bearing straw bale wall

2) We learned that extremely dry climates with blowing sand and dust devils can’t dampen the spirits of amazing people!!! I have never eaten so much sand (while asleep even) as I did on this workshop. I had to stack straw bales around my tent just to try and stop the sand from blowing in (it didn’t work that well, but it helped a bit). I know I’m not alone. None of that mattered.

The people in this class were (and are) amazing and we all pushed through and created something beautiful. Okay, so there was also the motivation of knowing that once our walls were up, the wind would not be so nasty and we would have a spec of shade other than a tipi to relax in.

3) Even well built load bearing walls, made with high quality bales, are not considered safe from a 40 mph wind burst/dust devil until the top box beam is on. I have never experienced a more sudden, unexpected and bigger “hiccup” than this on any job site. A huge down burst of wind blew our finished wall over (not the whole thing, but enough to be a headache) right before we were ready to start installing the box beam. There wasn’t much we could do about it, but some bracing gave us peace of mind moving forward.

Window and Door frames in load bearing straw bale4) Using a framed section for windows that “floats” during the box beam installation allows for solid window framing, but can be a hassle to line up just right. I think it’s totally worth it, personally, because I have never been a big fan of using window bucks that simply sit on the bales. I much prefer the precision of a pre-framed window frame that attaches to the toe ups and, eventually, the top box beam. This not only creates a solid frame, but it also helps attach the box beam to the foundation once all of the compression is done.

There’s so much to talk about and so much that was shared. I know I can’t fit it into a blog post, no matter how long I write. My friend David who has been to several of my workshops and is a huge help to have on board said it so well: “It was truly an incredible experience, once again!” I couldn’t agree more. I feel like I have the best job in the world and I always leave a workshop feeling exactly those same words: what an amazing experience. Where else can you build a house in seven days with an amazing group of people?

load bearing straw bale house
Almost Done…in seven days!

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!

6 Responses

  1. Wow, I thought our workshop was the ultimate in challenging but I hand back the trophy after reading that experience.

  2. I love Crestone and the whole San Luis Valley. So much cool alt. building there. Did you take a trip to the hot springs while you were there? Thanks for the article! It would be great if the pictures were a lot bigger or linked to bigger versions tho 🙂

  3. I made it out to the springs one night and had a blast with a large group of folks. Almost everyone went which made it really fun. Sorry bout the pictures. I try to keep them small for people with slow internet connections so they too can view the page. I will be loading them onto Planet Straw Bale soon enough. That should be easier to view there.

  4. Andrew –
    just looked over your new site with the plans for bale homes – cannot wait until all are available for review… The Plans are Amazing!!!! Looking for something to use on a fairly steep site…but looks out onto a small lake… Keep doing what you are doing – I will be attending a course and finally get to meet you…!! Need all your help and knowledge!!
    Nancy in Kansas

  5. I used to have an all electric house west of Tucson. Avg bill was 100d(Trico)/mo. I had planned to outsulate this house and add an addition. Lost it to an unscrupulous financier. The bale walls would have kept the electric bill the same. Lower if I incorporated cool tubes to condition the air year round. Have you considered this AC type to temper the home air? I worked as a journeyman for Trico. And I’m a farm boy schooled in the old ways. You know a swamp cooler would work for this even if humidity was high. Estimates that this could be done, included into the costs for a house, would be about the same. I didn’t have a furnace in that house I built. It was Co approved (Pima)

  6. Hi Steve. I have to admit that I don’t know what a Trico system is. I imagine it would work though, whatever it is, because the bale system is simply a very efficient insulation envelope. Cheers.

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