I recently wrote to someone who is trying to find an inexpensive way to build with bales. The intention is to wrap existing houses with bales in the cheapest way possible. There are no codes that need to be met on the reservation in question and a few dollars saved on each house could mean that one more home gets retrofitted each year. As it stands now, at least one person dies from the cold every year on this reservation. It’s time to stop that from happening.
I have outlined some money saving strategies for straw bale construction to help cut costs while still keeping the safety and integrity of the buildings. Please add your thoughts to mine in hopes that we can together find ways to help save lives and improve the quality of living for the people of this reservation, and hopefully beyond.
1. Use earth plasters harvested directly from the land on which the house sits if possible. Check out my blog for a description of how to check the soils for plaster ability.
2. Build rubble trench foundations. You can use free compacted rock, or free rip rap (old, waste concrete from other job sites which can often be delivered for free as it saves the people getting rid of it dump costs) in the trench and then sand bags filled with dirt and a little lime or cement for reinforcement should be placed on top of the trench and tamped/compacted to keep everything level.
Place some fencing or other material under the top course of sand bags that will stretch up over the first half of the bale course. Tie this to the rest of the mesh you plan to use on the building in order to tie everything to the foundation or you can use bamboo on either side of the bales to tie things together. Tie through the bales to the bamboo on either side and then attach the fence to the bamboo with steel ties.
3. Dip the bales. If you don’t attach the bales to the house directly in an attempt to make the changes a bit more temporary (as you mentioned in your email), don’t leave more than 1″ in between the two materials in order to maintain the insulation value. Dip the bales (back side against the gap) in clay slip to mitigate any fire risk.
4. Be sure to cover the top of the bales with a roof extension. Simply attaching another mini roof UNDER the existing roof overhang and draining it away from the bales with a 2′ or so overhang will suffice.