Minimizing Construction Costs in Straw Bale

Written by Andrew Morrison

minimizing construction costsI recently wrote to a host of one of this year’s straw bale workshops about minimizing construction costs. She is concerned that she will end up with a beautiful design that she cannot afford to actually build. Having heard this concern many times over the years, I thought I would share my response with you all as I believe it is helpful information to have on hand before you start designing. Below are seven things to keep in mind when getting started.

Keep roof lines simple. The more intricate the roof design, the more expensive it is to build. Intersections, pitch variations, and other details make construction harder and labor more expensive.

Taller is less expensive than wider. If you are looking for square footage, it’s often less expensive to build up than it is to build out. This increases square footage without adding additional materials for the foundation and roof.

Consider finish materials. Everything from roofing (metal versus composition shingles, for example) to flooring, plumbing and electrical fixtures, and cabinetry can have a big impact on budget. Find affordable options that still meet your aesthetic requirements.

Get a good plan. Saving money by working with a less than qualified designer will cost you money in the end as the construction details won’t be as well laid out. That means more time head scratching for the builder and more mistakes during construction.

Simplify the overall design. As with the roof, the wall layout also impacts cost. The more turns, corners, and angles you have in your design, the more expensive it will be to build. Keep in mind that all of those details mean more foundation work, wall framing, baling and plastering details, and roof structure detailing.

Know your budget ahead of time. If you share your budget with your designer and builder, then you can discuss how to design/build TO that number rather than design and build with hopes of hitting an unknown. The more up front and honest you are with yourself and your team, the more successful you will be.

Have a contingency plan. Regardless of what number and design you settle into, make sure you have a contingency fund in your loan or extra cash set aside (if you are building out of pocket) for the unknowns. There are ALWAYS unknowns and being blindsided by them can ruin your project.

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5 Responses

  1. Thank you for the tips! I finally have a floor plan. I made it as simple as possible, so that someone with my small bit of experience can build it. I was worried about being able to lift things up, if I have to do much of the building by myself, so I did just one level. The exterior footprint (right word?) is 1000 sq ft (25′ x 40′), but about 874 sq ft for the interior, accounting for approximately 2 feet wide bale walls.

  2. The budget related articles are a great help, thank you! Do you have any recommended template for basing a budget/ cost worksheet for a straw bale house? The materials and methods used in straw bale building are quite different and some things are not included in a conventional building cost sheet. I don’t want to miss out on a subtopic when trying to estimate costs.

  3. Great question Alana. The vast majority of things are available on a conventional cost basis sheet. There are some obvious missing items and some not so obvious. Unfortunately, the cost sheet that I use does not show the “not so obvious” items as I added them into the more obvious line items before calculating prices. For example, a line item that says “plaster prep” would include mesh, plaster lath, stuffing, sewing, adding roofing felt to wood, and other detailing. That’s not called out on my paperwork, but I know it belongs. I would suggest you do a similar thing by editing a standard cost basis estimation sheet. Hope that helps.

  4. I am looking into building a straw bale home but am not able to join in the construction. Would you have the names of contractors in the Phoenix AZ area and the approximate cost per sq/ft?

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