Building Green Podcast: Advantages of Load Bearing Construction

Written by Andrew Morrison

Andrew Morrison podcastThe team just came back from a much needed break. We took our kids skiing over the spring break vacation and had a blast. Dicken Weatherby, the web guy for, and I had a chance to chat about the advantages of load bearing straw bale construction. Dicken brought a small digital recorder with him so we were able to record the conversation.

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Building Green Podcast: Advantages of Load Bearing Interview

8 Responses

  1. In building a hexagon (6 sided) wall load bearing structurei, how would you overlap or reinforce the ends?

    Would there be an advantage to modifying a straw baling machine packing chamber by welding quarter inch plate steel to the sides of the bale forming chamber and keeping the straw cutter knife sharp help to eliminate using a weed wacker to remove the loose straw sticking out the sides of the bale? Would this idea make a smoother bale?

  2. Hi Jim,
    There are no limits to load bearing square footage on a single story. The limits are in regards to unsupported wall lengths, window/door openings and wall heights. That varies depending on where you live, but in most cases, a typically home design will not be limited for a single story.
    Hexagonal buildings are hard to create for the reason you point out. This type of structure can be done with relative ease in a post and beam structure as the bales are not structural; however, in a load bearing building, it is hard to get strong corners with this design. I don’t know if it would be worth trying to bale custom shapes. My guess is not. Retying bales on an angle as would be required for such a building is also very difficult. I would certainly recommend reinforcing the corners with mesh or lath that spans the corners in both directions and is tied through the bales to create a solid corner. This would be in addition to the rebar corner staples. Good luck. If you do build the load bearing hexagonal structure, I would love to hear about it and what solutions you come up with.

  3. Andrew,

    Have you heard of people using water in large (watertight) tubes to pre-load the strawbales, then secure the loaded bales with the wire mesh? I remember reading a CMHC (Canadian) report about 10 years ago, but I can not find it now via Google.

    I think that the idea sounds good – even settlement, easy to remove the water again, little risky of water leaks, but I think that could be dealt with.



  4. Andrew,

    I just visited the Steen’s property in Canelo, Arizona. They are using threaded rods that are burried in the exterior plastering. Have you tried this? Have you tried to secure the bales through the centre of the bond beam? If so, do you get even compression?
    The Steens also use a test wall to determine the expected compression – do you do this too? Can you count on all the bales being of similar compression?

    Thanks for you time and the ability to through thoughts around.

    By-the-way, do you ever sleep? Great resource centre – I look forward to meeting one day.


  5. Hi Jamie. I sleep on Thursday (a take on a line from “Thank You for Smoking”). 🙂

    It is hard to know how the bales will settle over time, so any preloading is always an advantage. The test wall concept is a good one (from the very little I know about it) however, I do not use it. The reason is in the first part of my answer. All the bales will either be similar in compression or they won’t. A test wall will only confirm this concept. Therefore if the bales are not settling evenly, you will simply know they are not settling evenly and you will have no further data to help with the problem yet a lot of time will have been spent creating the test wall. I prefer to load the bales and let them sit for a short amount of time (say a week). This is not perfect, but it does a good job.

    I have not heard of using the water tanks to load the bales, but I like the idea. Anything that will overload them from what they will really be dealing with is a good idea. I do believe that shy of this, a simple roof load is a must. I also find that by using the strapping I use ( I can crank the heck out of the top place and cinch the bales tight. I tighten the roof plate down, wait a day or two, tighten them again, wait a day or two, tighten them again and frame the roof and then wait a week. One final tightening, if needed, and then attach the mesh. This seems to work well as I rarely have any slack to tighten after the second attempt.

  6. Hi
    I was wanting to remark on geometric shapes outside of laying out simple squares. You will find if you can treat consolidated square shapes as alternative shapes if subracting out selective pieces of that squarge. I know this may not be a true tri, pent, hex or oct shape, but it might help avoid pesky tricky corners and make even spaces more interesting.

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