Straw Bale Construction and Health

Written by Andrew Morrison

man walking through pollutionI spent a few hours cruising through online news sources recently to get a sense of what is happening in the world. I try to stay in touch with environmental and health issues as well as home design, spiritual growth & deepening, and other topics close to my heart. Unfortunately, I’m finding that there are more and more articles that concern me about the health of our planet and our people.

Here’s a quote from a recent article from the newspaper The Telegraph. “Shares in a Chinese face mask manufacturer have soared as investors looked for opportunities to cash in on the severe air pollution that has blanketed large swathes of China.” I was immediately impacted by the obvious: the fact that the air quality in parts of China is so bad that many, many people choose to wear masks to stay “safe and healthy.” What hit me later was the disturbing reality that companies, i.e. people, are moving to profit from the situation. It seems to me that investing in technologies to reduce the air pollution is a much better course of action than investing in face masks.

man smilingThis is just one of many disturbing headlines and articles about our global environment in the news this week. How about “Deforestation Robs Amazon Soil of Life,” or “Sydney Bakes in Hottest Day Ever?” Our planet is clearly changing, and I would argue not for the better. I believe that something has to change or we will define our own demise. And how about our personal health?

A recent British Journal of Sports Medicine study shows that, as I’ve often said, TV actually contributes to the shortening of our lives. Did you know that watching one hour of TV takes 22 minutes off of your expected lifespan? Did you also know that doing one hour of physical exercise actually ADDS two hours of life expectancy? Even better, one minute of laughing adds an astounding 20 minutes to your life! That’s a great investment.

Here’s a quote from the article TV is Killing You in Men’s Health Magazine. “Americans spend about 8 hours per day engaged in sedentary behaviors, such as sitting at a desk, playing video games, talking on the telephone, and watching TV”, says Robert L. Newton, Jr., Ph.D., assistant professor of inactivity physiology at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. “As a start, we should aim to reduce the time we spend sitting by at least 2 hours every day,” Newton says.

A start indeed. I find that we as a species spend way too much time sitting around, myself included. I run two miles every morning and often spend time practicing ice hockey or walking in the prairie outside my home. Even still, I feel like I spend a large majority of my day in front of the computer, like right now, and I’m lucky in that I work for myself. I can get up and leave whenever I want. Most working people are required to spend hours sitting at their desks all day while at work, and it doesn’t get much better when they get home.

Judging by all the flashing blue screens I see through living room windows in my neighborhood, I would venture to guess that many of the people in the US eat dinner and then relax by watching TV once they get home from work. From one chair to another. So when do they, or better yet let me ask you directly, when do you get a chance to really live?

straw bale house interiorI am not one who lives from a place of fear or who likes to offer it as a motivation to others. Personally, I think that is a poor way to live a life or achieve a goal. In fact, my wife has a hand written reminder above her desk that reads “a life motivated by fear is a shadow.” So I’m not going to focus on how bad things are. Instead, I’m hopefully going to inspire you to be part of the solution.

So back to the title of this article: Straw Bale Construction, Health, and Real Life. You may be wondering how these things tie together and what their bundling can offer us in these less than perfect days. The obvious answer comes in the the form of the advantages of building with straw bales.

The use of waste straw as the insulation helps reduce air pollution by removing straw that might otherwise be burned. Less air pollution may mean less profit for mask manufacturers, but that’s a loss I am willing to support. Another obvious advantage is the super efficiency of a straw bale home. The more efficient our construction methods, the less energy our homes will consume. This can only help reduce emissions and the overall plundering of our natural resources.

What I want to discuss here, and I hope you will join the conversation by leaving a comment below, are the less obvious connections between natural building, our personal health, and ability to live what I call “real life.” First let me describe what I mean by real life in some simple bullet points.

  • Real life is connecting with other people, face to face, not through texts or Facebook notifications.
  • Real life is getting outside and enjoying our natural world. Our connection to nature is perhaps the most important connection we have in this world.
  • Real life is playing. Not on a video game consul but in the flesh. When was the last time your kids played Kick the Can, Red Light Green Light, or Marco Polo? How about you?
  • Real life is knowing where your food comes from and even growing it yourself.
  • Real life is knowing what happens to your waste. I’m talking about both garbage and your “personal waste.”
  • Real life is true emotions. Happiness, grief, anger, fear, shame, and all the emotions that live in you. Be honest with yourself and those around you. Free the emotions to exist because they are there whether you “allow” them a voice or not. Living an emotionally alive life is freedom.
  • Real life is honesty. What else needs to be said about that? Apparently a lot, as it appears the US public seems fixated on those who tell lies. Take Lance Armstrong for example. With everything that is happening in the world right now, why is the news  focused on his story so much? Because honesty is scary and watching someone else’s lies helps “us” feel better about our own.

man behind straw bale wallNatural building is very much related and indeed connected to each of the items listed above. Is it possible to build a natural home without connecting with these bullet points? Sure; however, the vast majority of people who build naturally are indeed connected to them and to others like them.

Consider that if you build a truly natural home, you will undoubtably foster a connection with the natural world around the homesite. After all, you will want to know where the best solar gain is, which direction the winds travel, where storms track in from, where shading is helpful, where there is water, and so much more. That immediate connection to nature is palpable and is something that most homeowners today completely ignore to their own peril and the continued destruction of our natural resources.

Let’s look at the repercussions of this behavior, the positive behavior that is. People who connect with and respect nature are much more likely to get outside and enjoy it. Boom, there is bullet point number two covered. How better to enjoy the outside than to play in it? Baddabing, bullet number three. Let’s keep going.

I know that the people in my life who are involved with natural building are more likely to grow their own food or at very least, shop at local grower’s markets. That would land solidly on bullet point number four. This may not surprise you, but people actually talk to each other at grower’s markets. They tend to spend a lot of time chatting, sharing stories and experiences, and growing personal relationships. You guessed it, bullet point number one covered.

The other connections mentioned above work as well. The idea of handling your waste, for example, is simple. Keep in mind that people who build with bales are in fact building with a waste product. They are obviously connected to waste in the system and have decided to use it in order to remove it from the waste stream. As of 1992, according to the US Department of Agriculture, the United States alone produced over 140 million tons of straw. That’s enough to build a LOT of houses.

Some say as many as 4 million a year. Using the waste straw to build effective and efficient housing is one way that people pay attention to planetary waste and people who pay attention to waste streams often care about their own waste as well. I have seen many composting toilets in straw bale homes, and integrated compost and recycling centers in straw bale kitchens are perhaps the norm. I think it is safe to say that not all straw bale home owners have a conscious connection to their waste, but I  believe that the numbers of those who do are much higher in a group of bale home owners than in a group of conventional home owners.

crying womanThe last two may feel a bit harder to draw a direct line from straw bale construction at first glance. Living a life of true emotions and honesty may be something that cannot be connected to people who build with bales in any scientific study, but I have found in my career that the people I have worked with  seem to be open and honest for the most part.

I find that evening discussions at workshops often turn into personal growth circles with people sharing their dreams, and their grief among many other heartfelt topics. I’ve more than once sat with a group of people who cried deeply as they shared their stories, and I have done the same. Exactly what it is about those interested in building with straw that connects them to being open and honest, I don’t know; however, I have seen it too many times to bother questioning the why anymore. I am just grateful for the experiences I have when I am around such people.

Andrew Morrison straw bale teacherMy question for you is: can you find connections to “real life?” Can you find other connections that I have not mentioned here? If not, take a look at what might be in the way of making those connections or others like them. I know that we all want to live the life of our dreams. The problem is that some of us have blockages that get in the way.

What’s crazy is that the things that block us so very often  turn out to be either much smaller in reality than we make them up to be in our minds and/or are the very opposite of the things we truly want in life. Somehow those things become such a habit that we are willing to give up our dreams just to keep the comfort of the habit alive.

The fact that you are connected to this website means that you are not like the general population in at least one way. The fact that you have read this far into the post means that you have an interest in learning more about yourself and deepening your relationship with your personal truths. That’s two pieces of evidence that support the belief that you can connect, via straw bale, to real life and start living that inspired life today.

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.

46 Responses

  1. Preaching to the choir here. What is needed is a marketing effort, perhaps one that is local and focused on a geographic area that has trend setting ability and once Straw is established as a significant alternative to sticks, then the campaign needs to broaden. Viral marketing has always been around, it just got its name in the last decade. Reaching the trend setters is key. Gladwell’s book Tipping Point is to the point of what is needed to get Straw to become a significant if not dominant building material.
    As an aside, Africa is the next China. The economy in subSaharan Africa is expected to grow by at least 10 TRILLION dollars in the next two decades. Much of this will be urban growth and there are already established standards, almost all western, for building the residences that will be the homes to the new middle class in the urban areas of the continent. IF Straw were to become a significant material for use in the construction of these urban dwellings, the change would serve many purposes. I don’t know if the industrialization of Straw as a building material will do much to make the personal connections that “groups” and “builds” bring, but it would serve several other positive purposes.

  2. Very thoughtful. I’ll share it with others. I’d add or further develop the point that (for me) real life involves a spiritual dimension. Reflection, meditation, appreciation, worship, spiritual disciplines. I find these part and parcel of a healthy life and welcome what I can learn from others. I suspect that strawbalers are more tuned in than the general population to this area too. Roots and wings. A rootedness in the earth as home and an appreciation for it as a gift. Wings that allow us to think about ‘the big picture,’ our purpose, and where we fit in the grand scheme.

    I appreciate your reflections not being “bale bound” but more holistic like this. Food for thought.

  3. just wanted to ask about strawbale building here in the great white north-was wondering about the seal between the foundation and the bales- how high the foundation has to be-am worried about moisture from the snow drifts seeping in and rotting the straw—-

  4. I can completely relate to “real life” article. It is my goal to have a straw bale home someday. I don’t know where or how it will all happen at this point but I believe I will create that life. There are chickens and a garden in my goals. I am so looking forward to living my “real” life. Thanks Andrew

  5. Indeed a beautiful piece. For health matters i would highly recommend subscribing to Dr.Mercola & for what is going on in the world Carolyn
    For your newsletter i would like to see more on creating round walls ( there’s more to life then being “square” ) & also on Earth plastering….not store bought .

  6. I find many things that you have written to be true. The more involved we each are in aiding humanity in some way instead of trying to make money off of humanities problems the more we are willing to do the work to make this a better world for us all!

  7. I would love to see an article on alternatives to using a slab foundations when building with straw bale. I have back problems and my husband has a bad knee so walking on slab is very uncomfortable. I also prefer being able to access the craw space in case of pumbling issues. Remolding is also problematic with slab floors.

    Here’s another idea for you, exploring roofing materials such as living roofs and glass solar tiles. I have wonder if living roofs experience more leak or mold problems. Glass tile roofs are gorgeous but are they cost prohibitive. I have considered using a metal roof but I know that they block cell phone reception. Since we will already need a boster for reception this presents a problem for us. This got me thinking about alternative roofing solutions. The house that we currently own has a cement tile roof. I would never recommend it to anyone that lives where it gets hot in the summer. It creates an oven on top of your house.

    I write two forums a week for a homeschool preppers group. I understand how hard it can be to come up with new ideas or to know what the reader wants. I hope this helps you come up with some ideas.

  8. While I haven’t yet got my hands-on training with strawbale, I can easily relate the krux of your article to what I experienced while working at Cob Village outside Coquille, OR; staying on the acreage there and getting our collective hands dirty with a cob project, I found that a day off in Coquille felt much less “real” in terms of its interactions, connections, etc, than those we were experiencing while building.
    This is not at all intended to sound or be elitist or “better,” rather, the volume of traffic, advertising, and overall bustle of an admittedly small Oregon town, when juxtaposed with the quiet, meditative act of green-building, was pronounced; we very much became and were treated as consumers as opposed to anything else, whatever it was, that we were experiencing at Cob Cottage Company.
    I hope to recapture some of those same feelings in the eventual attendance of a strawbale building workshop, and, ultimately, in a home I one day build myself or with some assistance of willing, happy participants.

  9. I have some questions similar to Cassandra regarding snow drifts. Also am considering building with steel framing instead of wood. There would be longer spans with less framing in the way of the bales and the building could be designed so that the bales are either full or half bales which would make stacking easier. There will of course be still some wood work involved such as toe ups, window and door frames. The main structural portion of the building will be steel columns and beams and the roof system could be either wood or steel joists. But my concern is in the cold climate we have in Canada and the possibility of condensation from cold hitting the steel and the effects this could have on the bales and plaster. I am considering keeping the steel framing near the inside portion of the walls with cuts in the bales so that after plastering the steel will be buried inside the walls. Any feed back and ideas on this would be greatly appreciated.

  10. I believe, that the green house affect is true. I am going to build a Strawbale home in my future. One person can make a difference. Thanks, Mr Morison, and family. I know, we have made a connection.

  11. Andrew,

    A very emotionally written article! Well done.
    I was very connected to the points of what it means to be human. To live a fulfilling life is what most people strive for. There is no ” how to” book to achieve happiness. Everyone is different but we all can relate to our natural surroundings. Embracing the change in nature and allowing us to develope as humans is what will keep us alive. We naturally adapt to our surroundings, I just hope it won’t be too late before we struggle to achieve a healthy place to live.
    It takes emotional an inspirational leaders like yourself to make a difference in this world. It is these thought provoking messages that remain in our subconscious when we decide to pick up that peice of garbage or build with straw bale.
    We will achieve happiness and a healthy place to live by thinking locally and growing globally.
    Thank you for that inspirational message.

  12. Sending Blessing an Love to you & Gabreilla, Thank you both for ur awakeness for mother earth . I tap this out a second time with the inaugration in the back ground an a kitty in my lap. My emotions do flow with my tears. First of all thank of all the recent fire an storm displaced folks like me. Aug.30, 2011 a neibor was aload to start a fire during a burn ban that burned for four days destroying 29 familys homes . I have to spend my straw bale moneys for a lawer to file a civil suit just to read the fire marshalls Sealed report. Oklahoma is not going to do Anything to the meth monkey that started the fire. If anything they are protecting him . My plans to build the floor plan that Gabreila sent me have to wait but my goal is the same. To be off the grid to be independent of the nonsence thats crippled me and my life. I pray for all of us in these places . An the tears that are streaming down my face as I tap this to you . I have to believe make me stronger for tomarrow. Love and peace to all of you xoxo maybe someday I can meet you guys and share laughs an songs 🙂

  13. great blog Andrew, I was thinking about using tires filled wit dirt as a footing instead of concreat wat are your thoughts? Kabemn1

  14. I’m with you on connecting. Whether it is with other people or other lifeforms. If it’s alive it’s worth connecting with, our soul desperately needs the interaction. As for the Chinese, they used to think of life in terms of Chi but ever since Mao, traditional Chinese architecture was banned. As for yourself Andrew, as a builder, look into Feng Shui, many Western architects and townplanners have. It’s all about reading the life-force of a building or landscape. I’m sure this good old farmers wisdom will open up a whole new field of awareness for you just like it did for me.

  15. I love Feng Shui. One of my best friends is a practitioner who works with people all across the Western United States showing them the beautiful value of this ancient art and technique.

  16. I’m not a big fan of that technique to be honest. That system works really well in compaction, but has no tensile strength. As such, when forces act upon the structure that cause uplift, the house can literally be torn from its foundation. I would recommend a rubble trench foundation with a concrete cap instead so that you can get some uplift resistance. You can even add intermittent piers within the trench to add more strength while still minimizing the use of concrete.

  17. Indeed David. I’m somewhat surprised that I did not make a bigger reference to the inclusion of a spiritual element to real life. It is so powerful and something so important to my own life: being connected to something bigger than myself. Whatever your spiritual path, I trust it inspires you and allows you to see the great bounty this life is in all its facets.

  18. Great input everyone. Thank you very much for taking the time to give me some thoughts on what you would like to hear about. I look forward to writing some articles to answer your questions. Stay tuned…

    If you haven’t yet responded with your own input, please feel free to do so. The more the merrier!


  19. Your article was well written, and as someone who has a number of allergies, environmental considerations are important. We have looked at several ‘natural’ building methods, and are wondering, if we built with straw bale, where to get the straw in a large enough supply. That is one thing. What would be the best way to go about getting the supply of straw, with the right dryness?
    I guess a more general question, for an article would be the procurement of the materials necessary to build with straw?

  20. Just a quick note Rita, you can usually find your straw by going to the source: the farmers. That’s always my first suggestion for people. They typically have straw at the right moisture levels too because it is best for them to hit the range we want as straw that is too dry will break during the baling process (a pain for the farmer) and straw that is too wet will rot or combust during decomposition. A good farmer will have straw at the right density, moisture content, and shape.

  21. I agree with what you have put in the post and would like to add that we can continue the process further, given the laws of your country or state allow. Incorporation of water catch systems, gray water reuse, edible landscaping and multi-use spaces all add to the beauty of straw bale and the ability to be self sustaining and responsible. Everything is connected, be it trees, plants, rocks or water. All we do effects everything around us and beyond not just your neighborhood but the whole earth. Pick Love not Fear, Being happy as opposed to being Right. Expand all that is good, holy and beautiful.

  22. When my parents bought the ranch I grew up on in Teton Valley Idaho we lived in a 100 year old two room log cabin the first year. The neighbor had used it for a grainery for several years before we moved into it. It had a wood cook stove and a cistern with a hand pump outside. When I was a year old, we moved into another, larger 4 room log house. This one still had a well with a hand pump, no electricity and an outhouse out back. We all took our baths in a galvanized steel tub in the middle of the living room. We had it good. I went to school with kids who lived in a one room log house with a dirt floor and a sod roof. I don’t ever remember thinking that we were poor or didn’t have enough. We always had plenty of food and the necessities. Most of the food we grew or hunted.
    I was a general contractor and home inspector for many years here on the Oregon Coast. I often told my clients buying their new 4000 sq. ft. home (for 2 people & a dog) that I don’t have a washer & dryer and never have owned a dish washer, a garbage disposal or a garage door opener. They look at me in disbelief like I am from another planet. Then when I told them I haven’t flushed my toilet for the last 8 years they think I’m either joking or crazy. I have a composting toilet inside my 900 sq.ft. house…much nicer than the composting outhouse I built from salvage material I used for several years before. Now I don’t have to go outside in the rain. My little house is built almost entirely with framing materials from my property and reclaimed lumber. I think I am at about $25 per sq. ft. or less at this point…Of course, not counting my labor.
    Most Americans are spoiled and think that modern conveniences, like electricity and a TV in every room, are necessities. I will admit, electricity is really nice.
    You made some very valid points in your article.
    Thank you for your wise words!

  23. Andrew; Fantastic and timely article, especially as we begin the New Year. Think globally, act locally. If people work on it, good happens.
    Regarding possible newsletter articles. I’m still planning for my strawbale house and barn in SE Arizona; Sonoita/Elgin area in retirement. (5 years and counting!)
    As such, I would be interested in information regarding sourcing of the strawbales. Are there farmers and/or contractors that sell the bales directly or are they perhaps available through a co-op or wholesaler? Obviously shipping costs could be considerable; any thoughts there? Thanks and Best regards;
    John C. / Seattle

  24. Andrew ,you are truly a special man, your words enspire so many to be better people, to see beyound the need to amass wealth at the expense of our brothers and sisters.We all need to comprehend that humanity cannot continue to take from our wonderful planet ,it is through people like you across the world that the message of love and ,compassion for our fellow man will ultimately change the way human kind understands how privileged we all are to mother earth ,who gave us this wonderful life.I am privileged to have met you in spirit, one day I hope to meet you personally. Ps I am half way through building my own straw house in a Forrest on the far South Coast of West Australia,broke my leg working on it ten days ago . Kindest regards Ray

  25. Hi Andrew.
    I am an art therapist and love natural building.
    What you do sounds pretty radical and I mean that in the best possible sense. I know how being in right relationship with groups of people and working together can be such an amazing process for healing, change and growth. (And what more can we wish for in our world, except faster, greater healing change and growth!)
    Another huge factor in your experience as you know, is being in relationship with Nature; communicating through your interface with healthy natural materials and physical exertion, rhythm, ceremony and respect.
    what I wonder about however, how we may address question: what more can we do through our efforts in the architectural field, to address the health of our inner environment. Perhaps in order to be more humane in our relationship to the world, we need to focus on ways of treating ourselves more humanely. in my opinion, we need to address not just what we build with, but how we build. The design of our architecture. Our buildings speak to us constantly and if their language is a language of squares and rectangles, then they are probably telling us the wrong thing. We need organic architecture which can support our humanness!
    I would be interested to learn more about alternative architecture which meets these criteria.
    Thank you for your wonderful articles and emails!

  26. …great write-up as usual Andrew! Thanks for being such an inspiration to all awaken and those not yet…keep on doing what you do best! Many blessings for 2013 and i look forward to many more articles like this one 😉

  27. Great point Seamus. My favorite architect, and a great friend of mine, Chris Keefe has a company called Organicforms Design. We are all thinking the same thing in regards to architecture: allowing it to reflect the rhythms around us rather than forcing it to be something that stands alone. Unfortunately, this is now always accepted by home owners for several reasons, the primary one being cost. I too hope that such reflection can become more commonplace, thus improving the relationship of home, inhabitant, and nature.

  28. Brent. This sounds like heaven to me. When my wife and I were pregnant with our first child, we lived in a 100 year old log cabin (110 Square Feet) in the mountains of Colorado. We had no electricity (minus a tiny solar panel that could run EITHER a lamp for an hour or the radio for about three), no running water, and no heat. We had an old wood stove and a gas burner. Gabriella’s job was to melt snow in the winter for our drinking water. The outhouse was a good 50 yards away which felt like 100 in three feet of snow! We LOVED it. I can remember lying on the bed and watching elk, deer, coyotes, and fox walk by the cabin. Such an amazing place to be pregnant. Thanks for bringing that vision back to me, even though it had not strayed far.

  29. Good article Andrew, definitely strikes a chord with me. Here’s my long-winded response. Not sure I totally answer the question at hand, but this is my story anyway!

    I feel like i’m just starting to ‘really’ live. The catalyst was the end of a long term relationship with my partner at the time. That was sad and I yearn for the relationship quite a bit a year on. However I would never take the time back again i’ve come to realise. The end of the relationship made me assess my life. I realised i’d been suffering through a lot of anxiety/depression. I got counselling and became a lot more rational and got into meditation, ayahuasca and other interests that help me deal with these afflictions. I have a long way to go mind you (do the challenges ever really end!), but these things have radically changed my life.

    Then I got into building natural homes, Earthships specifically, a passion i’ve had for so long but never felt able to jump into. Instead I was running a business that was stressing me out and feeling crap and forcing stress onto other people, my partner worst of all. I didn’t see the obvious signs that change needed to happen, even though my partner would tell me! I just thought this was life and life was hard.

    So, I travel half way across the world to attend an earthship build. Wow, what a life changing experience. This is what i’ve dreamed of for so long, it’s not even that hard to go and do it, although I previously thought it was a pipe dream. Working alongside new friends, with similar interests, that inspire you so much, you can’t avoid but be drawn into this community. You just need to make the leap. I haven’t stopped travelling almost a year on, moving from build to build, learning different styles, learning more and more about the broader spectrum of things… permaculture, intentional communities, continuing to meet wonderful people and continuing to be more and more inspired, confident in the path i’m on and forever tied to it. My passion. My reason for being.

    It certainly gives you a different view of normal society and how people are living in this shadow of fear of making the leap. How society programs us to be a certain way and think we have to stay this way and that we are powerless. We all have the power. I still have doubts sometimes, this is natural and caused by a lifetime of self doubt. But with increased rapidity I remember the path i’m on and that there’s no turning back because i’ve realised my purpose. It’s a very compelling force and one i’m trying to aid other people who haven’t seen it to see.

    I read an interesting article about happiness vs. meaning/purpose today. It stemmed from a holocaust psychologist’s story about how holocaust survivors were more easily able to survive their conditions if they felt they had meaning in their lives. e.g. unfinished work they wanted to get on with after the war and how this is what people should be seeking and not just happiness. People without meaning sadly perished or lost their way earlier than those who had meaning. Happiness is good, but it naturally ebbs and flows, yearning for happiness actually oftentimes thwarts happiness. Having meaning is about giving yourself to others, happiness is oftentimes about taking from others for self-gratification.

    Anyway, for me this is living. Having meaning. Doing what you truly want to. Giving to others. May we all experience it!

  30. Andrew, you continue to inspire me.
    I have worked most of my adult life to walk my talk and find that I can live with out a dishwasher (* I married a great one, Michael) and without a microwave, TV,Fewer clothes, and older cars.
    My straw bale house, which you helped build is a dream on going…I still walk up to the walls that I plastered and hug them… and they hug back. I love the way the light seeps into the windows….I love that I know how to wire a plug… build a pump house…chop firewood and grow my own food and preserve it.
    now all I have to do is figure out how to live in it full time…
    I love to share your writings with others as they are well put and lovingly charged..
    Thank you Andrew for walking your talk…It is comforting to know that the generation behind us “boomers” is taking up the banner. Jan
    PS..the cross walls are drywalled and the tape and mud went on this week..Now I am about ready to do my mosaic art piece in the bathtub/shower area..I will send pictures when it is done.

  31. Andrew, thanks for a hugely inspiring and encouraging message! I agree with all the ideas shared and would also be interested in hearing about some alternatives to a plaster finish for breath-ability. I like the look of wood siding both inside and out and am interested if this is a viable alternative or if plaster is really the only/best way to go long term. Thanks!

  32. Plaster really is the best option for bale homes, but it is not the only one. You can clad a house with just about anything from wood to metal; however, there are more steps involved in the process when you do so. Cladding the interior is harder because of the curves of the wall. Flat, rigid materials don’t couple well with the undulations of the walls and the curves in and out of door and window openings. Again, it can be done; however, it is considerably more work.

  33. We continue to research straw bale building and, in the process, we found a YouTube video with the general idea for building a straw bale house by adding straw bales to the sides of steel shipping containers at If it’s doable, it seems like it would take care of most of the posts, beams, roof trusses(?), floor joists, etc., making for a quicker, easier, and maybe even less expensive build – outside of actually procuring and setting the containers on the lot. We were considering a plan that uses, 3 or 4, 8′ W x 40′ D x 9.5′ H used steel shipping containers. Because of the problems caused to straw bales by moisture barriers, perhaps every other vertical panel of metal could be cut out (or leave one metal panel, cut out two…) of the outside walls and roof and even the pieces that are cut out can be used by welding them to the other steel “post and beams,” etc. that are left, to reinforce them. Also, I would want to add straw bale to the front and back of the home, as well as on the roof, and some other ecologically friendly insulation to the flooring. What do you think?

    Other comments mention integrating PV solar panels for electric power, rainwater catchments for drinking, bathing,gardening and cleaning water, solar water heating, grey and black water reclamation, composting toilets, etc. Are these green technologies currently integrated into the straw bale workshops – or maybe the instructional DVD’s (since it might be difficult to include all of that in a 7-day workshop)? If not, that might be an idea to add to the pot. 🙂

    Oh, and also, for the side walls of the shipping container, the straw bales could be slid onto the steel edges of the “post and beams” instead of just laid up against them.

  34. I’m not a big fan of this idea for several reasons. The biggest reason is that the risk of condensation is huge with that much metal in contact with the bales. Furthermore, the natural curves of straw bale are lost when placed up against the straight lines of the steel containers. Finally, once you start cutting holes into the containers, the structural ratings are all lost and engineers would need to be brought on board. That’s fine, as I like using engineers in my homes anyway, but their ability to calculate the loads and the strengths may be difficult in a used container in an after market application.

    I discuss lots of green technologies at my workshops as straw bale walls are only one aspect of green construction; however, they are not a main topic of the workshop. The workshops are focused on the straw bale aspect of the job primarily and other discussions are secondary to the hands-on education. The topics are not covered in the DVDs either as those are specific to the titles. There is so much information to cover as is that introducing more, extraneous information would clutter the productions. There is some good information out there about the details you mention though, it’s just not something I can call myself an expert in as my focus is on straw bale construction and small living (living at a human scale, not responding to society’s influence).

  35. Thank you for the feedback! Also, apologies for the double post. So, I did wonder if there would still be a notable amount of condensation on the remaining metal, but hadn’t even thought about structural integrity being an issue. I thought the steel would hold up, but the cost to bring in an engineer to investigate that, would be too much, so it’s definitely not something I can consider. Besides the insulation value of the straw bale home, I love the warmth of the straw bale walls too. If it could even be done, considering the spacing of the metal that would be left, I think sliding the bales onto the metal “posts,” would make it so that the straw bales are open to both the outer and inner walls… Anyway, sorry for continuously bringing up these bad ideas. I’m just trying to think of ways to make my money go further.

    I’ve actually found a lot of good information on other green technologies, but thought I’d throw that out there. I mentioned it because I was looking at straw bale floor plans and was thinking about the changes/additions I’d need to make to the structures to accommodate things like a grey/black water reclamation system. While those systems are great, I have to agree that living small, in terms of the square footage of our homes, and in how much we consume daily of everything, is really the first step. I found a house plan from Owen Geiger’s straw bale house plans site that I’m excited about. At 928 sq. ft., it’s 224 sq. ft. less than our previous home. The layout is great – and it’s a simple plan that I think we can tackle. I know we won’t really know if it’s “the one” till we get on our land and get a good sense of our surroundings. Exited overall and will be ordering your building DVD’s as soon as we remove the hold on our mail. Take care!

  36. To find your own heart so eloquently “penned” in another’s blog is a truly moving and homecoming experience… reading this article I actually got teary eyed.. maybe for the lack of this kind affiliation in my life or the recognition of the hope of still finding that connection with lots of others before I do the big swan dive into the next existence…felt like the little alien character …ET-” Hoooome” LOL!
    It goes way deeper than just the building. Thank you much for saying what I have been saying, and so much better, doing what we used to do back on the farm…god I miss that. Best to you-Melodee

  37. We cannot change others without first changing ourselves. We only have control of our own choices. Looking at our thoughts is a very important part of change. Often we sleep through the routine of our day instead of looking for the reasons we do anything. Try doing things a little differently. Take a different route to your work place, brush your teeth with the other hand, change up the routine so it is not so automatic. The insights you will learn could surprise you. Building with bales makes sense when you take what is the normal way and make the decisions for yourself, not letting the crowd tell you what is right. That is what is different about people who build with bales, they make their own decisions based on what they have researched, not what they have been told. Challenge yourself to pay attention to your thoughts and you will be amazed at what you have believed without searching for yourself. Have fun with it and God Bless.

  38. Hi Andrew, i found that the less i use tv or the computer, the more i’m in tune with myself and others. thanks for this article, finally someone that i can relate to.

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