61 Year Old, Single Mom Builds Straw Bale Home for $10,000

Written by Andrew Morrison

chainsaw in straw bale house windowHi everyone. Gabriella here. The other day I received a call from a customer wanting to place an order for our Post and Beam DVD. We got to talking and I pretty quickly realized that I was speaking to someone with an extraordinary story. Excited to hear more we scheduled an interview and I trust that you will love the story of how Cheryl W., a 61 year old, single mom living in the second poorest area in the US, with a home building budget of just $10,000, came to decide to build a straw bale home.

Cheryl spent her formative years living in California. Her life changed dramatically at 19 when her parents moved to a rural area of British Columbia, Canada. When visiting them she met a sweet, local boy at the square dance function and they fell in love, prompting Cheryl to leave her city ways and nestle into a rural lifestyle to raise a family…a really big family of 7 children. Cheryl home schooled each of them and her focus and love in life was to take care of the home and family.

Rather unexpectedly though after 29 years of marriage, Cheryl and her husband divorced. She shares that the experience was the most challenging time of her life. Her whole identity as an adult had revolved around being a mother and wife and she now found herself not only without a husband, but also without a college degree, experience in the work place, and without much of a way to make an income. One thing that you need to know about Cheryl is that she is an extremely kind and loving woman filled with a strong knowing of how to survive and make the best of things. So, she adjusted and got herself out into the work place and adapted so that she could take care of herself and her youngest daughter.

Currently Cheryl and her youngest live in a top floor apartment in another daughter’s home. Although Cheryl is incredibly grateful to be able to live there, she sees this living situation as temporary. She yearns for her own space that is warm, beautiful, healthy, and built by her very own hands. She wants to be independent as she ages and doesn’t want to be a burden on anyone. In fact, she wants this so much that she is putting in 12 hour days, laying out her own rubble trench foundation, learning how to build, etc…

Although it is exhausting work and she shares that she has never worked so hard in her life, she does it with a happy heart because she has taken the leap of faith and is fueled by a strong knowing that she in fact can do it. Her adopted 13 year old daughter is eager to help out as well and they have found a sweet routine where she prepares meals for them when her mom is out working a long day.

The straw bale home she is building will be a 24’x24’ modified post and beam structure and will be the first of it’s kind in her small town (population 780). There are some challenges that she is facing, like living in an area where grey water systems and composting toilets are not allowed. She doesn’t want to be forced into having to do a whole plumbing system that will cost nearly half of her entire home budget. Fortunately, the town is run by a progressive mayor and they have obtained “home rule” which means that the residents don’t have to abide by county regulations.

So far, she is loving the building process and says that she would prefer to spend time in a hardware store than a dress shop. She has been stocking up on supplies for this build for two years and looking for great deals on the various components that will go into her home. She will build an earthen floor and use an earth plaster to finish her walls. She feels that she can build her home for $10,000 and that everything is on track for staying on budget.

Cheryl sees straw bale construction as a solution to creating inexpensive housing that is beautiful and elegant. She is quite artistic and appreciates beauty in her life. The softness of straw bale walls and the warmth they exude is appealing to her. As a child she always loved fairy tale homes in picture books and she loves the idea of creating something similar for herself.

Cheryl envisions herself cozying up by the fire and even growing some of her own food in her home alongside the large south facing windows which she bought at a major discount. She describes the area right around her home-site as visually unappealing and for her creating a sanctuary of beauty and calm feels vital.

I am so inspired by the clarity of Cheryl’s vision and her determination to make her dream come true. Other friends of hers, especially single mothers, are also becoming inspired and seriously considering building their own straw bale home as a way to create healthy housing that is inexpensive and allows them to get out of a financial rat race.

When I asked her if she has any words of wisdom to share with others that may be in a similar situation, she shared that “Once you take the first step towards faith, sometimes things have a way of happening. I’d rather live a life in which I had a dream and tried, than one in which I feared that I would fail in achieving my dream and never even tried.” I couldn’t agree with her more.

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.

19 Responses

  1. The piece on Cheryl and her vision sounds so much like me and my vision for the future. I too have been a single parent with struggles raising my children, which are now grown. I’m a 56-year-old woman with similar interests and desires of building my own sustainable home. I have been following you, Andrew, for many years now, learning and growing. I would love to connect with Cheryl if possible. Thank you!


  2. I have just read Cheryl’s story and was so inspired. I too am a 60 year old woman and my family has ‘grown and flown’ and I feel that building a straw bale home for ourselves is the next big project for us. We have been married for nearly 40 years and built our own home in the traditional bricks and mortar way when our children were very small but now we want to create something of beauty, serenity and calm that works with nature. We are in the UK and our planning laws are a bit different from yours in the US but I will keep you all posted. WELL DONE CHERYL. WE WISH YOU EVERY SUCCESS. Esther and Dave x

  3. Go – Cheryl – go!!
    I am praying for you & your future visions to come to fruition.
    Shalom in everyway – peace – nothing missing nothing broken.

  4. A truely inspiring story, that creates an awareness that it is not the limit currency of money that enables our visions to come alive, but rather the knowing that all is possible when we are passionate, ready to be the action of our visions.

  5. I hope Cheryl is going to take lots of pics and document the trials and tribulations of the build. I think we are all very impressed with her goal.

  6. Hi Cheryl, thanks for your story, you’re an inspiration. So much of what you’ve shared resonates for me and many others I am sure. You fill me with the energy and courage to keep going and never letting go of the dream. Hera.

  7. Andrew/Cheryl,
    Have you considered using cow dung for floors and plastering walls, both inside and out? A free product that has many uses. It seems and sounds repulsive but has been in use in rural Africa for centuries. Once dried the dung is very hard, water resistant and completely smell free. Let me know your thoughts on this and I will share more info.

  8. I began reading about straw bale eight years ago but I lived in an area where property was so expensive that as a single mom I gave up hope of obtaining land where I could build my cozy dream house. About a year ago I moved to the same small town where Cheryl lives and became acquainted with her through our mutual love of writing. Here, I began quietly dreaming of straw bale again. Imagine my surprise when I discovered Cheryl wouldn’t be coming to our writing meetings for a while because she was busy building a straw bale house! I am so excited for her and it is inspiring to watch her house grow. Thanks, Cheryl, for pioneering this in our area and being so generous with your story. Next year I’ll be where you are now.

  9. Absolutely. I fact I also have a blog entry on here to help people gain access to elephant dung! Dung is a great addition to natural plaster. Please offer what knowledge you have on the subject. I’d love to hear.

  10. Cheryl aspires to inspire us. Her dream has inspired me!

    We hope
    to do the same in the next 5-10 yrs. After repeatedly watching Andrew’s dvd’s my husband is headed to Crestone for the weight bearing workshop to lead us further in the goal.

    Thanks Cheryl for your awesome story! Kathy Dowdell

  11. I would like to have information on my project going on. How can I mix the straw with something to inside the walls before exterior wall is added, like a sandwhich from inside sideout .

  12. I too am 61 years old, left the city to raise my 4 children in the boreal forest among like minded people who,like me chose to home school and I too am planning to build with straw bales. Only it isn’t my next home that I plan to build, but an addition to the old store building that I own in small town Saskatchewan.The plan was to expand the store and restaurant into a broader purpose venue by building a totally energy self-sufficient addition housing a brick pizza oven/steak pit and hosting social events.I hope to take advantage of the detailed indepth instructions and advise available here.

  13. I am a stay at home mum living in a small small home which doubles as a workspace for my husband. We are desperate for some open space and to live in a quieter part of the country. We’ve been hunting for derilict properties or something to renovate but straw bale has always appealed. I’d love to connect with Esther as we are UK based and would like to find out how plans are going.

  14. My question is; where do you ladies live? I want to buy property there too! I’ve been dreaming and planning for about 8 years too, but property values seem to be costing me out of my dream.

  15. Your story is very inspiring. I am on the skirt of ’60. To build my SBHome is something I have been preping for . I have researched and read everything I can find,There are a couple of homes near enough to to see, but I am hoping to get to a workshop within the year. Keep us updated. Marsha

  16. Sorry for the long delay Loni. I don’t fully understand your question. It’s best to build your walls fully and then plaster them once everything is done and ready for plaster.

  17. Inspiring !! I’m a single mum (43) of two young girls building an off-grid cob home in Kuranda, Nth Qld, Australia on a very tight budget, challenging but sooo rewarding !!! We have basic solar/12volt power, gas cooking and refrigeration, candles for night light and I made a simple compost toilet. Always great to hear of other women/mums building their own homes, it is such a rewarding and empowering experience !! Luckily we are in the tropics here so we live outside most of the time & get to experience nature at its best !! So blessed !!! Good luck !! Susie

  18. Wow I’m so glad I ran into this site.
    I don’t know where, or yet how, but I need a home.
    I am ( just turned) 69 and it would be great to build my strawbale home.
    Like Cheryl and these other ladies, I’m on a limited budget. I worked with clay much of my life and have been interested in many alternative ways.

    I have some money saved and I want to build a roundish strawbale if that’s possible. As much sq footage as possible on a shoestring.
    I live now in W Washington. I raised my granddaughter alone and I’ve been without my family of origin since I was 34.
    My granddaughter still needs my help but it’s challenging helping with no home of my own.

    I love the feel of these homes. I’ve been in some on Whidbey Island. They fit me like a glove.
    I’m very excited to think I could have a home I can afford. And if there’s anyway us women could help one another through any means; encouragement, ideas, advice from our own building, that would be great. Thank you for your story Cheryl and all of you for creating this opportunity for so many folks.

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