1. How do the hosts cook for a large group of people at one time? Would it be as simple as making a large barbecue pit? We could probably hire a local cook. What did other hosts do and is there a menu to follow?
These are great questions and ones we get a LOT. The food is a major part of the support a participant receives during a workshop and there’s nothing like a hearty meal to fill people with happiness after a day of hard work on your building site. That said, participants are always SO happy that they are being fed that we have found that there is no need to create a complicated or fancy menu. Good, hearty, healthy foods do the trick each time. During the week long workshop, you will be feeding people 21 times (3 meals for 7 days). Breakfasts are very simple and hearty (fruit, bagels, toast, hard boiled eggs, oatmeal). For lunches provide a large salad and a sandwich bar with ingredients laid out so that participants can assemble their own the way they like them. This leaves only dinner as the only meal that requires cooking (other than the oatmeal and hard boiled eggs for breakfast). Again, keep it simple. A typical week’s dinner menu will include meals like chili, enchiladas, spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, bean soup, etc… The great thing about each of these dishes is that you can prepare them before the workshop even begins (or at least get all of the ingredients measured out, bagged up and ready to go) and then just insert them into the oven when it’s time.
For clean up it’s typical for participants to clean their own dishes (they are always happy to do so…this isn’t a wimpy, ‘pamper me’ crowd) and you’ll just be left with kitchen clean up from the actual cooking. We do have a sample menu (which we have used) that we send out to potential hosts; however, you are free to cook what you want to. If your land is completely undeveloped before the workshop begins and you don’t have a kitchen at all to do the cooking for the workshop, don’t despair. We’ve run workshops on plots with no water and electricity before with success. In this case, a large grill with side burner can certainly work. You can prepare things like burgers, hot dogs, and soups, spaghetti and chilis on the side burner.
2. Can we use port-a-potties for bathrooms?
Port-a-potties are the norm at workshops. It is a rare workshop in which there is a flush toilet. You’ll typically just need two port-a-potties with a cleaning half way through the workshop. A simple hand washing station can be created next to the port-a-potties by hanging a solar shower and a place to put a bar of soap.
3. Would we need to get cots & large tents for sleeping quarters ?
Each participant is responsible for bringing their own sleeping tent and gear. Some people will bring their RV if there is space at the site. You don’t have to provide anything other than ground space for sleeping quarters. If there isn’t any shade on site though, a couple of those inexpensive 10×10 pop up tents work great for people to gather under in the heat of the day. Furthermore, a comfortable place to eat is very important and simple shade goes a long way for hot workers!
4. What did other hosts do in providing showers?
We have found a great solution for showers. They are instant hot water showers heated by those small propane mini-tanks (like the small green ones you would attach to a small camp stove) and they work great. They draw the water from a 5 gallon bucket and it comes out nice and hot. Two of them is typically sufficient and you can create a privacy screen out of materials easily available in your area. We also like to have a couple extra solar showers in case there are many people hoping to shower around the same time.
5. Does Andrew have builders in the area that he has already worked with? We do have some one we plan to meet with but we don’t know how reliable he is.
We know a lot of straw bale builders; however, we may not know anyone specific to your area. It is really ideal when Andrew and the builder can be in contact ahead of the scheduled build. There are many things that Andrew knows from experience that can save you an enormous amount of time and money and it’s important to get those pieces conveyed before things get underway. One of the aspects that hosts seem to really appreciate is how much Andrew helps them out and holds their hand through the process, from plan review to the very end.
6. Does Andrew know ranchers/farmers in the area that we can buy the straw bales from?
We may not personally know of anyone in your area; however, there are several things we can do to help you locate bales. Andrew has all sorts of resources that he’s able to pull from!
7. We are planning on getting a loan for the house so the bank needs plans and specs before lending out the money. How would be go about getting that?
Whether you were getting a loan or not, I can tell you that you will want to have complete plans. Building without plans just never works out well. We have some great designers that we have worked with a lot that we can recommend you to. Feel free to visit www.strawbaleplans.com and look through some of their work too.
8. I have designed the basic plan of the house we wish to build but I am not an architect so I am sure the dimensions are not completely right. Its just a general idea to convey what we are looking for. Basically who would draw up the plans and specs?
I really like hearing that you have come up with your own design because it implies that you are already becoming very familiar with what is important to you in your home and getting some clarity on what is going to work and what isn’t. The most successful building projects are those in which the home owners are involved in each step and know their home project intimately. The home owner is responsible for getting the plans drawn up; however, I can offer you some leads on great straw bale architects/designers to help you. It is extremely important to have a good set of construction plans before you begin your project. Although an upfront cost, it is well worth the investment. I give my feedback on your plans prior to the workshop to help identify potential sticking points and details that could be done better; however, that’s not enough to make for a great set of plans. It all starts with you and the designer.
9. Before we commit we would like to get an estimate of what the cost is versus hiring a builder? Would it really help us cut the costs by having a workshop? I know we will have to buy tools and other equipment that we wouldn’t normally need. I guess we would like to know what the breakdown is in cost to us not including the driveway, well, septic, land excavation & wood frame.
Think of the cost in this way, for 7 days you will have multiple hands baling your home for you at no cost to you (except for some minor costs which I will discuss next). At the end of the week, depending on group size, the size of the project, how ready the site is before workshop begins, and how much gets done each day, you will most likely have your whole home baled and the first coat of plaster applied at least on the outside. If you were to pay a baling crew (assuming you could find one) to come in and do that work it would likely take them three times longer, and you would be paying each and every one of them for that entire time. Because straw bale construction is simple to understand and learn, there is believe it or not, not a huge difference in how much gets done between a professional crew and a workshop crew. At least not in our experience. Andrew is able to run the site with expertise and confidence because he knows what he is doing so things get done quickly and properly. Keep in mind, we are focused on the baling portion only (with some plaster too of course) so you will still need someone to do the rest of the job from framing to finish cabinetry.
The costs of running a workshop are as follows: Host pays for travel expenses which typically do not exceed $1000 (International Hosts may have higher costs. Contact Andrew directly for more information). Food costs: We pay $100 per paying participant to you, the host, to offset your cost of food. That might not cover all of your food expenses depending on what you decide to serve, but it will cover a significant portion of it if you budget out the menu well. The host pays for tools whether it be through a rental yard of purchasing. We’ve really tried to set it up so that it’s as little “extra” work for the host as possible.
10. What amount of work should we expect to see done during the week?
In a typical workshop, depending on structure size and group size, a post and beam straw bale home will be baled and have the first coat of plaster on the inside and outside. We never know how much we will get accomplished, so this is just a rough idea. That said, Andrew always makes sure that at least one section of the house is completed through the first coat of plaster so that the host and participants get to see the whole baling process through. To give a sense of relative scale, the work a class of 30 completes in one week is equal to 21 weeks of work for two people (for example, a married couple building on their own)! Not a bad jump start to the project!!!
11. How far in advance do we need to secure our hosting spot?
We don’t have a deadline on securing the workshop date. We work on a first-come, first-served basis. That said, typically we book out about 12 months before the workshop start date. We are receiving record numbers of host applications and we do our best to select the most promising candidates that will benefit the most from hosting a workshop.
12. I know there is no polite way to ask this question so I will just ask it and hope you are not offended. How do we know that when we pay the $15,000 deposit to The Morrison Group, LLC that you are a legitimate company and not just a company on the internet collecting money and moving on?
Before the money is sent we will actually enter into a legally binding agreement between you as hosts and us as The Morrison Group, LLC. You may choose to take the agreement to your attorney to make sure that everything is comfortable for you before signing. In addition, we are happy to connect you with previous hosts so that you can hear first hand what the experience was like for them.
13. At what stage in construction does my house need to be before the workshop begins?
By the time we arrive the framing needs to be done, the roof structure needs to be on and the roof waterproofed (not essential for the finish material to be applied but that is best). All windows and doors need to be installed except for 1 or 2 simple windows. Ideally the interior partition walls will be framed up as well, however, all studs closest to the bale walls need to be left off until after the baling.