The Cost of Plaster on a Straw Bale House –

Written by Andrew Morrison

People plastering a straw bale wallI just received an email from a man I recently started doing some straw bale consulting for about the cost of plaster. He has received three estimates for the plaster work and he was unhappily surprised at the cost. The average cost turned out to be roughly $5 per square foot of bale wall surface. This is about what I expect to pay for plaster work on bale walls.

The cost of plaster may be different in your area depending on local labor costs and what type of plaster you use; however, the fact remains that in most cases, the plaster work will be one of the most expensive parts of the construction budget. Perhaps the only time this is not true is when a locally “mined” clay plaster is used and the labor is free via a workshop or owner’s labor.

It is important to know what and where the costs are for your home before you start building. If you don’t know all your costs before you start, you run the risk of growing your budget out of control quickly and running out of money. Every job will have items that go over budget. It is almost inevitable (of course, there are still the few home owners out there who manage to stay on budget when they build) that things will change in the scope of the work and therefore in the price of construction.

Having a contingency fund is a good idea, but simply knowing the cost of all the work to be performed, by way of written estimates or bids, is the best practice you can employ. Keep in mind that plaster alone at $5/SF could be up to 20% of your total budget. Waiting until the end of the construction process to learn this could be devastating to your financial planning.

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20 Responses

  1. Is most of that cost in labor or materials?

    One more question – is that $5/SF of strawbale wall you expect to pay including lathing and putting up the flashing and plaster stops? Or does that just cover showing up and plastering (materials included)?



  2. Scott,
    The cost is mostly labor, but the material cost can be big too. The amount of material needed for a bale wall is pretty large. In terms of the breakdown of the cost, I would expect that $5/SF to cover the plastering process with materials and the installation of the plaster stops at the windows and doors. The mesh and lath is up to you on a bale wall. On non bale walls, they should do the lathing (stucco netting) and plaster stops, but that would fall under different pricing anyway. In general, I pay around $5.75/SF for standard walls in this part of the country: all inclusive. In other words, I give them the frame and sheathing and they do the rest.


  3. That is pricey! Does $5 per Sf of wall include both sides or is that per actual Sf of wall? I imagine it is per actual Sf, meaning each side of the same wall has its own square foot measurement. Thanks for letting me know this. I am concerned about the price and this may push me towards plastering my own place. Is that very hard or can a novice do it with reasonable results?

  4. You are correct that the $5 is for one side of the wall only per square foot. Plastering can be done by a novice as long as they take the time to learn first. A great way to do this is with my plastering DVD (available at and practicing on a small structure first. Keep in mind that the plaster is the first thing that people will notice about your house so skimping here is not a great idea. If you find that you are not good at it on your small building, you can alway budget in the cost of plaster to the full scale home.

  5. Thanks Andrew.

    One more question – my wife doesn’t like the look of the acrylic stucco finish. Can we still use a cement stucco for the scratch and brown coat, Then finish it with a lime plaster? Do we have to do anything special to prepare the cement stucco for the lime plaster? Since the NHL is especially pricey, it stands to reason using it on the thinnest coat might be the way to go.


  6. Scott,
    I would be concerned about using a cement based plaster under a lime plaster because the lime is flexible and the cement is not. In addition, the use of the lime would be questionable since the majority of the plaster is cement and the benefits of the lime would be minimal. If the look of the plaster is in question, i would suggest that there are a lot of finishes that can be accomplished with the final coat no matter what the material. I have seen think, frosting like finishes, smooth finishes, and many things in between. I would suggest that you look at the options for finish before you change or mix/match materials.

  7. Thanks Andrew.

    Regarding the interior finish. On the inside face of the straw bales, if we use a cement stucco can we use a gypsum plaster finish coat, or even a lime or clay finish coat. I’m concerned that the cement stucco might be too hard and result in a poor acoustical environment with a lot of echos Thanks.

  8. Cement or stucco is probably not the best choice for straw bale walls whether inside or outside, especially if you plan to build in a fairly dry climate. Instead use a clay render. It is much more environmentally friendly and cheaper. It is also easier to use, very forgiving and doesn’t have a setup time. For situations where moisture or wet weather is an issue I recommend a lime clay render. Andrew’s CD on NHL lime plaster is an excellent learning tool and a great buy. My father-in-law, a union plasterer taught me the basics, but I learned clay, earth and lime render in a workshop in Canelo, AZ. I had a great time but the cost was over $750. So order Andrew’s CD, go to Home Depot buy some materials build a small test wall and have some fun.

  9. Thanks for the kind words Steve. I appreciate that. I agree that using earth or lime plasters is the best way to go and I have found that many professional stucco/plastering companies are hesitant to try something new when it comes to materials. Be sure to line up a contractor who is willing to work with the material before you start the house otherwise you might end up with bales and no one to help cover them. That is fine if you planned to do your own plastering, but not so fine if you had planned on hiring some one.

  10. Hey Andrew, I am having a hard time locating Naturally hydrated lime, I have checked at some of the larger home supply stores in my area (Southern Manitoba)with no sucsess. can you steer me in the right direction.

  11. Hi Andrew. We have already put a scratch coat of adobe mud plaster on both our exterior and interior walls. We are doing the work ourselves on a tight budget and this seemed the best way to go. Wow do those walls soak up mud! I think I’d like to buy your video on plastering. Can we use hydraulic lime over the adobe mud for the brown and the final coats?

  12. Glenna,
    You can indeed use the hydraulic lime over the mud bed as long as the scratch coat is in good condition and the other requirements of the NHL application are met.

  13. Thanks Andrew. I have one other question. We have exterior straw walls and interior frame walls covered with sheetrock. We’d like to put a finish other than paint on a few of our interior walls. Can you tell me how we transition from straw walls to the sheetrock? Can lime plaster be applied directly to sheetrock? Or is something else appropriate? Thanks again for your great blog and wonderful help.

  14. Lime would need to be hung on stucco netting as it does not have the binders to hold on to the drywall. Some earth plasters can be placed directly on the drywall. I use wide fiberglass tape (similar to that used in drywall taping) to turn the corners. That is the easiest way to transition.

  15. I have seen ten year old straw walls covered with cement stucco(shot-crete)inside and out (central pennsylvania). I read that one should not do this, but it looks superb, and shows no signs of moisture issues. Does anyone have experience with this approach? It looks great and seems cost effective…

  16. Hi,

    We are preparing to start build our own home this spring. We have a 30 yr old 900 sq ft home on cement foundation, and would like to transform this into a strawbale home, with an add on of a 30×24 ft addition. We love the adobe home look, but are drawn towards strawbale. Is there a way we can use straw bale and plaster with adobe plaster? and is this ok to use in a Canadian climate? thanks

  17. our house burnt down recently and all the walls were plaster with mostly wood lath and some metal mesh lath. our insurance adjuster is cutting costs at every corner and not giving us much of a budget even though we have gauranteed replacement cost on the house. we want to get a budget based on the actual cost of getting plaster lath work done. what is the cost,including everything (wood and metal lath, all materials and labor), for wood lath and plaster per square foot?

  18. Jason, are you talking about a straw bale house or a conventional house? That makes a big difference. I paid $5/SF of wall surface area for my plaster including materials on straw bale. I don’t know the price on conventional as I didn’t do much of that work. I imagine it’s around $3/SF. Hopefully someone else can chime in here with an answer for you.

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