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Modern Strawbale

by Nicole Francus last modified Jun 19, 2007 10:19 AM
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Modern Strawbale

Posted by Nicole Francus at March 05. 2005

I know there was talk on the pre-Nov04 forum about strawbale --
any current interest out there?
As I mentioned in a Labs thread today, I have been reading everyone here for a year (learning enjoying), and am just beginning to jump in w/ posts.
What led me to LiveModern a year ago was actually strawbale...and the desire to someday have a home that I had a hand in sorry bad pun. I also have a *modest* salary. Most of the finished houses out there are not as rustic-looking as they could be, but I am at a loss for why there aren't modern strawbale structures in the US. Here in CA it was just on the news how building supplies are in short supply or currently not available -- holding up construction driving up prices. If I want to have a hand in my own modern house, it may be through straw.
The walls (both exterior and interior) are usually the giveaway that it is a straw structure. The walls do not have to be covered with an adobe/mud; they can be drywalled for a clean line...but I like the organic surface, and wonder what others think about it's inclusion in modern designs.
I have seen some SIPs with straw infill, I think on a site in German/I'm not surprised if they're used often in Europe. What about here in the US?
The apex of my interests: modern+straw+prefab.
Any ideas to share?

Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by Sara R. Sage at March 06. 2005

I tossed around the idea of doing something like strawbales, but it seemed too difficult to find financing for something like that. My mother-in-law has a couple of friends who have done this and they both did it with cash. They are not as affordable as you might think and they also tend to grow mold, but I think they're cool (literally& figuratively) nevertheless.

Here are some old bookmarks of mine, I don't know how helpful they'll be, but it's a start.

[url href=""]Natural Home Magazine[/url] One of my favorite magazines, often features straw bale homes. You can check their archives online.

[url href=""]Creative Building Lender[/url] I found them through a poured home website.

[url href=""]Straw Bale Journal[/url] All things Straw Bale

[url href=""]Straw Bale House Plans[/url] Some of the floorplans are a little strange however.

[url href=""]More Links[/url]

edit: I just noticed another post of yours and saw that you want to build in LA county. You should check with your local zoning/building authorities before you get too involved since I remember something specific in [url href=""]LA County Ordinance: Title 26[/url], the building code. Nevermind... I just found it:

  1. 2.8 Alternate materials and methods of construction. The provisions of this Code are not intended to prevent the use of any material or method of construction not specifically prescribed by this Code, provided any such alternate has been approved. The Building Official may approve any such alternate, provided that he or she finds that the proposed design is satisfactory and complies with the provisions of this Code and finds that the material, method or work offered is, for the purpose intended, at least the equivalent of that prescribed in this Code in quality, strength, effectiveness, fire resistance, durability, safety and sanitation. The Building Official shall require that sufficient evidence or proof be submitted to substantiate any claims that may be made regarding its use. A written application for use of an alternate material or method of construction shall be submitted together with a filing fee of $173.40. When actual staff review exceeds two hours, an additional fee of $86.70 per hour shall be charged for each hour or fraction thereof in excess of two hours. For the requirements for an approved fabricator, see Sections 202 and 1701.7. (Ord. 2002-0076 § 19, 2002: Ord. 95-0065 § 3 (part), 1995.)

Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by Sara R. Sage at March 10. 2005

I came across this, a design competition for [url href=""]small modern strawbale homes[/url]. You can order the floorplan and elevations for just $12.95.


Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by Nicole Francus at March 14. 2005

Thanks Sara! Yes, I've read a lot about the red tape -- thank you for the ordinance inof. all of your links.
I've been looking for land, and enjoying your blog. Your house is fantastic your work is inspiring! We might be looking up in the hwy126/Val Verde area next -- maybe I'll email you off the boards if that's okay...?

Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by Edward Hanrahan at April 19. 2005

I have also been looking at Strawbale down here for a piece of land in New Zealand but came across two major drawbacks - the largest being climate - it can rain a lot here and having rented a mouldy house once, its not something I want to repeat.

However I love the organic look of the walls and when mixed with a modern structural plan, I believe the slightly uneven finish could lend character to a modern house.

Does anyone know of a sealing compound that fully seals the bales or is mould an occupational hazard of strawbale?

Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by Clint Walker at May 10. 2005

I recall seeing a fairly modern looking versoion of a dogtrot home in the Napa Valley area done using straw bale construction. I have seen this particular home in DFL Magazine and in some other books that I can't exactly recall right now. However you can see some of it on the architects website, click on [url href=http://]wine creek road residence[/url] and you can read about it on the DFL website at [url href=http://]Design For Living[/url]. It is a really cool place.

Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by Chris Buyze at September 07. 2005

I applaud your desire for strawbale, it is truely a great building technology that can empower home owners and communities by allowing them to have a hand in building their own homes! But enough of the philosophical...

I have been involved in several strawbale home designs in the last year or two. We are currently working on a 4000sf educational building that will be strawbale and partial strawbale/post-and-beam construction. We are working in a fairly harsh climate (here in Alberta), and know that most of the successful strawbale buildings that have been built in the last few years are in very wet and rainy parts of British Columbia and the NorthWestern US.

Most of people's turn off to strawbale is because of improper building techniques. Since there are no standard building codes (yet!) for strawbale buildings, there are alot of people out there doing trial-and-error building, some of it successful, and alot of it not.

Here is Canada, we are working with a strawbale specialist that is working with various governmental agencies to develop strawbale building code for the Canadian Building Code revision in 2007. We have been quite excited to work with him in developing proper building techniques for the Canadian prairie climate, which can be quite extreme at times.

A few things that we have found in our designs of recent are mostly related to the foundation - without a proper foundation (and grading), you will have wet strawbales. Also it is important that stucco be used for the exterior and interior of the strawbales, as this will seal them.

Proper top plates (that the second storey or roof system sits on) must be designed and built into the system, as well generous roof overhangs to keep water away from the building. Also, the bales themselves must be properly constructed and be tightly packed.

From our experience, a typical strawbale home will cost you about 60-70% of a normal stick-frame constructed home.

There are alot of books and resources available on strawbale construction, but once in the building code, there will be no way for the average home owner/builder to go wrong.

As for putting drywall on the strawbale, my question would be: why? As Louis Kahn always advised, you should be true to the material you are using. Hiding it behind drywall will only take away from the satisfaction you'll have in living in a house that you helped create! Modernist ideas can be sucessfully used in strawbale housing I'm just have to be creative and respect what strawbales have to offer. The strawbales have nothing to do with whether the house has moderist appeal or sensibilities about it.

I personally love the undulating surface of the stucco on strawbales, as well as the rounded window corner details. Good luck in your searches! :)

Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by Edward Hanrahan at October 04. 2005

Thanks for the encouragement Quince... I am heartened to hear that you guys are building Strawbale in BC - the climate is pretty similar i'd say... I'd be very interested to hear more about your projects? any links?

I agree - I think the organic/stucco look suits strawbale much much more and I have think you can have modern and natura;/organic sitting side by side pretty nicely. It doesn't all have to be sharp and angular - there is something very comfortable about the depth of the strawbale walls.

Hey Sara/Firebloom, did you guys get any farther looking at strawbale?

Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by Paul oberman at December 30. 2005

I have become obsessed with the idea of building a straw bale home. the problem is that we don't want an adobe style house and we probably want to build it in a wet local.

I am glad to see that they are building these houses successfully in Alberta.

Does anyone have an approx. per square foot cost for building one of these. i know it fluctuates, but someone must have an idea.

for people who have done this, how do local building authorities react to these structures?

Anyway, off the grid is cool.

Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by mordo at January 17. 2006

Good discussion, good material. Issues of cost are difficult to pin down because there are so few experienced builders of strawbale structures that there is little to compare to. OTOH, so much of the labor can be self performed so as to make experience/cost factors balance.

Moisture and mold should not be issues even in wet climes provided caveats like quince mentioned are followed. The most significant issue is the cladding. The most effective solutions are so often the oldest, tried and truest. With bale construction this is the case as a permeable lime plaster is the spec de rigeur for the cladding. Mold growth only occurs where moisture and warmth combine for long enough to promote growth. A lime plaster will allow vapor transmission to occur in a way that suits the wall best. Simply put, the wall breathes adn takes up and expels moisture as it is wont. Both sides of the bale wall should be plastered with a good lime plaster. There is an extensive study of Canadian bale houses and their failures due to mold and rot of the bale. These houses were plastered with Portland cement plaster exclusively. This impermeable cladding allowed inherent and intrusive moisture to be trapped in the bale, thus promoting mold growth and rot of the straw.

For the very wettest climates like NZ, a good spec would be to use a naturally hydraulic lime for the plaster (really, good for anywhere). This will set hard in the presence of water (it requires it) and will make a cladding that is harder (and more quickly)than a straight, hydrated lime plaster.

As for the aesthetic of plastered bale walls, there is no reason it has to look like a Hobbit house or something from a Thomas Kinkaid painting. While it may require a skilled plastering contractor, the plaster can be anything you want it to be - from very refined, perfectly flat planes to textures and colors of your wildest imagining.

For resources on bale construction and local building code acceptance, visit David Eisenberg is THE pioneer lobbyist for getting local and national authorities to accept traditional and alternative materials in local building codes.

If you want you bale house plastered, email me. Our firm can do anything you want with plaster.

Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by Leigh Taunton at February 05. 2006

I think Strawbale is a great way to build a house cost effectively. At the risk of sounding like an idiot, how fire resistant are these homes? Where do you put the wiring etc? Obviously I wouldn't risk doing it myself.

The Wine Creek residence is beautiful, I would think of a nanawall to enclose the dogtrot without closing it to light.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by mordo at February 05. 2006

Properly plastered bale structures are extremely fire-resistant. Plaster itself will not burn and the plastered bale wall does not contain enough oxygen to support combustion. A well-bound bale is also essential for construction that remains fire proof

Typically, the plaster cladding is quite thick, somewhere between 3/4 and 1 1/2 thick. This gives plenty of thickness in which to bury conduit. Metallic conduit can be used or BX armored cable. Clearly, it must be installed before plaster is applied. Genreally speaking though, consider running you r services in partition walls and avoid to many installations in the bale walls.

Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by lynne cimimo at March 16. 2006

I am so glad I came across this thread. My husband and I are currently building a modern straw bale house. It's been a year since the planning stage and I went back to the web hoping to find someone else who built, or is building a modern straw bale house and maybe posted pictures. No luck! Our house will be a simple 25' X 50' rectangle with a shed style roof. Large windows on the south side for passive solar to heat the concrete slab floor. We are building in Ulster County, NY and we don't have any concerns about the material. The building department was very supportive of our material choices. We will be building post and beam with straw infill and insulated panels for the roof. Although we are doing all the building ourselves, we have hired a straw bale consultant and an engineer who specializes in straw bale construction for support. It would be nice if I could find others out there to share ideas, mistakes, and money saving tips with. :cool:

Strawbale BOOKS

Posted by Krista Atkins Nutter at March 29. 2006

I recently checked out a new (2005?) book from my local library called EcoNest. For avid strawbale enthusiasts, I'm sure the authors are familiar to you, but I can't recall their names -husband and wife team based in AZ I think. Check our that book, but Ill caution that most of the projects in the book are not modern aesthetics, and also are located in hot, dry climates.

Another book I'm reading is Eco: An Essential Sourcebook for Environmentally Friendly Design and Decoration by Elizabeth Wilhide, Rizzoli publishers (2002). On page 46-51 there is a strawbale modern house. The exterior walls were made with strawbales, but then covered with some sort of corrugated clear plexi-glass material, so that the straw remained exposed to view on the exterior. Other exterior materials are corrugated metal, and sheets of quilted, silicon-faced fiberglass cloth that were made by a sail maker.

I'd have to say it's one of the most unique looking homes I've ever seen (and I have degrees in arch and design, so I've seen some wierd stuff!) The home is in London, UK and the architect was Sara Wigglesworth (no, I didn't make that up).

Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by lynne cimimo at March 30. 2006

Knutter, Thanks for the great information. For everyone else, the straw bale project can be found on the architects web site: (it's listed under the medium size projects)

I love the idea of being able to see the straw from the exterior - I can't imagine how they could do this without condensation building up between the corrugated material and the bales (??). One of my original ideas was to make a very large truth window on the interior, this gives me some visuals to pass by my straw consultant, thx

Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by Diane Huff at April 09. 2006

I've been tossing this idea around in my head, and I glad to see some others are as well. I've been originally thinking prefab modern, but the costs just seem too high. I live in the California high desert and strawbale seems like it would work well. We don't want anything big, actually what Designbyphoto is describing is a lot like what we are thinking. I do like this plan:

I think it could be adapted to look more modern. I also like the idea of SIP's that use straw like this site:

I don't believe mold or other fears like rodents are the biggest obstacles, but finding a contractor that understands strawbale, and a lender that will support the project would be.
I just frankly don't want to become consumed with doing everything myself and would like to rely on a contractor.

Re: Modern Strawbale

Posted by lydia leyba at June 19. 2007

We are presently thinking of building a very small, straw bale cottage, to help a friend out who is trying to homestead on some property we own in Oneida county,  NY.   I am looking for a straw bale consultant and an engineer who specializes in straw bale construction for support,   The building inspector I spoke to from Oneida county was not  receptive to the idea of straw bale, he did say he knows absolutely nothing about building with straw, so it's important that I find someone that I can work with.


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