Guest Post by Andrew Morrison
As you may know, my wife, 12 year old daughter, and I recently sold more than half of our worldly belongings to fund our adventure, let go of our large rental house, and spent the next 6 months in a quest to reconnect with each other and with what really matters in life. Most of that time was spent in a 150 sq ft pop up tent trailer in Baja, Mexico where we were able to live off grid and to essentially unplug ourselves from our “normal” day-to-day lives. What we learned was that in living with the least, we gained the most and that in finding the stillness that comes in not busying ourselves, we reclaimed our joy and inner calm (to read more about this journey, please visit www.SmallHouseRevolution.com).
One of our favorite topics of conversation since embarking on this adventure has become housing. What defines a home, what are the things that are essential in making a home a wonderful space, what do we want in our own dream house, etc… Being that the professional focus for most of our adult lives has been straw bale construction and green housing, we naturally have been exploring the merits of this mode of building as a solution for those of us that are wanting to build affordably, to tread lightly on the planet, and to be involved with our own home’s creation. We now see, more than ever, that straw bale construction is an amazing building technology fully able to fill those needs.
The idea of stacking straw bales to create a super insulated and natural shelter first appeared on the Nebraska plains over 100 years ago and some of these original homes are still in use. The technology has advanced significantly since those early builds and today, two major styles of straw bale construction have been developed: Load Bearing and Post and Beam. Load bearing construction uses no structural frame (such as framed 2×6 walls) to support the roof. Instead, the bales carry the load. Post and beam construction, on the other hand, uses a structural frame to support the roof while the bales act as insulation within that frame. Whichever system is implemented, the benefits of building with bales include: 3 times the insulation value of a conventional wall; 3 times more fire proof than a conventional home (yes, you read that right!); lessens pollution by using a waste material that normally contributes significantly to the pollution cycle; ideal building system for the owner builder; incredibly sound proof; able to withstand natural disasters (earthquakes, high wind/tornado) significantly better than a conventional home; aesthetically beautiful.
You may not have considered building a straw bale house when planning your downsize because of the thickness of the walls, but this thickness can actually be hugely beneficial when building small. All types of niches, built in furniture and closets can be molded out of the walls, allowing for a simple, space efficient, and elegant interior design. Here are other ways that straw bale homes can fulfill the needs and desires of people looking to live a simpler and more efficient lifestyle.
- Less dependence on a paycheck. Because straw bale construction lends itself well to owner builders, there can be significant cost savings during the construction process. Furthermore, the homes are very low maintenance, so lifecycle costs also remain low. Additionally, the cost to condition the space is very low due to the super efficiency of the walls. In fact, the high insulation value has been shown to reduce heating and cooling costs by up to 75% when compared with conventional homes. With a lower dependence on paychecks, there is less stress, higher quality of living, and more space and time to spend on the activities that enrich and enliven us.
- Highly conducive to living totally off-grid. It’s easy to make a correlation between higher efficiency construction and lower energy consumption. Obviously, if you are 3 times more efficient, you will use less energy. This means that the systems used to heat and cool can be smaller and will place less demand on an off-grid energy system. We learned that living off-grid in our pop-up tent trailer was an incredibly liberating experience that allowed us to really understand the impact of our daily actions and choices.
- Low maintenance system. Straw bale structures are low maintenance, especially when a simple design is used. Once they are built, little is needed to be done over the years to keep it looking great. Further, the natural materials used both in the bales and on the walls (plaster) create a “living wall system” that actually helps moderate the interior climate. By spending less time adjusting the interior climate and maintaining heating/cooling equipment you will have more time to spend doing the things you love. In fact, in areas where evening temperatures cool off significantly, no cooling system is needed at all, completely eliminating a machine that will eventually need servicing or replacement.
- Incredibly “green” building technology. Each year, millions of tons of straw are burned in the field as a waste product. For every 1 million tons burned, roughly 56,000 tons of carbon monoxide is produced. This has a huge impact on our air quality and overall planetary health. By using the straw instead of burning it, we lessen the environmental impacts by removing the CO from the atmosphere. We also have a positive impact by minimizing our homeowner energy usage. Furthermore, the use of these natural materials in the home eliminates the toxic building materials used in conventional homes. The air health inside a straw bale home is so good that many people who suffer from allergies, chemical sensitivities and autoimmune diseases build straw bale homes.
- Optimal technology for the Do-It-Yourselfer. I’ve taught hundreds of people with no building experience how to build straw bale homes in my workshops. People understand the building system because it’s simple and intuitive (think of stacking Legos). There is something that is deeply enriching and enlivening when people build with bales and I believe in large part it’s because we are genetically programmed to build shelter with our own hands. When we come together, use a natural material that we can feel good about, and we learn how to build shelter, our lives change and we feel fulfilled. Seeing this transformation in people as they become empowered to build their own shelter is one of the deepest rewarding experiences.
I don’t believe that downsizing means that we have to give up our connection to beautiful, efficient, and even spacious living. If what you are looking for is a more effective way of living that uses less resources, both financial and environmental, a well designed straw bale home can meet all of your goals. For lots of free information about straw bale construction, please visit www.StrawBale.com. If you want to learn more about getting some hands-on experience with straw bale construction, please visit www.StrawBaleWorkshops.com to find out more about our 2-day, 7-day, and 14-day workshops.
Just in: Spring Has Sprung Sale. It starts March 30 and goes until next Monday April 9. 2012 at midnight. Workshops are $100 off, videos are 25% and up off of regular price. There is the Everything Combo for $140 which includes all of our videos (10 in total) plus a free strawpenter organic tshirt and free shipping globally. Click Here for sale discount.