Straw Bale a Tiny House Option?

straw bale

by Andrew Morrison

Some time ago I introduced you to the idea of building a tiny house with a not so tiny material: straw bales (http://tinyhouseblog.com/straw-bale/tiny-straw-bale-cabins/). The idea seemed strange at first glance to some of you; however, I have heard that many of you have since embraced it. Straw bales are obviously not an option for someone wanting to build on a trailer as the weight of a plastered straw bale wall assembly is far too heavy. For a home built on a fixed foundation, however, straw bale construction is a fantastic option. Let’s take a look below at the advantages of this construction technology:

  1. Straw bales are extremely energy efficient. For home owners building larger homes, the average savings tend to be around 75% over the heating and cooling costs of a conventional home. Several of our friends who live in straw bale houses report that they barely use their heating system in the winter because the home is so efficient. What’s more, they don’t even have air conditioning units installed in their homes, which stay perfectly comfortable all summer long in temperatures that reach daily highs of 100 degrees F or more. In terms of tiny straw bale houses, a friend of ours built two straw bale cabins (300SF each) and noted that their heating system only comes on once per day. That is significant when you consider that a typical heater will fire several times an hour to keep a conventionally built tiny home warm.
  2. Straw bale homes are extremely sound proof. This quality is a particular benefit for a tiny house in a busy area. Small houses don’t provide extra square footage to reduce the infiltration of external noises. For example, in a large home, it is common to place bedrooms and other quiet spaces towards the back of the house, away from road noise. What’s more, closets, bathrooms and other “dead space” can be used to further buffer the quiet zones in a house from the impacts of external noise. Tiny houses simply don’t have the “dead space” to help create those buffers. Every inch of living space is needed for actually living, so no matter where you place your bedroom, there won’t be much to quiet the outside world. Thick straw bale walls, on the other hand, can provide a dramatic reduction in external noise in the interior space. In fact, it’s not uncommon to have difficulty hearing someone on the other side of an unplastered straw bale wall during construction. Once plastered, the elimination of sound is even more impressive. In some cases, straw bale landscape walls are used to buffer entire properties from highway noise, so the impacts of having a tiny home built with four straw bale walls is quite impressive.
  3. It’s true that thick straw bale walls take up space; however, they also offer storage options and creative architectural design elements in your home. Because the walls are so thick, the window wells are very deep and provide a great place to display items in your home. You can also carve into the walls in specific areas to inset cabinetry or even an eating or sleeping nook. The ability to carve and shape the walls means that there is a lot of room for creativity in your design in ways that conventional construction simply cannot offer. Recessing cabinetry and other storage elements into the walls means that floor space is not actually impacted in those areas, which is a great advantage in a tiny home.
  4. Although there are other advantages to building with straw bales such as the beauty of the plastered bale walls themselves, their fire resistance (3 times as fire resistant as conventional construction per ASTM testing), their superior strength in high winds, and others, I want to focus on one more of the advantages in particular: the natural material itself. Because tiny houses are so small, any and all toxic building materials that off-gas, do so into that concentrated, tiny space. This means that your foam insulation, glues, formaldehyde, paint, and many other standard building materials will fill a tiny space with the same level of off-gassing that is typically seen in larger homes; however, those larger homes have more interior volume over which to disperse those VOCs and other toxic materials. After all, a framed and painted, 10’ tall wall will off-gas the same amount of toxic material in a tiny home as it would in a large home; however, 100 to 200 SF of interior space versus 2000 SF will surely concentrate the effects of that off-gassing. In comparison, the elements of a straw bale wall assembly: the framing members (if properly sourced), the bales, the plaster, and the plaster color, are all completely non toxic and natural. There simply is no toxic off-gassing from this wall assembly, which is a huge advantage for us tiny housers.

straw bale 2

No matter what advantage draws you towards building your tiny house with straw bales, the results will be efficient, healthy, strong, quiet, and beautiful. For those interested in building with bales, I invite you to visit www.StrawBale.com to learn more about how the process works and how it can fit into your plans to build your perfect tiny dream home. We offer a totally free 16 day straw bale ecourse as well to get you started on learning about straw bale right away. I have been teaching people how to build with bales for many years and I can tell you that those who have followed through and built their own homes all LOVE them.

straw bale bedroom

In hopes that you will join me at a hands-on workshop this coming year, Gabriella and I have created a coupon code, exclusive to our tiny house friends here on TinyHouseBlog, that will save you $100 on your registration. To take advantage of the discount, simply type the following into the discount field during the checkout process: TINY STRAW. The discount expires December 21. Our workshops are a blast from start to finish and you will not only learn a ton about building with bales, but also have a week of fun, connection, and inspiration.

Sorry, the Oregon location is already full. The Arizona workshop only has 2 spots left and Idaho just 5. The rest of the locations (Australia, Vermont, Nebraska, and Texas) still have a bit more room in them. Here is the link to the workshops themselves: http://strawbale.com/store/category/workshops/ I hope you can join us. Happy baling and stay tiny my friends.

straw bale workshop

Andrew’s TEDx Tiny House Talk

Andrew Morrison

Click on Video Below Article to Watch

I’ve had the privilege of knowing Andrew Morrison for over seven years now via the Internet and personally the last year. Andrew is known for his fantastic Straw Bale videos and workshops and in the last year as a tiny house builder and designer. I had the opportunity to introduce Andrew and his wife Gabriella to the tiny house world through the Tiny House Blog.

They have become good friends and Andrew has a talent which I sometimes envy. He is a natural speaker and at ease in front of small groups or large crowds. He also is a talented musician. Andrew recently was featured at TEDx and I wanted to make sure you had the opportunity to view his speech.

Learn more about the background of this speech here.

This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. Andrew and his wife, Gabriella, are the creators of “hOMe”, the 207 SF (+110 SF in lofts) modern tiny house on wheels. They live and work in hOMe full time, off grid, and debt free. With the extra time and money that they have they travel and enjoy time together as a family.

Watch the video below.

hOMe Construction Plans

thb_plans_homepageHello all you wonderful TinyHouseBlog.com readers! Andrew and Gabriella Morrison here from TinyHouseBuild.com with the announcement that our hOMe construction plans are finalized and available. They have been meticulously edited by an architect, a designer, and also engineered/stamped by a veteran structural engineer.

If you’ve been looking for a tiny house that allows you to live without compromise and that offers a full sized kitchen with full appliances, comfortable stairs to the master bedroom, furniture that works double duty as storage, space for a home office for two, a guest bedroom/TV lounge, a bathroom with a regular sized sink, shower, and toilet, a loft with comfortable head room, and a clean, modern aesthetic, then hOMe may be just what you’ve been waiting for.
There are 4 plans packages available ranging from the Total Package (Printed Plans with free shipping and handling globally, the Digital Plans, fully editable SketchUp plans, materials list, and a how to read plans short video) to the Digital Package, to Just Digital Plans, and finally to Just SketchUp Plans.
To visit the plans site, please click HERE.
To visit the photo gallery, please click HERE.
To view a detailed video tour of hOMe, please click HERE.

Straw bale Workshop Day 7

Day seven started out earlier than usual as we were ending the day a little earlier and we were loosing a couple of people who had to head home because of distance and work. We were still very much behind schedule. With Andrew being ill much of the week we had not completed as much as we needed to and we wanted to at least get a start on the plastering.

We spent all morning doing finishing work around the windows. Curving them gently in, stretching the mesh and making sure they were tight enough to accept the plaster. There was still electrical work to complete. Niches to cut out, special mesh to put on all exposed wood, etc. We kept very busy.

Andrew chainsaw

Andrew putting on a new chainsaw blade to cut the other two niches

After lunch it was time to mix the first coat of plaster. This is a process in itself as you have to get it just right and it needs to mix for 20 minutes per batch. Once we had a batch ready Andrew demonstrated the technique for holding and applying it to the wall. It is much heavier and more difficult than you might think. Many of us decided that if we were building our out straw bale homes that we would seriously consider hiring this part out to the professionals.

We only succeeded in covering most of one wall and it was time to clean up and say our goodbyes. After a week together sharing in this experience you make many good friends and though we are spread out from the east coast to all the way down under in Australia many of us will keep in contact and share the straw bale projects that are planned to be built by members of the workshop. If you have interest in straw bale construction, I would highly recommend this hands on experience with Andrew Morrison if you are able. Visit strawbale.com.

Thanks to Andrew Morrison and our hosts at Common Kettle Farm for a fine week of learning, good food, new friends and experiences.

cutting the niches

Chainsawing out the niches

electrical box

Getting the electrical ready for the plaster coat

EJ and Shasha

EJ and Sasha heading out on a short honeymoon trip

curving the windows

Adding the curvature to the window openings (very time consuming!)

straw curves

Adding the curves to the large window

plaster tool

Andrew making a scratch tool for the plaster

plaster making

Andrew preparing the first load of plaster

 

plaster

Plaster ready to put on the walls

plaster hawk

Andrew showing us how to work with the plaster on the plaster hawk

plaster wall

Andrew demonstrating how to plaster the wall. (It’s harder then it looks!)

plastering walls

We try our hands at plastering the straw bales

plastering walls

Many hands make light work!

plastering wall

Working up the wall

three women

Group thinning out, this is hard work!

scratching wall

Susan scratching the wall to make it rough for the next coat

scratching the wall

Denise liked this part of plastering

Straw bale Workshop Day 6

Today is day 6 of the straw bale workshop here at Common Kettle Farm. One thing that I have discovered at this workshop is that straw bale construction takes time and there are lots of steps. If you want a completed home fast, straw bale is not the way to go. If you want a warm cozy or cool home with low utilities and are patient straw bale is perfect.

installing mesh

Installing the outside mesh

Today the rest of the meshing was put up, and more of the electrical put in. The boxes have to be cut out with a chain saw and the wires pulled. The wires are then pushed back into the bales where it sometimes needs to be cut out with a chain saw. Once this is all done the mesh has to be sewn together from the inside walls to the outside with long string and huge needles. Andrew showed us how it was done and we all jumped in to make it happen. Every 18 inches this has to be done going up and across. We used a jig to cut the string and hung them on a tree. The sand arrived for the plaster today and the kids enjoyed seeing it dumped from the truck.

Besides the usual work there were other were other activities going on around the barn. A wedding was planned for that evening as Sasha and EJ were getting married and the residents of the farm were decorating and rearranging the leftover bales for the event in the evening. Another busy day at the straw bale workshop and only one more after today.

I missed the the official wedding as I was invited to dinner at Michael Janzen’s of Tiny House Design. However I got back soon enough to enjoy some great music by Andrew, our hostess and the kids, and a chance to see the bride and groom do a wedding dance. A fun evening!

electrical box

Wiring an outside electrical box

cutting twine

Cutting the twine for sewing the mesh

twine

Sewing twine hanging in the tree

straw bale needle

Andrew demonstrating the straw bale needle for sewing the mesh together

straw bale needle

Needle coming through the wall

miller's knots

Lot’s of Miller’s knots when completed!

mesh

Installing more mesh

girls decorating

The girls decorating for the wedding this evening.

straw bale seating

The guys arranging the bales for seating and cleaning the work area.

 

Andrew singing

Andrew entertaining the wedding crowd.

hostess singing

Our hostess sharing her singing talent with a beautiful Dutch song.

kids singing

The kids want to sing also.

EJ and Sasha

The bride Sasha and groom EJ performing the wedding dance.

russian dance

Sasha performs a Russian dance with EJ.