by Gabriella Morrison
The options available with styles, building techniques, and materials used to create tiny houses are various (vive la différence!). Some tiny homes rest on solid foundations while others are on trailers. Some are modern in style and others more rustic. The list goes on and there is something out there for everyone. If you are the type of person that is looking for a super energy efficient, natural, beautiful, non-toxic and cost effective house then a straw bale tiny home may just be the solution for you. You may be thinking, “Build a tiny house out of WHAT??”
Straw bale technology is a tried and true system backed by copious amounts of scientific research and data to prove its merits. Tests have shown that straw bale walls are 3x more fire resistant than conventional construction. Think of it this way, straw bales are very dense and when within a wall system (and behind a thick layer of plaster), oxygen has nowhere to go. A stud framed wall as found in conventional constuction on the other hand creates a welcoming environment for flame spread by essentially creating oxygen rich chimneys in between each stud. Straw bale walls are thick, like really thick (21″) and are thus 3x more energy efficient than a conventional wall system. Most straw bale house owners save about 75% on their heating and cooling costs. Straw bale systems are also preferential to conventional construction in earthquakes and tornadoes. And don’t worry, rodents won’t get into your walls. They would have to gnaw through a thick layer of plaster and even if they got through that, they would need to make their way through extremely dense straw. Believe me, they would much rather move next door to a regular house with warm, soft and fuzzy pink insulation. Obtaining building permits has become easy and straw bale specific building codes now exist in many states. Straw bale construction lends itself very well to the do it yourselfer and is simple to learn (think giant Legos). Plus, straw bale construction uses a waste material that is often discarded in the field by either burning or flooding and is thus a part of a solution rather than contributing to the problem of using virgin resources for construction.
When John and Marie, a recently retired beautiful couple, decided to create a homestead, it was clear to them that they wanted to build using straw bales. We ran a 2 week workshop on their site last year and built two 200 sqft interior dimension cabins side by side that would become their home sweet home. Though they plan on building a slightly larger straw bale house at some point in the future they have been toying with the idea of just continuing to live in the two cabins because they serve their purposes so well.
They opted to build their two cabins side by side and right at the 200sqft size to fall within the no permit required provision (often found in building jurisdictions). One of their cabins serves as the kitchen and dining room. It is super functional and adorable. In joining them for dinner the other night, the four of us were very comfortable in the space and enjoyed an exquisite meal (they are BIG into growing their own food and most of the fare was freshly harvested). About 10′ away is their other straw bale cabin which serves as their bedroom and bathroom. They created a separate room for their toilet and shower and placed their sink in the main cabin area. The colors and feel in the sleeping cabin are so beautiful, warm and relaxing that we just wanted to curl up in bed and take a deep rest. A covered breezeway could be created in between the two cabins. If you live in an area with building codes though the inspector will take objection if you attach the breezeway physically to each structure if you are building yours as non permitted structures.
You could build each of these cabins if you did the work yourself for around $6,000 each depending on your location. This estimate covers everything but the interior finishes such as kitchen appliances, cabinetry, toilet, and shower. All of those finish details can be found gently used or new if you wanted.
Just about the only things you can’t do with a straw bale house is to have thin walls and to put one on a trailer (movement would pulverize the plaster in time). Other than that, it’s a fantastic way to go. If you are remotely curious about learning more, we invite you to our totally Free 16 Day E-Course that walks you through the process of building a straw bale house. To sign up you can click here. If you want to see more images of what is possible in a straw bale house, you can access our photo gallery by visiting here. And if you want to see what educational resources are out there to help you build your own straw bale house, you can click here. Since 2004 we have personally taught over 800 participants at our hands on 7 day workshops, had the Free ECourse downloaded over 30,000 times, heard from hundreds that have built their own, and sold over 10,000 step by step instructional videos outlying the whole process from start to finish. All to say that this isn’t just a bizarre building fad but is instead a sound method of creating a beautiful, healthy and environmentally responsible home to last for generations.
For their first tiny house, Green Valley Natural Builders in Sebastopol, CA decided to build something very small, but beautiful, using only natural, unprocessed and re-used materials. What they came up with is a delightful tiny structure on wheels that cost only $1,500 to build. Because the small company is used to creating houses out of straw bales, cob and wood, they didn’t want the materials for their first 6 foot by 10 foot house to come from the lumber yard.
The group used an old trailer frame, separating and recycling the aluminum and priming the trailer with metal paint. The walls were framed with rough cut 2×2 pieces of wood. The rough cut of the wood varied in thickness by up to a quarter inch and because of this the house began to take on its own dimensions and character. Various sizes of 1/8 inch plywood were used for strength and rigidity and the roof was decked with 1/2 plywood for strength and lightness. The exterior siding was rough milled cedar and fir and recycled blue jean insulation was used inside the walls. The windows came from the old trailer and the door was cut from a slab of 2×12 redwood. Metal roofing was purchased for the roof.
“It was fun to build, although definitely one of the more challenging and time consuming projects I have worked on, due to the variability in the raw material we used and the unplanned natural nature of the design,” said Ganesh of Green Valley Natural Builders. “Tens of hours were spent planning and edging and fitting non-standardized materials. What we saved in material costs we definitely made up for in labor, but the end result is unreplicable making it worth it for me.”
Green Valley Natural Builders is a local builders cooperative with over fifty years of accumulated experience in construction, carpentry, landscaping, heavy equipment operation and forestry. They construct and sell tipi poles, handcrafted furniture, play cabins and dog houses, floating cabins, sweat lodges, saunas, solar water heaters and they are currently working on several collapsible vardos.
The build process of the tiny, tiny house is available on Instructables.
Photos by Green Valley Natural Builders
Even if you don’t plan on making a back country trip to Norway any time soon, these tiny cabins may give you a few ideas on how to create a tiny house that melds nearly seamlessly with its natural surroundings. Koiene (pronounced koi-eh-n) are a system of tiny, convenient cabins scattered around the countryside of Trøndelag, Norway for use by anyone who’s in the area for hiking, fishing, foraging, hunting, cross country skiing or snowshoeing.
The simple, little structures can be rented through a website that specializes in memberships for these types of vacation cabins. The site and the cabins are run voluntarily by groups of students. The cabins are named after the area they are in and these multi-syllabic locations are distinctive from each other: some are on a river or creek, some on top of a mountains, some by the lake or other larger body of water. Continue Reading »
Treehouses have been making the news lately with Deek Diedrickson’s “Wolfe’s Den” and Joel Allen’s HemLoft. Across the pond, the ecoPerch is a new tiny house design based on a treehouse from the Blue Forest company in the U.K. This beautiful structure is designed to fit into the natural surroundings while still offering enough space for four beds, a dining and lounging area and a bathroom and kitchen.
The ecoPerch is 36.5 square meters (just under 400 square feet) and contains a master bed with built in storage, a bunk room, a toilet and shower room with a heated chrome towel rail, a living area with a wood stove, a kitchen with a breakfast bar and a small deck with storage for firewood. It’s highly insulated, made of sustainable materials and can be fitted with an off-grid energy system and composting toilet. Continue Reading »