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.

Tiny Straw Bale Cabins

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??”

DSC_0452Straw 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.

John and Marie'sWhen 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.

DSC_0443They 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.

DSC_0432You 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.