How to build a straw bale house

When we decided to add an Airbnb cottage to our house in Berry it was a perfect chance to apply a whole range of the natural building techniques I had been studying for the last few years. 

After courses with Permaculture experts Milkwood & through AREC in Mudgee, I worked under the strawbale master – Sam Viva of Viva Homes on a house in the Southern Highlands in 2013.

straw bale building exterior

straw bale construction exterior

But in the Berry region back in 2014, natural building techniques still had a hippy image- we wanted to show off the environmental benefits of strawbale construction techniques in a design that better suited the architectural sensibilities of our clients. 

Time to rope in friends and family to help us build a demonstration home in the side paddock! Here’s the short-form how-to guide to strawbale construction.

Straw bale construction framing

Straw bale construction beams

Step 1:

Assemble the frame of the cottage with salvaged timber beams placed on top of concrete strip footings

straw bale building

Step 2:

Finish the form with the addition of a simple timber framed hip roof.

straw bale building south coast

Step 3:

Balance the tough tasks with the fun ones! Here we excavate the clay to soak in water for a few weeks whilst constructing an onsite dam from the pit.

straw bale construction illawarra

Step 4:

Now the prep is done- ask your friends over for a weekend working bee! Start by stacking the standard size rice straw bales on their long side in between the post and beam frame.

straw building progress

Step 5:

To lock in the form for the walls, tension the bales by threading straining wire through each bale and then use a timber plank to evenly compress the bales and tie off at the correct tension.

Step 6:

Mix the clay with sand and straw chaff until the consistency easily adheres to the straw bale walls. 

straw bale construction walls

Step 7:

Apply a layer of renderers mesh to the wet clay before adding a second layer of a clay with a higher ratio of sand to the walls. 

Step 8:

When dry, apply a finishing coat of clay render with a high ratio of fine wash sand to the walls.

straw bale construction interior

Step 9:

Finish the walls with a layer of clay based paint on the inside, whilst on the outside finish with a waterproof lime render. 

straw building waterproof lime render.

Step 10:

Survey your handiwork and get ready to launch the cottage as a thriving holiday cottage on Airbnb!

completed straw bale building completed straw bale building


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