Straw Bale Primer - Vinesgardens

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STRAW BALE BUILDINGPRIMERThe Beauty of StrawStraw is one of the finest, renewable building materialsavailable and it is found around the world in abundance.It is the strong stalk of tall grain plants — such as wheat,rye, hemp or rice — that remains in the field after the seedgrains have been harvested. Its chemical composition isprimarily cellulose, just like trees. When bundled togetherinto a bale it becomes a solid block that is highly resistant todecomposition. When assembled together like Lego andcovered with a plaster skin, straw bales make a beautiful,Contemporary builders are waking up to its virtues too.With every year, people around the world are discoveringthe benefits of building with straw bales. Extremely energyefficient, they keep inhabitants warm in winter and cool insummer. No more excessive heating bills. No need for airconditioning. Straw bale construction has become anaccepted part of building codes in several American statesand municipalities. The number of Canadian straw balebuildings built in the year 2000 is estimated to have beengreater than 1,000. Each year the numbers rise.strong, energy efficient and ecologically sound house.Basic MethodSolid HistoryIn the Ontario context, straw bale walls are built by stackingThe early settlers of the grasslands of Nebraska andwestern Canada discovered the beauty of building withstraw bales over 100 years ago. Necessity was thetwo-string bales of between 25 and 45 lbs each to thedesired wall height in an overlapping bond, similar to layingbricks, but without the mortar in between.A mesh reinforcement is attachedgerm of their discovery. Confronted with coldto both the inside and outsidewinters, a lack of trees, and a need for quicklysurfaces of the wall and twobuilt outbuildings, the settlers turned tocoats of cement-lime plasterthe abundant straw to house their animals.totaling 1 to 1 1/2” are applied.They piled the bales, put on a roof and addedA cosmetic interior finish andearthen plasters. The result was superb. Theexterior water protection is theninsulation against the cold was found to exceedadded. Engineers term this type ofany wood building. The settlers then proceededto build their homes with straw bales too. In fact,many of the original settlers' farm buildings and homesare still intact, standing as a testament to the material'sstrength and "stressed skin". It createsa whole wall strength that is greater thanthe individual parts.

Save for the walls, straw bale homes are built in thedimensional lumber although several different "modified postconventional manner. Foundations, floors, roofs, electricaland beam" (such as our ownand plumbing are the same as in other homes, with only“box beam” system) designs havesome minor variations. Electrical services are run betweenemerged to satisfy building officialsthe bales or at the floor or ceiling using standard NMD wire.while reducing large dimensionElectrical boxes are attached to stakes driven into the baleslumber use. This style permitsor attached to wooden beams and surrounded by plaster.installation of the roof, completionBecause of these consistencies with typical buildingof electrical and plumbingpractices, the prices for these components of a straw balerough-ins, and framing of interiorhouse are generally the same as for a conventional building.walls, all prior to bale work.Building StylesApplicationsThere are two basic styles of straw bale construction.Today, straw bale building has become very popular.Both types have received permit approval in variousEverything from garden sheds, garages, cottages, studios,regions of Canada.and modest houses to grand mansions and large commercialbuildings can be found in most Canadian provinces, U.S.Load Bearingstates, Mexico, Australia, Europe and beyond.The walls of load bearing buildings actually completelyStraw bales are also ideal for retrofit applications. Strawsupport the roof and second storey floors if presentbales have been used to wrap the exterior of old, poorlywithout any posts or framing for support. A rigid plateinsulated houses or the interior of large commercial buildingsis placed on top of the walls andcinched to the foundation byvarious means to secure theroof to the rest of the houseand to mechanically removeany settling which mayotherwise have occurred.Plaster is then applied to boththe inside and outside surfaces ofthe wall. In this style, theand warehouses in order to dramatically improve energyefficiency. Straw bale additions have been made to manyconventional homes to easily create new spaces.Entire straw bale subdivisions have been completed inthe U.S. southwest. In Canada, a straw bale developmenthas been planned in Regina and a large Toronto areadeveloper is planning to build a sales office with strawbales to promote the same in this area.Our own demonstration projects at the Toronto Fall Homecompleted wall serves as both structure and insulation.Show (‘01), Ottawa Cottage and Country Homes ShowThis style may use the least wood and may require the(‘02) and the Toronto Royal Winter Agricultural Fair (’03 &least carpentry skills although it may also need more‘04) were among the most popular exhibits. Home Alive!effort to receive permit approval.– The House that Thinks, Drinks and Breathes is our firstattempt at prefabricated straw bale buildings and after itsPost and BeamAdopting a centuries old building technique, this style use astructural framework, most commonly made of wood, whichsupports the roof and subsequent storeys. The bales fill thespaces between the posts or wrap the entire structure.enormously successful launch as a feature home at theNational Home Show (03) it has reopened as a permanentdemonstration house at the Everdale EnvironmentalLearning Centre.Big business is also recognizing the direct benefits andHere the straw acts only as insulation and a surface on which resulting goodwill that accompanies straw bale construction.the plaster can adhere. This style uses greater quantities of Mountain Equipment Co-op used straw bales in constructing

part of one of their large-scale retail stores in Ottawa.assisting with construction. Once plastered, the bale wallsSeveral architecture and engineering firms in Canadaare a clean, inert and hypoallergenic system that, togetherspecialize in straw bale designs. A host of Canada Mortgagewith other material choices, can provide excellent indoor airand Housing Company (CMHC) studies have confirmedquality often without the need for mechanical air exchang-straw bale building to be a viable, safe building materialers.and method for Canadian climates.Clearly straw bale building is fast finding acceptanceFirewith a mainstream audience. Demands for constructionThe compactness of the straw, combined with the coatingis so great in some areas of Canada that there are notof plaster does not provide sufficient air to support com-enough straw-bale specific contractors to perform thebustion. CMHC tests demonstrate a lower fire risk whenavailable work.compared to conventional construction materials and methods and provide straw bale walls with a 2-hour or commer-Common Concernscial fire rating.Straw not HayPestsHay is for horses! Hay includes grasses like alfalfa, is cut wet Little critters love the open spaces provided by woodand generally used as animal feed. The plants comprising hay frame buildings. Straw has no food value to attract miceare commonly allergenic. Straw is the strong stalk of tall grain or insects and they would first have to gnaw their wayplants and is primarily a cellulose - just like trees - tough,through an inch of plaster to access the straw. It is ideal forfibrous and without food value. In fact, a bale of straw is likeareas at high risk of termites, as straw does not suit theira dense block of thousands of little trees bound together.palette.Height LimitationsPermit ApprovalMultiple storey mansions, office buildings, light commercialStraw bale building's growing acceptance into mainstreamwarehouses and showrooms have all been built with strawpractices has seen some U.S. states include straw balebales. Given that straw bale walls have been shown to be at construction into their prescriptive building codes. In Canadaleast four times stronger than a conventional 2x6 frame wall, there are Engineers and Architects familiar with straw balethere are no special limitations to the height of a building.building who will provide their recognized professional stampto indicate the soundness of the planned structure which willRotWater is the single largest threat to all buildings - strawbale, steel and wood alike. With the correct design andconstruction measures taken, straw bales will last a lifetimein their secure environment. Canada Mortgage and Housinggenerally assist with the approval process. Even having builtin large urban areas, we have never had a problem receivinga permit for our clients’ projects.Structural StrengthCorporation (CMHC) has conducted studies that prove straw Unlike wood frame construction that has low tolerancebale building's suitability in all Canadian extreme lateral or lift forces such as tornadoes orearthquakes, straw bale buildings’ continuous monolithicAllergy/Asthma SufferersGenerally speaking, there are no allergies to straw althoughdust and stray weeds embedded in the bales can causethose with environmental sensitivities trouble if actuallyplaster provides extraordinary strength and elasticity in theface of such forces. They can actually flex and bend butresist collapse making straw bale buildings ideal for quake,hurricane or tornado prone areas.

LongevityLike all types of building materials, straw has its specialconsiderations for construction and upkeep. Straw andcement-lime plasters have been used for centuries onor bring in your family and friends for the wall raising orother jobs. We are happy to work alongside you and anyother volunteer help. It's up to you.Planning & Designbuildings still standing in areas such as Europe and CentralAmerica. Built and maintained properly, straw houses have Initial Consultationthe potential to far outlive conventional buildings. DesignPinning Building Code Approved PlansEarly literature speculated that straw bale walls shouldProject Management & Constructioninclude steel or bamboo "pins" to reinforce the walls.On-going independent tests prove that the plaster provides Project Managementmost of the wall strength and that foundation pins or wall Bale Raisingpins are an unnecessary use of both material and time. Plaster Spraying Stucco FinishingHarvest Homes Carpentry Specialty Tradespeople (energy systems, mosaics,Elegant. Efficient. Ecological.custom cement)Harvest Homes offers the most comprehensive ecologicalbuilding services in Ontario, Canada and Central America.ConsultationWe are known best for our straw bale structures. However, Initial Consultationwe are much more. Our services include building design,contracting, construction, product sourcing, teaching andconsulting. We have two experienced building crews. Wecarry a good selection of eco-building materials and finishingproducts. And we have expertise in installing ecologicalsystems (wind and solar power, water collection and wastesystems, and energy efficiency) into homes new and old.Our portfolio ranges from simple outbuildings to elaborateand automated structures. If you’re looking for a responsibleand experienced company for your ecological building project,you’ve come to the right place.ServicesWe offer full construction services with an experiencedand accredited work crew. We have built load bearing andpost-and-beam styles. We are available as exterior wallsystems sub-contractors, or we can do the full nine yards,from the foundation up. You may choose to work beside us Healthy Home Evaluation Professional and Product ReferralsPlease use the attached Preliminary Checklist beforecontacting us to discuss your straw bale building oreco-renovation project. It will help us to start ourdiscussions and help you evaluate your needs.

Harvest Homes Preliminary ChecklistYour InformationName:Phone (Day):Phone (Evening):E-mail:Checklist and Project Information Do you have your architectural plans in hand? Yes / No If yes, what is the square footage and height? If no, what are your needs and the desired dimensions of your project (square footage,rooms, etc)? Does your architect have experience designing for straw bale buildings?Yes / NoIf yes, what is the architect's name and contact information?If no, would you like us to recommend an architect? Yes / NoDo you have an engineer who has experience with straw bale buildings?Yes / NoIf yes, what is the engineer's name and contact information?If no, would you like us to recommend an engineer? Yes / NoDo you have bank financing? Yes / NoIf yes, what is the pre-approved mortgage amount?If no, how will you finance the project?How much have you budgeted for the construction?Have you contacted your municipality and asked them about obtaining a permit for buildingwith straw bale? Yes / NoIf yes, what is the municipality's response?If no, we recommend you take this step to help us evaluate if there will be any obstacles ordelays in obtaining a building permit.Do you want to participate in the construction? Yes / NoIf yes, in what capacity?Building a New Home Do you already own the land where you intend to build? Yes/No If yes, describe the land (lot or acreage size, plus distinguishing geographicfeatures/obstacles):

If no, describe the type of land you are seeking and when you plan to buy:When are you planning to build?When do you want to move in?Eco-Renovating with Straw Bales Where is your home located? What are the current materials of your home? How large is your home? How old is your home? How large of an addition do you want? Please describe the type of renovation you would like? Have you contacted your municipality regarding a building permit? Yes / No If yes, are there any restrictions that apply? When would you like this project to be finished? When can the renovation start?Questions?Please list the questions you wish to ask us below. This will help us prepare for our firstdiscussions and ensure our time is spent effectively moving you closer to your project's nextstep.The same checklist is also available online at so that you can fillit out and send it electronically. During the building season, we may be tardy in our responsewhile tending to the needs of our current projects. If you require urgent response please call usdirectly and we will respond within two business days to set up an appointment to discuss yourproject, either by phone or in person.Harvest HomesPhone: 519-242-4681E-mail:

Straw Bale Bibliography and ResourcesBooks and MagazinesNatural Home MagazineResplendent with ideas, product offerings and inspirational pictures of all varieties of“greening” a home or office, this magazine is bringing green mainstream.www.naturalhomemagazine.comStraw Bale Building: How to Plan, Design and Build with StrawBy Chris Magwood and Peter Mack is one of the most up-to-date additions to straw baleliterature and is specific to northern climate considerations.http://www.newsociety.comThe Last Straw JournalA must for the aspiring bale builder, this quarterly journal is rife with insightful articles byexperienced builders and do-it-yourself homeowners alike. Back issues available on CDROM. www.strawhomes.comThe New Straw Bale HomeBy Catherine Wanek of Black Range FilmsA perfect coffee table type book with wonderful pictures and inspirational stories ofowners and builders across Canada, the U.S. and Europe.http://www.strawbalecentral.comHelpful Websites and OrganizationsCanada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) two strawbale listserves feature many old hacks offering their advice. A fewCanadians are onboard too. Be ready for many emails to fill your inbox should Straw Bale Building CoalitionOntario Straw Bale Building Coalition (OSBBC) provides information for people with aninterest in building and/or owning a straw bale home. As well, it aims to foster acommunity of builders and owners involved in straw bale building to promote theexchange of ideas, resources, and social x.shtmlSurfin’ StrawbalePerhaps the best set of links to straw bale building sites anywhere but not specific toCanadaand many may be broken. DocumentsEnergy Use in Straw Bale HomesA CMHC sponsored investigation of the amount of heating energy required for severalCanadian straw bale homes relative to similar conventional -pr/tech/02-115e.pdfMoisture Properties of Plaster and Stucco for Straw Bale Buildings

ech/00-132 e.pdfStraw Bale House Moisture /rh-pr/tech/00-103 e.pdfStraw Bale Moisture Sensor StudyThis study by early Canadian straw bale builder Kim Thompson of Nova Scotia is hostedonline by the Masonry Heater rwmoist/strwmoist.htmWood Use in Straw Bale House s/en/rh-pr/tech/02-116e.pdfVideosBuilding with Straw Bale (Three volume set)Three interesting videos on different aspects of straw bale building, including a how-toworkshop, a tour of many existing homes, and a guide for straw bale code testing.Black Range Filmswww.strawbalecentral.comOther Canadian ResourcesArchibioMontreal bale designer and instructor’s company home pagewww.archibio.qc.caA Small Urban Montreal LotA small lot proves plenty for this house, a two and a half storey, single family home ofstraw bale infill in wood frame construction.(Aussi disponible en ildingsCalgary architect and professor Jorg Ostrowski’s home page that includes several strawbale buildings.www.ecobuildings.netGreen Planet HomesShawn Hayter is continuing to work with Harvest Homes until the launch of his ownbusiness in Western Canada in 2005-6www.greenplanethomes.caKim Thompson's HouseKim tells the story of her pilot Nova Scotia house and provides links to other sites boundaries/sh-portrait2.htmlMasonry Heater AssociationPerhaps the best set of links to straw bale building sites anywhere but not specific nable WorksHabib John GonzalezBC designer, builder, instructor:615 Cedar Street, Nelson, B.C.Canada V1L 2C4tel/fax 250.352.3731

STRAW BALE BUILDING PRIMER The Beauty of Straw Straw is one of the finest, renewable building materials available and it is found around the world in abundance. It is the strong stalk of tall grain plants — such as wheat, rye

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