[GSBN] Straw bale at high altitudes

David Arkin david at arkintilt.com
Fri Jul 11 14:14:37 CDT 2014

Hello Misha:

Our project at 3600 feet elevation (east of Grass Valley) has had no issues whatsoever:  http://www.arkintilt.com/projects/residential/millette.html
We have another at 5300' elevation on the eastern slope of the Sierras, in Nevada, that also has not seen any adverse impacts.  

Sounds like you're addressing the primary concern—which is to avoid melting snow sitting against the bale walls—with large overhangs and raising the bales well above ground level.

We've used a number of techniques for supporting the inner edge of the bales, from bolting timbers onto the concrete stem walls to building complete framed walls inside of the concrete (fitted with blocking these double as convenient and ample shelving!).  Recently we used a wider sill plate to transfer shear from the inside skin to the concrete wall, and otherwise let this bear on the perpendicular joists.  This was a very cost effective alternate to either of the ones described above.  

Good luck!

David Arkin / ATA

On Jul 11, 2014, at 8:40 AM, Misha Rauchwerger <misha.rauchwerger at gmail.com> wrote:

> I have a client that wants to build a straw bale house at 4000 feet in the Sierra Foothills.  They have been getting conflicting information about the wisdom of building with straw at that elevation.  In particular there is the concern about the effects of moisture in the wetter months, and possible condensation inside the walls.  They know about the need for big eaves, and permeable plasters, but have been swayed against the idea from a local green architect in town.  Please direct me to any research, or anecdotal evidence to support straw bale construction under these conditions, or maybe there is valid concern.  I have only built in the lower/dryer elevations on flatter sites.
> They also share these concerns:
> Their lot is sloped, so they would likely have to build a full walk-out basement on the lower level, and the living space on the upper level.  This means that the full lower level is built of concrete (probably Faswall or Durisol); will they would have to build out the lower walls to match the width of the straw bales?  How is this disparity in wall thicknesses usually resolved with the least cost/impact?
> - With a walk-out basement, is it possible/reasonable to do a stepped-foundation on the lower level to minimize the amount of concrete used?  Or does the mixed use of concrete and post/beam and straw bale construction create unreasonable headaches in the building process?
> Thanks everyone for your comments,
> Misha Rauchwerger
> builtinbliss.com
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Arkin Tilt Architects
Ecological Planning & Design
1101 8th St. #180, Berkeley, CA  94710
510/528-9830 ext. 2#

David Arkin, AIA, Architect
LEED Accredited Professional
CA #C22459/NV #5030

Director, California Straw Building Association
CASBA is a project of the Tides Center

"There is no way to peace. Peace is the way."
— A. J. Muste 

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