[GSBN] vaulted straw bale house

ejgeorge at riseup.net ejgeorge at riseup.net
Tue May 19 00:26:04 CDT 2015

Hello all,

Some local (northeast US) farmer friends have approached us about trying 
to build a vaulted straw bale house this summer. They aren't set on it, 
but the concept has some potential advantages for them -- mainly, they 
can build it inside a very large greenhouse on site so would only need 
the balework completed by fall to have an insulated workspace over the 
winter. The greenhouse would provide protection for the structure til 
they resume work in the spring (and possibly even allow some work to 
continue over winter); they also like the aesthetics.

Things are very vague at this point but based on their preliminary 
drawings from various things they found on the web and some ideas of 
their own, they're suggesting:
-- I think it was about 20' wide, 24' long; 2 story with full downstairs 
& an upstairs loft
-- mostly exterior timber frame, but with interior posts extending 
through the peak of the vault to hold a ridge pole. Ridge pole & 
exterior frame then support a ~conventional roof above the vaulted 
bales. (One possibility: the rafter cavity could then be blown with 
cellulose to create a super-insulated roof and decrease the need for 
perfectly modified bales or significant stuffing of gaps between bales 
in the vaulted section). Likely only the vaulted roof would be in place 
over the winter, conventional one added after greenhouse is dissembled 
in the spring.

While we find the vault idea intriguing, it's certainly out of our area 
of expertise - and while it would be fun to experiment, our availability 
will be rather limited and they've got a farm to run. We're leaning 
towards recommending something more conventional to cut down on unknowns 
that could turn into significant complications to the cost & schedule, 
but it's clear they'd definitely like to go for it if it were 
possible...so, our main questions on their behalf:

1. is this even feasible for two full time farmers to pull off? Our 
schedule will only allow limited assistance. He has carpentry & a wee 
bit of straw bale experience and hopes to dedicate himself about 
half-time to building; they're both pretty sharp; there is the 
possibility of some work parties and farmhand help, but otherwise a 
limited budget for hired help. They're hoping for enclosure by winter & 
occupancy by next year.
2. with mostly owner-builder work, is there any benefit to this 
cost-wise? time-wise?
3. general tips, suggestions, etc for building vaults? and particularly 
for a cold & wet climate?
4. any comments on the their design ideas?

They've already run across some projects by some of you (Bob Theis, 
Mikal Jakubal), but other resources would be appreciated. Oh, and they 
found a really cool free standing dome in Slovenia:
  http://minke-strawbaledome.blogspot.com/ , www.createrra.sk
My kids are very keen to ski off that roof!!

Thanks for any input!


ej George & Aaron Dennis
Tugley Wood Timberframing
6301 Searsburg Road
Trumansburg, NY 14886

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