[GSBN] Low-cost Strawbale

John Swearingen jswearingen at skillful-means.com
Mon Feb 22 21:59:46 CST 2016

This weekend Jenna Yu and I, attended the Rebuild Expo, a building expo
geared toward people who had lost their homes in the Valley Fire--1200
homes burned in less than a day.  The area is not wealthy.

It was definitely a good place for us to be. Saturday morning began with a
long, long line of registered people who lost their homes and who were
given early access to the event.  Usually at these sorts of events there
are people toying with building their own house, or remodeling their
kitchen. This was different-- a mass of people desperately trying to figure
out how to put themselves in housing once again.  They're highly motivated.
Many, probably most, face serious obstacles--insurance settlements (if they
had insurance) and property values, but also things like county
requirements to bring infrastructure up to code (water, septic,
electrical)--many people had older buildings with grandfathered systems.
Our table was next to the County's, so we overheard a lot of discussions.
The County is doing its best, and will stretch regulations whenever they
can for people's benefit, but....

Jenna & I, representing Skillful Means, were the ones there identified with
straw, so I think we got most of the questions. There was a lot of
interest. Perhaps "longing" is a better word, because people want to choose
a natural home but are on limited means. We introduced strawbale to the
many people who had little familiarity with it, and were pleased at how
open they were to new ideas. And there was a LOT of interest from everyone
in the possibilities of low-cost construction and the panel system we're
developing (with help from "upside down" John). They really want to be able
to afford it, and not be condemned to buy a toxic manufactured box.

We're offering free house plans of  completed projects, and most people
felt they couldn't afford what we normally design. Folks have been hammered
with every conceivable building method--promising very low bottom
lines--but definitely were interested in something natural and healthy, and
were excited that it was being presented to them. We need to do more
outreach to these communities. They are working hard to sort out their
futures, and the future of their communities.

There's also a number of people who have heard of strawbale and dismissed
it, but they're often happy to tell us about it; "rodents!! they're
everywhere!".  I'm always happy to chat with them.

Strawbale has been fueled and financed in California by the well-off, and
that's allowed us to learn a lot about how to design with straw. The folks
this weekend don't have a lot of money to spend on housing, and having the
opportunity to work with people who fled from the woods with only the
shirts on their backs, was personally very satisfying.

The thousands of people of modest means who are now homeless can inspire us
to use our knowledge and experience to make good housing available to
average people. I’m inspired by their determination to make it work, and I
would urge the strawbale community to respond to their needs.

John (don't flame me!) Swearingen
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