[GSBN] Low-cost Strawbale

douglas nichols douglasnichols at hotmail.com
Tue Feb 23 11:18:14 CST 2016

Hi All
Low cost straw bale has been my passion for 20+ years.  I have successfully done contractor built straw homes for around a 100$ a square foot in Colorado.  The key is simple and efficient design and processes, simple / inexpensive finishes, and experienced lead builder and team.  I would be happy to outline what I believe the major cost savings are in some of my builds.
Also, Community Rebuilds has achieved straw 1200 sq./ft. (exterior dim.) home builds for around $55,000 in materials and volunteer labor.  Our director Emily Niehaus or I would love to tell you how. Check out our link at the bottom.
Here is my speedy "no chain saw required" straw system https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsE1gOpj3oA.  The posts can be used for the foundation forms.  I can stack a 1200 sq/ft home easily in a day with an experienced crew of 4.
Doug Nichols
Creating Energy Efficient Homes Since 1995
Nichols Contracting LLC211 Park DriveMoab, Utah 84532Cell #970.683.1517Lic. #9508518-5501
Principal / Qualifying Builder Community Rebuilds Moab -- http://www.communityrebuilds.org/

From: bruce at ecobuildnetwork.org
Date: Tue, 23 Feb 2016 08:45:18 -0800
To: gsbn at sustainablesources.com
Subject: Re: [GSBN] Low-cost Strawbale

Here, here to all of that.  And I nominate John Glassford — who for some lame reason cannot come to New Zealand next week — to come to California in April for the CASBA 20th anniversary, and show us Yanks how to do prefab.
Drinks are on us, mate.  It’s only a short flight . . . 

Bruce King(415) 987-7271bruce at ecobuildnetwork.org

On Feb 23, 2016, at 8:30 AM, David Arkin, AIA <david at arkintilt.com> wrote:John, All:
The goal of low-cost strawbale is an important one, and while custom residential has fueled its popularity, a good number of us on this list have participated in targeting affordable systems and simple designs that can help fill the housing need.  And as you note, your firm, Bob Theis and other CASBA members are generously making home plans available to fire victims, at least some of whom have the means and are choosing to rebuild with straw bale. 
Especially in light of the need for highly efficient, low initial embodied carbon building systems—plus here in CA where we have a zero net energy mandate in the year 2020—straw bale in any affordable form offers one of the best solutions out there.
However, this low-cost conversation must acknowledge another reality unrelated to building technology:  growing income inequality.  Currently on this planet the 62 richest persons hold the same amount of money as the lower 3.5 Billion persons.  Not all, but many people worldwide used to be able to afford a home, or be able to build one on a piece of land at little or no cost.  As we face the need to build better (safer, tighter, insulated and efficient) homes, the costs are going up at the same time that people's ability to pay for them is going down.  
We need both-and change.  Lower-cost homes and increased income equality leading to renewed buying power.  Political leadership that acknowledges and addresses it proactively along with a universal move toward the common good is the only path I see to the latter.  
Thanks for bringing this topic to the GSBN, and it'd be great if you would organize and lead a panel on Low-Cost Strawbale at the CASBA Conference in April.  In addition to Chris Magwood I know that Bill Steen, Bruce Hammond, Anthony Dente and others have interest in achieving more affordable wall systems.  
David 'Feeling the Bern' Arkin

On Feb 23, 2016, at 8:01 AM, John Swearingen <jswearingen at skillful-means.com> wrote:@Chris, we've looked and thought a lot about horizontal plastering, and originally designed a system like yours for volunteers on a chapel (yet to happen).  For us in California, where the earth does not stay still, that approach has some disadvantages.
First, there are a lot of seams between panels to deal with, and we have been able to use a wrap of good mesh around our buildings to distribute seismic loads. Baskets don't break, and continuous mesh solves a lot of problems with connections, as well as possible water intrusion.
Second, there are commercial considerations.  With an option to build off-site, the panels can be built while the foundation is being laid, saving construction time and allowing careful fabrication, in a shop, of all the elements--walls, windows, doors, everything. When panels are kept small, they can be handled without machinery. If the panels are plastered in the shop, they can't be moved much without a crane, so a relatively expensive element is introduced twice--at the shop, and again at the site. Keeping small also allows moving panels with small trucks with access to difficult sites. This is what Upside Down John Glasford does, probably because he's lazy and a cheapskate, both admirable qualities in a builder.
The self-build community is relatively small.  There are also old folks, lazy rich folks, busy folks, and impatient folks who want housing; most people, just want their house as quickly and painlessly as they can get it. Weighing commercial production, using plaster sub-contractors, against the cost savings for self-build or unskilled labor we tilt toward the commercial. Plastering is relatively cheap in California, and quick and efficient to schedule. In addition, continuous plaster, without apparent seams (interior or out), preserves the adobe/bale/old-world aesthetic that often leads people to strawbale. 
So that's the balance that seems appropriate for our conditions. It would be great if you and Upside-Down John could both come to California to hash this out at the conference!
John "Anti-crane Brain" Swearingen

On Tue, Feb 23, 2016 at 4:52 AM Chris Magwood <chris at endeavourcentre.org> wrote:

    Hi John, and others trying to respond to this housing need,


    I would be glad to show any builders trying to work on behalf of
    this rebuilding effort how we have been using tip-up panels built on
    site to dramatically reduce construction time and cost.


    I know I've been harping on about prefab for a long time now, and
    I've been honestly surprised at the lack of uptake/interest in
    general. But we really do have our costs down to $6-8 per square
    foot of wall at a good labor rate. And unlike bale raisings where
    people can help but often end up hindering, this is a process that
    can be taught and learned very quickly and where the quality of wall
    built by a beginner can be the same as that of a pro. The beauty of
    this system is that the walls are plastered lying flat, so that the
    amount of labor time is dramatically reduced and the panels are
    finish-ready as soon as they have been stood up.


    I don't know what the timing is like for these projects, but I am
    willing to be at the CASBA meeting in April, and if there is
    interest I'd gladly demonstrate this tip-up system so that it can be
    shared with those in need.






    On 16-02-22 10:59 PM, John Swearingen

            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
            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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Chris Magwood
Director, Endeavour Centre


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*  *  *  *  *Arkin Tilt ArchitectsEcological Planning & Design1101 8th St. #180, Berkeley, CA  94710
510/528-9830 ext. 2#
David Arkin, AIA, ArchitectLEED Accredited ProfessionalCA #C22459/NV #5030
Director, California Straw Building Associationwww.strawbuilding.orgCASBA is a project of the Tides Center
"There is no way to peace. Peace is the way."— A. J. Muste 

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