[GSBN] Low-cost Strawbale

Sarah Johnston sol_design at yahoo.com
Tue Feb 23 11:32:09 CST 2016

Hello all,

Prefabrication is very much on my mind as I prepare to share this approach in just over a week at the ISBC.  I would love to hear from any and all of you, if you have any details regarding your preferred prefab system, so that I can share as much as possible with the 200 people attending.  

I will be demonstrating the 'tilt bale' technique which is a site prefab system using clay based plasters both inside and out.

It is not too late to show up!  Flights are crazily affordable right now and we would love to have more of you here!!  Especially you John Glassford!!  

I very much respect the choice not to burn up the fossil fuels, but please send info so that your knowledge is not missing even if you are!

We look forward to seeing/meeting those of you who are joining us in Methven!


Sarah & Sven Johnston 
Sol Design, Ltd. 
50A Connolly Street  
Geraldine 7930  New Zealand 
03 693 7369  
sol_design at yahoo.com 

On Wed, 24/2/16, Bruce EBNet <bruce at ecobuildnetwork.org> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [GSBN] Low-cost Strawbale
 To: "Global Straw GSBN" <gsbn at sustainablesources.com>
 Received: Wednesday, 24 February, 2016, 5:45 AM
 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>
 John, All:
 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.
 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.  
 'Feeling the Bern' Arkin
 On Feb 23, 2016, at 8:01 AM, John
 Swearingen <jswearingen at skillful-means.com>
 @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
 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
 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
 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"
 On Tue, Feb 23, 2016 at 4:52 AM Chris Magwood
 <chris at endeavourcentre.org>
     Hi John, and others trying to respond to this housing
     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
     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
             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
             trying to figure out
             how to put themselves in housing once again. 
 They're highly
             Many, probably most, face serious
             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
             benefit, but.... Jenna
             & I, representing Skillful Means, were the
 ones there
             identified with straw, so I think we got most of
             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
             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
             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
             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
             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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 510/528-9830 ext. 2#
 Arkin, AIA, ArchitectLEED Accredited ProfessionalCA #C22459/NV #5030
 Director, California Straw Building
 Associationwww.strawbuilding.orgCASBA is a project of the Tides
 "There is no way to peace. Peace
 is the way."— A. J.
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