DIY window installation and door hanging for a straw bale building is not difficult. Our buck design can help strengthen your building and keep windows and doors opening easily as the bales settle.
Hanging doors and windows in a load-bearing, Nebraska-style straw bale can be a challenge. There’s just no way that I know to keep a two-foot wide straw bale wall from settling and no two bales are going to settle the same amount.
To avoid jammed doors or cracked windows caused by shifting bucks, we built bucks with frames that extended from stem wall to bond beam.
Our bucks were built to do double duty. They were constructed to provide a secure and square opening for windows and doors as well as providing a strong mechanical connection between the stem wall and the bond beam, serving to tie our wall together. In this way, not only were our windows well secured, but our entire structure was strengthened.
We adapted this building strategy after looking at the work of a few straw bale builders here in Arizona and New Mexico and reading about the work of others.
The bucks are actually pretty straightforward. A box made of 3/4” inch plywood with 2 x 4 dimension lumber reinforcing across top and bottom with wall height 2 x 4s on both sides. Size your boxes by the actual size of the insert, whether door or window. Leave 1/4" per side wiggle room on the windows and more for the doors. I usually leave at least 1/2” per side.
Shimming a door for plumb is easier if you leave some room. You do NOT want the door opening too small and, unless you are very careful, door bucks tend to become a bit trapezoidal when packing bales on both sides. You may need to compensate for this, especially if it’s your first stab at straw bale building.
We determined the desired height of the window openings and mounted the sidepieces accordingly. For ease of construction, we positioned the box approximately 32” above the stem wall.
Our bales are 15” high and two courses of bales would nicely fit under the windows with a minimum of hand filling. Inevitably a straw bale builder will have hand filling (stuffing loose straw into openings).
The trick is to do as little of this as possible as plastering over a solid bale is much easier than over a hand packed spot.
We installed J-bolts adjacent to the door openings to secure the door bucks. For both doors and windows, we installed a 2 x 6 plate on the J-bolts and fastened the bucks to the plates with Simpson steel hurricane straps.
We had not done this in building the small straw bale Annex and found that we needed the “wiggle room” for slight warp in lumber, unnoticed shifting of the J-bolts when coring, and just plain measuring a bit off. Fastening to a larger surface, such as the 2” x 6” board, is much more forgiving.
After the plates were tightened to the J-bolts, we mounted the bucks. The most important considerations here are leveling the box, side to side and front to back, and plumbing the walls. Remember to maintain a plane with the all the bucks to ensure a straight wall.
Reinforce the square of your bucks with diagonal temporary braces and further secure the bucks with a connection to a stake in the ground, especially if you have some wind as we do here.
During construction of our stem walls, we identified and marked the location of our three and four foot windows on the stem wall. We inserted J-bolts in the core of the blocks when we filled them with concrete. These J-bolts provide a secure mechanical connection from stem wall to the roof via the bond beam.
For the 2’ x 2’ bathroom window, we didn’t feel we needed the full support of a buck with stem wall to bond beam bracing. So we used a floating buck for the small windows.
We placed the buck as close to center as possible on the bale below and shimmed it for plumb and square. We drilled holes and put rebar pegs through the bottom of the buck to hold it during plastering.
Our walls were intended to be about 9 feet high above the stem wall. So the sides of our bucks were built using 10’ 2 x 4s. When our walls were stacked and we were ready for bond beams, we simply cut off the excess with a saws-all.
The cuts were made at least 3” below the top of the bale wall to permit settling. Connections were made from the buck to the bond beam using steel strapping.
After we installed the bond beams and the roof, we sat back and watched our walls settle for about two weeks. As the settling took place, the steel strapping, which was in place to keep the roof from flying off, would buckle at each connection.
Taking out the screws on the bottom of the strap, tapping the strap straight and screwing in at a slight downward angle ever three or four days kept tension on the bond beams.
By the end of the second week, the bond beams were touching the buck tops and we did a final fastening, using both screws and strapping nails.
You’ll notice that I tend to use "about" and "approximately" a lot when talking about straw bale building. That is because no two bales are the same size, ever. To be successful in straw bale construction, we had to relax, be flexible, and learn a whole different definition of custom building.
start the process of mounting the bucks, building the walls, placing bond beams
and roof, be sure you have all your material on the ground.This saves time and labor.
With help from our neighbors, Dan and Anneke, we were able to raise our walls and weather in the house and the porch in about a week.
Pick a week with no rain in the forecast and enjoy the creation of your straw bale home. If you wish more information or a list of books we consulted, feel free to contact me.
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