Our Straw Bale House
DIY Home Building for Couples


Our straw bale house guide offers tips on the building processes that resulted in our beautiful and debt-free DIY straw bale home. No contractors, no paid labor, no mortgage and under $30,000.

This is not a manual written by or for contractors. It is the story of us: Dave and Barbara, a couple of retired teachers using average tools, who built our own straw bale home from the ground up for under $30,000. It is an important story for anyone who wants to live in a mortgage-free home and doesn’t have a lot of money.



Why Build Your Own Home?

  • Design your own living space. When you create the design and do the building, you have control over your home. You don’t have to adjust to cookie cutter plans in a subdivision or living in someone else’s vision.

  • No rent or mortgage payments. By simplifying our lives, we were able to pay as we built. You’d be surprised at how comfortable this process can be and the payoff is fantastic. A step-by-step plan can make this task do-able.

  • Building Green can be a reality. You get to decide what materials go into your home. Options and opportunities are enormous. Choose from among conventional stick homes, a straw bale house, cob, sandbag, and so many others. Your limits will be determined by your choice (with some input from the planning and zoning people).

  • Personal Achievement is a worthwhile goal. Sitting in your living room and looking around at the living space you created is wonderful. You can take my word for that. I love every detail of our home, little goof-ups and all.

Who should consider DIY building?

Anyone willing to do the work can build their own home. Remember, the range of personal involvement will be determined by you and your abilities. You may want to build, as we did, with NO paid labor, contractors, or architects.

On the other hand, your local planning and zoning people may make this impossible. Remember, you can hire labor and subcontractors to do the building tasks that you choose to delegate or which are required, such as a licensed electrician. We have friends that chose a general contractor and negotiated exactly which tasks would be done by contracted labor and which tasks by the owner (YOU). There is no set guideline other than your preference.

Age should not be an obstacle. I was 62 years old when we began our building process. Since then, we have built our adobe cottage, our straw bale utility building, and our main house. We have also assisted and mentored a neighbor in building a straw bale house. Recognize your physical capabilities and work with them. You can be anywhere from 18 to 70+ and still build a great home for yourself.

Average people with average tools can build their own homes. You do not need to be a trained artisan or builder to do DIY home building. We itemize the tools we used and their uses. We were teachers of math and English, not shop. We read books and articles and were willing to make some mistakes. DIY building is as much about attitude as it is about skill.

Looking Back a Bit

Building a DIY straw bale house when you’re over 60 (or any age, perhaps) is either a great adventure and an exploration of inner resources or the delusional undertaking of darn fools. The jury is still out about which one applied to us when we began to build, but we now have a joyful, debt-free life in our beautiful straw bale home. Our sore muscles are a memory and the beauty of our home is a constant source of satisfaction.


Resources

In the following pages, we offer guidelines for building a DIY straw bale house. While some of the information is specific to straw bale building, most of the pages address DIY building in general. Foundations, plumbing, electric, and roofs are pretty much the same whether your DIY house is stick, cob, straw bale, or whatever your creativity chooses.

We also include a list of the books we read that were of enormous benefit in our own process.

  • DIY Building Plans: Getting Ready DIY building plans will lead to success if you make your plans realistic. Our planning page includes information on site selection, zoning, material costs, DIY physical capabilities and more. This is an overview of the planning process.
  • Selecting a site. Considerations include water, electricity, waste disposal (septic or sewer), zoning, building codes, and your personal criteria for your home. These pages introduce a number of options from totally off-grid to the impact of city building codes.
  • DIY Building: Skills and Attitude - Many DIY building guides, including ours, can tell you how to build your own home. Here we also discuss the personal skills and attitudes we found necessary for successful DIY building.
  • Materials List – How much will your building cost? If your plans and drawings are complete and accurate, a contractor’s desk bidding expert at a good building supply house will help you estimate costs. Remember that it’s OK to get more than one bid. You are in charge!
  • Finance – We describe some of the options for paying for your project that will leave you without a mortgage.
  • Planning and Zoning – While we cannot possibly detail all the zoning requirements out there in the world, we share our story and some suggestions on how to meet planning and zoning requirements while building your DIY home.
  • Site prep – Our goal was to build with the smallest impact on our land. We wanted to heal, not damage. We share our process and techniques for building with the smallest footprint we could manage.
  • Homesteading Tools – These are the tools we used to build three buildings from the ground up. You may use fewer or more.
  • Building footings and a stem wall - Providing sufficient load bearing strength at the lowest cost in labor and materials was our goal as DIY homebuilders. We used three different methods.
  • Straw Bale Walls - Our venture into homesteading today included a modern version of old-fashioned barn raising. With the help of a couple great neighbors, we got the walls of our straw bale house up and ready to roof in four days.
  • Roof Truss - Roof truss choice – from DIY to manufactured – was a huge step in our building process. Despite our commitment to DIY, our verdict is unanimous, manufactured trusses are the way to go! Here’s why.
  • Porch Roof Framing - Porch roof framing for our DIY house building project was done in one day. From anchoring porch posts to calculating cutting angles for hip rafters, planning and staging material paid off.
  • DIY Roof: Steel Panels over OSB  Our DIY roof of enameled steel panels puts a “big hat” on our straw bale home. With a sturdy sub-roof of OSB and felt paper, we use 29 ga. steel panels and enjoy a durable, sturdy roof.
  • Doors and windowsDIY 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.
  • Attaching Shelves, Outlets, Interior Walls, and Cabinets – A straw bale wall demands special techniques for attaching shelves, outlets, cabinets, and interior walls. Using tapered wedges and recessed studs secured with all-thread worked well for us.
  • Prep for plastering – Preparing your walls for earth plaster is as important as the actual plaster.Share some of our tips and techniques.
  • Plastering interior – Plastering the interior of a straw bale home is ultimately a matter of preference. We share our preference with pictures and then refer you to other sources so you can decide which suits your unique needs.
  • Plastering exterior – Our exterior plaster mix and techniques were quite different from the interior. We share the process of plastering and sealing the walls with linseed oil.
  • Adobe floor – This section is really only applicable for those homesteaders who want an earth floor. We love ours, though it was a lot of work. There is natural and individual beauty in an earth floor that is really not available with any other material.
  • DIY Kitchen Cabinets – We saved over $6,000 USD by building our own cabinets and making our own tile counter tops. With simple tools, patience, and a simple design, cabinets and tile work are not difficult. We describe processes that we used as well as suggesting further reading.
  • DIY Tile Counter Tops - With some basic tile tools and a bit of practice, beautiful and durable counter tops can be made by DIY builders.
  • Laying Flagstone – Our wrap-around porch has both pavers and flagstone and we have a flagstone floor in our utility room. This is how we did it.
  • Resources for further reading – These are the books and magazines that were so very important in the process of building our straw bale house.

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Henry The Cob Studio 
It all began in Jaruary 2012 when my fiance Tom purchased "The Hand Sculpted House" for me on Amazon. I was at the time looking for small house plans, …

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