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.
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
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
- 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).
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
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.
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
also include a list of the books we read that were of enormous benefit in our
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 -
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
- 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
- Homesteading Tools – These are the tools we used to
build three buildings from the ground up. You may use fewer or more.
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 windows – 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.
- 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
- 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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