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.
A straw bale building is wonderful for us. It provides us with a super-insulated house. The buildings went up quickly and were easy on the budget. Building a house out of natural material that is a by-product of food production gives us a good feeling in terms of environmental kindness. All good stuff!
However, no matter how tightly packed the bales, those golden grass stems don’t offer much in the way of purchase and strength for hanging a shelf for a row of heavy plates, glasses, and bowls. Even sheet rock expansion fasteners punched through the plaster aren’t strong enough to guarantee that you won’t wake up to the sound of crashing crockery some night.
Here are some tips on securing shelving, electrical outlet boxes, and interior walls. We used these techniques for both our straw utility building and our straw bale home. Our cabinets and shelves are rock solid, our electrical boxes don’t wiggle when you pull out a plug, and our interior walls are securely attached to our straw bale wall.
There are essentially two techniques that we used in building for these attachment needs. One is used for shelves, cabinets, and interior walls. Another is used for electrical boxes for switches, light fixtures, and outlets. Each of these is our adaptation of procedures used in a variety of natural building books.
When building a load-bearing Nebraska-style straw bale house, securing fixtures, interior wall framing, and cabinets to a wall presents a unique set of problems. In “stick and stucco”, masonry, or other conventional houses, there is generally either dimension lumber framing or the solid mass of a concrete block to which cabinetry can be attached. Even a straw bale house built with timber framing offers dimension lumber contact points for attachments.
However, in a load bearing Nebraska-style bale wall, there are no studs, beams, or pillars to which cabinets and interior walls can be attached.
We solved this problem by attaching 2” x 4” plates to our bale wall. This involved securing a length of dimension lumber either vertically or horizontally in a slot recessed in the straw bale wall.
The dimension lumber, in our case a length of 2” x 4” fir, is secured by an attachment that goes through the bale. These recessed, dimension-lumber plates serve as anchors for interior walls, cabinets, and shelves.
Our cabinets, shelving, and interior walls have remained secure through the past four years and we expect that to continue for a very long time.
Yet another challenge in working with a straw bale wall is the fastening of electric boxes, light fixtures, and switches.
Our solution to the problem of attaching a number of boxes in our straw bale wall was cutting wedges. First, we carefully identified the locations of wall mounted lights, electric outlets, and switches on our plans.
Once we had the number of boxes identified, we simply cut wedges with a home-made jig on our table saw. We cut a hole in the bale wall to the appropriate depth to hold an outlet box and drove in a wedge. Our boxes were then attached to the face of the wedge, providing us with a secure installation.
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