This is the story of a dry, dusty town in the middle of a drought, and how said drought broke the year we built our load-bearing straw bale house. (Its ok- enough time has passed that we can laugh about it now).
For those of you unfamiliar with the terms, load-bearing is:
“A straw bale building system where the straw bale walls support the weight of the roof and/or upper floor joists of two-story construction.”
-Building Your Straw Bale Home, Brian Hodge
Structural infill is a building system where a frame, fixed to the straw bale walls, supports the roof (or second floor). The compacted straw bales are part of the structure- creating strength and stability.
Now, we decided to go with load bearing for the first stage of our home, thinking it was cheaper because you don’t have to purchase as much timber.
We chose poorly.
The drought broke. Our roof wasn’t up. For the next 2-3 months heavy plastic covered our house, to protect the straw bale walls. So naturally, progress was non-existent. Everything was cold and wet.
Don’t let the smiley face fool you. It does not accurately represent the emotions we were experiencing!
While a tonne of black plastic probably saved us from having to totally redo the walls, the straw bales still got quite wet and we couldn’t put the roof up until we finished the second render coat. And we couldn’t finish second coat because the rain kept washing it off!
The flooring obviously got wet too and while it wasn’t so bad as to need replacing, it still squeaks. Years later, I can still tell exactly where people are in my house by the specific floor squeak.
Silver lining- inbuilt burglar alarm?
We did eventually catch a break and managed to get the house finished mere weeks before the permit ran out. While anxiety-inducing, this whole ordeal also meant we made much better decisions when it came time to build our extension.
We built structural infill and it was glorious! Once the roof was up the work went smoothly! We laid the bales and if it rained, we rendered the inside of the walls and waited for a few clear days to do the outside.
The power tools stayed nice and dry, and we could continue with work inside the house.
The cost also evened out, because while we had to buy more timber for the structure, we didn’t waste a literal heap of render like we did the first time round.
In summation, structural infill is the best way to build straw bale houses!