Best Cold Climate Building System?

This basic post and beam system will meet code.
This basic post and beam system will meet code.

Question: I dream of building a small eco friendly country ‘cabin’. My location will be in Alberta or BC, Canada. Do you prefer earthbag technique now over straw bale? Site will be a cold climate compared to many of your examples. I do have concerns on moisture and rot for essentially an organic material. — Scott

Owen: Thick insulation is needed in cold climates. While you could use scoria, perlite, etc. straw is the most cost effective, affordable insulation in your area. So I would build a post and beam frame with local wood and add straw bales for insulation. Finish the roof, then stack the bales so they never get wet. (Wet bales will screw everything up. Buy good quality bales stored in a barn and have them delivered after the house framing is finished.)

Use wide roof overhangs and/or wrap-around porches for greatest protection against moisture damage. I highly recommend a 2×6 window wall on the south for solar gain with bales on the other three walls.

There are different kinds of post and beam systems. Find an area with few or no codes and you can build super low cost like the Dunne family. (They’ve built a large garage/workshop using the same system as their house since our last update.)

Code enforced areas obviously have more requirements and will be more expensive. Still, you can build affordably if you do the work yourself. Here’s a basic post and beam system that will meet code.

4 thoughts on “Best Cold Climate Building System?”

  1. Good post Owen. I particularly liked your opinion on using straw versus the other materials. That’s an important point made. I, living where there is scoria probably will find it’s a better option than the straw. Although, there’s probably many volcanoes in Canada as well but, perhaps not in that area thus it wouldn’t be cost effective.


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