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Straw/Clay Houses — 26 Comments

  1. I live in East Tennessee. I’ve seen what the weather here can do to a straw bale home. Would a earth bag built home work or would it still be to wet of climate here?

    • There are lots of earthbag buildings in the tropics and I’ve never heard of a bad problem. That’s one of the key advantages. Build a good roof with wide overhangs and cement or lime plaster.

    • This post is about light straw/clay. To make houses of clay and bamboo I recommend wattle and daub. This is one of the simplest, most primitive building methods in the world. Wattle and daub is still widely used around the world. But it’s not favored by modern natural builders because it tends to create rather crude, thin walls. It’s also prone to water and insect damage. You can learn a lot more by researching wattle and daub.

  2. My wife are renovating, slowly, an old clay house in central Poland. Nobody builds with this any more, and the older generation are dying or dead. It’s hard to find advice locally.
    Poland’s climate is similar to Ontario, or Wisconson for US folks. What’s the best outer coating for the clay. My wife’s now deceased dad used a home-recipe of cement, sand, and god-knows what else. It’s falling off the clay like old bark. In recent years past someone has attempted to cement oarts of the outside, it too falls off, in large hunks.
    Any advice for winterizing the exterior?

    • The most common plaster in the US for adobe houses is a layer of foam board insulation and then cement plaster. A layer of insulation will greatly improve thermal performance. Otherwise the earthen mass will suck the heat out in winter.

    • Termites, ants and water are all major factors. Sooner or later roofs always seem to leak. While straw/clay could certainly work, no one I’ve seen uses it here. Even adobe (which has minimal straw) gets attacked by insects. Earthbag has no organic material and is compacted enough that insects aren’t interested. It’s far easier for these critters to live elsewhere.

  3. Clay slipped straw is great–it fits borderline conventional building. You can put it between existing studs in a remodel (although I would want it thicker than 3 1/2 inches). It fits around roundwood timbers and into corners. It uses less straw than “normal” strawbale and can use roundbales, which can be MUCH cheaper. A roundbale is usually one tenth the cost of square bales per ton.

    It is important to cover all different kinds of building. Most sites talk about their favorite kind of building, which may actually be the best for where they live–but not for everyone. Thanks for taking it to the next level again.

    Build with what you can find local that lasts (what did the indigenous people use?) and substitute modern materials/methods when they make sense. Like earthbags instead of rocks and tin roofs instead of thatch.

      • Maybe a tenth is an exaggeration. I looked it up again locally and it is currently running about one-fifth the price in a big bale. That is off-season, dry-stored wheat straw, loaded yourself. It takes much less time (and fuel) to make and move round bales with modern machinery. Even the Amish community down the road hires “english” farmers to make big round bales for them.

        The price difference can be less if you pick up the square bales yourself from the field right after they are made. The price difference can be more if you have them delivered from dry storage during the off season. The price may come back down as spring rolls around and there are leftover bales from last season (which are actually better for building).

        Big bales are 600-1200 pounds (vs. 30-60 for smalls), so they are not the easiest for just anyone to deal with. But all you need is a small trailer and a farmer willing to help load (most will). Two people can roll or tip it off the trailer on-site and then break it open to use for slip or cob. But most farmers that make round bales have trailers that will haul 4-6 at a time and dump them off in a few seconds. If you need several bales, it is usually cheaper to have them delivered in one trip than you spend gas on several.

  4. Maybe natural builders need to improve their marketing. (I’m speaking generally, not about one company.) Walk up to 10 people and ask them to visual a house made with straw/clay. If they say “what’s that?” then explain it’s straw and mud mixed together. Ask them to describe the house they envision. Then show them the top photo (EcoNest home). How many people would imagine straw/clay could be so beautiful? Probably none. The same holds true with trying to explain earthbag houses and other similar alternative building materials. Most people just can’t imagine it. [Or maybe it’s not marketing. Maybe there are a lot of stupid people out there? ha ha] Seriously though, it seems like millions of people would want a home like that photo, yet only a tiny fraction choose this option.

    • It’s all about education and deprogramming. I was never impressed with new construction and was always drawn to older, well-built homes with a lot of character. However, when I came across your blog – many months ago – it really opened my eyes to the wonderful world of natural building. While I love earthbag building, I am finding that the mixtures of different natural building styles can really expand the idea of each individual “perfect” house. Thank you very much for your never-ending search of beautiful, warm homes created using natural materials. I’m excited about building our future “perfect” home!

      • Thanks, glad to hear you’re enjoying the new look. It’s much more fun covering a broader range of topics, and in the long run I think readers will end up with better homes. Often the ultimate home is a mix of different building techniques.

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