Strawbale Construction

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Blog entry by dennis mitchell posted 01-23-2007 02:23 AM 1982 reads 1 time favorited 21 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Thought I’d show off my main project. The forms for the foundation are 2×12’s that I built the roof out of. The logs I cut up in the mountains and split with a chainsaw. The cross timbers are from a local mill.

I used a hybred truss rafter system so I could built them in place and not have to rent a crain. The exposed ends are rounded and routed. What I didn’t know was 2X12 come from 11 1/4 to 11 3/4 wide!! Dimentional lumber my a#$%#@$%!! This is some thing I fought top and bottom.

The framing, foundation, straw infill, earthen plaster all went great. I found the plumbing and electrical to be challenging. What really humbled me was the tongue and groove pine. I got a really great price for some really cheap 9/16 thick warped pine. Half the time I’d split the pine because the machining was so bad. Then every thing needed shimed to account for the difference in the 2×12’s.

If I had it to do over again I’d pour a slab for the floor. I was going to do an adobe floor, but didn’t have much luck with my test floor so I made “stones”. Unfortunatly I used a cheap plastic form that was warped. (but I got a good deal on it!) The acid etch came out really nice and I wish I had just done that on a slab.

It is alot of work to build a house without hiring people. I’m about 80% done and ready to be finished but it is sure feeling like home.

21 comments so far

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4233 days

#1 posted 01-23-2007 02:52 AM

What’s the problem? Just use a little sandpaper and sand them all down to 11” then they will all be uniform and pretty. Was this built to code? What exactly is it? A barn, a shop or a house? I like it … o.k. it’s lookin to fancy for a shop, and waaaay to fancy for a barn.

O.k. This is what I was told about 20 years ago. A “Carpenter” is someone who can improvise. I looks like you improvised pretty good there. Rough lumber, very big sticks, nice … looks like … looks like v-rustic (ship lap)...pine siding?


Not bad for a day’s work

View Shawn's profile


225 posts in 4149 days

#2 posted 01-23-2007 03:25 AM

this is super cool, Dennis, I agree with Obi, can you get a permanant occupancy permit for a hay bale house?

-- Cheers

View frank's profile


1492 posts in 4202 days

#3 posted 01-23-2007 03:43 AM

Hi Dennis;
—-just passing through on my way to sleep for the night, but I have to say that you have really done some amount of work here.

Will look some more tomorrow, but I was wondering, in your neck of the woods, is the straw infill used by many and is this a workable solution for insulation? When you say you split the timbers with a chainsaw, are you talking about a chainsaw mill, although from the marks on the timbers I am thinking that you may have free handed the cutting? Also, what size chainsaw were you using? When I see timber construction I am all eyes and do like to ask questions so I hope you don’t mind.

That stone floor inside is also very good and so when you say you made bricks, I am assuming you mean the stones?

Great work and I’m sure its already feeling like home and will yet feel even much better! Thanks for sharing this part or can I say, big part of your life!!! Also I imagine your wife is also feeling a little anxious by now.

-- --frank, NH,

View pat sherman's profile

pat sherman

621 posts in 4368 days

#4 posted 01-23-2007 04:30 AM

wow dennis , i am impressed. just saw a show on tv the other nite about straw bale construction. but what i really like is that floor. really nice.

thanks for showing us.

-- pat,ohio...

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4310 days

#5 posted 01-23-2007 06:55 AM

Check with your local inspector, some parts of the country have specific strawbale codes. Locally we just used one from California. What was real hard was getting them to let us put a second house on the family farm, we only have 38 acres…NOT TO CODE!
Frank I get about R-45 in the walls with R-32 in the ceiling. To slit the logs I had a Chainsaw mill that runs on a 2X4 and a 22 inch old skil (made with real metal). The horizonal beams were cut by a local saw mill.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4156 days

#6 posted 01-23-2007 12:31 PM

This is beautiful. I was in love with the frame – and I hadn’t even seen the other pictures yet!
There’s a strawbale house somewhere within an hour’s drive of here but I’ve never seen it. They did do a show on it when it was first built, though, and that was really interesting. I think they had “wired” the bales together and then carved out holes for windows etc.
It sounds like it is really energy efficient and because it is all natural products it is good for the environment as well. What surprised me was that in the end they said that it cost as much as building a wood home.

Rick and I are are astounded at your comment about not hiring anyone. Amazing.
I love the angle of the roof, the sleekness of the walls and that floor—gorgeous.
I’d be camping in it already. Yup, I’d have moved in :)
Hey, need a hand? I am good at sweeping floors!!

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4295 days

#7 posted 01-23-2007 02:23 PM

I’m impressed Dennis,
For a a guy that keeps putting himself down, your way up on ”The Top Of The Heap,” in my book. You have one lucky wife also. It must be warm , cozy in there.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4233 days

#8 posted 01-24-2007 12:47 AM

Thats what I get for runnin my mouth before all the pictures are up… That’s a B-E-A-UTIFUL Home. So code says you can’t have more than 1 house on 38 acres? Don’t ever live here in California they would have stuck 152 houses on it and called it a sub-division. That house would sell for about 1 million dollars here, and a 1/2 acre lot. So how long did the whole process take?

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4310 days

#9 posted 01-24-2007 05:01 PM

Thanks Michael! I’m at 2 1/2 years about 80% done. One year just fighting city hall.

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4233 days

#10 posted 01-24-2007 05:11 PM

Sounds typical…

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4172 days

#11 posted 01-25-2007 09:15 PM

Wow, Dennis, this is a great accomplishment. We have straw-bale homes in the country here. Even more common is the construction of mud-brick houses. In many respects, the construction is similar. One of the motivations for both styles is that these homes are environmentally friendly. As I understand it, they provide super insulation against cold and heat.

I love the floor. Can you give us more detail on this?

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4310 days

#12 posted 01-28-2007 06:38 PM

Don, my main motivation was esthetic. It fits in with my furniture. The floor was a humbling chore. Each stone was handmade out of cement. The first room I did I just layed the form on the ground as per instructions. Well It left a pattern in the floor that just was wrong…so I riped it out. The stones were all different with the gravel and stuff on the bottom so i had to make all new ones. This time I got some 4X8 sheets and saw horses and made them outside on a table. Hoping to make flat stones…well the form was warped, but I’d already made a large batch and didn’t think it was that bad. When I redid the one room I used a concrete mix with a dark stain for the mortar. It didn’t look good so I ripped it out again. I finished the floor using a sand/cement mixture. After it was stained and clear coated, the mortar began to chip small little bits around each stone. It is slowing down now so I’m coming to be ok with the floor, but *^^%&%$. The learning curve is life long. By the way I do have a radiant heat system under the floor not yet hooked up.

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4295 days

#13 posted 01-28-2007 06:54 PM

I feel sorry for all the trouble you had with the floor, but it looks great now. Is your heat electric, or hydronic ?

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4310 days

#14 posted 01-28-2007 07:00 PM

Its hydronic will run of the water heater.

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4242 days

#15 posted 01-28-2007 07:13 PM

Congrats Dennis I wish these old bones would allow me to attempt something like thatl You must have great patience to redo the floor as many times as you did. It’s gonna be sweet when your’re done, keep up the hard work and don’t get discouraged. You’re in my prayers. mike

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

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