Straw Bale and Adobe Home: Part 4 of Fantasy Homes Series

My Fantasy Home Number Four

Alternative homes, energy efficient homes, low-cost homes, unique and individual houses all fit the description of straw-bale/adobe construction.  I'm still dreaming about my Fantasy Home Series and writing about ways to build on a budget.  This kind of house is built with steel rebar reinforced hay bales and covered with an adobe (water, earth, lime) surface that is smoothed on over the hay.  When you are finished the walls look like stucco.  But the fantasy part comes in when you design your home with circle windows, indentations, niches, arches and curved walls! There are some beautiful examples out there and if you do a search for "straw bale houses" you will find them.  Below are some to whet your appetite.

Ndebele house in South Africa   made similar to straw-bale and adobe construction
Ndebele house in South Africa made similar to straw-bale and adobe construction
A little charmer! could be adapted to look like my favorite hobbit home
A little charmer! could be adapted to look like my favorite hobbit home
A larger, more complicated house with enclosed porches and entry way
A larger, more complicated house with enclosed porches and entry way
Detail of construction
Detail of construction
A book on straw bale homes
A book on straw bale homes
A larger straw-bale construction
A larger straw-bale construction
Detail of construction
Detail of construction

Another inexpensive alternative way to live!

If you are going to build a house anytime soon, or if you are just dreaming like me, you will want to look at all the alternative energy and green building materials there are these days. You will want to consider the climate where you live and all the specific location requirements like sun and shade, trees, other buildings nearby, slope of the land, etc. and then you will want to build a straw bale and adobe house! Because one can be designed to fit in wherever you are living and to fit your reduced budget. If you have many friends and a lot of energy, this would be the perfect choice for you.

Straw bale and adobe construction is especially wonderful for desert locations where you need to insulate against the hot sun. But it is also a good choice for semi-rainy areas where the extra thick walls combined with a radiant floor for heat will keep you nice and cozy during those long winter days. I don’t know about snow country, probably you would need a high peeked roof with a big old attic to keep the cold out and the snow from drifting on top.

From a design perspective, with this kind of house you can be very creative and make your home as unique as you are. The thing I like best about straw bale and adobe construction is that you can curve walls, leave off the sharp corners and add built-in niches and arches.

The stucco and adobe compounds used to cover the walls are basically earth combined with lime and textured to make the surfaces, inside and out, as creatively distinct as you may want. Since I am a painter, and could do them myself, faux marble and rock or murals of landscapes painted on interior walls would be my choices. In South Africa the Ndebele people paint elaborate ornamental borders on their exterior walls which are constructed much like these straw bale houses. These brilliant designs look so much like some Pueblo and Navajo southwest designs, it is uncanny!

So if I could, I would make the most elaborate and beautiful walls with paintings and faux finishes and textures and niches to hold icons and candles and maybe a little fireplace in every room. With a big fireplace in the middle separating the kitchen/dining area from the living room and keeping everyone nice and warm.

Passive solar energy involves using the natural heat of the sun to keep your house warm through windows and surfaces that absorb the heat. You can balance that warmth with less windows on the east and west to keep the house from getting too hot in summer. This means larger windows and doors on the south facing wall and windows on the north placed up higher on the wall. Artists will want that great north light - but its fine to have that light come in from above. Skylights are also a wonderful choice and can be tinted to filter the hot sun.

In my article on Earth Homes I included info about “hobbit-style” homes that are partially built into a hill or were “bermed“ with sod to provide a natural kind of insulation. I was wondering whether the front, unsodded, part of the house which would ideally face south could be made with straw bale construction, and I find that it has already been done, very successfully.

Some good reasons to build with straw bales:

  • Rain isn’t a problem, if it doesn’t rain at the wrong time - while you are constructing. So you should build during the dry season, allowing time for the walls to dry after being coated with adobe.
  • Soundproofing is a big plus - straw bale buildings are incredible insulators from sound and also a thick wall along the road, if your house is close to a high traffic area, will create a useful buffer.
  • Longlasting - Houses exist in Australia that were made using straw bales over a 100 years ago and they have held up very well, many still occupied. The walls can easily be kept in repair for very low cost.
  • Efficient - Although I found some large structures including community centers in my research, I found that smaller houses are more often built because of the engineering for load-bearing walls and efforts to keep the house easy to heat. By building small you will be lessening your energy footprint on the earth.
  • The cost of building a straw bale house is one of the lowest - people have built some wonderful ones for $80,000 (three bedrooms, two baths) and less. So that is one of the best things about them. Also, it is not too difficult to add on when necessary.

When you’re choosing a low-cost house alternative please remember: “one third of the world’s population live in modern, resource-intensive homes that consume one fourth of the world’s wood harvest, two fifths of its material and energy usage, and one sixth of all fresh water usage.” (quoted from David Eisenberg in “Sustainability and the Building Codes” article)

I found a wonderful site called houseofstraw.com that will interest you - with an account of all the ins and outs of building a straw bale house in the desert near Tucson. Carolyn Roberts, who wrote a book about her experience, took two years to build her very charming house with some help from friends and carpenters. She gives you so much information on her website it is fantastic - and she is very personable and readable. I loved her account of a lightning strike on a huge cactus next to her house.  Her book is also entitled House of Straw and the excerpts on her website will convince you to read it.  Take a look at her website where there are many very beautiful and informative photographs which I have not included here, purposely, so you will go see for yourself the awesome effort she has made and her generous sharing of her own experience.

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Comments 14 comments

LetitiaFT profile image

LetitiaFT 4 years ago from Paris via California

Wouldn't building one be a blast?! Thanks for the inspriation.


uniquearticlesbuz profile image

uniquearticlesbuz 4 years ago from USA

Looks cool its very interesting hub keep writing.......


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

What great hubs you have in this series. I am bookmarking them so I can read them again.

I push all the buttons on this one.

Thank you so much for sharing and take care.

Eiddwen.


mega1 profile image

mega1 6 years ago Author

Hi Andrew - Thank you very much for the corrections - I have found that my knowledge about building any kind of house is very sketchy and so these hubs on my "Fantasy Homes" are just intros to the subject and not intended to fully inform the curious, but merely to point people in the right direction for the true info. I have stopped writing about them because I don't want to misinform people. But thanks so much for setting me straight.

Hi yurt holidays - Thanks for the compliment! I found that there are several good hubs about yurts on HubPages already - so I am not writing one on yurts just now. If you search for yurts in Hubs you'll see what I mean!


yurt holidays 6 years ago

Fantastic hub and looking forward to your hub on yurts.


Andrew Morrison 6 years ago

Hi Mega1. Quick note, you mention that these houses are built with steel rebar reinforced hay bales. That is entirely incorrect. I never teach the use of rebar as it's an outdated and inferior practice for bale stability. Secondly, and more importantly, you CANNOT use hay to build. You must use STRAW. They are very different materials as hay is a food while straw is not.

One other correction would be house size. Straw bale houses can be built in any design and size. There are limitations with load bearing construction as you point out; however, a post and beam in fill house can be designed with all the size, bells and whistles of a conventional house and still be 75% more efficient than the conventional counterpart due to the high R-Value of the wall system. Of course, roof and floor insulation need to be solid as well.

You can see pictures of beautiful homes and learn lots about how to build with bales at www.StrawBale.com. Hopefully that site will help answer any questions about the technology you have and will further inspire you to build one of these amazing homes.


mega1 profile image

mega1 6 years ago Author

Dolores - thanks very much and for linking this hub to yours, I don't mind at all and I'm happy you stopped by. Sorry it took so long for me to get back to you.

mythbuster - thanks for the comment

here is a great source for alternative houses of all kinds with some nifty straw bale houses included - Lloyd Kahn has been an expert on "shelter" since the 1970s when he started his publishing company Shelter Publications check it out:

http://shelterpub.com/_builders/BPC-book.html


mythbuster profile image

mythbuster 6 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

Very cool hub, mega1. Interesting building alternatives.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

I love to see 'new' ideas on home building. And these straw bale houses are very interesting as well as beautiful. It looks like you can be very creative with a straw bale house so you don't have to live in a cookie cutter home.

Somebody on here (I forgot who) has a wonderful hub about Tiny Houses which are...tiny and totally cool. I wrote one about Earthships where they fill old tires for the walls. I think I'll link this one to mine just for variety sake. If you don't mind.


mega1 profile image

mega1 6 years ago Author

Hmr - I've been missing you in the forums! Glad you stopped in - you must be having a very busy schedule - thanks for the compliment!

Bk - I am not sure how long ago that photo was taken - I'm not sure if the people in South Africa still make houses like this, it seems so many wonderful things have been lost in native life all over the planet. I'm all for starting to make some new traditions for us here in this part of the world like decorating our houses like this. If the homeowner's assoc. will let us have anything but beige houses! Thanks for reading and liking it!

Sue- that's a good idea - I will research yurts next, I know you can buy ready made ones! Thanks for the idea and comment!

afunguy - I didn't know that before either - researching these hubs has made me think about many resource issues and how important it is for us to at least try to understand what we can do to conserve and protect our resources! Thanks for reading and commenting!


afunguy24 profile image

afunguy24 6 years ago from Swansea, IL

Mega1,

world’s population live in modern, resource-intensive homes that consume one fourth of the world’s wood harvest

Didn't know that, never knew.


Sue Adams profile image

Sue Adams 6 years ago from Andalusia

I saw a straw home near where I live in Andalucia. Another friend lives in a yurt. Are you going to write a hub on Yurts as well please? I now live in a wooden cabin and coulddn't go back to living in bricks and cement where a house is not "breathing". However, on strong windy days I do sometimes feel like the second of the three little pigs.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

I love these houses - the one in South Africa is beautiful. I look forward to these hubs - thanks so much!


Hmrjmr1 profile image

Hmrjmr1 6 years ago from Georgia, USA

Very Cool Hub Mega! There are some really cool options in straw bale homes. Appreciate the info!

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