Strawbale Retrofit

Extending the Foundation

Debbie building forms for the cement “footer”

“But won’t they just rot?” folks often ask when first introduced to straw bale walls. Just like the wood that folks are more familiar with in construction, straw bales can last for years, as long as they are kept dry.

A crucial step towards this end is to ensure that the strawbales are set on concrete, not on soil. We were fortunate that most of the perimeter of Magnolia was already paved with a deck and walkways. For the remaining sides, we dug trenches to the depth of the foundation and the width of our strawbales, then built forms and brought in a cement truck to pour the concrete “footers” for the strawbales to rest on.

Many hands make for not quite as heavy work!

Framing Windows and Doors

Another key step in preparing to wrap a house in strawbales is reframing the windows and exterior doors so that they extend the width of the strawbales. If you are building a new wall or replacing the windows, you have the option to place the window on the outside of the new window frame, allowing for an extra wide windowsills inside. perfect for houseplants or a cat perch. If you are using existing windows, it is simplest to leave them installed and create extra wide exterior windowsills. We framed the windows and door frames first with sturdy particle board — later on, we finished the interior work of sealing the windows with spray-in foam and bead board, then lining the top and sides of the window and door frames with sheet rock, and the bottom with cement board and tile.

Wrapping Strawbales.

We were blessed to find a local farmer willing to supply us with fresh, tightly baled straw, and have an enthusiastic crew of friends come over to help us. We were able to stack all of the bales against the house the same day they were delivered! It was immensely rewarding to see the house transformed in a matter of hours.

We stacked the bales in a staggered pattern to provide greater stability, and drilled wires all along the length of the original wall, about halfway up, that we ran through the center row of straw bales to secure them further. Chicken wire was then stretched tightly over the bales, secured to the boards running along the roof, and tucked and pinned under the bottom bales, to help hold the bales in place and to enable to stucco to adhere to the straw bales more readily.