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Learn To Build A House By Going To A Straw Bale Building Workshop

Our first introduction to building with strawbales was going to a straw bale building workshop in Geraldine run by Sven and Sarah from sol design.

We knew we wanted to build with earthen materials. But up until the workshop we had only really experienced building with cob. We'd built henry, our cute little mushroom shaped cottage. And we'd built a number of pizza ovens.

We wanted to broaden our experience of earthen building before committing to building our house.

So we decided to take a trip to the south island (as part of our honeymoon!) and learn all about building with strawbales.


Practice By Building A Strawbale Garden Wall

The workshop was centered around learning to build a buck and beam wall system. Our task was to build an outdoor garden wall using the same system that you would use for building a house.

We learned the theory behind the buck and beam system and how to build it. And then we got our hands dirty and started construction.

Here Shaye is filling in between the bottom plates with some rocks she found on the driveway. These are acting as a layer of insulation. Driveway rocks probably aren't the best insulating material around. But being an outdoor practice wall it didn't really matter. In practice you might use pumice or some other porous material to slow heat flowing across the bottom plates.


straw bale building workshop geraldine

And here we are attaching the box beam to the bucks.

straw bale building workshop geraldine

And Shaye with her strawstache is looking quite happy in front of our newly filled wall. Note the flashing on the left. This was for a little rock shelf that was to be built into the wall.

straw bale building workshop geraldine

And here we are admiring our hard work after applying a layer of base coat earth plaster. Pretty sweet little shelf huh. This wall took roughly 10 of us a day or 2 to build. The "living roof" on this garden wall would come at a later stage.

straw bale building workshop geraldine


Tour Beautiful Strawbale Houses

The workshop also involved a number of different house tours. This was one of the most valuable parts of the workshop for me. I love feeling the difference between houses like these and conventional houses. If you've never been in an earthen house before I highly recommend experiencing it for yourself. Just pay attention to how you feel when you're inside one.

Sarah and Sven live in a beautiful strawbale house which they built themselves for an amazingly good price. We also visited 3 other houses throughout the week long workshop.

This photo below is from one of the houses that Sarah (who is an architect) and Sven designed. The owner, who happened to be a builder was obviously only part way through the project. We also visited a couple of completely finished houses.

straw bale building workshop geraldine


Immerse Yourself In Gorgeous Natural Plasters

This straw bale building workshop is where I did my first earthen plastering too. I fell madly in love with it. Even today it's still one of my favourite things to do.

Since the garden wall we had just built was still drying we couldn't apply any finish plasters to it. So, like in good old T.V. fashion, we moved onto one that Sarah and Sven had prepared earlier. These were walls that had been built by previous workshop participants and were awaiting their finish plasters.

Here is a picture of Shaye with a test board of plasters that she made up. These show the types of colours you can use when plastering your house with earth plasters. She made the different colours up by using different oxides in varying strengths. I love the creaminess of those clayey colours.

straw bale building workshop geraldine

We used a cement mixer to mix up large batches of earth plaster so that everyone in the workshop could grab a trowel and start applying it to the wall. Having lots of helping hands is a great way to have fun and get lots of work done. Definitely a good way to build a house!


straw bale building workshop geraldine

See how the wall is transformed from the rough finish of the scratch coat to a beautiful smooth finish of the finish coat.

straw bale building workshop geraldine

There's such a variety of finishes available with earthen plasters. You can leave it quite rough, which has it's own beauty. Or you can keep smoothing it out and working out all the imperfections.

I tend to get a bit carried away when I plaster and lean more towards the "perfect" end of the finish spectrum. I find myself in the zone where time disappears...

straw bale building workshop geraldine

The finished product. Mmmmmmm delicious!

straw bale building workshop geraldine

We also did a day of lime plastering too which is good for external finishes on a straw bale house. I can't seem to find any pictures of it though, but if you look at our cottage, you'll see some pics of finished lime plasters.

Overall the workshop was so much fun and we both learned a lot from it. It helped us make our decision to finally go for a straw bale house. Sarah and Sven are extremely knowledgable and they have helped us out with questions many times since we did their workshop. If you're interested in learning about building with strawbales I would definitely recommend going and doing a workshop with them. (Note: We don't receive any financial benefit for making this recommendation)