Building Our Straw Bale Home Part 1

Building Our Straw Bale Home Part 1

Posted by Michele Zagorski on 5th Feb 2015

Even before we moved to Southern Oregon, we dreamed of building a home. We had a sketchbook full of ideas and notes, including a turret house made of stone. We continued designing and dreaming during our 6 years in the old 'tin can' mobile home...and then we discovered straw bale construction(this is the part where you hear angels singing).  

A builder suggested we get a book called 'A Pattern Language', which I urge anyone considering designing their own home to read first...it's a gem.  I also liked 'Patterns of Home' and 'The Not So Big House' (I am not an affiliate of Amazon, but thought you'd like the links.  There are also several books specific to Straw Bale construction available). We were very lucky to have a local straw bale specialist that we consulted with, as well.  Check out his website here.

We were enchanted with straw bale for several reasons.  First, it's esthetically beautiful with a rugged, old world charm. It's an alternative 'green' construction method with state and federal certifications.  Our walls are made of local wheat straw, with soft, undulating, organic curves.  On a more practical side, straw bale homes are super efficient and comfortable in any climate...with two foot thick highly insulated walls, they are cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and they breathe, so they are healthier than standard-construction, air-tight homes.  There's a psychological coziness to our home that's hard to describe, but imagine if a house could give you a hug, conveying a sense of security...it just feels good.  

A few straw bale home tours confirmed for us that this was the way to go, so we took our interior and exterior drawings and had them engineered and professionally drafted into buildable plans.  Our dream was becoming a reality!  

The main crew, although we had work parties and help from wonderful friends along the way:

Step 1: Level construction site and build retaining wall


When choosing our site, we used passive solar design to orient our house, with a bonus view of Mt. Shasta!

“The Big Rock That Could” - that is, could tip over the backhoe carrying it.  

The finished retaining wall behind the house.  That's me and the kids with one of our Great Pyrenees dogs, Lila.

Step 2: Build foundation with plumbing etc...and pour concrete slab

Our large, deep (about 5' on the south side) foundation provides excellent thermal mass, keeping the house temperatures comfortable year round.

One of our work parties...kind of like playing in the mud, except it's concrete!

The finished slab...we scored the concrete to look like tiles and stained it later in the process.

Step 3:  Framing

Jacek, my husband, and I would sit in those chairs imagining life in a real house.

Our main builder, Seth, risking life and limb for the sake of beauty.

A design change recommended by the drafter was adding a clerestory roof to give more light and loft space!

Step 4:  Straw Bales!

We get by with a little help from our friends...

Misiu (Teddy Bear in Polish) was there to lend moral support.  

The engineer designed our house with so many braces, cross-braces, and huge beams closely spaced that I truly believe we would be just fine in any kind of earthquake, tornado...whatever Mother Nature wants to throw our way!

Our future circle window.

Hard to believe this was all done by hand.  Isn't it beautiful?

to be continued...

Read Pt. II HERE