The 57 acres that comprise Cedar Ridge Farm are located in the beautiful rolling hills of South Central Kentucky. My wife, our four children, and I are on a homesteading adventure as we work toward increased self-sufficiency. We grow much of our own food and enjoy being in touch with the agrarian roots of our lives.

One of the major projects we have undertaken is the building of our own home. The house we're building has three major distinguishing features: 1. we're building it without incurring any debt; 2. it is a timber frame structure; and 3. the exterior walls will be plastered straw bales. We live debt and mortgage free, and building our house with that approach makes perfect sense. Large timbers in a home possess a beauty and project a sense of strength, stability, and warmth that we want in our home. Straw bale walls provide insulation and make ecological sense. This blog is a record of our home-building project.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


One of the things I’ve been doing a lot of recently is planning for the building tasks to be undertaken this year. I really want to accomplish a lot, and I’m trying to determine what needs done and in what order. There are several details to be ironed out, and I’m trying to anticipate as many as possible.

One of the things I have recently modified is the exterior walls around the mudroom, pantry, and utility room area. I was thinking about framing these walls conventionally with the straw bale wall going to wrap around the timber frame on the interior wall of these rooms. I’ve decided at this point that it makes more sense to put the straw bale on the exterior here, instead.

crf house -- floorplan

This change will have a couple of benefits. One is that the rooms in this space will be better insulated from outside. For the pantry, this is perhaps most important as I don’t plan on having any heat in that corner of the house. It will be nice if it would stay fairly consistent temperature-wise throughout the year. The second benefit is that it will remove bathroom plumbing away from the straw bale wall. That was the primary motivating factor in my considering changing our plan in this area of the house.

The major threat to the health and longevity of a straw bale wall is moisture. I’ve already tried to plan on keeping outside moisture out and away from the bales via plaster on the bales, an air gap, and then wood siding on the outside edge of the bale walls. Inside, I will have to take extra care in areas of higher humidity. In the second bathroom, I’ll probably use a lime plaster instead of the clay-based plaster I plan for most of the walls. I’ll probably also use a lime-based finish plaster on the bale walls in the kitchen area.

Other planning that I’ve been doing includes porch framing and the external framing for the siding and windows. The porch will have 6x6 cedar posts on roughly eight foot centers. I say roughly because it varies by about two inches more or less on each side because of the dimensions of the house. The exterior frame work will consist of 2x4s  oriented flat with the bales and 2x6 window frames (oriented opposite of the 2x4s but with their outside edge flush with the same plane). I have not completely decided whether the 2x4s will be on 24” centers or 32” centers. It depends on whether I use 1x4 stringers or go ahead and sheet the exterior with OSB.

When it is time to lay the bales, I will have the porch and exterior framing in place and the porch framed and roofed. I will install the upstairs straw bales first so that they can be plastered and sided before the downstairs bales are installed. This is important as the upstairs bales will be exposed to the weather without the protection of the porch roof. Also, until the upstairs exterior walls are completed, the porch roof cannot be completely flashed. That would mean that the downstairs bales would be subject to moisture damage from any rain that might occur. I don’t want that to happen, of course.

Another change that has resulted from recent planning involves the interior walls of the house. Originally, I was going to use real wood paneling on them. Recently, we’ve decided to plaster the interior walls too. I will use some sort of lath, whether metal plaster lath or woven bamboo (the sunshades that are available for purchase), to hold the plaster. This will provide a brighter interior. I don’t want to use drywall, although it is possible to plaster over a drywall surface. I just don’t want a conventionally finished drywall wall.

Planning some of these details is exciting. I’m feeling very motivated to get on with the project. I want to move in as soon as possible. Actually, I wanted to be able to move in a few years ago, but I expect that the wait will yield a better finished product.


Anonymous said...

I'll bet you've seen this already, but if not, I'd recommend going to the Casa de Solariego houseblog. He did straw bale walls and could probably answer any questions you might have.

Thanks for sharing your progress, I'm looking forward to the updates.

dp said...

Thanks for your recommendation. It's been a while since I've visited the Casa de Solariego blog. I am actively seeking information that is available because I'm interested in what others are doing and still have much to learn myself.