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.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The first straw bale walls

The work for today involved finishing the upstairs subfloor (aka the downstairs ceiling), getting things ready to stack some straw bales in a wall, and ceiling in the living roomactually stacking some bales.

While Dad and Jon worked on the floor/ceiling, I hung some 6 mil plastic from the rafters outside the mudroom, laundry room, and sewing room/study.  The plastic is there to keep any possible rain off of the straw bale walls until they’re plastered and/or sided. clay slip making setupI also screened some clay dirt and built a trough to hold clay slip for dipping edges of bales in.

The floor was finished by lunch time, so after lunch we mixed up some clay slip. Clay slip is a very fluid water-clay mixture, basically the thickness of heavy cream. I put water and screened dirt in the concrete mixer and let it mix for a few minutes. It doesn’t take long for clay particles to be suspended in the water.

We put a little of the slip in the trough I made so we Putting clay slip into the troughcould dip the inside and outside edges of the straw bales in it. Dipping the edges of the bales in the slip gets some clay into the outer couple of inches of the bales, providing a little protection from the weather, but most importantly it helps the first coat of plaster to adhere better to the bales than it otherwise would. At least, that’s what I read and decided to try. One method of applying the slip to the bales is to spray it on with aThe corner where we began stacking bales drywall texture gun after the walls are erected. Dipping them eliminates the need for spraying and is probably less messy.

With the slip and trough ready, we put the first bale in the corner of the sewing room/study. We continued on from there until we had stacked the entire wall from the doorway onto the back porch all the way to the doorway out of the mudroom, a little over 50 feet of wall.

Some of the bales weren’t baled as tightly as I would’ve liked, but we worked with what we have. I think they’ll do alright.  Once they’re tied to the framework of the house, a job I intend to get done tomorrow, they’ll be secure. I’ll also fill a few voids in order to get the outside ready for plaster. If I can do that, we’ll start plastering this section on Wednesday.

There were several custom bales that had to be made.  My bale needle worked well for retying bales. With it it is simple to push string through at the desired distance from the end, bring it around, and tie a new bale. The standard bales range in length from 36” (a few are an inch or two shorter, but not many) to about 40”. We selected lengths that fit well, and made our own lengths when needed. There were quite a few reties necessary. Retying takes the most time of any task in the process.

View from the sewing room into laundry room View from mudroom into laundry room

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