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, October 11, 2010

Straw bale observations

We stacked the walls upstairs today. Sorry, no photos, because I was busy working. I ought to be able to post some tomorrow, though.

Yesterday, Dad and I brought 136 bales from the barn to the house. When I stopped to think about it, I realized that those bales have been stored in the middle of my barn for over four years. I bought them in the summer of 2006 in anticipation of needing them by August that year (I was overly optimistic, in case you didn’t know).

I’d forgotten what these bales were really like. The man I bought them from grew rye just for straw. He cut it when it had good straw but before it had any grain. I’d forgotten, but he told me that when they baled it, they raked it into large windrows so that it would make large, heavy bales. They are indeed large and heavy, very dense.

One of the things you read about selecting bales for a straw bale home is to be sure to get tight bales. I will tell you that this is good advice. The bales I bought this year are not as tightly and densely baled as the ones I bought four years ago, and it does make a difference in handling them and stacking them into the wall. The tighter, denser bales, although heavier, are easier to work with. You can move them, shove them, kick them, beat them, and generally force them into the spaces where you want them.

For our house, it was really good that we used these tighter bales upstairs. The first course had to be stomped into a tight space between the porch roof and the beams of the timber frame. the top courses had to be coaxed into some hard to get to spaces. These bales held onto their shape and went into some tough places.

The other bales are fine, less you think they aren’t. I just wanted to share my observation about the tightness of the bales. The tighter and denser they are, the better they are for building with.

One other observation from digging into the pile of four year old bales is that they were in great shape. There were several on the top layer that were no good because they’d gotten water onto them (there are a few spots where the roof sometimes leaks a little). I also had a tarp over the top of the pile for the first year or two which held in some moisture that got under the bales – this caused some to mold on top.

However, inside the pile, the bales were tight and in good shape. I figure if these bales can survive in a pile in the barn with the humidity we experience here, they will fair well as walls encased in clay.

On another subject, preparation for the mud party on the 17th is going well. We have several families planning on attending.

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