Green Homes
Building for the future, today – combining the best of historical wisdom and modern technology.


6 Green Home Upgrades That Can Save You Money

Home upgrades 1

Modern living has a significant impact on the environment, so it’s important to look for opportunities to decrease energy consumption by making your home “green.” Whether you’re going for a complete remodel or simply doing a few upgrades, going green can help your home consume fewer resources and improve its efficiency.

Going green used to mean high upfront costs, and the promise of reduced energy and water bills often wasn’t enough for homeowners to take the plunge. Today, thanks to improved technology, tax incentives, and utility rebates, going green doesn’t need to break the bank. We’ll look at some of the best ways to get great deals on your renovations and upgrades, so you can help save the planet while you’re saving money.

Get a Free Home Energy Audit

A home energy audit shows you what upgrades will have the most impact. A professional will evaluate your entire home to determine how much energy it uses, where it’s losing energy, and where to prioritize the fixes that will make it more efficient. These audits can cost upwards of $250, but many utility companies offer them for free, so check with your local energy company.

Insulate and Get a Tax Rebate

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Your energy audit might reveal that you need more (or better) insulation. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), of the $2,000 the average American household spends annually on energy, $200 to $400 goes to waste through drafts, air leaks, and poor insulation. New windows and doors will save you the most energy (according to the DOE, storm windows alone reduce energy loss through windows by up to 50%), but they are a pricey fix. If that’s not in the budget, consider adding regular insulation in the attic—it doesn’t cost a fortune and qualifies for a 10% federal tax credit.

Smarten Up Your HVAC With a Smart Thermostat

Installing a WiFi-connected smart thermostat has been shown to save hundreds of dollars a year, easily paying for one of the higher-end options, like a Nest or Ecobee, in a couple of years. You can save even more by buying a cheaper device from a reputable company, such as Honeywell.

Smart thermostats use your phone’s location to determine when you’re not at home and adjust the temperature accordingly. While cheaper options lack some of the advanced features of the higher-end models, they will still save you energy when used correctly. Check with your local energy company to see if they offer rebates for installing one—many do, and some will even give you a smart thermostat for free.

Water Wisely to Save Dollars

Home upgrades 3

EPA WaterSense-certified smart irrigation controllers can save you a bundle on your water bill by using weather-based smart technology to avoid watering your lawn before, during, or after a rainstorm. These devices often cost upwards of $200—look for rebates through your local water company to cover some, if not all, of the cost.

Control Your Lighting for Less

Smart LED lightbulbs connect to your smart device, allowing you to set your lights on a schedule and control them remotely. The savings add up—each bulb can save you up to $25 a year in energy costs. A great way to save even more money is to look for coupons from big box stores that offer 10% or 20% off your purchase, and buy your bulbs in bulk.

Use Online Coupons to Upgrade to Energy-Efficient Appliances

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When making a large purchase, such as a new Energy Star-rated refrigerator or washer and dryer set, online coupons are an excellent resource to utilize.  According to energystar.gov, replacing your old fridge with a new Energy Star appliance can save up to $300 in energy costs over five years, while replacing an old washing machine with an Energy Star washer will use up to 33% less water and 5% less energy.

New appliances aren’t cheap, and the best way to get a deal is to look for coupons online.  Many reputable sites work directly with retailers and manufacturers to offer limited-time deals.

Going green might seem like a considerable expense, but it can be affordable if you know where to look for the best deals and savings. A green home can save you money in the long run and help the environment by cutting down on your energy consumption.

Jennifer Pattinson Tuohy is an award-winning freelance journalist with 15 years’ experience writing for newspapers, magazines, and online publications. She covers green living and shopping tips for Groupon. You can find savings on appliances and more on Groupon’s Sears page here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Straw Bale House in the City, Part 2: Building a Test Wall

 

Part 1 of this series outlines the author's issues building straw bale construction to city code.

I had mixed feelings after my conversation with the building inspector. As I worked on our current job sites for the next few days, I continued to make phone calls and send emails to various engineering companies, in search of a company that was comfortable being the third party inspector on a straw bale house project. Not one of the companies returned my call or email.

I reached out to the building inspector to let him know that I was not yet successful to get an engineering company to return my calls or emails and he said, “Well, the building permit is here and ready for you to pick up when you find a place to help you out.” I informed the developer of this and she asked, “Well, did you pick up the building permit?” To which I replied, “No, it’s a waste of money to go pick it up without having an engineer, we need a plan B.”

The developer wanted to further discuss with the building inspector his requirements for inspections, as to make sure there was not an oversight.  She found out for herself that the inspection department has the right to require the third party inspections. Furthermore, she was able to call out the inspection department on their requirement that the engineers be licensed in straw bale inspections, which to her knowledge did not exist. Yes, this would make it impossible to carry on with such a project, as there is not a single engineer or inspector that exists which would comply with the requirements of the inspector.

I started to think about past projects and how many times, those projects became extremely difficult because I would get a thought in my head that we could succeed no matter what. Time and time again, I would find myself saying, “How did I get myself into this?” I couldn’t take that path again, so I started to reflect about what options I had as the builder.

My first thought was that I could step away from the project. This option would mean that all of my efforts to that point would have been with no compensation but I had learned a wealth of information and could stomach the loss. My second thought was that we could find an engineer that would help us and that we could move forward with the project. I was trying to keep the positivity, but my mind kept coming back to the low budget that we had. We barely had the funds to build the house as is, let alone involving a third party inspector who would likely cost a small fortune.

My final option was to try to figure out why the inspection department was so adamant about involving the engineer as the third party inspector. I called the building inspector once again to better understand his unforgiving requirements, and in our conversation, he said, “Well, if you had built this way before, we would be more comfortable that things would be ok.” At that moment, the thought of building a mock-up straw bale wall popped into my head.

Building a mock-up would be a chance to build with straw bale prior to being on a job site, and eliminate any unforeseen issues. Inevitably, something always goes wrong on a job site when working with new materials and processes. My hopes were that we could coax the problems out of the process inside of our family barn, a.k.a. ‘The Laboratory’, instead of on the job site and earn the approval from the inspector to carry on with our straw bale build.

I dove head first into the mock-up idea. I went to our local feed store and bought thirty bales of straw. I was reluctant to do this at first because I was about to spend more of our own money to see if this process was worth pursuing. I chose thirty for straw bales because that was the number of bales that we needed to go eight feet high and fit between the support posts in our area of the barn that I call the Laboratory. My next stop was to a big box store to get the other items that we needed to build a straw bale wall and corner to code. I had everything we needed and thought that we could find the sill plates and other items around the Farm; after all, I am a builder and had plenty of lumber and miscellaneous reusable parts on hand.

I decided that we would build the straw bale wall and corner exactly like we would build the walls on site. That meant fastening the plates to the concrete floor, drilling in rebar pins, and laying out pea gravel before we set any straw bales. We built a window opening so that we could be sure of how to surround the windows and cut the straw bales. As we set each bale, we tied them up as we needed to and added the pins as we went. I was excited to see this go up with relative ease, although, in my mind I kept saying, “Ok, where is it, where is the problem? This is too easy, something has to present itself.”

Bob and I were building the mock-up wall when I looked up and he was gone after running the chainsaw to cut a straw bale. I thought, "Oh no, I hope he didn’t get himself with the saw.” So I went into the workshop and I found him safe and cleaning the chainsaw. He said that he was amazed at how loose the bales were and that the lose straw was binding up the chain on the saw. We didn’t think much about it and we went back to work.

This entire time, we worked as researchers, so we continuously asked each other, “How did that go, what did you learn, is there a better way to do that?” We didn’t use the Internet for information unless absolutely necessary so that we could try to recreate an actual job site environment and create our own solutions to any problems that we might encounter.

We were about three courses high when we decided to open the code book to look up something. While we were flipping the pages in the Straw Bale section of the code book, we noticed something that would change our minds and stop us in our tracks. To find out what that was, watch the video that was created from this straw bale wall mock-up.

 

Adam D. Bearup is a designer, green builder and farmer, who learned about biodynamic and regenerative farming for a project he built in Northern Michigan, The Earth Shelter Project MichiganAdam has degrees in marketing and management and a Masters of Science in Green Building. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Are Cracks in Walls Normal? How to Tell an Eyesore From Real Danger

 

Photo source

A crack in your wall isn't always an indication of structural damage. Many cracks are perfectly natural and the result of your house "settling" — no reason for concern. At the same time, a crack can signify a complication you have to immediately address, like the collapse of wood members or shifting in the foundation.

So how do you tell the difference between a benign crack and a more serious issue? How do you know when an unsightly line is a real danger — or just an eyesore? When you have informed understanding of the warning signs, you'll have a far better idea of how to handle this type of problem in the future.

With that in mind, we'll walk you through everything you need to know about the cracks in your walls. As long as you're aware of some of the common indicators of damage — and follow the suggestions below — your home will remain structurally sound and safe for you and your family.

When Cracks Are Harmless

As mentioned earlier, a crack in your wall isn't always a sign of structural damage. It's often the result of "settling," which usually happens with a newer house. The lumber contains a high level of moisture and moves slightly as it dries, creating small cracks which are unattractive, but ultimately harmless.

When you come across these cracks, it's advisable to wait a year after the completion of the home to tend to them, as the lumber needs to dry. Once you've given your home the necessary time to adjust, you can remedy the cracks by re-taping the joints, which are the seams where the drywall panels meet.

Concerning the location of the cracks, you'll normally see them over doors and windows. This is due to the vertical studs involved in the construction of walls, which a builder has to cut for an opening. Beyond doors and windows, benign cracks also appear across walls and the doorways themselves.

Of course, "settling" isn't always the issue. If you leave your home empty for months at a time, the lack of climate control could cause a problem. Cracks can also come from faulty taping with drywall panels and even leaks, so make sure to inspect the line closely before you make an attempt at repair.

When Cracks Are Dangerous

If the cracks are large, jagged or diagonal, you may have a structural problem. These kinds of cracks will occur when a foundation has shifted or sunk, so they demand your immediate attention. You should also check for a potential termite infestation, and determine the status of your supporting wood members.

As a general rule, cracks which are wider than a quarter-inch warrant a review. When the crack is no longer a line, but a serious fissure, you should bring in a reputable builder or structural engineer to inspect your home. They'll provide guidance on how to address the crack and what steps to take as you continue.

That said, every situation is different. You'll benefit from studying the different types of wall cracks and what they mean to fully educate yourself on what you should and shouldn't worry over. A crack which may seem ominous at first isn't always a problem, so it's best not to jump to any conclusions without research.

Regardless, it's usually a smart idea to consult a professional about the structural integrity of your home if you suspect an issue which may compromise your safety. Even if the cracks aren't alarming, a natural disaster could exacerbate the defects your home already has, or reveal defects you weren't aware of.

How to Proceed

When homeowners notice an unsightly crack in their wall, they'll often turn to spackle. In truth, spackle is a short-term solution which doesn't provide the same reinforced surface coverage as re-taping. Unless you go through the process of re-taping the joints, you'll likely have to fix the problem again.

As for large, jagged or diagonal cracks, reach out to an engineer and have them review your home. You'll feel far more comfortable knowing the cracks in your walls are accounted for — if they were ever a danger at all. As you move forward, evaluate your options and start planning your repairs today.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living, sustainable consumption, eco-friendly practices and green energy. In the past, her work has also been featured on Grit, Mother Earth Living, Blue And Green Tomorrow, Dwell and Houzz. To read more from Kayla, follow her productivity and lifestyle blog: Productivity Theory.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Sawmilling on a Family Farm in Upstate New York

Beachy's Lumber sign New York 

Located in the scenic countryside of upstate New York is the family owned and operated sawmilling business Beachy’s Lumber. Lynn Beachy, patriarch of the farm and mill operation, along with his five sons run their full-time lumber business on a 70-acre property in the quiet one square-mile village of Middleport, NY. Established in 2009, the successful lumber business has led to many benefits for the Beachy family including their ability to be self-sufficient, work from home, and provide quality wood products for their own farm and the surrounding community.

Lynn Beachy working at his desk

On the Beachy’s farm, the major crop produced is 40 acres of hay in order to sustain their operation that includes 30 beef cows, six Belgian workhorses, and six Standardbred horses used for transportation. As the only “crop” sold outside of the farm, the lumber side of the business resulted from the family’s familiarity with timber processing and the flexibility that comes with running their own business. The reason we got into the lumber business was that I was looking for a job that I could be at home, said Lynn Beachy, owner of Beachy’s Lumber. My two older sons had worked for another sawmill and that seemed to be what would fill that [wish].

Wood-Mizer LT70 Wide sawmill cutting

Today, the Beachy’s operate with a diesel-powered Wood- Mizer LT70 Super Hydraulic sawmill and a gas engine table cut off saw to cut boards to length. The stationary sawmill business runs 9 hours a day, 5 days a week. “The reason for getting the Wood-Mizer was that the business before us had a Wood-Mizer and they were satisfied,” said Lynn. “There’s also a local branch nearby in Hannibal and we get good service that way.” According to Lynn, the simplicity of the sawmill allows for anyone in the family to learn and operate the machine. Our boys learn just by being the off bearer and watching, shared Lynn. The other day, none of the older brothers were here and someone needed a couple pieces cut and my younger son was able to get on there and cut.

Man carrying wood slab

Piles of cut wood

When customers visit the Beachy’s farm, they are able to see how and where their lumber is made which Lynn says is an important value-added aspect of their operation. Customers like to go to a place where they can see where things are made, instead of just a store, shared Lynn. A lot of people tell me that they think the quality is also better, and some just like the rough cut look. In addition to offering custom rough-sawn lumber, the Beachy’s also manufacture and sell flooring, pallet boards, siding, board & batten, dimensional 2 x 4’s, and foam insulation.

Stacks of wooden boards and cants

The log yard, neighbored by grazing cattle, is stocked with hardwood and softwood generally sourced within 60 miles of the farm which has many environmental and cost benefits associated with limited transportation needs. There’s one thing that a sawmill really goes good with a farm is if you want to build, you have your own lumber, shared Lynn. When we moved here, we had to build quite a bit and I’m estimating we saved ourselves between $15 and $20,000 just by having the sawmill and using our own lumber.

Beachy's Lumber farm with cow

In just a few years, the Beachy’s have built their own sawmill building, an office, a horse barn, a lean-to, a storage shed, and have used large beams for their home with lumber all milled on the farm. Nearby family farms also benefit from the Beachy’s local lumberyard as neighbors use wood for their homes, trailer decking, privacy fences, animal fences, sideboards, wooden boxes for produce, and raised garden beds. In addition, very little goes to waste from the timber operation as byproducts including slabs and sawdust can be used within the farm or sold to clients. Slabs can be used as siding or firewood and sawdust can be used for a variety of things on the farm including animal bedding, composting, and gardening.

Small wood log cabin

The Beachy family has always placed an emphasis on offering top quality products and being on-time with orders. Growth of the business has resulted from word of mouth referrals from satisfied customers along with a website and small advertisements in local newspapers. However, success of the business all stems from providing excellent customer service. I’ve learned that you have to keep a happy customer, said Lynn. Do what you need to keep the customer happy and keep a good word. For the future, Lynn is determined to keep a solid customer base and keep the business family operated. “I’m not really looking to get much bigger,” said Lynn. “Just as long as I have enough work to keep my family busy and have a pleasant atmosphere. In doing all of this, the success and everything of the business, all of the honor and all of the glory goes to God. It is through Him that all of this is possible.”

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Wattle and Daub: Ancient and Simple Natural Building Technique

Wattle And Daub Barn Building

Photo above by Flickr/carlfbagge. All other photos by Tom Keeling

Wattle and daub is a fantastic building technique that has been used to build internal and external walls in homes for centuries. It is great for the beginner builder as the more wattle you weave, the stronger the wall gets. Not only that, but you will always start with a wooden frame wall as your first step.

Wooden frame walls are simple to build and as you are starting with a strong, straight, square structure, the wattle, and the daub parts generally go on very easily.

Step-by-Step Wattle and Daub Primer

Framing Wattle And Daub

Framing. As mentioned above, the first step when building a wattle and daub wall is to construct the wooden frame. Your frame needs to be secured to the ground, the ceiling, and be 100 percent secure before you move forward. The strength of your wall is highly dependent on the strength of the frame you build.

Support bars. Next step is to fit your bars, which will hold the weave wood. It is best to make these strong bars in a vertical formation. As we did not have enough strong long wood, we fitted the strong bars horizontally, as you can see in the image below. In order to fit these bars, we drilled holes in the vertical joists and forced the bars in to place. They do not have to be 100 percent secure as the weaving wood will strengthen each piece as you work.

Support Bar Wattle And Daub

Weaving. Next is the fun part, the weaving. This is where the artistic feel of the wall comes in to play. Your wall becomes more and more beautiful with each piece of wood you place. We were fortunate enough to have a number of olive trees which needed the suckers pruning, and this provided all the wattle we needed. You just need to make sure the wood you are using is flexible enough to weave between the bars you have fitted. The closer your bars are, the more flexible the wattle needs to be. The Acacia tree ‘Mimosa’ was used a lot in Australia, and I am sure basket willow would also be perfect. Really though, any green wood at your desired thickness should work well.

Plug gaps. At this point you can really keep adding wattle until there is no more space left to weave. The more gaps and holes you have in your wall, the harder it can be to get the cob to hold in place. If you can easily push cob through from one side to the other, you are going to have problems with the other side of the wall falling out as you work on your side.

Apply cob. Next you are going to need to apply your cob. Some straw in your cob mix with help as you can push the straw in and around the wattle to hold it in place. It is generally best to work from bottom to top here as the cob you have placed below will support that above. Try to make the wall in to your desired shape at this stage as it will save you work for the coming stages. Make sure to work right up to the edges, leaving no air space between your cob and the wooden frame. Smooth off and mould the wall by hand.

Cob Building Wattle And Daub

And there you have it: how to make a wattle and daub wall. Check back to future blog posts from myself and I will explain how to make a cob mix, which can be used for wattle and daub walls, cob ovens, adobe bricks and more, and how to start rendering with clay to make your walls smooth and ready to apply a natural paint.

Tom Keeling is based in Portugal and has traveled throughout Brazil and Eastern Europe learning about natural building and farming. He’s working on a two-story stone barn renovation using clay and wood, and including a shower and toilet block built using rammed earth and adobe bricks. Connect with Tom at Fazenda Tomati and on Facebook and Instagram.


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Amazing Fire Tower Cabin Stays True to History

The following post is an excerpt from Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter (Shelter Publications, 2012) by long-time Mother Earth News contributor Lloyd Kahn. In this book are some 150 builders who have taken things into their own hands, creating tiny homes (under 500 sq. ft.) — homes on land, on wheels, on the road, on water, even in the trees. Here is one of these builders, Mike Basich’s, story.

It was like “being hit by lightning,” according to the clients. Given 113 acres in Alpine Gulch in the Judith Mountains of central Montana, it was a dream come true for them, after searching for years for acreage like this.

The land already had a small log cabin on it. Located at the very bottom of the canyon, in a grove of old firs, it was always dark, cold, and claustrophobic. The clients wanted something else — light, sun and expansiveness. A forest fire that burned across part of the land in 1989 exposed just such a spot.

Sited about 70 feet above the valley floor, on the edge of a limestone ledge, the site has long views up and down the valley, seemingly hanging in space. But, it also has the intimacy of an aspen grove, and a meadow of wildflowers in the other direction. The cabin had to do a couple of other things for the clients: It had to relate to their cultural landscape, as well as the physical one.

One of the clients, a third-generation Montanan, and the son of a forester who graduated from the University of Montana in 1949, was raised with both the myth and the reality of the great western forests. The fire towers that guarded these lands represented a romantic ideal of life to his family as he grew up. Lookouts were always in the most inaccessible, most spectacular locations. They were a place where life and relationships were condensed to their essential elements, where nature overwhelmed and embraced those lives.

The cabin had to become part of those landscapes. Not just in form and material, but in time, as well. It had to look old from the moment it was finished. It had to look like 1939 — like the CCC had built it.

A lot of recycled material was used to accomplish this. Corrugated metal roofing came from a barn being demolished down the road. Beams, flooring and decking were recycled from an 80-year-old trestle, recently dismantled. The stone came from the site, and rock flooring was quarried in Idaho.

In contrast to the exterior, the interiors are archaic, but light, and anything but rustic. The ground level provides cooking, washing and storage, with sleeping for two. The upper level provides the connection to the views, with windows in every direction, and a six-foot square skylight at the peak of the roof to insure even more light. On the second level, there is also sleeping for two, and storage between the floor beams and in the furniture.

The cabin is powered by two 50-watt photovoltaic panels that provide 12-volt direct current power to outlets, lights, and the well pump. That power lets the client have a stereo, a TV/VCR, running water in the sink, and water to fill a wood-fired hot tub. A composting toilet provides sanitation.

The cabin has proven itself to the family and friends of the clients in the year since its completion. It’s become an icon in the canyon, and a gathering place, rapidly filling with memories.

Photos courtesy Shelter Publications

Lloyd Kahn is a sustainable living visionary and publisher of Shelter Publications. He is the author of natural building books, including Home WorkTiny Homes, Simple ShelterTiny Homes on the MoveShelter II , Builders of the Pacific Coast, and The Septic System Owner’s Manual (All available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store). He lives and builds in Northern California. Follow Lloyd on his blogTwitterand Facebook, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Straw Bale House in the City, Part 1: Designing to Code

 

Photo by Ziggy Liloia

Recently, a developer contacted me to build a straw bale “spec” house in the city limits. She had contacted me, because the company I lead had built her family’s high-performance home and she knew my reputation. She also knew that I had drawn a straw bale house before.

The developer asked me what I had learned after dealing with the building officials on the first straw bale house that I had drawn for another client.

Referencing Building Codes for Straw Bale Building

When I drew the first straw bale house, I had spent a considerable amount of time researching straw bale construction and also the building code book’s section on straw bale construction. Michigan’s building code book has an entire chapter dedicated to straw bale construction and is very specific as to what the code allows.

I drew the first straw bale house following the guidelines listed in the code book. The structure that I designed was very similar to a pole barn with 6-by-6-foot treated posts and headers that sat on top of the treated posts. Straw bales would be stacked in between the posts and brick stacked up to the roof line with “pins” every 24 inches.

I made a big mistake on that set of drawings, a mistake that wasn’t a structural mistake; rather, I made one of the walls too tall and that caused the building inspector to require special engineered drawings to ensure that the tall straw bale wall would not blow down. This one wall basically made the project stall out, because there was no one that could speak to the strength of a straw bale wall.

The building official was not refusing to give us a building permit, he just required us to have a long list of items verified and I firmly believe that if I had drawn the house without the tall wall, that we wouldn’t have created a situation that caught the inspectors eye and caused him to raise major concern at what we planned to do.

Revising Straw Bale House Design to City Code

Photo by Adam Bearup

Armed with this knowledge, I went into drawing the straw bale house for the city with the mindset that I had to make sure that every aspect of the drawing coincided with not only the building code, but also with the information that was readily available online. The building officials for the straw bale in the city were not the same group that I dealt with before, and I didn’t know any of the inspectors.

I wasn’t sure how the building inspector would respond after he saw the prints that I handed in with the building permit application. I anxiously awaited his response.

Roof. The house that I designed has a shed roof with a 2/12 pitch. Because of the shallow pitch, I drew a metal roof.

Cost. This project is supposed to cost $100,000 to build, not including the lot, so a metal roof eats up a decent amount of the low budget.

Walls. If the front wall of the house was built entirely of straw bales, that wall would be too tall to meet code, so I reached out to the lumber company to see what they could make for a roof truss to make up the height difference from the front of the house to the back of the house, a difference of over 5 1/2 feet. The trusses were designed so that we could build 8-feet-high walls with the straw bales and that meets the building code without causing any need for concern.

I called out the exact section of the code on Straw bale construction about the lime-based coatings that go on the inside and outside of the bales. I drew this house with 6-by-6 posts with headers and straw bales brick stacked in between the posts. I was certain that this permit was going to get issued!

Discussing Straw Bale with a Buildings Inspector

Several days after I submitted the building permit application, I called the building inspector’s office to see if they had an answer for me yet. The inspector that was assigned to our project was out of the office inspecting, so I left my number and waited for a call back. Later that day, the building inspector called me back and we discussed the straw bale project in great detail.

The building inspector’s first question to me was, “Have you ever built anything like this before?” To which I replied, “No, but I have built just about everything else including earth shelters underground.”

We had lengthy discussions about the building process and I could tell that he had researched like he said he had. He spent hours studying the code book and online resources about straw bale construction and noticed that the prints that I drew and sent to him were spot on with what he had researched. My plan to create a set of plans that were detailed and to the building code had paid off and I could sense that our building permit was just a few questions away.

I was getting excited. I really wanted to build the straw bale house in the city and the conversation was heading in a positive direction. After a few more questions, the building inspector said, “Well, get me a receipt showing that the connection fee for the city water and sewer is paid for and then I will issue you this permit.”

I couldn’t believe it, and before I could say thank you, he added, “I will want inspections of every part of the straw bale construction, moisture testing, pin placement, everything. The liability is just too high for us and for you, I mean, what if the walls rot?”

“No problem”, I said, “What is your lead time for inspections? I want to make sure that you don’t miss anything.” His reply floored me, because I hadn’t even considered this. “No, the inspections would have to be done by a third party.”

My response was, “Do you have anyone that you could recommend?” The building inspector replied, “I don’t know who would even do that sort of inspection, maybe an engineering firm that tests soils and structures.”

I thanked the building inspector for taking the time to research this type of construction so thoroughly and hung up. I sighed and went back to work.

In Part 2, the author determines building a proof of concept is the best path forward and sets out building a test straw bale wall.

Adam D. Bearup is a designer, green builder and farmer, who learned about biodynamic and regenerative farming for a project he built in Northern Michigan, The Earth Shelter Project Michigan. Adam has degrees in marketing and management and a Masters of Science in Green Building.


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