Hay Houses and Straw Buildings: Happiness is a Hay House

You can use straw bales to build permanent houses, but have you considered making a hay house? This building method creates inexpensive temporary structures.

| July/August 1979

  • frame
    adding a strong umbrella roof is important for keeping a hay house warm and protected.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • center
    Building a fire-resistant center ceiling is important since hay is so flammable. 
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • straw bale house
    In the process of "haying in" the top and sides of the structure.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • finished house
    The finished hay house with a hay doghouse for the families' Russian wolfhounds.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • straw bale frame
    The McElderrys made their hay house by first erecting a hexagon frame.
    PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 058-040-01-im8
    A sun-heated greenhouse made of recycled materials was attached to the south wall of the hay house.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

  • frame
  • center
  • straw bale house
  • finished house
  • straw bale frame
  • 058-040-01-im8

For two winters (folks here in Minnesota measure time by winters) we've lived cozy and warm in our hay house. Now before you start to spout three-little-pigs legends, let me assure you that our unorthodox home has been quite comfortable in 40-below weather, and — because it was always intended to be a temporary structure — we'll "huff and puff" our inexpensive little shelter down all by ourselves, someday.

Inspired by a Round Straw House

In the summer of 1977, we began to build an octagonal stone house, using the slip-form method popularized by Helen and Scott Nearing . . . but we had little concept of how long our project would take us. We simply proceeded with our plans, worked hard, and made a great deal of progress.

However, the area's first heavy snowstorm hit on October 11, and with it came the sobering realization that — however furiously we might work — it would be impossible for us to occupy our house before winter settled in.

At the time, we were living in a 10-by-11 foot screened hunting shack (the only building on our property when we bought it). We had crammed our bed, all the supplies for our stained-glass window-making home business, an Ashley stove, a gas plate, a sink, a kitchen cupboard, tools, clothing, and (occasionally) two Russian wolfhounds into the small shelter. Of course, these were clearly impossible conditions under which to spend a long Minnesota winter ... especially since we expected a child in February! What's more . . . we couldn't afford an apartment in town, and moving in with friends for a whole winter was likely to result in damaged relationships.



Just when the situation looked hopeless, though, we remembered an article in MOTHER EARTH NEWS about a round haybale structure ... searched our copy out ... and realized we could modify that plan to produce a dwelling with a larger living and storage area and a stronger roof. We'd also seen diagrams of Mandan — and other Indian tribes' multi-sided pole lodges. Such a form seemed practical, because it would provide lots of internal space without requiring excessively long poles. Since a rounded shape appealed to us, we combined the two ideas . . . and decided upon a pole structure with stacked hay walls. The center support area — at the greatest possible distance from the highly flammable walls — would be a perfect spot for our wood stove.

Building the Round Hay House

Luckily, our early October snow melted quickly, and we went into the woods to cut poles from some of the plentiful spruce trees. Because we knew winter could arrive at any moment, we didn't bother to peel the timber (although we found time to perform this important chore later). Nor did we creosote the wood used in the temporary shelter.






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