Straw Bale Workshop

On Saturday, [Abigail->], [Liam->] and I all headed up to South Austin for a Straw Bale Construction workshop, organized by Ben Obregon, an architect-builder who specializes in sustainable building, and hosted by Bill & Jill, in whose backyard the structure was being built (and who are some mighty fine cooks).

I’d done a moderate amount of reading on this building technique, but when [Daniel->] tipped me off to the workshop, I figured that there’s nothing like acutally doing it to help one get a grip on a process and signed up. We arrived at about 8:00 to find a giant pile of straw bales looming next to the post-and-beam structure. While you can actually use the bales to bear the load of the roof, this particular project used some beautiful stripped logs to hold up the roof and loft assembly, leaving the bales to only provide the wall structure and insulation.


For the first course, we laid down a couple of 2x4s parallel and 18″ apart on their outside edges to hold the bales off of the ground just a bit. We spread boric acid In the gap between them to keep insects at bay, and then impaled the bales on the pieces of rebar that had been embedded in the foundation to help lock the bales into place.


As the walls rose higher, each course of bales was secured to the one below it by driving wooden stakes through and into the course below. (“It also takes care of any vampires you have nesting in your straw,” I helpfully informed some of the other workers.) Door and window frames are pinned into the adjacent bales as the walls go up. The most labor-intensive part of this process is creating all the custom-sized bales that are needed to fit the various gaps and corners.


There were a lot of neat, interesting people who had turned up to help out, as well as curious neighbors who wandered by over the course of the day. As the hours wore on, however, I made the unfortunate discovery that I am indeed fairly allergic to hay; I kept sneezing, and my arms were a mass of rashes from my wrists up past my elbows. Next time I definitely need to wear long sleeves and wear a respirator mask!

By day’s end, the bales for the first floor were pretty well in place, and a fair bit of the second story had been done as well. The kids even made themselves useful, toting bales around between rounds of making adobe balls in the dirt pile behind the building site and flinging them at each other.

liam hoists a bale

The night before the event, I had thought to myself “I should bring out a laptop and set it up to do a time-lapse recording of the building site over the course of the day.” Unfortunately, I didn’t get my act together to do so. Fortunately, Bill and I have similar geek tendencies, and I found him doing exactly this thing about 30 minutes after we arrived! (I don’t have a link to the video yet, but Bill assures me that it came out great. I’ll post it as soon as I get my hands on it!)

We had a great time being a part of the goings-on, and were grateful to Ben, Bill and Jill for the opportunity. Thanks, guys!