One of our dreams is to build our own home using natural materials that provide energy efficiency, beauty, and elegant design, while allowing us to become mortgage free all in one. We spent two July weekends in a row near Kankakee, Illinois learning the nuances of using straw bales and earthen plasters for walls of building. The workshop was organized by Center for Sustainable Community in Stelle, IL.
The structure was a small guest/play house. It took much more labor and attention to detail than I had previously imagined. The bales of straw, once baled and dry, are stacked like large building blocks. The finished wall can provide up to R40 insulation value and this greatly reduces the need for mechanical heating and cooling systems of a building.
Here Beth is shaving a straw bale using a weed whacker to carve a depression so that the straw bale will fit the corner bracing. There was much attention to detail in terms of making sure that all crevices and gaps between the courses of bales were completely plugged.
This is a photo of Brent using earthen plaster to coat the inside walls. The walls will need two main coats and a final plaster coat. With 16 people in the straw bale workshop and the structure being only 13 x 15 there was plenty to do, but sometimes not enough room for everyone to get involved. We learned a lot about plasters and getting a solid, straight, strong wall using straw bales.
An nice benefit to the straw bale workshops is that Beth and I camped at the nearby Kankakee River State Park (sans kids). We ate a lot of good food, rode our bikes, explored the river banks, and greatly enjoyed our company together.