Straw-bale workshop day by day


This second workshop had us carry dozens of strawbale and pile them up to make a house. While the first workshop was more about wood and mud, this strawbale 9 days course put a strong emphasis on plain dry straw, the most insulative and easy to handle of all our materials.
As for the slipstraw workshop, this course was part of the 8bin100 project initiated by Aysun and Mehmet Sökmen, our hosts on the farm.

Day 1

6th of August, late morning
With all the practise we had from the first workshop, we were able to get prepared for this one very smoothly and without the stress of the bathroom building we hadn’t finished last time. As the first participants were arriving, the foundations were already flat and leveled, tools were in place and we were full of energy to start the work.

Now we knew the building process would have a lot in common with what we had done a month before. Plans were similar, some of the woodwork like the roof frames, the interior walls or the foundations were identical to the first building and the goal was the same: to demonstrate how to build a house from foundations to roof. Only the materials would fundamentally change the experience since this time we would work on load-bearing straw-bale walls; a radically different approach compared to the wood-framed slip-straw walls of the first house.

A stay on the farm starts with Aysun’s tour of the property. She spared no energy to transmit her passion to our participants and within an hour everyone got quite a good picture of what a cow farm is about. Later we came together in the projection room to have a look at our actual building project and answer the first questions. The hands-on work was to start on the next day.

Day 2

7th of August
This first day of work is all about preparing foundations, the first step to set a good base for the building. Our technique is inspired by the earthbag building. Polyethylene rice bags are filled with thick gravel, laid tight next to each other and then tamped to level them and lock them in place. barbed wire is then placed over and the process is repeated to form the next layer. We had three layers in total, enough to have the foundations just above the ground level.
With a lot of empty space between the gravels, no ground water will be able to reach the walls and our house will stay dry.
This job is heavy and we initially planned for a day and a half, but thanks to the size of our team the three layers were done by the end of the day.

Day 3

8th of August
With foundations complete the next step was to place and anchor the ring beam that would set a stable base for the straw-bale walls. Pieces of 5x10 pine were assembled in half-lap joints into a 35cm wide ring beam, 4.9m x 3.9m of size. This ring beam was prepared before the workshop to save time, but there was much woodwork to come anyways.

Meanwhile, as we divided the group into four teams, people are also working on mud bricks preparation for the interior wall of the house. Mud bricks will be laid to form a 2 meters wall inside the house and a small one under the front window. Their primary purpose will be to catch solar heat and store it to ensure less temperature variations inside the house.

Day 4

9th of August
Today the walls were started. Everyone helped to carry the bales to the site and Matthieu showed how to cut them with the needle/rope technique. Temporary wood frames were made and placed at each corner to hold the bales until they would be secured and compressed with straps. In order to have a load-bearing straw-bale wall strond enough to support the weight of a roof, the bales have to be very tightly assembled and this requires compression with straps once the wall is done.

As the walls were focusing most of the attention, woodwork was also on its way with several small ring beams to be built for the interior mud-brick wall. During the workshop everyone had a chance to learn how to saw efficiently, a must for any kind of building work.

Day 5

10th of August
Today our walls went high up and we even started tying them up for compression. The four sections of the first ring beam were raised up and locked in place to act like a belt holding the walls together.

Another technique was introduced as part of the interior walls construction: the slip-straw technique. As the main focus of the first workshop, this technique serves this time as an optional way to build a small interior wall in the house. A mix of liquid clay and straw is packed into moulds and compressed to form a strong insulative wall once dried.

Day 6

11th of August

Today we carried on the work of assembling bales to complete the walls and strapping them to sufficient compression. The interior mud-brick wall was started and participants had their first try with masonry work.

IMG_0336Plastering was also introduced, this time on the first house we built. A rough mud-straw layer was applied on all the interior surfaces to act as a base for the future finishing layers of plaster.

Day 7

12th of August

The mud-brick work was greatly improved today with a lot of bricks piled up and new ring beams added. As for the straw-bale walls, we were ready to place the final ring beam and start working on the roof itself.

Besides the work on site, presentations were given on a near-daily basis. Bioclimatic design, the properties of the materials, introduction to other building techniques, regulations, earthquake-related knowledge, etc. Theory is deeply embedded in our workshops and we make sure everyone leaves with a broad sense of what natural building is about. Today Matthieu brought a board in the forest and we had an outdoors presentation, but they usually take place in the projection room with slides on a screen.

Day 8

13th of August

Final step of our workshop: Today we started building the roof. As a demonstration of the process we placed several trusses on the last ring beam and fitted some bales inside. The next stages (post-workshop) will be to plaster these bales, fix the purlins over and then the metal sheets. The interior and exterior plasters will be made as well as the flooring and the mezzanine.
Our goal of building a house from foundations to roof in 8 working days is achieved!

Additionally, Matthieu concluded the site work with a demonstration on how to apply plasters on the straw and fix electric cables.

Day 9

14th of August
Today most of us go home and we have to say goodbye. It was an amazing week with plenty of work done and much knowledge learned. A big thanks for everyone for this big effort. We hope you had a great time on the farm and that this workshop will inspire you to build beautiful and comfortable buildings in the future.
The next workshop will be focused on mud brick building. We will construct the same house, with mud bricks instead of straw-bale.
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