Wiring in a Straw Bale House: I am asked fairly
often how we got the electric wires through the straw
bale walls. Normally, electricians drill holes in the
2x4's that support the walls and run the wires through
them. Obviously, you can't do that with a straw bale
wall. Boy does a house take a lot of electrical wiring,
too! I was astounded at how many wires I had to run
in this small house. Take a look around your house now
and look at every light, switch, outlet and anything
else running on electricity in the area around you.
Figure that each one of those items has a wire running
all the way from it to your circuit breaker, wherever
that may be. It adds up to many, many feet of wire.
remember the day we turned on the current in the house
and it was almost like blood flowing through a human
body - life. The house wasn't just a shell of walls
and roof any longer, it could power lights, computers,
a toaster . . . very exciting. I had no solar panels,
by the way. If you have read the book, you know I was
on a very tight budget. I'm still waiting for the cost
to come down. But my house uses very little electricity.
I have low-watt light bulbs everywhere. I have my electronics
plugged into power cords and I turn them off when I
am not using them. I have no dishwasher and actually
no clothes washer now. It's just me and I wash my clothes
by hand, then hang them to dry. I grew up in an era
with no dishwashers. We would gather in the kitchen
after dinner and chat while we washed and dried. It
was nice. I wash my clothes on Sundays - a day I reserve
for myself with absolutely no outside pressures. Hanging
clothes is a pleasant ritual, also. In the summer, it's
often 100 degrees and windy here. The clothes are dry
in about half an hour.
is a photo of the electric circuit breaker box outside
my front door. It has to be somewhere near the driveway,
so the electric company can come read the meter.
We framed a cabinet around the circuit breakers,
so I can get to them easily if needed and also to
hide this thing. I painted it the same color as
the rest of the house.
is nothing to do haphazardly or without full knowledge
of what you are doing, so this is where you pull in
your consultant. You can't possibly be building a house
without a building professional to guide you through
it! First, be sure he guides you through all the circuit
breakers you need to purchase - or purchases them for
you. Make a diagram of what wire will run where. It
is not rocket science to run a wire from Point A to
Point B when there is no current in the wire, so you
can save hours of labor by doing this, as long as you
are careful to do exactly what you are told. You will
probably be using Romex wire and that is copper wire
coated with plastic. Each little wire inside the romex
is coated, also, to separate them. It is very, very
important that you do nothing to compromise the plastic
coating in the wire. Don't run staples or nails through
it. There are special staples with plastic liners to
use for securing electric wire. Be sure your builder
tells you what size wire to use for each circuit - it's
very important that the size of the wire correspond
to its electrical purpose and to the size of the circuit
breaker to which it will be attached.
label both ends of each wire!!! We numbered them and
then had a chart of which number went to which outlet
or appliance. It is very important when you connect
up the circuit breakers, to be accurate in knowing which
item will be turned on and off with that circuit breaker
and boy can it get confusing when you have a mountain
of wires heading into a breaker box! I think I had about
30 circuits in this very small house. I cannot even
imagine what it's like to wire a huge house.
that I have said that, here is what we did. Jon Ruez
was my consultant and he guided me carefully through
all this. If
an electric wire had to go through a straw bale wall
vertically, we took the back of a hammer and made a
trench in the wall for the wire, Your building code
probably requires that wires have to be a couple inches
into the wall, so we made the trench deep enough for
code. Then I bought a roll of #7 fence wire and used
big wire cutters to cut it into foot-long pieces. I
bent each piece over the end of a saw horse into a large
U-shaped staple, I used that staple to secure the wire
into the back of the trench. One word of caution: code
requires electric wires to be a couple inches into a
wall so that your picture nails don't hit the wires.
In a straw bale house, you may use 6" nails to
hang pictures. The good news is that those nails are
very dull. So, if you are pounding a 6" nail into
your wall and it hits some resistance, stop. Move the
nail. It would be good to keep the diagram of where
your wires are in your walls and pass it along, if you
sell the house.
is a photo of the wall by a window with paint marker
for a switch box. Sitting in the window sill is
a stake we made from a 2x4. In every area that needed
a switch or outlet box, we first dug an area to
fit the box using the back of a hammer or pliers,
then we pounded the wooden stake into the back of
that indented area until the butt of the stake was
flush with the straw. Then, we screwed the box to
the end of the stake.
your electric wire needs to go horizontally through
a straw bale wall, you can get a dull wooden wedge (very
important that it is dull and wooden, not metal) and
you can use that to push the wire between the bales.
Again, be sure that you push it in deep enough for code.
The bale will hold it very securely. In other areas
and if you are not comfortable running your wires through
straw, you can run them all up to the top plate, above
the straw, and get around the house that way. You can
also run them across the ceiling. Code will tell you
how to secure the wire to the trusses or top plate.
You will still need to run the wire down the wall vertically,
because your outlets won't be up at the ceiling. If
you don't like that, either, you can put conduit in
those wire trenches and run your wires down through
the conduit. This would make it more work and more expensive,
but easier if you ever need to pull the wire back out
for some reason. If it makes you sleep better because
you have some protection between your wires and the
straw, then by all means, do it!
was never good at calculating electric current, wire
size and breaker size. I still am not. So, I ran the
wires under Jon's guidance and inspection. I then borrowed
his tools to "dress" the boxes. This is where
you run the wires into the back of the electric switch
boxes and then remove the plastic romex from the end
of them with special tools, so you don't damage the
wire. You cap the end of the wires and this gets inspected.
(It's one of my 23 inspections - electric intermediate).
After that was done, I had Jon connect the wires to
the circuit breakers. He showed me how to connect them
to the actual outlets or switches and I got pretty good
at it, but you might let an electrician do that part.
When you turn on the current, you want everything to
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it Simple - and be kind!