CAROLYN'S BLOG ABOUT THE HOUSE CONSTRUCTION
AND THE YEARS BEYOND
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Sat, Apr 9
6:30 am

Having a Wall-Raising Party!: The wall-raising is one of the highlights of building a straw bale house. There are many long, lonely, hard-working days when you decide to do the labor yourself or even partly by yourself, so to me it was great fun when party-day arrived. Strangers arrive, ready to help you build your house for free (and lunch, please)! To me, it was a real warm fuzzy to realize that people do still help each other for the joy of helping. As with any party, it took lots of preparation however. Here are some tips:

Party-Planner: You will need a party-planner - someone who is familiar with straw bale building (perhaps your consultant) who can organize everyone and make sure you get the most out of their time. You will also need volunteers. Put a flyer up at any organization you belong to: church, school, work, etc. If you don't get enough people from that, then put a flyer at health food stores. Make it eye-catching with a photo and make it sound like fun and education. This really is a rare opportunity for people interested in natural building to learn about it and see a house in progress - for free! And of course, make a Facebook event for all your friends to see and sign up for!

No volunteer wants to arrive and find that nobody really knows what they want him or her to do, so their time is wasted. The funny thing is that people (me included) who want to build straw bale houses often study how to raise the walls and yet, you really don't need to know much about this because your party planner is the one who will guide it. But it's always good to know what you are doing, so you can make the big decisions on what should be done. You are going to be gathering 30-50 people and you will be busy helping them all find the restrooms, find water, gathering supplies as they run out, and answering questions.
Trust me, you won't have time to also organize the labor teams, so pay the fee to have someone come and organize the work. To find a consultant in your area, try looking at the directory on greenbuilder.com: directory.greenbuilder.com The builder will organize your party into wall teams, so you have a group for each wall and a wall-captain to watch the work and make sure it is staying straight. Actually, each captain should have one corner, plus one wall to guide. The corners are the most important. These people will all be new to the job, so they need a guide who is not distracted by kids that need to go to the bathroom. =) Plus, your builder may be able to help you get scaffolds (which you will need ) and even a loader tractor - bales fit very neatly into a loader and can be raised to the upper levels of a wall.

Preparation: One of the first things you'll need to do is get some graph paper and draw out each of the walls of your house. Measure your bales and turn the little squares on the graph paper into bales, so you have an exact measure of how each of your walls will be put together, plus an understanding of smaller bales you'll need to make to fit around your windows and doors. On this diagram, notice where you will be putting the frames for your windows and doors, so the wall-raising teams will know exactly when to pause and insert them. Believe me, it's easy to stack up a wall and suddenly realize you forgot the window! Plus, you want all your windows to be at equal height. It looks very funny, if a house has high and low windows along a wall. So, you want to be sure everyone knows exactly what their wall should look like. The wall captain will need this diagram to refer to and use as a guide.

After you have your diagram, check in with your builder and find out what other items you need for the wall-raising. I needed 3 foot lengths of all-thread. They had to be four feet apart, so we had to know exactly where they would go in each wall. They fastened to j-bolts in the stemwall, so we had to be prepared for this as we did the foundation. I also needed lots of rebar, so I had to order that and have it laying in piles by each wall. You don't want to make one wall team walk around the house to get their supplies, so everything they need should be lying in neat piles at each corner of the house or each wall. You may need mallets or pounders of some sort, plus rebar caps to put on top of the rebar as you pound it into your walls. Or perhaps you are using bamboo - think of everything you need to fasten it. You may need strips of metal lath to connect the bales to the window bucks, so they don't slip against the wood. Some builders use large wooden spikes from the bucks into the bales. Or maybe you are using lentels and not bucks. At any rate, be very clear on how your walls are going to be constructed and what you need. My wall-raising guide was the very knowledgeable author, Matts Myhrman.

About a month before the wall-raising, Matts gave me a list of supplies I would need. Then, the day before the wall-raising, Matts came over and we laid on some of the bales of the first course and put up some of the all-thread. This saved time and helped us see exactly how the bales would fit against the size of the foundation - its really a good idea to have your foundation be the same size as a certain number of bales lined up. Another really helpful thing is to make the width of your window and door frames equal the width of a bale.
Matts began the wall-raising with a brief talk to the group, then dividing it into wall-teams. Then, we gave them instruction on how to divide a large bale into smaller bales, to fit around the windows and doors as needed. You will need baling twine and large needles to do this, so be sure you have those supplies and a book that shows you how, or you get instruction from your builder. Some groups of people will need to be bale-dividers and others can pick up loose straw around the site, to eliminate fire-danger. Anyone who has asthma should be in charge of lunch, or wear a mask.
To make the corners of the house vertical, we taped four-foot levels to 2 x 4's and had the wall captains (or corner-captains) use them to guide the walls. You can also build vertical corner guides or really, it often works to step back and watch. It's usually pretty obvious if the wall is going crooked. Your builder shoudl have a preference on this, or again, read a book and study the various methods. I did have to do some adjustment work to a couple of corners after the wall-raising, but it is a lot of work!
Then, when you have your supplies, your trained group of workers and captains, your lunch table filled with a big jug of water, a couple bale-dividing areas, some snacks and a designated person to run out for sandwiches or pizza, a temporary bathroom of some sort set up, the work can begin! We set up a portable toilet with wood chips next to it for my wall-raising. It was inside the trailer that I moved into after the wall-raising.
Here's a photo of my house after a day of wall-raising. It took us a few days, but I scheduled this right before Christmas when everyone needed to go shopping, so the volunteers thinned after lunch. Try not to do that. One other thing I highly recommend, is to prepare your top plate for the wall-raising. The top plate is very heavy and requires a group of people to heave it up onto the top of the bales. If you can get the walls up with enough time in a the day left, you can ask the group to even get your top plate in place.
Here is the top place in place over the straw bale walls. In this photo, you can also see how the bales fit around the window bucks and how the bucks had to be the height of several bales on the outside, then framed to fit the windows on the inside. The small hole is for ducting - don't forget to make holes for anything like that, also. You can see where the all-thread comes through the top plate. That comes all the way from the foundation.

So, I hope this gives you an overview of how to get your walls up and even though you will have an expert to guide you, and even though you may do very little of this work because you'll be busy getting lunch, supplies and answering questions, it's good to know what's going on! Most of all, have fun! This is a very, very special day.

If you have other questions - send me an email - strawlady@comcast.net.

Keep it Simple - and be kind!
Carolyn