of House Construction
We had the house plans drawn by a draftsman in Tucson
who charged $1 per square foot, plus a little additional
for all the deck area. I spent a great deal of time
researching straw bale homes and passive solar design,
attending workshops, measuring furniture and thinking
about what I wanted and needed. I did find that
straw bale homes are just as expensive to build as regular
homes, perhaps more, unless you are willing to do much
of the work yourself. Of course the walls are only a part
of the house and there's all that other stuff like plumbing
and electric, that's just as complex as any other house,
especially when you have to deal with building codes.
We, of course, hired out the perk test and septic tank
installation. He charged $1,500 and cleared
my house area for free because he took several weeks to
get the job done. Normally a company would charge
about $2,000 for the smallest septic possible, for a 2
bedroom house. I have no idea what it would have
cost to have the building site cleared.
I bought almost all my windows and doors at a recycle
yard and found some great values. I got double paned
windows and nice, wood, carved doors. I believe
I would easily have spent twice this much if I had bought
them all at Home Depot and probably easily five times
this amount if I had gone to a real quality, wooden door
and window company. The hours reflected are for construction
of the large bucks for a load bearing structure, as in
the photos, and for lathing around them. Refinishing
recycled doors and hanging them took many hours, too.
The windows had to be purchased before the bucks were
made and then stored where they wouldn't break until they
could be installed.
Wow, this was a bunch of dirty, hard work. These
costs reflect the materials to build forms, hire tractors
to dig the trenches, hire a professional to place the
rebar and pour the footer. My son and I laid the
CMU block stemwall ourselves, then hired some help to
run the mortar mixer and help pour concrete into the stemwall,
fill the center of the house with 9" or gravel (AB mix)
to raise the floor 12" per building requirements.
Using earth-colored CMU block for the exterior stemwall
really increased the amount of work and those things are
heavy and hard to cut, but made for a much more attractive
base that will blend with the earthen plasters.
Doing this over, I'd probably have a concrete truck come
and fill the stemwall and hire out the entire footer construction.
I got the bales from a local farmer for $4 per bale, including
delivery and needed about 200 bales. They only come
in truckloads of 80 or 90, so I ordered extra to make
steps up the walls, and later benches and walls with.
I hired Matts Myhrman to over see the wall-raising for
$300 per day and then everyone else, bless them, raised
the walls for free. A joyous day! There were still costs
for metal lath, nails, rebar, allthread, etc. Many
hours went into framing the high gable ends, also.
I filled the west gable with half-bales and framed the
east gable with 2 x 6's. I included the ceiling
work with the walls and with this high ceiling, it was
many hours of insulating and drywalling from a very high
scaffold to get that done - and thanks to good friends
who came to drywall the ceiling with us.
This is an estimate on what I might have paid a consultant.
Jon Ruez, my friend and consultant, has not charged me,
but he has put in many, many hours of labor and consulting,
along with lending me many tools.
This is a very steep pitched roof to make room for the
loft. I hired a crew of four to install the trusses,
which was difficult because, lo and behold, the walls
weren't perfectly square! I can see now that it's
very important to build the top plate to fit the trusses,
not the bales - and then make the bales fit under it.
Having the house slightly out of square made the roofing
and sheathing difficult, and then on the inside, the drywalling
was in rhomboids, also. So, there are many reasons
to raise the walls as straight as possible.
Because of the porch, I had permission from the county
to cover the walls with whatever I chose, so I chose earth
plasters with no stabilizer. I patched them with
lime and found it a pain to work with caustic materials.
We had much more fun at the plaster party dealing with
pure mud. After much research and learning from
friends, if I had to put earth plasters on a house with
no porch, I would mix asphalt emulsion with it.
This doesn't stink like hot tar, it's just like adding
oil to the plasters and makes them very durable - has
been used in adobe for years. No sense doing all
this work and then having to redo it in a couple of years
or ruining the bales. On the interior, I used
a base coat of cob to shape the walls and then I covered
them with a fine coat made of pottery clay and silica
We used Pex plumbing, which was fast and convenient, since
there are no joints in the walls that might leak.
Tubes run from a main manifold all the way to the fixture.
There is a photo of the manifold in the photos pages.
This was where I really needed Jon, my consultant.
Okay, and just about everywhere else, too. Electricity
was very complex, even in a small house and beyond what
I could learn from a book at this late stage of construction,
when there really wasn't much time to study.
The loft was beyond what I could possibly construct myself.
Jon and a carpenter built it and put together the spiral
stairway, which I got in a kit from Stairways, Inc. in
Houston for about $1,000. While this house is charming
and inexpensive, it was not easy to build with the high
ceiling, steep roof and loft. This required huge
beams and heavy lifting. I love having a curved
wall around it, too, but that was difficult to build,
I love the porch, both for its protection, shade, and
alternative living areas. I have my laundry out
on it, outside dining area and tool shed. As time
goes by, I'm sure I'll fill every niche of it. However,
it took lots of expensive lumber, mainly the large beams
between the posts - and many rafters. Along with
the loft, it was beyond what I could build myself, so
I hired a carpenter. I could barely even help him
lift one end of the beams. The sunroom gives the
house plenty of light - we also put translucent roofing
over the windows and a skylight on the north side.
By the time I got to the cabinets, I was really pinching
pennies, so instead of spending $5,000 on standard cabinets,
I am purchasing the base of the cupboards from Home Depot
and then I'll build my own doors out of saguaro ribs later.
Total and Hours
Yup, cost three times what I expected and took three times