I'm a straw builder with 6 years experience and have timber frame knowledge as well. I'm looking to move to the coast and start building again. I veered off course for a while and became a fire instructor but miss all that straw in my hair. Does anyone know of an outfit on the west coast of BC? Anyone want to start one? Let me know.
Welcome to Permies. I figured I'd chip in with my 2 cents/opinion.
Here's my cred: Born and raised on Van Isle, lived here for most of my 40 years. I've completed a 7 week "intro to Natural Building Course" in the Kootenays (it covered many topics, though none in real depth). I have a cousin who builds post and beam/timberframe straw bale houses in the west Kootenays. I live on 5 acres in Merville, North of Courtenay.
I don't want to dissuade you from moving to the Island and resuming natural building, but I would like to throw out a couple of my thoughts, grist for the mill, before you commit to any big moves.
Vancouver Island is an odd place, in the sense of settlement, rural lands and wilderness. There are only a few places with enough people (at least enough to sustain a building business) that aren't also well under the thumb of building inspectors (who are rarely open minded to "non-traditional" building technologies). The Gulf Islands offer more opportunity in this sense, and some people on the big Island have found open minded building inspectors, but it is something to be aware of. Timber framing is no problem (to my knowledge), it's anything to do with natural fill or non-framing based roof support that can be a challenge. Of course you can always hire a structural engineer to sign off on any plans, but that can add significant expense.
My other thought is in regards to straw bale as a building technology. To start with, there are no local sources of straw bales. We have hay bales a plenty, but little in the way of straw (no real grain farming on the coast). You would likely have to truck it in from Alberta. Secondly, I'm not convinced that straw bale, especially monolithic or continuous bale walls are a good idea in our highly wet climate. I would be worried that unnoticed cracks in the plaster coat (or any other path for moisture) would allow water into the bales. And out here on the coast, 'a little bit of moisture' is not something we experience...
To my mind, cob, cordwood or clay-slip (potentially with wood fibre as opposed to straw) would be a better option for infilling post and beam style walls (be they true timber framed or not). One of my pet peeves in natural building is the assumption that any one building style will work in all areas. I always laugh when I hear people talking about Earthships in Northern climates, especially damp and cloudy ones. The idea of living in a damp cave, under grey skies, that regulates to the mean soil temp of ~8C... blech!
Just a few of my thoughts/opinions I figure I'd offer up. In any case, I wish you success on your transition path!
And Kirk, you brought up many good points regarding the local environment, and the 'politics' of building inspectors.
Building inspectors, whether in the US or CA are reluctant to 'approve' something that they do not understand.
Perhaps, with time, as these alternative building styles become more common, they will will need to be educated to understand these techniques. You and I may willing to step outside the box, but don't expect civil servants to do so.
Kirk Hockin wrote: I always laugh when I hear people talking about Earthships in Northern climates, especially damp and cloudy ones. The idea of living in a damp cave, under grey skies, that regulates to the mean soil temp of ~8C... blech!
My neighbor built one in a dark forest near Nanaimo. It faces tall fir trees that are beyond his property line. Cold, dark, and laborious. It uses far too much firewood. There is no diurnal temperature swing to moderate and no other reason for the buildings(yes, more than one. He's going on 30 years of intermitent building) to exist.
passive solar does work here too>
strawbalehomes since 1995