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Straw bale builder with 32 homes under my belt looking to join crew or start one on Vancouver Island

 
Darren Ward
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Hey there all,

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.

Darren.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Howdy Darren, welcome to permies. Hopefully you will find a new place.

What is a fire instructor?
 
Darren Ward
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I teach firefighting. Anything from search and rescue to leading teams of people into giant propane fueled infernos. Looking for something a little more organic Thanks Miles for the welcome.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Cool, you have come to the right place for "more organic" we like to say beyond organic. Maybe you could look through some of the other threads and answer some straw bale questions if you find the time? Thanks
 
Jim schalles
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Both 'The Mud Girls' and Patrick Henneberry's 'Cobworks' are located on Vancouver Island and Mayne Island respectively. They focus on all sorts of earthen structures and might be good sources to ask for more info about people doing work in the area.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Darren Ward
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Thanks for the tip Jim
 
Kirk Hockin
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Location: Merville, BC
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Hi Darren,

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!
 
John Polk
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For us Yanks here, that 8C temp translates to 46.4 F.
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.



 
Dale Hodgins
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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.
 
Bruce Glenn
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Hi James don't let the naysayers get you down. Straw bale homes work in the northwest along with ant properly designed natural or conventional home. I have built Sb since 1995 in Durnago colorado website strawbalehomes.com . The down side is ignorance when it comes to straw. As you understand all conventional and natural homes are organic and can decompose when in contact with water. If you can build your self a SB home or cottage and use it as a show case and prove it does work. When I moved to the Northwest in 2001 I surveyed the area talked to builders, Architects , home owners about SB failures. The only rotting Straw bales were in a studio friend Architect Chris Stafford found was in Vancouver washington with the straw in contact with a north hill grade. Ventilating a rain screen for water exposure locations makes sense. And as you understand Proper Flashing and building above the grade is the key.

passive solar does work here too>

Best

Good Luck

Bruce Glenn
strawbalehomes since 1995

 
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