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retrofitting an old frame house with straw bales

 
                        
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I have a smallish older house on a small lot with all the problems of small old house..no insulation and lots of drafts being the one I am concerned with now. I have used straw bales as is around the perimeter of buildings before and was very happy with the results. I would get mice for a week in the fall and once they were gone we were good for another year, which I could live with.

However, now I am thinking of doing something like a living wall on at least the north and possibly the east sides. It would extend the bales further up the wall  to the level of the base of the windows, perhaps with a two level tier system (it gets colder here than where I was before) which I would then plant.  If I dont care that the straw will eventually rot down I don't have to worry about such things as extending the roof, and having plants growing in it would make my neighbors happier than just having the straw bales. I don't want to plaster the bales for a couple of reasons, one of which is I am not sure yet what the eventual fate of the house is to be, this is just to try to cut down on waking up to  a drafty40 degree house in the winter. The other is that the bales will then be able to get rid of water and not  have it trapped against the house.


The moisture question is what has me worried..should I leave a space between the house and the straw bales and if so how much..an inch? half an inch?not necessary if bales not plastered? I wasn't worried when the bales were against the concrete foundation but next to the wood siding is another story. If I do leave a space, then come winter could I attach something or other  to stop the wind from getting in? Or maybe cover the whole thing with a tarp until the spring? The tarp would not let the water out very well but it would keep the wind out, and if the bales were dry when it went on..

If anyone has any experience with this sort of thing..or anyone at all has any ideas/suggestions they would be most welcome. Thanks!
 
                                                                    
Posts: 114
Location: Nashville, Tennessee, USA
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Dear Pam:

I think you are in unchartered territory.
Since this is a temporary situation I offer the following consideration.

Leave anough room between the house and the bales to allow cats to hunt for mice.

You may also want to be able to walk in between house and bales.

Air is also a good insullator.

You could stair step bails on outside, away from house.  That might stablize the wall and keep it from tipping.  Bails can be tied off to each other.

I hope that helps and that you stay warm.
 
                  
Posts: 59
Location: NW Ontario
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After wetting, the bales will stay damp for a long time and will prevent the siding from drying to the outside. After a while the siding will rot.
If you leave an airspace between the bales and the wall then the siding should do better, but you will loose much of the air sealing/insulating effect of the bales that you were looking for. Air is an effective insulator only if it is sealed off from the environments that it is separating.
If you intend to live in the house for a long time consider a home energy audit. The auditor will be able to demonstrate where the most air is leaking through your house and where insulation is weakest. Depending on the specifics of how your house is constructed, you may be able to have cellulose insulation (recycled news paper) blown through holes drilled in the wall thereby avoiding a costly tear-down of the interior cladding.
 
                        
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yes this is the scenario I am trying to find a way around.  I was wondering if I had a tarp  at the top of the bales attached to the siding and running  down behind them..it would prevent any moisture travelling through the bales to the siding but then any moisture trying to get out of the house wouldn't be able to do so. There would be a degree of airspace in any case as the siding laps and the bales wouldn't be pushed tight into it..but the airspace was the reason I was thinking of tarps over the thing in the winter..we get terrific winds here sometimes. Would a tarp behind the straw bales work if it was attached to lathing to hold it away from the wall a little?

I have access to all sorts of tarps which otherwise will go to the dump so if something like this would work ..

Don't want to put a lot of money into the place; it would take at least $20 000 to bring it into shape (EVERYTHING  needs done) and what I would have then would be a very old badly planned and still inconvenient  but functioning house not worth more than I had put into it.  The main reason I even consider it is because of a wonderful green ash tree at the back door which I doubt could be saved if the house were to be demolished and rebuilt. (the best scenario, frankly.)
 
                        
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If I were to go the fix-up route I would be using the so called green  4x8 sheet insulation on the inside and just making a new wall on the INSIDE of the house.  It would lose  about 4 inches per outside wall of inside space but that would be something I could do..getting anyone around here to do anything is a challenge, there is so  much work that finding people to do it  is a problem, so that's something which has to be considered as well.  Also I don't think there is anyone closer than 2 hours away that does the cellulose blowin type of insulation. This house is small enough I doubt it would be worth their while to make the trip..or have to charge so much it wouldn't be even nearly cost effective to have it done.

 
                                  
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Another approach would be to wrap the house on the outside with new insulation and re-stucco.  The outside of the house would protrude about 3 inches beyond the windows giving the look of a rustic/straw bale home. I looked into this a few years ago for an older home I was wanting to buy and was working with a builder who knew about doing this but I don't remember all the details.  It was not expensive and cut energy use a lot.
 
Wyatt Smith
Posts: 111
Location: Midwest zone 6
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I'm not there so I don't know.  And free advice is worth what you pay for it.  So here is my opinion.

I do not encourage retrofitting bad houses.  Live with it until you can tear it down and build properly.  A bunch of free used tarps wrapped around the exterior of the house will help until then. 
 
                        
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Mangudai wrote:
I'm not there so I don't know. And free advice is worth what you pay for it. So here is my opinion.

I do not encourage retrofitting bad houses. Live with it until you can tear it down and build properly. A bunch of free used tarps wrapped around the exterior of the house will help until then.


I have come to the same conclusion, I put straw bales around the foundation just above the join between foundation and house which has made quite a difference, and next year will build a small house on my other property (which was the original idea anyway..long story). 4 years is enough waiting for things to come together; I have revamped plans so I can move onto the land next year.

The place only cost me $5000 and has sheltered me for 4 years now so it doesn't owe me anything. Next spring I will be looking to sell it for salvage (It is solid enough with no leaks-yet- but EVERYTHING  needs updating, and it's badly designed)  or lot price even trade it for something. It's really only worth fixing up if a person expected to stay here for a long time.

Thanks for your input
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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