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The ultimate potential of wheat straw construction.

 
Tom Turner
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This is a call to think out-of-the-box.

I'm obsessed with the idea that wheat straw has the potential to be the structure and sheathing and insulation of a building all at the same time. And the British demonstrate for us that even in rainy Ye Olde England wheat straw can be used as the weather-resistant outer layer on thatched roofs. If one inverts the idea that straw bales are the byproduct of growing wheat flour and consider that wheat flour is the byproduct of growing wheat straw, then we serendipitous find ourselves with a great supply of glue (wheat paste) along with our straw building material.

With one material, which can be grown all over the world, the entire structure or shell of a very well-insulated building can be grown on a few acres of land (I don't know how many) without ever visiting the Home Depot (symbol of our institutionalized existing, and very expensive, building system). Seed becomes the only up-front expense for the above ground structural shell. And this seed is available from subsequent growing season of the pioneering straw builder who originally bought his seed. A community, or village could be built gradually from the annual output of single, perhaps communal, wheat field planted with a good strain of long-straw thatching wheat.

That is the great potential of wheat as a building material. To think out of the box we must first stop thinking of a straw bale, and think of the wheat plant itself. A drinking straw is a good model of the material we are considering. squeeze it from the side and it has no stregth whatsoever. Squeeze it the long way and it is very strong. If it can be prevented from bowing out in the middle it has incredible stregth. Then watch this animation. At 32 seconds is a close-up of the first thing that modern wheat combines do - destroys the wheat straw as a building material. Beats the crap out of it, bends it and breaks the fibers. Take your drinking straw and do the same thing to it and then consider it's suitability as a building material.


Past technologies are a good source to mine ideas. history of wheat harvesting and straw thatching are good starts.


 
Glenn Herbert
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Good topic! Now what other types of straw could be used for these applications, and are any of them currently harvested in a way that is not so damaging to the straw? Hand harvesting by scythe of a purpose-grown straw/grain crop could treat the straw better, though threshing always involved beating up the stalks.

Thatched roofs are a simple (in concept) application; how would you propose to apply straw for walls? Tying bundles onto a frame shingle-fashion like thatching might work, or it might not, as there would not be the same effect of gravity. Would it be safe enough to have exposed straw ends near ground level where any passing candle or torch could contact it?

What other system involving primarily straw could you use for walls, aside from baling it? Light straw-clay would be one, though that hardly cares how gently the straw was treated as long as it is not destroyed.
 
Glenn Herbert
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Have you ever gotten some handfuls of good straw and tried ways of assembling the stalks that have good strength? That would seem to be the primary means of finding what can work to use straw for the structure. Do you have any thoughts on how to keep straws in compression lengthwise from buckling?
 
Tom Turner
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Glenn Herbert wrote: threshing always involved beating up the stalks.


These Amish have a straw-gentle thresher.


I rather the idea of mounting a hedge trimmer to the tailgate of a pick-up and just cut the heads off, they drop into the bed and drive them to one of the usually unemployed combines that are all around farm country.

Glenn Herbert wrote: Do you have any thoughts on how to keep straws in compression lengthwise from buckling?



The wheat sheave has long been symbolic of synergistic strength through unity. Single stalks of wheat fall to the ground but tied sheaves stand-up in the wind. So we need to bind straw to straw. What do we have to work with? Through the ages people tied the sheaves with straw. I think we can do better now. We can take our grain and grind it into flour with a 1 HP mill one can buy for a couple hundred dollars on e-bay. Then mix it with water in a 5 gallon bucket. And then with a Craig's List paint sprayer with a big tip (a few more hundred dollars) we can just glue everything together ...and Home Depot doesn't make a dime.

.
 
Glenn Herbert
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I had a feeling you were heading to wheat paste glue
What is the strength of that in tension (how well will it hold the straws together), and how long will it last in a building context? What moisture content can it absorb before weakening? How do you keep insects etc. from burrowing in it and eating it? Borax??

I understand that straw is valued in cob building in part because it is mostly fiber with little digestible matter. Wheat paste is highly digestible.

Brainstorming is wonderful, but the concept needs some elementary testing to determine some actual values. Can you get some materials to do it? I hope you do really investigate this, to either find that it is viable or find another way of using the material that works better.
 
Tam Deal
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Some of these products already exist. They used to make a plywood like material out of straw. And they may have made SIPs. It could be made out of what is left over from harvesting grains, just as OSB is made out of back broken wood fibers. For whatever reason they stopped making it.

The good news:

- It already exists;
- It does not require glue, like bamboo the fibers bond permanently under heat and pressure.
- It is a carbon sequestration technology, which is probably good, and also means there might be the push to add it to the great global warming dumb down. This works two ways. One is bound carbon is built into houses where it stays. Two typically they burn off the fields, so aggressively there are often major car crashes from lack of visibility.
- Maybe it could be rolled into the whole make skyscrapers out of wood thing, look at TED talk on that.

- They tried it, the market presumably didn't take to it.
-OSB to which it was often compared is being dropped from some codes, which may or not be relevant.
-Wheat is ecreasingly a diet problem, and I guess there will always be a lot of it in diets, but maybe not so good
- huge mono crop that will continue to be bad for the environment.
-There is always the problem of stuff that while fab from some perspective is nonetheless a second rate approach that we will all have to live with the inefficiencies thereof for decades afterwards. If it is less structurally competent, or the SIPs are less insulative, or the structure less able to survive post disaster exposure to the weather, then those would be issue. But we would need the actual facts on that to know.
 
Tam Deal
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Well there are chinese factories making the ply, and elsewhere. There is a company just next door here making straw Sips, with great fanfare. I googled "straw sips" and then halfway through the search laughed out loud thinking I would have little hope of getting anything useful from that search, but the SIPs came up first thing.
 
Tom Turner
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Glenn Herbert wrote:I had a feeling you were heading to wheat paste glue
What is the strength of that in tension (how well will it hold the straws together), and how long will it last in a building context? What moisture content can it absorb before weakening? How do you keep insects etc. from burrowing in it and eating it? Borax??

I understand that straw is valued in cob building in part because it is mostly fiber with little digestible matter. Wheat paste is highly digestible.

Brainstorming is wonderful, but the concept needs some elementary testing to determine some actual values. Can you get some materials to do it? I hope you do really investigate this, to either find that it is viable or find another way of using the material that works better.


Yeah, the idea needs lots of work, and there are many directions which it can go ("potential"). I threw the idea out there, it is public domain. Anybody can grab hold and take it. It is my gift.

The glue which holds straws together, if the straws are oriented to receive purely axial compressive loading, won't be tensile. It will be shear. Shear is the easiest force to withstand.

A 2x4 is digestible. But that doesn't stop us from building with them.

In the realm of urban political activism "wheat-pasting" is the clandestine gluing of posters to buildings. It is considered mean-spirited to use common flour. The polite activist will use gluten-free flour because it is removable. Full gluten wheat paste is near next to impossible to remove ... removing wood-pulp paper from an exterior surface exposed to the weather - a demanding application.

Gluten is the part of the wheat grain that is sticky. Durum wheat, the wheat used in pasta, is highest in gluten. Long straw thatching wheat may not be the best glue. One might have to eat or sell the long-straw wheat and buy durum wheat - or grow durum and deal with the short straw.

In context we need to imagine a wall, or a vault, of 16 inches thick glued together as a monolithic structure with every straw oriented in pure compression ...a solid 16 inch thick structural wall. not a series of 2x4's. Half of all the bonds could fail and it will still be 10x stronger that the 2x4 wall. Compare that to a stack of broken straw with somewhat random orientation, fluffy-n-squishy bales, constructed of "flakes" purposely designed to easily fall apart, and held together with two strings. If these two concepts were presented to me untried it is the latter that would cause me the most gnashing of teeth. And indeed it causes the authors of building codes concern. It is these authors, and their minions (inspectors), which are the most difficult obstacle.

.
 
Glenn Herbert
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Light straw-clay is recommended to be not more than 12" thick, so that it can dry out before mold sets in (also recommended to be built in dry weather). The possibility of internal molding needs to be investigated... is it an issue or not? Would building up the dome in layers mitigate the issue sufficiently? There are lots of factors to investigate... how soon can a stock of undamaged straw be available for use in testing?
 
Glenn Herbert
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Something occurred to me in regard to durability: I have seen talk of adding lime to strawbale plasters. Would it help to have a wheat paste/lime mix? The lime is said to increase rigidity and preserve straw to some degree. I expect you would need something like lime plaster on exteriors near the ground, even if you add a thatched roof layer. It would need to have overhanging eaves so water is directed away from the walls at ground level. You would obviously also want plaster on the interiors.
 
Tom Turner
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[quote=Tam Deal] Some of these products already exist. (...) It already exists; (...) They tried it, the market presumably didn't take to it.
[/quote]

SIPs, regardless of what they are made out of, are not even close enough to call apples and oranges, let alone claim the idea of the OP (to use wheat straw whole, as-scythed) already exists in a SIP factory. No-factory! No Home Depot! No mortgage! And especially no 400 degree very expensive capital equipment required or welcomed.

 
Tom Turner
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Glenn Herbert wrote:Light straw-clay is recommended to be not more than 12" thick, so that it can dry out before mold sets in (also recommended to be built in dry weather). The possibility of internal molding needs to be investigated... is it an issue or not? Would building up the dome in layers mitigate the issue sufficiently? There are lots of factors to investigate... how soon can a stock of undamaged straw be available for use in testing?

(...)

Something occurred to me in regard to durability: I have seen talk of adding lime to strawbale plasters. Would it help to have a wheat paste/lime mix? The lime is said to increase rigidity and preserve straw to some degree. I expect you would need something like lime plaster on exteriors near the ground, even if you add a thatched roof layer. It would need to have overhanging eaves so water is directed away from the walls at ground level. You would obviously also want plaster on the interiors.


This is a good point. One would introduce water into the interior. Yet I was kind-of thinking that the opposite might be the case: Oriented straw would allow a directional airflow. That could hurt the R-value substantially - making dead air not so dead. The straw might need to have the ends dipped in some wheat paste to block off the duct that each straw is.

I was hoping that the existing art of straw-bale plastering would solve some of the sealing problems. Compared to existing fluffy and flexible bales, a more rigid and stable glued-whole-straw would be far easier to plaster. On the interior I would think the straw itself would be a suitable finish. There is no loose straws like in a bale. Let it breath.

Think vault. One monolithic structure. Kind-of like this, but without the possibility of it crumbling into a pile of bales:


 
Glenn Herbert
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Straw, like bamboo, has joints, so air would not be able to flow through the stalks regardless of end sealing. I would expect the glue, if it was sufficient to secure the stalks, to also block many of the ends as well. Not to mention that you are talking about the straw all being oriented parallel to the vault surfaces, so there would be nowhere for air to go if it could travel through individual stalks.
 
Tom Turner
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Glenn Herbert wrote:Straw, like bamboo, has joints, so air would not be able to flow through the stalks regardless of end sealing. I would expect the glue, if it was sufficient to secure the stalks, to also block many of the ends as well. Not to mention that you are talking about the straw all being oriented parallel to the vault surfaces, so there would be nowhere for air to go if it could travel through individual stalks.


Does straw have joints? I have a small handful of winter wheat which have stalks only about a foot long, and no joints. I suspect that long-straw thatching wheat might have joints like tall grasses I have seen.

I have limited resources, limited space, limited money. I'd like to get some straw and build some things. My first concept was to "manufacture" Straw Voussoirs somewhere about the size of a bale (the size able to be handled by a man). I don't like that idea (which follows the ancient art of stone building, and the straw bale vault pictured above) because of the need to build false-work - in essence building the house twice and throwing away the first one. I like the idea of on-site manufacturing of arches that look like the St Louis Gateway arch (in-scale of course) and assembling them in a process that looks like, seems like, an extrusion process. Each arch, because they all came out of the same form, would be identical.

A scythe or Troy-Bilt sickle-bar mower (are they still built in Troy N.Y. ?). A friendly farmer growing winter wheat (this time of year) who would sell me for a reasonable cost a few hundred square feet of his field. I bet if one would only take the outer edge of the field where the wheat kind-of tapers off he might sell it cheap. That would be the first step, which for me will definitely not happen this year.

I already have a paint sprayer and it shoots wheat paste just fine. A bigger tip and a helper mixing buckets would allow a really high application rate. I see four people: one grinding and mixing wheat-paste, one feeding straw to the straw-layer (like a brick-layer) and one just the trigger man gluing everything in sight which looks like straw - hopefully not his straw-layer buddy. The straw-layer would dip the ends first in a puddle of paste maintained by the paste-mixer. Then he would lay out the straw on the already pasted stack. excess straw which didn't contact sticky paste could be picked back up and get out of the way quickly before the trigger-man sprays it, and hopefully not the straw-layer's hands. The manufacturing process could produce a really high cubic foot per hour rate. If done on a hot summer day one arch could be removed after a short break and the second arch made, and third .... ?

The material as produced, I imagine would be pretty light, kind-of like styrofoam. It would have a very low dead-load, which allows most of it's strength to be applied to live load (roofers hauling wet cob).

I just don't know or understand the cob, earthen plaster and other technologies that so many here on permies seem to have mastered. Personally, just because of my experiences, I tend to want to cover this whole vault with 2 inches of steel reinforced concrete, two inches loaded purely in a catenary compressive load, yielding load-strength like a bridge - and then hang a second story from it. But the second story, as well as the glass-filled south end-wall, requires trips to the HomeDepot. It can't be escaped altogether.

BTW thatching as a covering is a possibility, but my point was the ability of straw (and wheat paste, remember the posters which can't be removed) to survive exposure is already proven.

Have you googled catenary yet? For me it was an epiphany.

.
 
Glenn Herbert
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Have you looked at any of Antoni Gaudi's large-space structures (especially the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona)? He brought the catenary arch to a high art form.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagrada_Fam%C3%ADlia

The (baled) straw I have has joints every so often, not to mention that air movement in such a small space unless both ends are open to other airspaces will cause negligible insulation loss.

The on-grade layup method you describe would ease construction, but would likely severely reduce the monolithic nature of the design and reduce strength. I am skeptical that sections small enough to dry in a timely fashion would be large enough to stand the stresses of handling and erection.

I think that any waterproof coating or covering on the vault would subject the interior to moisture buildup in cold weather. Thatch may be necessary as not only compatible with the underlying structure, but a breathable water-shedding surface. Cob would absolutely not be suitable on the exterior, and probably not so much on the interior. I would use lime plaster where finished surfaces are needed - and I think most people would include the interior.
 
Max Kennedy
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Though all true, for building purposes hemp would be better. Indeed with some breeding for seed production would likely be a better grain as well.
 
Tom Turner
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Max Kennedy wrote:Though all true, for building purposes hemp would be better. Indeed with some breeding for seed production would likely be a better grain as well.


Does it have rot-resistance? Are you saying the seeds would also make glue?
 
R Ranson
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Hemp in building is one of those things that needs it's own thread. There's too much to talk about to just tag it on another thread. It has both advantages and disadvantages galore, not to mention a political aspect which would fit better in the cider press.

This thread is about wheat straw.
 
C. Letellier
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If you are going to make it work you need 5 things. 1. You need to get all the grain and most of the fines cleaned out of the straw. This eliminates one of the reasons for rodent and insect invasion. 2. You need to find a way to mold proof the straw. This likely means serious moisture control systems or it means rendering the straw incapable of supporting mold through some chemical or physical process. 3. You need to find a way to prevent rodents and insects. 4. You need to render it fairly fire safe. 5. You need find a way to keep labor costs down. Even if you can get the material for free if labor is a major part of the process it will be uneconomical to most people.


I really don't see those happening at a farm level operation. Cleaning the straw of grains and fines is a bit of a matter of combine redesign. Or it is a matter of the thrashing machine that left the fines with the grain for later processing. There was an outfit out of Canada looking at this process to bring the cost of the combine down for smaller scale farmers. They would then clean the grain in a small electrical cleaner that ran steadily for months if needed. As for insect and water proofing I think the best bet is the silica process they are using for environmentally safe pressure treated woods. But that is big factories. Sure you could render the straw mold and mouse and insect proof with enough natural stuff. Arsenic and borax for example gets you nearly every thing you need. It just isn't safe for people. If you treat with salts you can control insects and many molds and reduce fire hazards. The trouble is that salt draws moisture. Most chemicals that would solve the problem won't meet with the permies model. The silica treatment is probably the closest. That is water glass and sodium hydroxide both of which it was possible to produce on a semi natural system without huge industrial chemicals. The problem is the process means pulling the material to a fairly hard vacuum to degas it and to lower moisture content and then slapping it with high pressure to drive the silica deep into the pores of the material and finally setting it with the sodium hydroxide. And this means big industry as that sort of machinery means volume to pay for it. Now it is possible you might be able to set up a trailer based system that you pulled to where you wanted to build, process the material onsite. I have wanted to see this system applied to making bale houses that were fire resistant, insect and rodent resistant and mold resistant.

Second best bet would probably be the oriented strand straw product and the outfit in Nebraska that was doing that went under I think. That one was neat because it was making "wood" with straw and was using no glue or resin. Press the straw into shape and then heat it and it made its own glue when heated under pressure. It was actually stronger per unit volume than OSB.

Third best bet in my opinion would be to glue the straw together with that bio-foam that they are making from corn cobs. Light weight and probably fairly strong. This one is a possible onsite one but would probably be better at a factory.

Any really truly organic answer to this I think is just asking for trouble. I have spent to many years around straw stacks to think you can keep mice out of them. Even clean straw draws mice. And keeping a straw house dry I think means building it on a raised platform inside a metal sheathed building. If it has good circulation all around it and can't possibly get wet by isolation that would solve that part. Fire is the next danger and I don't know how you keep it truly dry and still protect if from fire.






 
Upgeya Pew
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The wheat straw can be used as a substrate for mycelium to grow forms, including bricks and sheets. These can be used as structural building materials. Who knows, perhaps an entire building structure could be grown. For more about this do a search on "mycelium building materials" and/or see:

http://www.mycoworks.com/

For a really great list of links to further information see:

http://www.mycoworks.com/?open=resources
and check out the section labeled "Mycotecture Research and Experiments"

For insulation see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mycobond
http://www.ecovativedesign.com/
https://www.ted.com/talks/eben_bayer_are_mushrooms_the_new_plastic?language=en




 
Mick Fisch
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Just for inspiration look at these videos. Part 1
part 2


These people have gone a different route. Knowing the material is going to degrade, they plan on a ten year replacement cycle. I think this is really possible with an outbuilding, less so if you insist on plumbing and electricity in the building.

Any experiments I did with this idea would definitely be with an outbuilding to get some longer term history of material strengths and weaknesses prior to building a house with it.

As far as flammability and edibility, You mentioned mixing lime and it wasn't apparent that some of the other remarks looked at that close enough. I wonder if there is a mix of lime with the paste that would give you the inedibility, flame resistance and mildew resistance of the lime while preserving the glueiness of the wheat paste. I have no idea if that would work, but it would overcome a major objection.

The less the straws were crushed, the more insulating the result would be.

I've been thinking about the your suggestion about wheat straw glued together. A slight modification might include building modules, maybe an inch or 2 or 3 thick, 4 X8 feet. Once dried, glue several together to make a nice thick wall panel. This would be used in a more modular style of building.

Panels could comprise half the wall thickness, put together with the connections alternating half way through the other side and simply gluing them together with the paste.

If you are successful in building your support pillars/trusses, you could build in a side strip so that the panels could be glued between the trusses pruducing a more monococoque structure.

I would be interested in seeing what the overall load bearing capability would end up as.

Wherever you need to screw things together, glue in some wood into the panel. You could even use wooden members integrated into the system if more load bearing ability was needed (I know, it takes down some of the cool factor, which this idea definitely has).

Rye straw might be even better than wheat straw, simply because it's so much taller. I think you would still need the wheat paste because I don't think rye has enough gluten, I have no certain knowledge about that, just a general impression.

Whether this turns out possible or a good idea, I love the idea. Creativity! It is the answer to most of lifes challenges (coupled with faith, endurance and a good sense of humor). Since this is essentially a new material, many of the engineering objections are potentially non-issues, since the properties of the material aren't known at this time and would vary according to the density of the finished property.



 
C. Letellier
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Mick Fisch wrote:Just for inspiration look at these videos. ....

Rye straw might be even better than wheat straw, simply because it's so much taller. I think you would still need the wheat paste because I don't think rye has enough gluten, I have no certain knowledge about that, just a general impression.

.....





The reason given for preferring wheat straw by the outfit that made plywood out of it was a slightly higher silica content making it more insect and rot resistant.
 
Tom Turner
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This flurry of interest is great. I appreciate it. Mick, thanks for the encouragement. I'd like to add a few points:

As far as this being "new" technology, I don't think it is. The water-logged Brits have been doing wheat straw roof thatching for a very long time. Wheat-pasting exterior posters and signs is very old. The Sand Hill pioneers of Nebraska built for us some prototypes to test durability. Here is one built in 1928. 88 years old and still standing.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw-bale_construction


Mick, the ten year replacement cycle seems too extreme to me, but I think the longevity of a building is an important thing to think about. At one time it was a sort of rite-of-passage for a young man to build his home. So that places the cycle at about 60 years, or from a young man in his 20's to old age. Being involved with and analyzing contemporary residential housing this is what strikes me: We are building houses that could last 100's of years. Many east coast colonial-era houses, made of wood, are still standing after 300+ years. Today with our plastics, and other man-made products, houses could last a 1,000 years. And what are we building to last these next 1,000 years? Poorly insulated structures which rely on energy consumption to heat and cool. They are built with absolutely no consideration to solar orientation or prevailing winds. And these buildings are VERY expensive and the decision to dismantle comes with much heartache, even when they are hundreds of years old. And when we do dismantle we have a huge pile of hazardous waste. A wheat straw house might be considered your children's future garden soil.

C. Letellier, I very much appreciate critique as a means of refinement. Thank you. But I have to admit a sort of indifference to cohabiting with insects and rodents and the omni-present risk of fire. That sounds bad, but these things have been a part of our homes forever. That's why we have developed fire departments and mouse traps. Straw bale construction is proven, IMO, to be good enough in these areas of concern. I think ventilation and moisture management is a necessity regardless of whether the structure is wheat straw and wheat-paste or wood and fiberglass. I think the valid critique comes in questioning the possible affinity that mold could have for wheat-paste.

I think the point about labor is misguided. The concept is not to hire a contractor to build your house. It is to build your own house with the help of family and friends, and to not sign a 30 year mortgage to buy building materials. That guy in Arizona who builds partly underground houses by burying old tires has strapping young men sledge-hammering soil into these tires. That is brutal work that very few would be capable of. But the wheat harvest is the kind of work that everybody can take part in and historically has.

I want to add this critique of straw-"bale" construction as it exists today. The walls of a house are the least expensive element of a house. The floor/foundation and the roof are the most expensive. The insulating value of the walls is far less important than the insulating value of the roof. We put 3 1/2 inches of insulation in the wall and 10-12 inches in the attic. The ultimate potential of wheat straw as structure, sheathing and insulation all-in-one is not fully realized until we also make the roofs out of it. That is the Holy Grail of wheat-straw construction. If you only find ways of building wheat straw walls, especially in-filled timber-framed, you're not thinking big enough because you still have to go to the HomeDepot to buy the roof.

.
 
Glenn Herbert
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I have heard a figure that thatched roofs are good for 75 years. That is a pretty good span, and there are some thatched roofs which have been maintained for 6-700 years. I have pictures of a medieval English timber-framed house which only recently had its entire original thatched roof base removed for repairing and renewing the structure. There are different grades of durability, and a type of reed is considered the very best for thatching.

If you were going to build a structure of wheat straw, it would only make sense to use it for the roof too. But keep in mind that good thatching is a very heavy form of roof, similar to a green roof.
 
C. Letellier
Posts: 221
Location: Greybull WY north central WY zone 4 bordering on 3
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Tom Turner wrote:This flurry of interest is great. I appreciate it. ....


C. Letellier, I very much appreciate critique as a means of refinement. Thank you. But I have to admit a sort of indifference to cohabiting with insects and rodents and the omni-present risk of fire. That sounds bad, but these things have been a part of our homes forever. That's why we have developed fire departments and mouse traps. Straw bale construction is proven, IMO, to be good enough in these areas of concern. I think ventilation and moisture management is a necessity regardless of whether the structure is wheat straw and wheat-paste or wood and fiberglass. I think the valid critique comes in questioning the possible affinity that mold could have for wheat-paste.

I think the point about labor is misguided. The concept is not to hire a contractor to build your house. It is to build your own house with the help of family and friends, and to not sign a 30 year mortgage to buy building materials. That guy in Arizona who builds partly underground houses by burying old tires has strapping young men sledge-hammering soil into these tires. That is brutal work that very few would be capable of. But the wheat harvest is the kind of work that everybody can take part in and historically has.

I want to add this critique of straw-"bale" construction as it exists today. The walls of a house are the least expensive element of a house. The floor/foundation and the roof are the most expensive. The insulating value of the walls is far less important than the insulating value of the roof. We put 3 1/2 inches of insulation in the wall and 10-12 inches in the attic. The ultimate potential of wheat straw as structure, sheathing and insulation all-in-one is not fully realized until we also make the roofs out of it. That is the Holy Grail of wheat-straw construction. If you only find ways of building wheat straw walls, especially in-filled timber-framed, you're not thinking big enough because you still have to go to the HomeDepot to buy the roof.

.


3 quick comments.

1. Even if you are unconcerned with living close to insects and rodents you need to be aware of their ability to wreck the insulation you are trying to build. I was at a home being resided that had 1 inch foam bead board under the siding they were removing. Mice had gotten in and about 1/5 of the total insulation had been turned into tunnels. It doesn't matter if the walls are 3 feet or 4 feet thick if mice are punching a bunch of tunnels between the inside and the outside breaks the seal. An example of that power showed when we were building the home I live in now. It was the late fall or early winter of of 84 and we had just gotten the house closed in and were starting on interior framing. The house is an earth berm passive solar and it had been running about 60 degrees even with with no heat even with concrete, paint and drywall drying. The day before my father had put in a 1 1/2" black poly line out to the cistern and left if open for the night. The cistern was about 12 feet below ground level and the line came into the house about 7 feet below ground level in the basement. He left it open for the night with about zero for the night time low. By morning the house was nearly down to freezing. We had lost 20 to 30 degrees because of the air coming in through that pipe. It was blowing in so hard that if you stuffed a fairly tightly waded paper towel down the pipe it blew it right out. Small holes DO MATTER is the point. 4 or 5 mouse tunnels through the wall could do the same thing. So rodents and insects do matter even if it is not for the obvious reasons.

2. Very few people will build their own homes in this day and age. And if they do all volunteer labor may mean the cost doesn't matter. I can agree with that. My question then that should matter to the permies attitude what about embodied energy. Each of those volunteers needs resources to live and be happy. How much does their labor and the fact that they could be doing something else add to the energy it took to build the house. If they were building classic homes and the same number of people could build 10 times as many square feet of homes with modern practices that makes the "free" home very expensive from the embodied energy point of view.

3. Any home with 4 inch walls and 1 foot ceiling belongs 2 decades ago. Nearly all modern homes have at least 8 inches of wall insulation and 30 inches of ceiling insulation if they are being done correctly. High end at this point is 2 foot walls and 3 to 4 feet of insulation in the ceiling.


 
Tom Turner
Posts: 36
Location: high desert and mountains of Idaho and coastal Atlantic Canada (migratory)
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C. Letellier wrote: Very few people will build their own homes in this day and age.


Perhaps I assume too much, but I do assume that the members of Permies have all made a philisophical/political/spiritual judgment against the way things are done "in this day and age." This forum is a collective effort to find a new way ...or perhaps to resurrect an old way. I hold it as a firm design parameter that the home I design would be capable of being built by anyone without major investment except for what it takes to get a piece of land.

In Boise we don't have the enthusiasm to patronize Owens Corning that there apparently is in your part of the world, but using your 8"/30" insulation spec a modest 1200 square ft home requires 3,750 cubic feet of fiberglass. At current HomeDepot prices that is $5,600. And the vast majority of that money goes towards burning hydrocarbons to melt sand into glass. If that is the way things are done in this day and age then the way things are done in this day and age is unquestionably wrong and we need to change it.

Early on I was convinced on passive geo-thermal combined with passive solar. But I gradually talked myself out of it for a few reasons: Earth is heavy and either requires very hard labor (I know because I hand dug a small swimming pool once) or a very expensive digging machine. There are a lot of forces to deal with and the structure has to be really strong as well as ground-contact-rot-resistant which inevitably leads to concrete, lots of expensive concrete. Ground water management is tricky and can be gotten wrong with devastating effects discovered after the whole artifice is complete. And while the earth offers us that year round 55 degree environment which really minimizes the Delta T (55 to 70) it is also an effective heat sink which makes the most of that 15 degree delta T, especially if it (the earth itself) is being used as the thermal mass for the passive solar.


.
 
Tom Turner
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Location: high desert and mountains of Idaho and coastal Atlantic Canada (migratory)
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Mick Fisch wrote: I've been thinking about the your suggestion about wheat straw glued together. A slight modification might include building modules,


My first thought was to glue together voussoirs.

Four sides and the bottom could be formed in a box of sorts and then the top, final angled side could be sawed off to make a consistently sized straw voussoir which has all it's straws correctly oriented. Straw voussoirs could be made up front and thoroughly dried before construction (where I'm not sure). Plus it is fun to say "Straw Voussoir." pronounced voo-swahr
 
C. Letellier
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Tom Turner wrote:
C. Letellier wrote: Very few people will build their own homes in this day and age.


Perhaps I assume too much, but I do assume that the members of Permies have all made a philisophical/political/spiritual judgment against the way things are done "in this day and age." This forum is a collective effort to find a new way ...or perhaps to resurrect an old way. I hold it as a firm design parameter that the home I design would be capable of being built by anyone without major investment except for what it takes to get a piece of land.

In Boise we don't have the enthusiasm to patronize Owens Corning that there apparently is in your part of the world, but using your 8"/30" insulation spec a modest 1200 square ft home requires 3,750 cubic feet of fiberglass. At current HomeDepot prices that is $5,600. And the vast majority of that money goes towards burning hydrocarbons to melt sand into glass. If that is the way things are done in this day and age then the way things are done in this day and age is unquestionably wrong and we need to change it.

Early on I was convinced on passive geo-thermal combined with passive solar. But I gradually talked myself out of it for a few reasons: Earth is heavy and either requires very hard labor (I know because I hand dug a small swimming pool once) or a very expensive digging machine. There are a lot of forces to deal with and the structure has to be really strong as well as ground-contact-rot-resistant which inevitably leads to concrete, lots of expensive concrete. Ground water management is tricky and can be gotten wrong with devastating effects discovered after the whole artifice is complete. And while the earth offers us that year round 55 degree environment which really minimizes the Delta T (55 to 70) it is also an effective heat sink which makes the most of that 15 degree delta T, especially if it (the earth itself) is being used as the thermal mass for the passive solar.


.


First off I am not saying the modern way is necessarily the best way. But it is a way we can quantify because it has standards written. Where I am is a far harsher climate than Boise. Virtually any year we we see weeks of 20 below on the cold side and weeks of 110 on the hot side during the year. In a bad year we can see a month at a time at 40 and 50 below and a month of 120+ temps on the high side. So yes insulation is important here. There are very few places on earth where the seasonal swing in temperature can often go more than 160 degrees in a single year.

As for value and cost I would argue that good insulation is totally in keeping with permies values and that fiberglass has its place in that mix. You don't like it, cellulose, demin scraps, straw or any number of other materials can serve in its place. The big thing about insulation done properly is it saves energy for the life of the building. Lets take your $5600 dollar example. If you value forward those dollars it would give a total on the order of $10,000 over 20 years. It is a little low but some of the savings come early which will balance that out. Then say you lived in the home for 20 years. The insulation would have to save you $500 per year to pay for itself. Now half of that insulation will save about 2/3 of the total energy because diminishing returns and meets your early numbers. That would mean $250 a year for the final 1/3 of the savings. Can you make that? It is just over $20 a month. The more insulation the more questionable it becomes. The milder the climate the more questionable it comes. Here I don't think there is any question of it paying off. Most modern construction here banks and building codes are requiring a 2x6 wall with foam outside that under the siding giving an 8 inch wall. I am not saying it is right. Just that it is a basis of comparison.

As for how insulation might be in keeping with permies answering the question another way. I am an independent farm equipment mechanic. The shop built in 1983 and added to since is roughly 40 x 100 with 16 foot ceiling in the big room. By the time part of it is 2 stories total square footage will be over 5000 feet. I heat with coal as the primary and in a typical year burn 6 to 10 ton of coal. For comparison purposes I worked on the coal stoker in an older home. Written on the door from of the coal room for that house was fill dates and tonnages. That house was a 2 story home that given its construction methods was likely built in the 30's or 40's Total square footage was probably about 1000 to 1200 square feet. Reading the door frame of the coal room I know they were burning about twice as much coal to heat that house as I was burning to heat my shop which is basically 5 times bigger in square footage. Why can I get away with that with the shop. One word. Insulation. Yes it is expensive to begin with but it has been paying back for 30 years in reduced energy. I will argue that insulation is totally in keeping with permies ideals.

As for earth berm passive solar I agree there is a lot of energy embodied in the construction and it may not be totally in keeping with permies ideals. That said the best proof of concept I can give was the run through the fall and early winter the year before last of this house. With no elderly and no kids around I decided to push it a bit. I ran until just before christmas without lighting the household heater. I had a couple of days that I got up to 48 degrees in the morning for indoor temperature.(most days the sun came out the house warmed up to the mid 60's to mid 70's and most mornings the house was 55 when I got up) Most people in the area had started heating in Sept and many of them trying to save fuel costs were not running much warmer towards the end of that run. We had many days colder than 20 below in that time. Yet I ran with no heat for that whole time period and was staying almost comfortable. There again over the long haul which is most in keeping with the permies ideals? I particpated in building the house in the summer of 1984 so it has been saving energy for over 30 years. That has to have some value too. A well built home should be good for a couple hundred years so where is the value for the environment?
 
Tom Turner
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C. Letellier wrote:
First off I am not saying the modern way is necessarily the best way. But it is a way we can quantify because it has standards written. Where I am is a far harsher climate than Boise. Virtually any year we we see weeks of 20 below on the cold side and weeks of 110 on the hot side during the year. In a bad year we can see a month at a time at 40 and 50 below and a month of 120+ temps on the high side. So yes insulation is important here. There are very few places on earth where the seasonal swing in temperature can often go more than 160 degrees in a single year.

As for value and cost I would argue that good insulation is totally in keeping with permies values and that fiberglass has its place in that mix. You don't like it, cellulose, demin scraps, straw or any number of other materials can serve in its place. The big thing about insulation done properly is it saves energy for the life of the building. Lets take your $5600 dollar example. If you value forward those dollars it would give a total on the order of $10,000 over 20 years. It is a little low but some of the savings come early which will balance that out. Then say you lived in the home for 20 years. The insulation would have to save you $500 per year to pay for itself. Now half of that insulation will save about 2/3 of the total energy because diminishing returns and meets your early numbers. That would mean $250 a year for the final 1/3 of the savings. Can you make that? It is just over $20 a month. The more insulation the more questionable it becomes. The milder the climate the more questionable it comes. Here I don't think there is any question of it paying off. Most modern construction here banks and building codes are requiring a 2x6 wall with foam outside that under the siding giving an 8 inch wall. I am not saying it is right. Just that it is a basis of comparison.

As for how insulation might be in keeping with permies answering the question another way. I am an independent farm equipment mechanic. The shop built in 1983 and added to since is roughly 40 x 100 with 16 foot ceiling in the big room. By the time part of it is 2 stories total square footage will be over 5000 feet. I heat with coal as the primary and in a typical year burn 6 to 10 ton of coal. For comparison purposes I worked on the coal stoker in an older home. Written on the door from of the coal room for that house was fill dates and tonnages. That house was a 2 story home that given its construction methods was likely built in the 30's or 40's Total square footage was probably about 1000 to 1200 square feet. Reading the door frame of the coal room I know they were burning about twice as much coal to heat that house as I was burning to heat my shop which is basically 5 times bigger in square footage. Why can I get away with that with the shop. One word. Insulation. Yes it is expensive to begin with but it has been paying back for 30 years in reduced energy. I will argue that insulation is totally in keeping with permies ideals.

As for earth berm passive solar I agree there is a lot of energy embodied in the construction and it may not be totally in keeping with permies ideals. That said the best proof of concept I can give was the run through the fall and early winter the year before last of this house. With no elderly and no kids around I decided to push it a bit. I ran until just before christmas without lighting the household heater. I had a couple of days that I got up to 48 degrees in the morning for indoor temperature.(most days the sun came out the house warmed up to the mid 60's to mid 70's and most mornings the house was 55 when I got up) Most people in the area had started heating in Sept and many of them trying to save fuel costs were not running much warmer towards the end of that run. We had many days colder than 20 below in that time. Yet I ran with no heat for that whole time period and was staying almost comfortable. There again over the long haul which is most in keeping with the permies ideals? I particpated in building the house in the summer of 1984 so it has been saving energy for over 30 years. That has to have some value too. A well built home should be good for a couple hundred years so where is the value for the environment?


C, So I looked up Greybull. I've driven through there once. I never went back because there are just too many people in Yellowstone and too many rules in general in national parks (like no dogs more than 200 ft off the road, which means I can't hike). I recall all those many run-away truck turn-off ramps on the east side of the Bighorns. Imagining using them left an impression. I liked the bighorns. and did a little hiking there.

You're on the harsh side of the continental divide. According to the Weather Channel's Monthly Average/Record Temperature you exaggerate a little but that's OK when done in the service of preaching insulation. I absolutely agree on the unquestionable virtue of insulation. THAT, more than any other reason, is why wheat straw (or rye, Mick) is the best building material to be developed into a system of owner/grower-built residential housing. Insulation = freedom from energy costs = freedom. One or two cord of wood is good exercise and a virtuous ritual to be shared among those sharing it's heat. But no gas/electric/oil/coal payments to some corporation.

Just a point on my philosophy, which I don't assume is shared across Permies: The value I seek is not for the environment for it's own sake, but as a means for improving the lives of people. I think people should be able to construct Well-Insulated functional homes without a mortgage and the incredible almost life-long burden that a mortgage places on the borrower. Liberty is extremely curtailed when you're carrying a 30 year mortgage. I find it a serendipitous coincidence that what is good for people (not merely seeking hyper-consumerism but a soul-enriching life-style of freedom from debt/slavery) is also good for the environment.

Your shop, of which I am incredibly jealous, is the ideal candidate to be a straw catenary. Hell, make it 3 4 foot thick walls. The catenary (there is a picture up near the top of this thread) is ideal for high ceilings and open span. Of course you'd have to fir-out and drywall the inside for fire. So does Greybull have a zealous building inspector? My impression from the highway is that the only commercial agriculture in probably the entire state is hay for cattle and transplanted californian cowgirl wannabes (ubiquitous here in Boise). Is there any wheat-growers nearby? (edit- The southeast towards the Platte has many wheat growers) You and your Dad built a really nice geo-thermal passive solar. Continue down that path exploring better buildings.

 
Tom Turner
Posts: 36
Location: high desert and mountains of Idaho and coastal Atlantic Canada (migratory)
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Here is another point of critique against straw "bale" construction based on the category of impact on the environment: It is commonly thought that "Straw is a large "waste" product from the agricultural industry, which should be fully utilized as a sustainable building material." [12]

The existing system of wheat production usually sees farmers mulching their straw in their combines and spreading it out on the field as they go. This really minimizes any further energy and labor being spent on a product of very limited marketability. IF straw bales were widely used in construction then many more farmers would bale their straw for sale on the market and the norm would become a continual harvest of ALL biomass from their fields. To refrain from developing straw bale construction sort-of forces the farmers (who currently do not care about soil maintenance and instead rely on chemical fertilizers) to unwittingly return something back to the soil - not "their" soil, but the soil for which they have stewardship.
 
C. Letellier
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Location: Greybull WY north central WY zone 4 bordering on 3
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Tom you are using the numbers for Greybull itself. Which is a bit milder than where I live. Greybull is buffered by being close to the river. I am up over a big hill a few miles from town. I am in the middle of a barren desert area with very little moisture or water to buffer temperature swings. So this area actually does make those temperatures when Greybull itself doesn't. There are a host of factors that add together to make that happen like geology, weather patterns. The micro climate a few miles wide where I live is simply a bit harsher.

As for shop in one way jealous is fine. In another it is knowing how much went into it. When our farm and ranch operation went under my dad went to his fall back of mechanic. At that point we had the farm steel quansut with no insulation but the bank could forclose at any time. So a couple of years later a piece of ground across the road with no services and no roads has been pulled out of the forclosure and we started on building what is here today. That was the fall of 1982 and started earth moving for this. My dad traded repair work with a local contractor for the dirt work that fall. We got the pads for the basement floor of the house and 3 of the 4 pads that made up the initial shop that fall. I had months where what I did after school was run across the road and build concrete forms. Fall of 1983 we got started on the shop/tool room/ possible house if the bank forclosed. It was concrete block single story. We put sort of a roof on it and then covered it with black plastic then 2 layers of foxtail hay bales left over from when we were farming. It was uninsulated beyond the hay and cold and dark but it gave us a back up plan for the shop. The spring of 84 we poured the house walls. This was the only paid contractor in the whole operation.(the few other contractors involved in this my dad traded work for) Then I spent the whole summer following HS graduation on the house. By and time for college fall my younger brother and I had it closed in insulated, wired, most of the windows and doors in and most of the sheetrock up on load bearing walls with some help from parents and friends. Once we were moved into the partially finished house my dad went back to working on the shop when possible. By spring the walls of the big room were up and the roof on. That summer got the walls insulated and sheeted, wiring done, air lines run and so on. The ceiling was still open to the rafters. Hung a "temporary" lean to onto the side of the building to be the furnace room.(it is still there today 30 years later) Another year goes by with nibbling on a host of small projects to make the shop more functional. That next summer got the ceiling in the main room and celulose insulation blown in over it and everything inside painted. At this point big advancements on the structure of the shop sort of stop for a while and we worked on things like big hoists etc. Lots of little projects where the shop was concerned but nothing big. Building advancement started again when my dad bought out a radiator shop. Now we have a bunch of equipment we don't have room for. So it is time to add on. It took another 2 years of nibbling away to get the added building on done. The radiator room has a storage room above it that is sealed off because we can't afford to finish it at that time. Because of health problems etc it sat there sealed off for about 5 years with nothing done on it. Finally one fall we could afford to do it so it was finished and insulated. When that happened we also double the amount of insulation over the main room. Then it sat there for another year while we got a bunch of other finish work like adding ducting for ventilation fans etc. A few years later a waste heat recovery system is added to the furnace and a cone bottom to the coal bin tank. The point of this whole long thing is that the shop is far from done but it has taken 30 years of hard work to get there. But it was also nearly all my family's own workmanship over that time. You don't eat an elephant in one sitting. But if you can keep nibbling long enough big goals can be reached.

As for straw shops I have a customer and a supplier both with straw shops.

The customers shop is 4'x4'x8' bales as "bricks" 4 bales high. Since they were baling their own stuff they simply baled the half bricks needed. They poured a concrete foundation for the outer edge of the bales to rest on and the inside of the bales simply sits over a washed rock raised ledge. The roof is made up of oil field pipe welded into trusses. The trusses were assembled in groups of 3 with diagonal cross bracing and the metal roofing already on. These were set up on the bale walls directly with the bales being the load bearing wall. They ran cables down to the concrete foundation to keep the roof from blowing off since there is nothing but gravity anchoring it to the bales otherwise. The wall material inside and out simply attach to studs and stringers. The vertical stud are wired through the bales so they pinch from both sides. The wires slide down the studs as the bales compress over time vertically. They were going to put metal roofing on inside and out but the last time I was there it was still bare straw except for a small corner of the shop that they used for welding. With about 20 below out in Jan and no heat in the building and no ceiling it was still hovering right around freezing in the building. Showing the insulating power of bales combined with the geothermal heating by simply passive convection. I understand with the ceiling in and insulated they heat that huge shop with just a fairly small wood stove. Their reasoning was if they found they had a rot problem with the bales everything was modular and could easily be torn down to junk the current wall and replace them. So they didn't treat the straw in any way.

The suppliers shop is standard small bales. Here though the roof is held up by steel posts. The bales were sprayed with some sort of spray to add fire proofing/insect control and the interior and exterior are sheeted with standard metal siding. Building was fairly cheap to build and heats fairly easily.


 
Tom Turner
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C. Thanks for sharing that. After reading it I'm tired. -not in that it was a boring piece of text to read but that it was/is a lot of hard work for you and your Dad.

I have a customer who spent his entire life, probably 50 years, building a log "cabin" in the mountains. They are all the rage, everybody wants a log cabin in the mountains. I'm currently working on a log cabin set in among hundreds of other log cabins in a sort-of city up in the mountains. Obviously this is all about image. Anyway this man and his family and friends spent every weekend working on this log cabin which is truly a masterpiece of art. He was a great host and treated everybody well but the purpose of the weekends was to build. Now in his late 70's he hired me to finish some little interior details 30 ft up at the ridge. It is very sad now because none of his family want to come-up anymore and he is there all alone. My take away from this -and I'm not implying that this is the same situation as your's but I do have the same take away - is that the building should be easily constructed and the materials should not require submitting oneself to a bank and having the risk of foreclosure hanging over your head like Damocles' sword. The building should be in service to the man and not the man in service to the building. I wish you and your Dad had back some of your lives that you devoted to your buildings.

Towards this ideal we need to re-engineer the way we build houses and to incorporate new technology. For example LED lighting is far superior, yet Building codes mandate 110V lights in every room and 110V outlets every 6 feet. Building codes and the fallacy of quality and safety are the biggest obstacle to this re-engineering yet the by-far biggest risk of fire comes from burying romex in the walls a mere 2 inches away from unwitting nails and screws. The codes say that I must install a heating system, that a wood-stove doesn't suffice and that I must wrap the house in Tyvek, that tar-paper isn't good enough. Building codes mandate unnecessary expense and indeed does make us all slaves to our buildings- most commonly by the enslavement to the 30 year mortgage. To a large part this is done to empower the building trades and especially I think the building material suppliers (see Tyvek) which seeks to overturn the time-honored tradition of building one's own home. That is my goal- to eliminate HomeDepot (symbolic image of the material suppliers and skilled building trades) ...sorry I got all preachy.


I love the image of your customer's super-size bale wall. Now if we stay with the wall/ceiling insulation ratio, the common 3.5"/12" (3.4-1) or your better 8"/30" (3.7-1) then with 48" walls then they should put 14 ft of straw insulation in the ceiling. I find the image amusing but I'm not ridiculing it. My concept of gluing together scaled down oriented straw St Louis Gateway arches would also have more, or the same, insulation at the bottom than at the top. That would be the formula for Phoenix where heat is not the issue but cooling is.

As you describe the harsh conditions of your area I begin to think that your geo-thermal is probably the best. When everything is so frigid there is only mother Earth to cuddle-up to.
 
Glenn Herbert
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A minor point in relation to geothermal heat: I see a quote like "the earth at x' depth is always 55F", and want to clarify that this is true for certain climates and latitudes, but not for others. In Florida, the default ground temperature might be 70F or higher, while in Minnesota it might be 45F (a guess) and in Alaska it might even be 30F (permanently frozen). In general, ground temperature relates to average annual air temperature, and to average insolation. So northern areas are less likely to be well-served by relying on it. Some interesting data: Soil Temperature Variations With Time and Depth: Theory
Some practical data for the US from Builditsolar.com:
Ground Temperatures as a Function of Location, Season, and Depth
 
C. Letellier
Posts: 221
Location: Greybull WY north central WY zone 4 bordering on 3
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Tom Turner wrote:...

The building should be in service to the man and not the man in service to the building. I wish you and your Dad had back some of your lives that you devoted to your buildings.

Towards this ideal we need to re-engineer the way we build houses and to incorporate new technology. For example LED lighting is far superior, yet Building codes mandate 110V lights in every room and 110V outlets every 6 feet. Building codes and the fallacy of quality and safety are the biggest obstacle to this re-engineering yet the by-far biggest risk of fire comes from burying romex in the walls a mere 2 inches away from unwitting nails and screws. The codes say that I must install a heating system, that a wood-stove doesn't suffice and that I must wrap the house in Tyvek, that tar-paper isn't good enough. Building codes mandate unnecessary expense and indeed does make us all slaves to our buildings- most commonly by the enslavement to the 30 year mortgage. To a large part this is done to empower the building trades and especially I think the building material suppliers (see Tyvek) which seeks to overturn the time-honored tradition of building one's own home. That is my goal- to eliminate HomeDepot (symbolic image of the material suppliers and skilled building trades) ...sorry I got all preachy.


I love the image of your customer's super-size bale wall. Now if we stay with the wall/ceiling insulation ratio, the common 3.5"/12" (3.4-1) or your better 8"/30" (3.7-1) then with 48" walls then they should put 14 ft of straw insulation in the ceiling. I find the image amusing but I'm not ridiculing it. My concept of gluing together scaled down oriented straw St Louis Gateway arches would also have more, or the same, insulation at the bottom than at the top. That would be the formula for Phoenix where heat is not the issue but cooling is.

As you describe the harsh conditions of your area I begin to think that your geo-thermal is probably the best. When everything is so frigid there is only mother Earth to cuddle-up to.


I don't regret the time with my dad. That was shared family time. That was also a major learning experience. How many 19 year olds can say they have wired multiple buildings, poured hundreds of yards of concrete, worked livestock, can run any piece of machinery the family farms with, can repair most of it. That list could go on for a full long paragraph. The point is though I greatly value the family I grew up in because what I learned from it. My father tackled basically anything that wasn't major human medical, radiators and injection pumps. Any other task he learned to do it and taught us. Between them my parents tackled almost any hobby and/or survival skill you can name at some point.(a few minor notable exceptions like weaving) They were very good at improvising a minimum level of equipment to do the job. I really would like to be able to back in time with some of the things I know now to see what they would have done with it. And it didn't end in HS and didn't end when my parents died. I am 50 now and know so much more. I firmly believe children should be seriously involved in family activities and learning the whole host of life skills. We are failing today's children because everyone hires the work done. I can point to dozens of mistakes through the year where we didn't know enough and made mistakes. I have mistakes I personally made literally cast in concrete and welded in steel and framed in the house. By the same token though so much has been learned in the doing. I had a senior age HS student helping me in the shop a year or so ago. I wanted him to replace the halogen light on the end of a swing arm light. He had no idea where to start. Funny thing is I built that light as a sophomore in HS and when I brought it home my father didn't even bother to check my work by that point. When it came home from the school welding class he simply put it to work and it had run nearly 30 years. The shop has served us well over the last 30 years. Source of income, place for many side projects and more. But its real value comes from the skills I learned in doing and from confidence to know that if you don't get in a hurry most problems can be solved by consistent effort and nibbling away.

As for building codes I fall in the middle. I have dealt with to many problems caused by careless or unknowing people who didn't take the time to learn to do it right. I certainly don't want to be buying a house built or maintained by those sorts of people. You mentioned several that I fall on differents sides of the line on. Tyvek vs tar paper is one that doesn't make sense to me as the tyvek to solve most problems will be lighter, more durable, easier to install, fewer air leaks and most importantly less costly than tar paper. 15 lb tar paper gets almost down to tyvek in price but not quite. And 15 lb tar paper is to light for most stuff. An outlet every 6 feet is another one I happen to agree with. Thing is compared to the cost of a house it doesn't mean much. That said though requiring 110 volt lights in every room is stupid when there are other options and requiring heat comes down to what the people can stand. If they can live with the wood stove only that should be their right. The addendum though is that we shouldn't have to pay for it.(say the water froze and then they filed for insurance on the water damage) That said I think building codes block many good ideas too. RMH is a perfect example. One upcoming that will shake building codes on their head is remote walls design. Lack of vapor barrier and having the draft barrier in a strange location and strange method will have every building inspector in the US up in arms. Funny thing is that it an almost 60 year old technology and is in fairly solid use in new construction in Europe and to me at least it makes a lot of sense. I still see insect and rodent problems with it. But I think those can be solved too. I think the problem with code is that it doesn't allow for innovation. The cure for that much as I hate to say it is time. Prove a technology works by granting variances. But the owners of the home will need to know that for insurance purpose and for mortgage purpose that home will be listed as not up to code. If the technology is proving out then maybe the later owners can petition to have that changed. I happen to agree with you on the buildings trade stuff although for different reasons. I think the world would be a better place if everyone had those skills and as many other skills as they can gather.

As for your arch I believe you will find problems with it not being stable over time. But since it comes from years of stacking small bales rather than from building arches Maybe I am wrong.

As for the best answer here we have a huge number of sun days so the best answer here is properly designed passive solar backed by passive geothermal as the battery to carry over grey days should be the answer.


 
Tom Turner
Posts: 36
Location: high desert and mountains of Idaho and coastal Atlantic Canada (migratory)
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C. I'm on-board with all your ideals concerning family and jack-of-all-trades learning and raising children. There was a time not long ago when children raised on a family farm were economic assets and grew-up with a sense of usefulness from a very young age. Today children are economic liabilities. Many social commentators place their liability at about $250,000 to age 18. This change is because we have transitioned from the family farm or family business to full-time employment. Mom and Dad go off to work and when they come home they hire professionals and tradesmen to do everything for them. There is nothing for the children to do and they grow-up with a sense of uselessness. Companies do not hire families, they hire individuals. The 30 year mortgage guarantees that this system will perpetuate, that people will be slaves to their homes and therefore slaves to their jobs. Cars (the second largest expense) are needed to commute to work which is needed to maintain the mortgage to maintain the house.

Radical social change is prohibited by building code mandated residential construction techniques, e.g. 7.5 cent/sqft Tyvek over 5 cent/sqft tar paper (Home Depot prices). That's a wild claim that would be laughed at by those who would respond to your jack-of-all-trades ideal with the well-worn and tired cliche "...master of none" But as convoluted as my claim is, it is nontheless the reality of most of us who on Monday morning make the decision to leave the family, leave the farm, leave the projects to go to work (the place of employment [noun not verb]) to pay the mortgage, which is required because, as everybody simply knows: houses are very expensive, thank you building codes and conventional building techniques.



I'm not totally on-board with "passive." Wood stoves are a good example. For most of us, maybe not where you live, BTU's are all around us in burnable materials. Yet we buy electric/gas/oil/pellets to get our BTU's. But to burn clean and efficient you have to burn very hot and very fast which, from a practical stand point, means you have to store it somehow. The best storage system would be a well-insulated large thermal mass which is thermostat retrievable. This would allows us to burn hot and clean and to do so on our own schedule, not whenever we need heat, breaking our daily enslavement to the wood stove. It also eliminates the heating of the building when we don't need heat, like when we are at work or out in the garden. There is no efficiency to a wood-stove that runs 24/7 simply because we are tired of always lighting fires. I'm guilty of that.

A well-insulated thermal mass which actively grabs all the heat it can when it is available (solar or wood fire) and has this stored heat retrievable by a programmable thermostat. That's my "active" ideal. Of course this requires pumps or fans or other things but these bits of technology are not expensive nor difficult. For example one could do a forced hot air active solar with a small solar panel directly wired to a 12 volt DC fan -the sun shines the fan turns on. Sun goes down fan turns off. Then we don't have all those passive solar windows loosing heat all night. Not to say I don't like windows, I do like windows and cringe at the millions of "quality" homes which are constructed to-code by building professionals who are entirely indifferent to where the sun is. Millions!
 
Hans Quistorff
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I do like windows and cringe at the millions of "quality" homes which are constructed to-code by building professionals who are entirely indifferent to where the sun is.

Windows have 2 purposes (1) to see outside [view] (2) bring light into the house so that you do not have to wast a fuel source on light when the sun is shining. (3) Solar gain is not the best use. You may get heat when you don't want it and they loose heat when you do want it.

Flat windows are also a problem fitting into a curved structure. If you are thinking of using the compressive strength of straw and its insulative qualities by building domes or arches, Then I think Solar Light Tubes are the answer to interior illumination. They can be positioned at any angle. They make little interruption of structural integrity. They are the most neutral for heat loss or gain. They are easily sealed against water penetration.

I insisted on a solar tube for an interior bathroom. It has paid for itself by seldom having to turn the light on even on a moon or star lit night it works. The only loss has been when visitors turn on and off all the lights and fan trying to turn it off when they leave the room.

I can envision using one of those inflated dome forms and stacking straw layers and spraying it with a mixture of wheat past and lime until you have a solid structure. A small one would not need a building permit and could prove the concept. Perhaps layers of chicken wire would add tension strength. But one could make alternate layers vertical and horizontal.
 
Tom Turner
Posts: 36
Location: high desert and mountains of Idaho and coastal Atlantic Canada (migratory)
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Hans Quistorff wrote:
Windows have 2 purposes (1) to see outside [view] (2) bring light into the house so that you do not have to wast a fuel source on light when the sun is shining. (3) Solar gain is not the best use. You may get heat when you don't want it and they loose heat when you do want it.

Flat windows are also a problem fitting into a curved structure. If you are thinking of using the compressive strength of straw and its insulative qualities by building domes or arches, Then I think Solar Light Tubes are the answer to interior illumination. They can be positioned at any angle. They make little interruption of structural integrity. They are the most neutral for heat loss or gain. They are easily sealed against water penetration.

I insisted on a solar tube for an interior bathroom. It has paid for itself by seldom having to turn the light on even on a moon or star lit night it works. The only loss has been when visitors turn on and off all the lights and fan trying to turn it off when they leave the room.

I can envision using one of those inflated dome forms and stacking straw layers and spraying it with a mixture of wheat past and lime until you have a solid structure. A small one would not need a building permit and could prove the concept. Perhaps layers of chicken wire would add tension strength. But one could make alternate layers vertical and horizontal.


Here's my poor man's light tube for strawbale: Cut a ~3" hole saw in half, weld in a 2 ft piece of tubing. Whereever you want some light drill a hole right through and then glue in (not wheat paste, use polyurethane sealant) 3 or 4 glass jars - colored if one is aesthetically inclined.

There are 4 purposes for windows: view, light, heat and to facilitate photosynthesis. I don't understand why so many people would reject the symbiotic relationship we have with plants. They suck up our CO2 and give us back oxygen. At times my living space has looked like a jungle. In my mind "south wall" and "greenhouse" are pretty much the same thing.

A catenary (Latin for chain) has no tensile stress. It is pure compressive. The hanging chain has no compressive stress, it is purely tensile. They are the inverse of each other like alternate realities or light and dark energy. What I like is that anybody can design any number of perfect catenary curves and they don't need a calculator or any knowledge of math. All they need is a chain and two tall poles to hang it from. Does this need chicken wire to remain standing?
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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