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Is this cabin salvageable?

 
Rob Green
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Hi. There's a partially completed straw bale cabin (Washington State). It's a post and beam structure that was built some 15 years ago in a fairly remote area, as in no water or power. The exterior (roof, stucco walls, etc.) is intact. The interior is still bare straw bale. It was never finished. Not surprisingly, the straw has been infested with rodents at some point. Doesn't look moldy, but I may yet find some mold.

If I wanted to make this a usable cabin, is the best course to pull out all the straw bales and start over with new straw (or some other material if I don't choose straw)? Is there any structural use left for the old straw that was infested? Thanks for any advice.
 
Jack Edmondson
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Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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Rob,

Most post and beam strawbale construction does not use the bales for support.  There should be no issue pulling it out and starting fresh, as I would recommend.  Eastern WA has a lot of straw producers that can bale to your specs.  1000 psi is needed as I recall.  The structure, roof, and exterior is where the value is.  The straw is nothing more than natural insulation.  (Straw bale can be structural if done correctly; but tends to be more expensive than pole construction.)  Did they stucco right onto the straw for the exterior?  I would still start fresh.  Critters in my walls would not interest me, if for no other reason than mice=snakes.  Having rattlers in my house is a meridian I am not willing to cross.  The good news is you likely won't find mold in the low humidity of that part of the world, especial if left unfinished (breathable) on the inside.
 
Rob Green
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Thank you. Yes, by "structural use" I meant of any use for insulation. I should have worded that better. So the only drawback - and it might be a big one - is the potential of animals living in the cabin wall. I wonder if after we sealed off the straw on the inside, any animals left would die, stink for a while, and then be unnoticeable. Then again it might be too hard to seal off from something as small as a mouse, especially if the mouse is motivated to get in and out because it already lives there.

Yes, we could pull the straw. The stucco is directly on the straw over chicken wire, but that shouldn't be a problem.
 
Robbie Asay
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cat dog forest garden greening the desert solar tiny house
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Is it west or east of the Cascades?  If you are east I'm assuming there was time to dry but I question the vermin infestation so I'd probably replace the bales to insure a "clean" build.  If you are west as I am I would certainly replace every bale without hesitation.  It's an average of 75% humidity.
 
Rob Green
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The cabin is east of the Cascades. We are considering the idea of keeping the original bales in spite of the rodents. Just sealing the place up as best we can and against further infestation and completing the interior walls. No decision yet. Thanks for the feedback and advice.
 
Robbie Asay
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cat dog forest garden greening the desert solar tiny house
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My only concern is rat and mice feces and pee.  Nasty stuff!  Unfortunately I believe checking for mold would mean pulling bales out and by that time it would be easy to replace them.  It's kind of hard to tell without seeing the areas you are asking about.  Good luck though.  I'm not a germaphobe but I draw the line at rodent infestation.  I'm dealing with that here and I can't even begin to tell you how badly I want to get out of here.
 
Andrew Parker
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Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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I can assure you that mummified rodent remains will reconstitute in humid weather (or use of a swamp cooler) and stink until they dry out again.  I vote for losing the existing straw bales, but I am also congenitally cheap so I can appreciate the desire to just plaster it and hope for the best.  Whatever you do, be careful with rodent feces, urine and remains.  You can catch all sorts of nasty, sometimes deadly, things from them.
 
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