Yes, we did -- if this graphic is any example of the structure selected. Straw or hay construction is not a new concept. In this country, it was an idea born of necessity. People were moving to the midwest to settle in the plains -- settle meaning they needed appurtenances to the homestead to provide shelter from the elements. In the plains, there wasn't adequate timber to build wood structures. In some midwest areas the black soil and clay soil made blocks of sod or dug out of a hillside as a manmade cave. In the sandy soils of Nebraska, these options were difficult to use.
But, innovation came with another innovation for the agricultural settlers of the plains. That wonderful tool was the stationary baler. (photo of stationary baler) Today, balers are pulled behind tractors with the bales being dropped on the ground. The first balers just did the baling. With a picture of the threshing machine in the mind's eye of the engineers, the first balers were powered using huge belts connecting them to a power unit which didn't move around easily. Thus, the term stationary. With the further advancement of engines in tractors to become mobile power units, grain was separated from husk using a combine and balers were developed to utilize the tractor. (There, you have your little agricultural lesson for the day) I can barely remember corn shocks in my dad's fields from which he husked the corn the hard way and had at least one run-in with a mouse which had set up housekeeping in the little stack of corn stocks (shock) but which rapidly moved up his pants leg. Dad shed his pants right there in the Iowa November Cornfield!
Richard likes to estrapolate on the first straw bale home. He says, "I can just picture some Nebraska settler cramming the hay into the baler and turning out the blocks of feed that will make the difference of livesstock food source for the winter. While he's doing that, his wife is busy cutting blocks of sod that aren't good sod, but prairie grass rooted in exceptionally sandy soil. Probably lots of cutting for few blocks. When she took a break from her labors to take a bucket of water to the fields, she would have seen the fine stack of hay BRICKS sitting there so invitingly. The rest is history." Massive Wall thickness shows the quiet beauty and strength of a sound structure.
Some of the straw or hay structures from the 19th Century are still in use in Nebraska and other parts of the country. This house was may have been built in 1899 and is still occupied. You can see more photos of Nebraska straw/hay structures at the Straw Bale Association of Nebraska THE LAST STRAW has a registry of straw bale structures and other information about building with straw.
Often, straw bale construction appeals to do-it-yourselfers, people who enjoy using 'found' materials. In the Missouri project, the houses can be built using some "found" materials, but the building codes have to be followed. This is kind of a turn-off for some folks. Richard says at first he was a little reluctant to be 'regulated' about building too. But, he has obtained the code books and really feels that the majority of the code is just common sense. Some of us just need to have it spelled out.
At the present time, there are no applicants planning to build within a town's limits. The city of Ava, Missouri would likely the the only choice involving codes. The building inspector there has told Richard that one building method would be acceptable because it involves framing, but a structure without adequate framing wouldn't meet the codes being used by Ava. Not that the unframed structure might be fine, but the city would have to spend time to adopt a new code and this would be detrimental to the building progress. Future posts post will cover the different methods of construction with pros and cons.
A straw bale house doesn't have specific design demands. The application can be used with any design, but builders need to allow for the much thicker walls which cuts the interior square footage. There are some limitations in height when not using a framing method. Straw bale additions are not an outrageous possibility.
Real estate people can be involved to help establish a value base. The banking and insurance industry has a challenge when searching for comparables because people don't build straw bale houses to sell. Structures that will survive elements for many useful years are an important factor to us, personally. As former real estate agents, we don't like to have to market property without quality and substantial structure.
Stay tuned for more! You can 'read ahead' with the resouces listed at Cardinal Bluff which follows this project.