How I built my house for £4,000
February 20, 2008 3:49 AM   Subscribe

Better get wolf insurance.
posted by not_on_display at 3:58 AM on February 20, 2008 [13 favorites]

If you're just building a summer house, you may not need planning permission.

MAY being the operative word. You need planning permission to fart here.
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:00 AM on February 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is my dream. I just worry about mold is all. And getting enough people together to do it.
posted by Stewriffic at 4:09 AM on February 20, 2008

£4,000 is like half a million US dollars, isn't it?
posted by jozxyqk at 4:12 AM on February 20, 2008 [7 favorites]

The guy could have put up a tent and had a more attractive place to live.. And it would have cost even less.
posted by HuronBob at 4:15 AM on February 20, 2008

Better get wolf insurance.

A single Scottish ned decides to huff and puff, and you'd be completely fucked.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:16 AM on February 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I want to see the inside!
posted by dabitch at 4:19 AM on February 20, 2008

It might be more expensive, but I think I'd prefer to purchase I slightly less flammable house.
posted by Phredward at 4:25 AM on February 20, 2008

Straw-bale walls are generally less flammable than timber walls, and provide much better insulation. There are straw-built buildings around that have lasted 100 years, which is more than I expect from my (50 year old) timber and brick house. A turf roof is also much less of a fire risk than a timber, felt and tile roof; when did you ever hear of soil catching fire?

LILI is a useful resource for anyone wanting to find out more about this kind of lifestyle. Incidentally, it's quite possible to build much more conventional-looking houses using the same techniques.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:35 AM on February 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

well, that's how.
posted by parmanparman at 4:40 AM on February 20, 2008

Self-built housing, like that funky place that keeps getting written up in California, with the elephant-trunk entryway, is always both awesome and scary. The lack of attention to "the way it should be" lets people make much more interesting houses. But they also have the freedom to do things wrong -- the Californian house I mentioned is crumbling because the owner/builder saved money by mixing cement in very weak proportions; this strawbale house sounds like there were a few compromises made, as well.

But I really wish more local planning codes had bigger exceptions for owner/builders, because the creativity and willingness to experiment is so refreshing compared to 99.99999% of what gets built.
posted by Forktine at 4:54 AM on February 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

This reminds me of this house. Apparently, it cost the guy £3000 and looks nicer (or more hobbit-like).
posted by briac at 5:13 AM on February 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

I love the targeted ads on the side: Surrey - homes for sale less than £600,000.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:32 AM on February 20, 2008

Now this is a straw bale house I could actually live in.
posted by zeoslap at 6:11 AM on February 20, 2008

The link I posted goes to a recently moved blog so no pics and most links broken, but you can see it here very cool, offgrid, passive solar house.
posted by zeoslap at 6:17 AM on February 20, 2008

Mike Rowe helped build some kind of mud hut on Dirty Jobs one week. Looked a bit impractical though. Plus, as they repeatedly pointed out, the walls were plastered with dung. I understand the drive to build something like this, but I just don't think I'd want to live in one. Maybe I've gotten too used to level surfaces.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:23 AM on February 20, 2008

If the hay bales go directly on the stacked-stone foundation, and are cemented on the inside and outside only, wouldn't you end up with a whole ecosystem inside the walls? Live and let live, I guess.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:34 AM on February 20, 2008

My sister built an addition to her log cabin using straw bale construction. It's really warm and cozy, and eco-friendly as all get out. Her boyfriend just used the technique to build a warehouse for his recycled paper business (Loopy Lupine in Homer, AK).
posted by rouftop at 6:42 AM on February 20, 2008

I want a hobbit house! My boyfriend had better see this thread, he thinks I'm crazy.
posted by contessa at 7:00 AM on February 20, 2008

But what about the land? That's where the real cost is. You can plop a manufactured home damn near anywhere for well under $100,000 (or just build a custom home). But the land you need to put it on will likely cost 2 or 3 times that amount. At least where I am in California.
posted by ericales at 7:05 AM on February 20, 2008

"He finds the whole concept of mortgages quite amusing." Smug git.
posted by ceri richard at 7:10 AM on February 20, 2008

Land that is not in California, or at least not along the coast, is significantly cheaper. I think the real answer for those of us that are accustomed to not living like our Neolithic ancestors is prefabs. They certainly lack the satisfaction that comes from building a house all by yourself, but on the other hand they have toilets. Find a cheap piece of land, run a wire out, dig a well, put in a septic tank, and plug in your house.

Another thing - for those that are interested craftmanship, A Pattern Language, and pretending that the Toll Brothers don't exist, I have heard good things about these guys.
posted by alexwoods at 7:24 AM on February 20, 2008

He said he got some of the materials from a skip. Is that British for dumpster?
posted by Daddy-O at 8:32 AM on February 20, 2008

Is this how the UK bails out its mortgage banks?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:50 AM on February 20, 2008

Cool house. I love this kind of stuff. I'd love to find more pictures, but that guy's website makes my eyes (and brain) hurt so much that I can't be bothered.
posted by dersins at 8:56 AM on February 20, 2008

Daddy-O, yes.
posted by nthdegx at 8:56 AM on February 20, 2008

The Burritt House in Huntsville, AL is also a straw-bale house. It's not very hobbit-like, though.
posted by BoringPostcards at 10:01 AM on February 20, 2008

The paper house in Rockport, MA also makes good reading
posted by Gungho at 10:15 AM on February 20, 2008

Straw-bale walls are generally less flammable than timber walls, and provide much better insulation.

Also you can hide your Tudor-style castle behind them.
posted by dirigibleman at 3:24 PM on February 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I love this house. Not completely of straw, some coppiced trees too. Would move there in a jiffy.
posted by cluck at 3:45 PM on February 20, 2008


First time, ever, I swear, I have used this emoticon.
posted by kozad at 10:05 PM on February 20, 2008

A young couple, friends and neighbours of my folks up in the frozen Narth of Canada, are almost finished building their straw-bale house. It's gorgeous, and the only way in which it looks any different from any other nice wood house is that the walls are like a metre thick.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:24 PM on February 20, 2008

He said he got some of the materials from a skip. Is that British for dumpster?


In the plural, though, it's a kind of fizzy maize-based snack.
posted by chrismear at 11:49 PM on February 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

So, as a straw-bale house enthusiast, I have to correct some of these statements.

Done correctly, straw-bale walls can have an insulating factor of R70 or higher, and yet have a much lower fire risk than any post/beam wood construction method. Because the density of the building material, fire doesn't have a chance to really get a good open flame going, and smolders for quite some time. This is excellent compared to normal home construction now, which takes less than three minutes for the whole house to be ablaze.

One of the common issues with DIY straw-bale construction is lack of control for humidity- both in the initial state of the building materials and long-term management for water seepage, breathability, etc. It's critical to start with reasonably low-humidity straw bales (letting them dry out in a covered, protected area for a while is pretty important) and then using proper ground barriers against concrete as well as a breathable wall covering. non-painted lime washes are commonly used for this, as they provide protection against the elements but still allow the walls to breathe, which keeps humidity levels manageable. In very humid climates, this is a difficulty, and more care must be taken to these stages of construction. Many serious builders using straw-bales have humidity sensors in various critical walls of the house to keep an eye on this; if any serious problems occur, quite often the wall can be ripped out and replaced, or ventilated with additional air holes to draw out moisture.

Most US locations that allow straw-bale houses to be built usually will require zoning variances, which adds to building costs, as well as often still requiring the load of the house to be carried on a post and beam system, even though a straw-bale structure is quite capable of supporting a normal roof on it's own. These things add, again, to the overall cost, especially if outside contractors have to be brought in to do the construction. (this is another requirement that municipalities will often insist on, too.) Overall cost per square foot to build such a house can easily exceed that of normal construction, due to the additional overhead of legal costs and finding a builder that will work with you.

For those lucky enough to do it on their own, the lion's share of the straw-bale construction work can be done in a relatively short period of time by a group of friends and some neighbors. Chainsaws factor into speeding up the process too, for cutting things to shape. (this part is the most fun, IMHO.) You've still got to get a foundation and all the other important things done first, but once all that is ready to go the house goes from foundation to mostly-done pretty quickly. I've always been impressed by this.

As I live in a cold climate (it's -15 F outside right now) houses like this are an excellent thing - heating costs in the winter are a fraction of those incurred by normal houses. Also, straw-bale homes are constructed from a renewable resource, that truly is renewable and carbon-friendly (unlike ethanol, for example.) We have a little straw-bale outbuilding up north by our cabin, and it's the warmest place in the winter, and also the coolest(!) place in the summer. Given the opportunity to build a house like this as a permanent residence, I'd jump at the chance.

Sane, renewable construction materials don't have to only belong to reclusive english hobbits; returning to such construction methods is an ecological necessity. And it can save money while doing so. (I'm still waiting for the "free market" to unlock those zoning laws... hmm... )

my two cents on straw bale!
posted by EricGjerde at 11:23 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

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