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Low-tech glory: Straw and clay

A lot of the attention in a sustainable building goes to the high tech equipment and mechanical systems. But at the heart of a project like Canada’s Greenest Home are some wonderfully simple, low tech and extremely effective structural systems like our clay plastered straw bale walls.

The north wall bales are installed and ready for plastering. The wall studs at 34 inches on centre are visible between the bales.

Installing the straw bale walls on the north side of our building and coating them in clay plaster is a strategy that combines low cost with high performance, and provides a window to a building system that is competitive with current energy-intensive practices but is also feasible in a world with a lot less fossil fuels to expend. These are materials that are locally accessible in most settled regions of the world, and the fact that one can base a very energy efficient home on them gives hope for a future when other materials may be much costlier or no longer available to us.

We installed our bales into a double frame wall system that mimics conventional frame walls, but with the studs placed at 34 inches on centre. In doing so, we create “bays” in the wall that are sized to the length of our straw bales, making bale stacking and plaster preparation very simple and straightforward. Unlike post and beam frames, no notching or cutting of bales is required, nor are heavy beams at the top of the wall. It is a very simple, very cost-effective manner to build a bale wall, and one that many professional bale builders find themselves gravitating toward.

Once the bales are installed, we use a “two-part, one-coat” clay plastering system. A thin coat of a wet clay plaster (1 part clay to 3 parts sand) is rubbed into the surface of the bales to provide a strong key into the straw and an adhesion layer for the bulk coat that follows immediately. This adhesion coat goes on very quickly. The bulk coat is a mix of clay, sand and chopped straw (1 part clay, 1.5 parts sand, 3 parts chopped straw). The more clay plastering we do, the more chopped straw we’ve added to our plasters. The bulk coat resembles a mix between cob and light-clay straw. This coat has enough tensile strength from the chopped straw to be applied to the wall at almost any thickness, from as thin as 1/2 inch to as much as 3 or 4 inches. This allows us to make a straight wall out of a lumpy, bumpy bale wall in a single coat.

We find that this type of clay plastering is a great deal more beginner-friendly than lime or cement based plasters. The clay plaster can be applied by hand, and no trowels or tools are required to make a very straight, even and beautiful wall. To achieve the same results with other plasters would take several more coats and a lot of troweling practice.

This part of the work is also very social, very engaging and a lot of fun. Building a house while up to one’s elbows in mud is a real joy. The fact that we are making an airtight, highly insulated and long-lasting wall system only matters after we wash our hands and look back at the beautiful walls!

Straw Bale Construction in China and Ontario

December 1st Presentation

On Thursday, December 1st, we are excited to join the Ontario Straw Bale Building Coalition in sponsoring Three Presentations on Straw Bale Construction at Ryerson University, Room ARC 300E, 325 Church Street in Toronto. 7:30 pm

Shi Yi, Wang Li and Tong Yu from the China Academy of Building Research will present on their lab testing program for straw bale walls, and on their involvement in straw bale home building projects in villages around China.

Colin MacDougall from Queen’s University Department of Civil Engineering will present on the numerous testing programs he has conducted on straw bale wall systems and other natural building materials.

Chris Magwood from the Endeavour Centre will present on the state of straw bale construction in Ontario, including homes built by professional bale builders, owner-builders and students.

For those with an interest in straw bale construction, the evening will be a fascinating look at a wide variety of approaches to using straw bale walls and a glimpse at the scientific testing that has made bale buildings acceptable in Canada and China.

For more information, contact us.

Endeavour in Haiti Details

An information meeting and Q&A session was held on November 20th for people interested in participating in the natural rebuilding program in Haiti organized by the Endeavour Centre.

Program coordinator and team leader, Tina Therrien, gave an overview of the itinerary and a frank description of the conditions and requirements of working in Haiti. She made it clear that there are many challenges and also many rewards to working in Haiti.

The Endeavour group will arrive in Port-au-Prince and spend around four days with Grassroots, an umbrella NGO, and helping with reconstruction efforts in the city. The group will then travel to the Artibonite Valley where an earthblock school is being built. The group will help with the construction of the school, as well as other potential projects that may arise.

Details of the program are:

  • All travel from Montreal to Port-au-Prince, within Haiti, and back to Montreal will be organized by Endeavour.
  • Accommodation and travel within Haiti will be organized by Endeavour.
  • Most meals will be arranged by Endeavour. Four dinners in Port-au-Prince will involve individual or shared food purchasing and preparation will be required.
  • All immunizations to be arranged and paid for by participants. Records of immunizations must be supplied to Endeavour before departure. Tina noted that immunizations should be sought with enough time (4-6 weeks) to allow for repeat shots where necessary. See immunization information below.
  • Departure around the 7th of February (to be confirmed once deposits have been received). Return around the 29th of February. The program will be three weeks in duration.
  • The cost of the program will be $2,000. This includes return flight from Montreal, all accommodation and travel in Haiti, and most meals. Participants must get themselves to Montreal for departure and from Montreal home.
  • Accommodation in Port-au-Prince is in provided tents. In the Artibonite Valley, there is a guesthouse and tents. Participants provide their own bedding.
  • Participants will bring their own tools. Tina will organize a “tool pool” once all attendees have confirmed.
  • Endeavour will provide a fundraising package to confirmed participants to help them raise money for the trip.
  • Endeavour will research insurance coverage for participants, but participants will be responsible for purchasing their own policies. See Blue Cross information below.
  • December 15th is the deadline for participants to commit to the program. At this point, a $750 deposit (non-refundable) will be required to allow for purchase of flight tickets.
  • January 15th is the deadline for full payment.
  • A representative from Endeavour will meet the participants at the airport in Montreal prior to departure.
  • A minimum of three participants is required, and a maximum of six.
  • The program will be a remarkable, life-changing experience!
  • As for car accidents, the program will hire the most proven and trusted auto accident lawyers in the country.

Blue Cross Insurance for Haiti:

Total cost of Package Plus without Trip Cancellation Plan

Package Plus without Trip Cancellation Plan
Travel Assistance included
Emergency Medical Care-up to $5,000,000
Flight Accident -up to $300,000
Public Transportation Accident -up to $200,000
24 Hour Accident -up to $100,000
Baggage -up to $1,500
Medical Follow-up in Canada up to 15 days after repatriation services. Click here to learn more about medical practices.

Total cost of Medical Plan

Medical Plan
Emergency Medical Care -up to $5,000,000
Travel Assistance included
Medical Follow-up in Canada up to 15 days after repatriation

The following are the recommended vaccinations for Haiti. ( with some Peterborough price tags attached, prices vary at different Travel clinics)

Hepatitis A – 55$-vaccine is recommended for all travelers over one year of age. It should be given at least two weeks (preferably four weeks or more) before departure. A booster should be given 6-12 months later to confer long-term immunity. Two vaccines are currently available in the United States: VAQTA (Merck and Co., Inc.) (PDF) and Havrix (GlaxoSmithKline) (PDF). Both are well-tolerated. Side-effects, which are generally mild, may include soreness at the injection site, headache, and malaise.
Older adults, immunocompromised persons, and those with chronic liver disease or other chronic medical conditions who have less than two weeks before departure should receive a single intramuscular dose of immune globulin (0.02 mL/kg) at a separate anatomic injection site in addition to the initial dose of vaccine. Travelers who are less than one year of age or allergic to a vaccine component should receive a single intramuscular dose of immune globulin (see hepatitis A for dosage) in the place of vaccine.
Typhoid – 30$ -vaccine is recommended for all travelers. An outbreak of typhoid fever was recently reported from Haiti (see “Recent outbreaks” below). Typhoid vaccine is generally given in an oral form (Vivotif Berna) consisting of four capsules taken on alternate days until completed. The capsules should be kept refrigerated and taken with cool liquid. Side-effects are uncommon and may include abdominal discomfort, nausea, rash or hives. The alternative is an injectable polysaccharide vaccine (Typhim Vi; Aventis Pasteur Inc.) (PDF), given as a single dose. Adverse reactions, which are uncommon, may include discomfort at the injection site, fever and headache. The oral vaccine is approved for travelers at least six years old, whereas the injectable vaccine is approved for those over age two. There are no data concerning the safety of typhoid vaccine during pregnancy. The injectable vaccine (Typhim Vi) is probably preferable to the oral vaccine in pregnant and immunocompromised travelers.
Polio – No Charge immunization is recommended. Eight cases of poliomyelitis were identified between July 2000 and July 2001. All cases occurred in people who were either unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated. A mass vaccination campaign brought the outbreak under control. For further information, go to MMWR and the World Health Organization (PDF).
Any adult who received the recommended childhood immunizations but never had a booster as an adult should be given a single dose of inactivated polio vaccine. Adults who are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated should be fully immunized (see polio for schedule). All children should be up-to-date in their polio vaccinations before departure. Adverse reactions to polio vaccine are uncommon and may include pain at the injection site. Since inactivated polio vaccine includes trace amounts of streptomycin, neomycin and polymyxin B, individuals allergic to these antibiotics should not receive the vaccine.
Hepatitis B30$ ( sometime they can do Hep A & B together for 55$) vaccine is recommended for all travelers if not previously vaccinated. Two vaccines are currently licensed in the United States: Recombivax HB (Merck and Co., Inc.) (PDF) and Engerix-B (GlaxoSmithKline) (PDF). A full series consists of three intramuscular doses given at 0, 1 and 6 months. Engerix-B is also approved for administration at 0, 1, 2, and 12 months, which may be appropriate for travelers departing in less than 6 months. Side-effects are generally mild and may include discomfort at the injection site and low-grade fever. Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) occur rarely.
Rabies 175$ vaccine is recommended for travelers spending a lot of time outdoors, for travelers at high risk for animal bites, such as veterinarians and animal handlers, for long-term travelers and expatriates, and for travelers involved in any activities that might bring them into direct contact with bats. Children are considered at higher risk because they tend to play with animals, may receive more severe bites, or may not report bites. A fatal case of rabies was recently reported in an American traveler who had been bitten by a dog while in Haiti. A complete preexposure series consists of three doses of vaccine injected into the deltoid muscle on days 0, 7, and 21 or 28. Side-effects may include pain at the injection site, headache, nausea, abdominal pain, muscle aches, dizziness, or allergic reactions.
Tetanus-diphtheria –No Charge vaccine is recommended for all travelers who have not received a tetanus-diphtheria immunization within the last 10 years.
Measles-mumps-rubella vaccine:No Charge two doses are recommended (if not previously given) for all travelers born after 1956, unless blood tests show immunity. Many adults born after 1956 and before 1970 received only one vaccination against measles, mumps, and rubella as children and should be given a second dose before travel. MMR vaccine should not be given to pregnant or severely immunocompromised individuals.
Cholera vaccine -???? is recommended, where available, for relief workers and health professionals. Two oral vaccines have recently been developed: Orochol (Mutacol), licensed in Canada and Australia, and Dukoral, licensed in Canada, Australia, and the European Union. Cholera vaccine is not available in the United States. The newer vaccines have not been approved for use in the United States, and an older vaccine which was licensed in the past is no longer manufactured or sold, due to low efficacy and frequent side-effects.

If you have any further questions about the program, please let us know by email or phone 705-868-5328.


If you or your loved one has been seriously injured in any type of personal injury accident and another party was at fault, you should talk with an experienced injury attorney. After a car accident, fall or other personal injury caused by another’s negligence, you may be facing unanticipated medical bills and loss of income. You need to understand your legal options to get back on your feet financially. At Hardison & Cochran, their personal injury attorneys understand the disruption that a serious personal injury accident causes. Their attorney can provide answers to your questions and compassionate guidance.