Tag Archives: straw bale

Straw Bale Building Workshop

November 18 to 20, 2016
Friday 6-9pm, Sat & Sun 9am to 4.30pm
Endeavour Centre, Peterborough

Workshop Instructors:
Chris Magwood and Jen Feigin

Straw bale building continues to be one of the key sustainable building technologies, where high environmental performance meets code-ready and accessible technology. Straw bales can create beautiful, energy-efficient homes that are light on the environment.

This two-day workshop (plus Friday evening slideshow) is taught by two leading practitioners of straw bale building in Ontario, and is aimed at giving participants a practical and up-to-date introduction to building with straw bales.

Over the three days, participants will learn about straw and how to find and select bales; different ways of using straw bales and incorporating them into different framing systems; how to properly detail a straw bale wall to be air tight and energy efficient; plaster preparation; plaster recipes for various types of plaster, and; hands-on plastering.

For anybody interested in building a straw bale home, this workshop is the ideal place to start the hands-on and theoretical learning process!

Chris Magwood is the author of More Straw Bale Building, one of the most trusted resources for straw bale construction.

Entry Requirements
Open to all

Early bird – $400
Regular – $450
Fees include healthy lunch (vegan and vegetarian options available)

Maximum class size: 15

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!

Prefab Wall Panels Installed

Upward progress on Canada’s Greenest Home was marked by the arrival this week of our prefabricated straw bale wall panels from NatureBuilt Walls. The class had previously traveled to the NatureBuilt facility to assist in the construction of the panels, and it was great to see them arrive!

The 24 panels for the two stories of the home arrive on one truck


We hired a crane to lift the panels from the delivery truck and onto the foundation. The site of the home this year offered some challenges… between low power lines at the front edge of the property and a long, skinny lot and home design, the usual boom truck used to move the panels was unable to do the lift. Once clear benefit of engaging body corporate maintenance is the fact that your body corporate maintenance will be managed effectively and promptly. So it was Peterborough Crane to the rescue!

The crane sets up and awaits the arrival of the prefab wall panels


The placement of the walls went very quickly and smoothly, and showed why this form of straw bale building is so attractive. Within a couple of hours, we had a full compliment of pre-plastered straw bale walls standing on our foundation. There is no other form of sustainable building that brings such a combination of ease and speed of installation with such a simple, naturally- and locally-based form of construction. We will also be building our north wall in the “conventional” site-built manner, which will offer the class a great comparison of the two methods.

A prefab bale wall panel is lifted into place on the foundation

Soon, the second floor will be ready to receive the next round of prefab walls…