Straw Bale Building Course

I was hoping to post this sooner, but I’ve been incredibly busy!! Things are getting mad now that the summer is approaching, but I can’t complain, I enjoy having plenty to do!

Anyway, with a fortunate windfall from my mortgage last month, I managed to book a place on a straw bale building course last weekend. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had thought that I have a chance of building with the bales late this year, so I wanted to ensure that I was capable of building with the bales, rather than just going off what I had read in books!

We all met in Redfield on Friday night, 11 people on the course in total. Everyone was friendly, from various backgrounds and very easy going. Everyone had a unique reason for being there, and it was refreshing to hear peoples ideas and understand how much variety you can get from building with such a simple material. We settled into the night with a brilliant meal cooked up by the people at Redfields and a straw bale DVD and presentation from our weekend tutor, Chug Tugby.

I should tell you about our accommodation. Redfield is a community in North Buckinghamshire which is a large mansion situated on 17 acres of beautiful grounds. If you are not familiar with the concept of a community, the idea is that families of people all live together, sharing the work of the land, and living communally. There is more information on their website –  http://www.redfieldcommunity.org.uk/. We stayed in a building off from the mansion, and it was a lovely building with a large social area, giving us plenty of space to get to know each other on the course.

On the Saturday, we all headed out to a nearby farm where we would be building our work. We spent the morning learning about tying bales, and cutting them to shape to lay into a wall. With the short tutorial out of the way, we quickly set about constructing the side of a barn wall. For the weekend, we worked on a straw bale infill wall, though straw can be used in load-bearing structures too. By the end of the day, we had completed the wall, and also some of the team had repaired a damp patch of a previously completed wall too.

Come Sunday, we were raring to go, and had a short lime tutorial. With gloves and aprons on, we set about covering the back of the barn with lime plaster. The first coat of plaster is often the hardest to put on, but with 11 of us working hard, we were more than able to get the entire back wall done in a matter of hours. Not too mean a task when you see the size of the barn wall!

All in all, I enjoyed the weekend. I felt like I became a lot more confident handling the bales and I don’t feel so scared of buying and building with straw bales anymore! I’m looking forward to taking delivery of them!! One of the biggest surprises of the weekend was discovering quite how weather-proof straw bale can be. I always had the impression that on building with bales, you would need to get the bales up, and the walls plastered as soon as possible, before any rain hit. While this is true if you have the bales uncovered, with a good roof, you don’t need to rush it quite as much!

As you will see in the photos, the barn we were building had a number of straw bale walls built before our arrival – these walls were put up in September 2011 and were (generally) still OK!* To back up this evidence of hardiness, we were shown around Redfield whilst staying there, and they had a number of straw bale buildings, which were mostly unflustered, and had been standing for up to 12 years! It taught me that as long as the roof I am planning has a decent overhang, there is absolutely no rush in getting the plaster sorted (though I will build and plaster it within a week hopefully!). Certainly means the building work will be a lot less stressful with regards to weather preparation!

If you are interested in booking yourself on a Straw Bale building course or something related, visit http://www.lowimpact.org