Temporary Straw Bale House

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The articles, discussions, and books on straw bale building have been fun and intriguing. If we build again, it is a technique we will certainly look into. But it is an idea that can be used on a less formal scale as well, for temporary storage and shelter.

When we first moved to our current homestead, we discovered, to our surprise and dismay, that one summer was not long enough to build a complete homestead -- not even a complete house -- not even close. We also discovered that those unanticipated odds and ends drained a limited savings even faster than the grasshoppers devoured the new garden, planted on worn-out soil. Fall arrived with the house built up only as high as the footings. We looked around and made the responsible decision to move back down to the city to work for money for a few more years (which lasted two months before instinct overruled supposed responsible action, and we moved back to the homestead).

But all our worldly goods were residing under a large sheet of heavy black plastic, where we had unloaded them from the moving van that spring, and had laid them out in more or less organized rows for their temporary stay until we got the house done that summer. So we thought. But now, it didn't seem the best storage facility for a longer duration. And besides, the thrill of crawling under that black plastic to find the particular box that had that one item in it that we wanted had long faded away. A neighbor down the road was baling straw about then. Ah hah!

We bought enough bales of straw to stack, one over two, into a building eight feet wide on center by about twice that long, with an opening in one wall for a door. For the roof we had the eight foot rough wood forms we had made for the footings and walls of our planned house (ala Nearing slip-form type stone and cement wall, which later turned into an Oehler PSP wood type). We set the heavy forms, made of rough pine 2-by-4s and 1-by-6s, on the straw bale walls and covered the whole thing with the piece of 10 mil black plastic that had been covering our belongings. Scrap boards laid on the plastic kept it from blowing away.

What a great improvement! What luxury! It was something we should have done at the very first. This hay bale temporary storage building lasted for many years, and the chickens that came the next year loved to scratch around the base of the straw walls. When we built a more permanent wooden storage building, the straw went to good use on the garden, and the plastic and forms went on to other lives.

As is the way on the homestead, many of those wooden forms were used a few years later as a roof on a "temporary" lean-to off the wooden storage building -- for rototiller, corn grinder, tires, and the like. Last year the "temporary" lean-to (probably twelve years old) was replaced with a "real" addition (2-by-10 rafters, metal roofing, walls made of salvaged used metal garage doors). The best of the forms became a new porch off the woodshop (former cabin). The rotten ends of the worst were sawn off, the remaining halves used as scaffolding for building a new hangar. And life on the homestead goes on -- for people and materials.