The few weeks before our bale-raising were incredibly hectic. We had been planning for this weekend for the entire year! First, we had intended to host a workshop of sorts, offering the opportunity for people we don’t know to come and learn from hands-on work. Our friends and mentors Rex and Lori were indispensable in planning and getting this weekend put together. They are long-time natural building enthusiasts who have been a huge inspiration in the building of our home. They live off-grid in an octagonal, load-bearing, straw bale home. They built it in the mid-90’s and as far as we know, it is the first straw bale construction in Missouri! We are lucky to have met them and thankful they have been able to help us in so many ways.
We ended up only getting a few paying “customers” for the workshop, so we decided to refund their money and invite them to come and learn anyway! We had so many friends and family coming out to help, we felt silly taking money from a few people just because we didn’t know them! We ended up having a heck of a turnout, and we accomplished an amazing amount of work in just three days! Mike actually got really sick during the weekend and spent a lot of time in bed! It was a bummer to miss out on some of the weekend which we’d looked forward to for so long, but it was just too much for him 😦 He was really glad that our help, with Rex and Lori’s guidance, were able to pull it off without him there for a lot of the time.
The feeling you get when this many people have gotten together and busted their butts for the sake of building your family such a beautiful home is indescribable! We have craved this kind of community connection, and this weekend was a testament to the power of friendship and relationships. We literally would not have been able to pull this off without the massive amount of help we received. It was a cold day for Friday, but we still had lots of help and no one complained! We then proceeded to sweat for the next two days! No complaints there either!
The first morning was spent getting everyone informed on what we planned to do for the weekend. Most of the rest of that day was filled with getting the first few rows of bales stacked and the window and door frames in place. It took just a short while for everyone to find a “niche” and produce a lot of results! It was incredible how fast everyone caught on to things like bale-notching and re-tying bales to fit different sized spaces. Due to our aforementioned lack of physical plans, we ran into several small hitches in the plan. We all pulled our heads together and came up with effective and ingenious solutions!
The large nails poking out of the toe-up which the first row was impaled upon ended up working like a charm! This was cool, because it was a newer idea just starting to be used in the straw bale building world. Hours and hours of reading and research, along with a few trips to some straw bale buildings in our area, led us to use a lot of different sources for our ideas. We also used a system to stabilize the wall by adding shear strength that is different from the “norm” in natural building. We attached a set of 1X2 inch furring strips to the inside and outside of the toe-up, running vertically from the treated 2X4 up to the posts and 2X4s overhead. They were then tied together with wire through the wall as the bales were stacked against them. This led to the wall becoming one solid unit instead of a wobbly straw wall just waiting to fall over! Most straw builders use bamboo or rebar pins to pin the rows of bales together, but that doesn’t make the wall one large unit like the furring strips. Pretty cutting edge, huh?
Day two was a lot of bale modifying and notching, along with lots of careful stacking. We got all the rest of the walls up and had quite a turnout to help get it all done! We all enjoyed a great meal together and there were kids running around and laughing everywhere. It was really satisfying and we succeeded in creating a few days we’ll never forget.
Sunday was a day filled with details and on-the-spot problem solving. Mike got really sick that morning and was down for the count most of the day 😦 It sucks when that happens, but it’s a reminder of how much we do on a daily basis and how much we’ve accomplished, despite fighting a terrible sickness all the while. Mike truly believes, if he can do it, anyone can do it!
We had to cover the furring strips with tar paper and chicken wire to make plaster stick to them, which sounds much less time-consuming than it is! We also devised a solution for the top of the walls where there wasn’t room for another row of bales, but we needed to fill the space. We decided to back the space with tar paper and stuff the created gap with straw flakes. These flakes were layers of the cut-open bale peeled off at the needed thickness. They filled the gap nicely, but where the flakes wouldn’t work we had to use loose straw, which didn’t work quite as good. It was tough to get the straw to pack firmly and not push the tar paper loose on the outside! Another rough job was tying the inner and outer furring strips together through the wall with thin wire. It was tough on the hands but it did the job.
The entire time we were playing in straw, Tom was putting in window bucks, leveling all day long, keeping it all squared up. He had to do some off-the-cuff improvisation a few times with no notice whatsoever! We needed a wider top for the window bucks so we could stack the last row of bales on top of them, and that was a detail that we had overlooked until it was time for the final row! Tom busted out the saw and whipped up a solution in no time! Tom was once again indispensable and we’re glad he’s “in it for the long haul”. Thanks a million, Tom!
This bale raising was a great experience for our family. We felt so good having all these folks show up to contribute their sweat equity to making our dream a reality! We aren’t wanna-be slave drivers, no, we just love the feeling of community and togetherness we get from hard work done with good people. It is rare in our times to have this kind of connection to so many others. Like the barn-raisings of our forefathers and mothers, this was a time for a group of friends and family to come together to help a member of their community with a task too great for them to accomplish alone. Many hands make light work, though, and we felt truly amazed to be so fortunate as to have such caring friends and neighbors. Our house is a product of the relationships we’ve built with so many good people. Every part of its unique makeup is a memory of a friend helping to get that part done. We are truly and greatly indebted to all who have been involved, and we love you all!
The construction of our home has slowed down a lot over the winter, but the spring is here and we’re firing up for action! We’ll now focus on our progress and our life events with this blog, since we feel you are all caught up now! 🙂