Alternative building constructions
Type alternatif de construction

The percentage of low income families living in alternative building constructions such as straw bale are almost nil even though these types of houses can be very low cost to build. Are alternative building constructions only for the rich and well-educated?

Le pourcentage de familles ayant de bas revenus qui vivent dans des habitations de constructions alternatives comme avec des bottes de pailles est presque nul, même si ce type de maison coûte beaucoup moins cher à construire. Est-ce que ce type alternatif de construction est réservé uniquement pour les riches qui ont de l'instruction?

(photo: Géraldine Arsenault's straw
bale home, Saint Ignace, NB)

Let us know what you think!
On aimerait bien savoir ce que tu en penses!

Thansi Zondo
Durban, South Africa
February 24, 2009
I live in South Africa and recently visited my home village. I was struck by the abundance of stones in every size and I thought that this would be good material to build some community building. Where can I get information about this type of building. This is also a very poor area so it would have to be a cheap method for anyone to manage it. 
Diana Walker
Saint John, NB
January 12, 2009
I have found the website, which offers courses and literature on building with these natural and abundant resources. I wondered if anyone in New Brunswick has taken the course, and if so what did you think of it.  The building materiel has stood the test of time in the U.K. I wonder if it would work here in New Brunswick? 
Northwest Florida
January 8, 2009
Has anyone explored building an underground house using very large steel culvert pipe? Steel corrugated pipe is available up to 12 feet diameter. If fitted end plugs were installed (with entrance way), these tube houses would demand zero cooling in summer and almost zero heating in winter. Of course, there would have to be an air exchanger....
Sherman, TX
December 28, 2008
hello everyone,
having lived in many parts of the united states and wanting to live cheaply..if i had some land with no building code restrictions i would build a dug-out like they did in the 1800s for temporary housing if i didnt have a travel trailer...then i would progress to a yurt-ike building. if you don't know what a yurt is, just google the word and you will find thousands of sites giving information...just don't give up on your remote housing dream...just do research and find out more........

Lucas Tedero
November 11, 2008
After reading all this I am convinced that building a conventional house is the only long term investment that will have any resale value besides log houses which have a good consumer confidence. Would I be crazy enough to spend thousands of dollars I don't have in a house that years down the road may want to sell and be worth nothing?? No thanks!!!!
Chris Kott 
Toronto, ON
October 6, 2008
I hate to burst a collective bubble here, but most methods mentioned here simply function as fill between structural members, in the case of straw bale and cord/stackwood construction. It is simply assumed by everyone that you'd still use conventional methods, i.e. post and beam or stick wall, to form the structure, which makes up a large part of the cost. Methods which seek to circumvent the use of a conventional structure will not meet code, hence the problem with permits. Building with stones you quarry from your own property is a good idea, but it becomes complicated with scope, and requires extreme attention to detail, as stones will be irregular; a mortar is also required. As mentioned only once before here, the solution is Compressed Earth Block. Under the right conditions, a mechanical press on site can press a humid earth mix, possibly stabilised with 10% portland cement or lime, possibly a fibrous organic component for resilience and moisture regulation during curing, and aggregate. Bricks pressed under appropriate conditions can be laid directly, not requiring firing or drying time at all. Independent research confirms that most conventional earth press configurations produce bricks capable of withstanding forces of 600psi, twice most minimum housing standards for masonry. A properly designed machine, using a stabilised mixture, could be reasonably expected to produce bricks withstanding 2900 to 3900 psi. This technology, combined with rammed earth for the formation of foundation slabs, uses resources already in place (dirt), which can be amended with minerals of different types if necessary, saves a huge amount of money, and it will exceed masonry minimum standards at least twofold. There will be no problems with permits. Ideally, as the only downside to the huge thermal mass is the eventual complete exchange, straw bale would make an excellent insulating envelope extending past the frost line, though I'd compress that into a block, too, with the same structural capacity (compressed straw brick would have a much higher R-value, and by sheer virtue of density would be less vulnerable to vermin, as well as likely fulfilling all masonry structural requirements; if you have a lot of straw, compressed straw brick is the way to go!), and I'd infill around the perimeter of the structure in the Icelandic tradition, to form earth berms around the structure. The roof, or alternately upper levels, could either be supported by halved logs supported by and grossly overlapping the external walls, or by shaping some bricks to allow for the building of simple keystone arches and barrel vaults, possibly even polygonal tiles for a geodiesic dome. I, personally, prefer the complex monolithic approach, but in practice would yield to simplicity, however I'd ideally build the whole structure to be subterranean, with natural light tubes and large windows on a serious southern exposure, and a structurally sound green roof capable of supporting grasses, various crops, possibly a vegetable garden, people, growing trees, and possibly the occasional grazing cow (you know, just to be safe). The point is, dirt is cheap, abundant, and you're basically making a flawlessly regular brick onsite with properties that easily exceed masonry, and can approach, and even functionally exceed, the ability of reinforced concrete. People, there really is no panacea (universal cure), as I pointed out with the heat transfer thing, but this is as close as you can get in one shot, and in combination with other viable earthbuilding technologies, a SYSTEM, or many different ones, for that matter, can be developed to do what there is no panacea for. In defense of cob and stackwood, they do make useful and attractive alternatives to stucco where compressed earth surfaces need to be protected. Personally, I'd just make the eaves longer and burn the wood for warmth ;p
Mario Bourque
Moncton, NB
October 1, 2008
Looking for information/plans on trying to build a house using tires.  Anyone with information or experience would be appreciated. 

Sylvie Nadeau
Moncton, NB
June 2 & 11, 2008
I am from Moncton, ready to build a green home in Grande-Digue, on our land.  I would like names of green contractors or some info on building straw homes in our area.  Very interested building a home with cob, does anyone have info on this type of home in New Brunswick? 
Nova Scotia
May 26, 2008
Hi - I am going to build a cob cottage this summer.  I am in Nova Scotia and am having a problem with the permit process.  If anyone has any advice please let me know asap!  Also, I would love to meet other natural builders in my area! 
Cord Wood Guy
Nova Scotia
April 25, 2008
I see a few people here interested in cordwood / stackwall.  Here is a link to my cordwood site:  For people interested in other alternative building systemsI put together another board where I list the pros and cons of each system, thus giving the newbie a full picture of what they are getting into.  Note: The books tend to leave out the flaws / faults in a system.  I think they omit them to increase sales! 
April 5, 2008
Are alternative building constructions only for the rich and well-educated? YES, if only because the cost of land is unaffordable for the majority of the population, unless you want to live several hundred kilometres from a city where you would actually have a chance at obtaining employment.
Eliot Harris
Southern Arizona
March 19, 2008
We live in Southern Arizona in a strawbale home. And, while it was almost as expensive to build this type home as it would have been to build a "traditional" style home, our savings come in operational efficiency. Feel free to visit our website for more specific info:  
Ginette Fougère
Dieppe, NB
February 29, 2008
If you are considering building a straw bale home in the region of Dieppe/Moncton/Riverview, and would like to have a few helping hands for a day or two, I teach a group of interior design students interested in learning about alternative building methods. I teach the basics, in theory...but to learn, one must experience first hand. We are willing to learn...if you are willing to teach. You may contact me at: 
Christine Borsuk
February 16, 2008
Like Steve Grady (post 11 December 07) in Halifax, I'm looking into stack wood construction. How might it compare cost-, green-, and efficiency-wise to stucco? I imagine cost has something to do with the location of your construction as compared with the location of your builder. If you know of any resources, I'd love to hear of them: is the email address ... thanks, in advance!
January 6, 2008
I've lived comfortably in a log home for many years. I encourage everyone to consider this option!
January 6, 2008
Hello all. I am an architecture student and am fascinated by alt. building methods. I am considering a log home. They need no insulation and are stronger than framed homes. They can survive tornados so this is relevant to me. A wonderful "green" way to heat your home in winter is to put the fireplace in the middle of your home, not against the exterior wall, and let a stone or concrete chimney rise through above stories. For summer heats make sure to build your home with windows placed to let lots of air flow directly through your home. To cut down on flooring costs, consider staining your concrete slab instead of laying down carped or wood. Also, the ceiling and the above floor can be the same layer, leaving exposed planks and beam supports for country charm. For a kitchen, consider three 8"/2" planks as a counter top. Again, country charm. Of course, cob should not be discounted. This is an earthen building method that is very energy efficient. It is also dirt cheap (excuse the pun) if you plan to do the labor yourself. There will be a LOT of labor involved! Finally, look at Earth Ships. These are a rammed earth building made from dirt filled tires. One of my friends is building this, and it is going up remarkably quickly! Thank you for your indulgence and good luck to you all.
Lyne Surette
Moncton, NB
December 23, 2007
I live in Moncton, NB. As each province has their own building regulations, I would like to get responses from strawbale house owners in NB. I would like to know if insurance companies in NB insure this kind of house and also if you know of any contractor/carpenter who builds strawbale houses. Please e-mail me 
Steve Grady
Halifax, NS
December 11, 2007
I am researching building a stack wood home. Do I have to use conventional concrete? I would like to use a clay type mix. Any ideas? Has anyone built with stack wood and later applied a thin layer of ??? something to create a more conventional type finish in a few rooms and take care of cracks and drafts between the logs and binder.
Isaac Armstrong
Pine River, MN
November 26, 2007
Some alternatives not discussed here: Steel-stick construction, steel truss construction, steel truss-wood purlin construction, a multitude of modular designs.
I am currently undergoing the construction of a Miracle Steel steel truss/wood purlin house. It is quite unconventional in this area. Where I'm saving money in the shell (about $10,000), the cost is being transferred to the basement foundation (still getting quotes). A slab foundation would be cheaper in the short run, but houses have better re-sale (and utilities are easier to run) with basements (built from any method.

November 9, 2007
Yikes! Who would have thought environmentalists were the 'worst offenders'-like we're all presidential nominees here (couldn't resist that :)
This is a New Brunswick website, and this is directed there, but may be applicable to others.
First, learn to enjoy the outdoors. Why? Because the main reason people's homes cost so much to heat, power, clean, etc., is because they are so damn BIG. Canadians have internalized the wilderness into wanting big interiors, and internalized US consumerism to fill it with junk. Build small, and I guarantee you will build cheap. In fact, start small, then if your family grows, build another small addition.
Second, the main reason that homes are so hard to heat is because they are built where forests have been cut down. Do what every smart gardener does-build in a microclimate. Face the house south with big windows in front, small ones in back (or better than that, none).
Find out where the winter wind comes from. Either build with tree cover or immediately plant fast growing trees and shrubs away from the house but which will block the wind.
Keep in mind that insulating too well guarantees you need an air circulator, or else you will get sick. Which means the most important part of your house isn't how you build it, but how you power it. Some companies around Niagara advertise solar and/or wind systems for around 12 grand for a small house.
Keep in mind, in opposition to the ideas expressed below, using a chainsaw in a rural area is not nearly as invasive as using a skidder and all the industrial tools that mass producers use.
MOST important, find others in your area. DON'T do it alone. Put ads in newspapers, talk to people, get looking on the web and you can probably find enough people to go in on a small construction job. That 6.5 acre lot in Sudbury would build small houses for about 20 people.

Everett Godfrey
Miramichi, NB
November 7, 2007
HI. I am starting to look at retirement and would like to build an inexpensive 4 season cottage. I would like to visit your home to see if it suits my purpose. I am interested in the straw bail or any other type that would fit with my plans.7


October 27, 2007
To anyone interested in "cheap" and "affordable" housing. I hate to tell you this, but that "concept" is just wishful thinking and a fairy tale. As some in this forum have already pointed out; there are many factors to consider in calling a type of home "affordable or inexpensive". The way this world is set up, there is no such thing as "cheap or free". For example: lets say I want to build a home that is "cheap and affordable".
*First factor-land: if it is cheap it is a long way from a source of income, usually does not produce food, water or sustain livestock; you would need a means of transportation (this involves costs for insurance, maintenance, not environmentally friendly, materials to produce vehicles does not promote environmentalism, etc.) If you can figure out a way of producing something of value to earn a living off the land; the consumer will be required to come to you, causing them to be environmentally irresponsible. 
*Second factor- Utilities, you'll need water, source of food, clothing and a source of heat; the farther you are from an urban center the higher the cost, unless there is a source of water on the property which increases the cost of the property. Food source needs to be considered as well. If the land is good for food production, its value will be higher as well. 
*Third factor - government regulations, standards and insurance. These non-conventional buildings are costly to insure at best and difficult to get approvals from inspectors; on which hangs the insurance. 
*Fourth factor - Building supplies: If the type of home you wish to build is from logs you'll need to cut trees down with chainsaw (non-environmentally friendly) or a hand saw (very time consuming for someone with a job. If a straw house, you'll need a source; land that produces good straw is not "cheap" and to bring it in to the site may cost more due to transportation (which has its drawbacks as mentioned before). And most mass produced building materials are produced in a non-environmentally friendly way for specific purposes and may not work, etc. 
*Fifth factor - Taxes: no one gets away with not paying taxes and the more value that is placed on the land the higher the taxes. 
OK that will give you a good idea as to what I'm trying to say. No amount of good intention is going to eliminate the fact that in life there is nothing free and "cheap", if you want to live and breath you will have to pay. And the ability to pay comes from HARD WORK. And to add to that I would urge the ones who have to help out the ones who do not have - BUT, where is the incentive to do that? But, this is the world in which we live: the haves have because someone else needs what the haves have. Also, this world on which we live is very resilient and the resources are still plentiful and if things were managed well and things manufactured for durability rather than disposability it will serve generations to come. I am afraid the road we're on has no detours and no off ramps and there is no way it's going to change. "Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished". Isaiah 51:6 KJV. This was written thousands of years before the NASA space program had even entered mans imagination; makes ya think, eh? The active environmentalist is usually the worst offender; running around the world telling everyone else to stop using the earth's resources while gobbling up tons of it. Just look at Al Gore's portfolio, were is his money invested? He is not popular or has what he has because he lives like a hermit! 
Any way that's my Five Cents Worth.

Reed Kinney
Mexico City, Mexico
September 29, 2007
Dear people, 
I was fortunate to find this site. My wife, Maria, and I reside in Mexico City. We plan to purchase some rural land in Holmes County, Ohio for our daughters and their families. Both of their husbands are good at building. I need to know what the least expensive, construction options are. I have known a little about straw bail construction. I suppose if you don't use wall studs and dry wall that may reduce construction cost. Are there seminars, or classes regarding straw bail construction? Would you be kind enough to point me in the direction of straw bail construction resources? I'm interested to know more about, cord wood, pole barn construction, and all alternative, low cost options. I welcome any suggestions you may offer. Thank you. 
Reed Kinney 

Cambridge-Narrows, NB
September 4, 2007
Hi, my husband and I are looking at building a cordwood home next year and would like to get in contact with other people in New Brunswick who have knowledge on alternative building and what types of regulations there are in New Brunswick on this type of building. 
South Shore NS
August 27, 2007
Am in the process of building a small dwelling out of used pallets and insulating with trapped air in empty pop cans wrapped with a minimum of pink fiberglass. All materials free except for glue nails and sheet roofing. The plumbing is salvaged. Electric costs! Oh yes the foundation is packed salvage stone 12. All labour is sweat equity.
August 9, 2007
I think straw bail houses are good and energy efficient. I'm 12 and I'm building one right now for me to live in on my parents' property.
Louise Pozdzik
July 26, 2007
I have enjoyed reading all the above much diversity is great. Although we all have a RIGHT to shelter (home), we are all not financially able to build our own homes. I am in that position and I am looking for alternative methods of home construction. Land is expensive here in Alberta and it is GREED that drives that engine...not NEED! I have done some research on stackwall/cord wood construction since there are trees here. The research that I have done was on the house that were built in Ontario over a hundred years ago that are still in use today. One of those homes is a two story. They are, apparently warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Also the insurance rates are lower because the butt end of a log does not burn easily as anyone who has tried to light one will know. In a world where there is an abundance of wealth it is a shame that there are those who do not have adequate housing. Conventional building contractors seem to be more interested in there bank accounts than in providing the best and least expensive homes that mankind would be pleased to dwell in. To all those seeking alternative and earth-friendly homes, I applaud your journey and wish you well.
July 6, 2007
Whew!, how exciting to think one can actually perhaps live almost debt free due to these housing alternatives!!! What does anyone out there know about alternative home choices in hot/humid and more importantly, hurricane inflicted Florida? Any ideas? I am an artist and don't mind putting some creativity in this thing but because I'm an artist I want to keep it cheap, cheap, cheap.
Darren Gallant
July 3, 2007
 I am in the very preliminary stages of research into homebuilding. We are 1-2 years away from beingin a financial position to approach this project and are interested in alternative methods suitable for an Eastern Canadian climate. Cost is a huge factor, and we are considering an "off the grid" home. Besidesbeing environmentally friendly, it seems the most cost effective decision long-term. Any resources that can befound would be appreciated. Also, if anyone is also thinking of a project in New Brunswick and would be interested in starting a discussion group, or to get together and meet & share ideas, I would be open to that as well. I have no building experience, but can swing a hammer & use a screwdriver.
e-mail me:

Eugene Voykin,
June 27, 2007
Hi my name is Eugene Voykin and “I NEED HELP” I am exploring my building options. I would love to build a sustainable, ethical home that i feel proud to build and live in. I would love to be connected to individuals that are familiar with this medium and or have courses teaching this type of alternative building. I believe that it will be the way of the future. If anyone can let me know where I can get hands on knowledge, please let me know.
on, Ontario
June 4, 2007
Wouldn't a stone house be cheaper than a strawbale one? I mean if you could use your own stones? I'm trying to figure a way out to build a super-cheap homestead up north. There are still pieces of land not far from Sudbury... one I saw was 6.5 acres with a well and culverts already dug for only $14,900! There HAS to be a way. I refuse to keep living in this rat race! If you have any ideas, please email me: 
AA Hedayat
Southern California
April 22, 2007
Straw bale is very nice. It offers thick walls and a true feeling of 'dwelling space'. One small detail to keep in mind, other than treating your bales so they do not catch fire (the Borax idea was interesting); remember that the bale wall is very thick and therefore eats up a lot of square footage. So depending on the size of your lot, you may be squeezed. What we all must also do is get our respective city, county, state organizations to recognize all the various types of construction so it can be permitted.
Jeff Heath
Dothan, Alabama
February 18, 2007
If you live in the desert - build with dirt and rock. If you live in Florida build with concrete and or, earthen bricks. Basically, dirt and rock are the cheapest building materials - means heavy work, but, end product is sound. New versions of concrete when considering sq/ft is cheap - end product rates the type of construction. Dirt is readily available - need a block press. 
Jeff Heath
Dothan, Alabama & Texas Hill Country
February 18, 2007
There are a lot of great points and arguements made towards the reasons why, "people do not built alternatively". It would be the govt which satisfies the building needs through tax laws and etc... A source of money should be made available for proven alternatve building methods for those people who seek a more personal and low income dwelling. I personally have been dabbling in the "Advanced Construction Concepts", and have numerous means to "build and live outside the box". There is a lot of psychology involved in the home industry -but, what really matters to the individual. Is it the "pipe-dream" we have been listening to the past 7 years- saturated market. What do you see when you pull up to your home or, business. Does it look like the house 2 or 3 doors down? Do you have the "residential robot mentallity - but, of course you do. I see something far different from my neighbor's house or, any other houses around me. I see myself off the ground amongst the tres. I see an Earth brick home with a 12' wrap around porch, metal roof and an acre of land. I can see pre-fab dwellings, concrete block and tilt wall homes, composites, steel, Mother Earth, anything but, a bunch of little sticks of wood and an ininferior product. The person was correct when he made the remark about "bankers not wanting to loan money for a mortgage due to a mental block". States have already made judgement on types of construction. If you find a type of construction - say, one a govt agency has utilized - then you have a type of construction already proven and a loan would be easier to aquire. The community will dictate what type of structures can be built and/or what the structure shall look like. Buy a lot in a new area and build what you want. Make it an "Alternative Building Community" no traditional home building allowed. However, even their are /should be guidelines - such as, height, overall size and it must fit in with the environment and not take away from it etc..
Clive Cook
Paris, France
January 24, 2007
look in holland there is a guy who teaches people to build their own straw walled houses and very cheaply too
Willi Nolan 
Kent County, NB
January 23, 2007
Hats off to NBEN for having this forum! I found the statement " --nothing is worse than being older and lacking the knowledge and financial resources to be independent. The high cost of living is the major contributor to family strife and instability, and it shouldn't kill you just to live. I hope you succeed, for the 95%of the world that isn't rich--my prayers are with you." profound. I noticed that throughout the comments on this page, people are asking if anyone knows someone who can help them build a home with low-cost, natural materials. I agree that "there is a class barrier in terms of culture and education." We need more trained people in sustainable trades! In answer to this, a few of us are developing plans for a Sustainable Trades School. We are working to educate our youth, businesses and policy makers. Seriously interested contributors and allies are welcome. All My Relations 
Northwest BC
January 7, 2007
Why don't people with little money to spend buy a used trailer and put it on cheap land? My wife and I bought 10 acres in the mountains for $30,000 and can buy a used trailer for less than $5,000. It's good for the environment because we are recycling an existing home and will reno with renewable, cheap materials when we can afford it. In all my green/cheap home research, trailers are never mentioned. I think people are too concerned about being percived as green minded sophisticates rather than using their brain to do the best thing!
Francois Couturier
Edmundston, NB
January 1, 2007
I do not think that, in n-b you can build with straw bail because of insurance.
Joe DuPont
Towanda, PA
October 20, 2006
Small round houses, be they straw, cob, adobe, rock with a yurt type roof would seem to be a great deal. I would think that you could slant the south facing wall to maximize the sun exposure in Winter.
Moncton, NB
October 12, 2006
I am considering building next year and this seams an interesting alternative. I would like to get in contact with someone who had the experience to build their home with straw bails and would like to share their stories over the building experience. I live in New Brunswick, Canada. I like the look of the technique and concept. How should we proceed with the local building permit for this type of construction? The answer will be an important issue considered in my decision? 
Peter Kuhlmann
Kelowna, British Columbia
September 27, 2006
Land aside. I think a straw bail house is not much less expensive to build than a standard stick frame. It would require everything a stick frame house would need except for the sheathing and insulation (a few less studs and they are cheap). Bear in mind I'm talking about building to code. In this building boom we are enjoying, if there was a cheaper and better way to mass produce homes at equal or better profit, the developers would have built sub-divisions by now. I've drafted, estimated and built a cabin and a house and am not very experienced. I don't see much of a saving in using bales for the do-it yourselfer, when the goal is a modern, comfortable, well built house. On the other hand, the one I read about in our local lifestyle magazine is beautiful to look at and has an R-50 rating. PS: I saw a house in Abbotsford a few years ago that was sheathed in pallet wood. Alot of work, but it did the trick. He saved $800 in sheathing but probably spent at least 200 hours on this monumental knuckle busting task (plus driving around gas money). $4/hour? not for me.
Michael McDonald
Saint John 
New Brunswick
August 24, 2006
I Have always loved the idea of a straw bale home.I can just imagine the ambience of being inside one.I can imagine it would have the same feel and look as one of the hobbit homes from Lord of The Rings.I love the natural lines.There are no straight lines in nature.I really found them to be inviting.I live in Saint John and have been interested in Straw Balw building for a few years.Is there anyone out there in New Brunswick that will be putting on a workshop in the near future.Having an alternative building and living off the grid is what I would love to do.We pay far to much money on conventional living in this day and age.
Cordwood Guy
Nova Scotia
May 3, 2006
Northern Wisconsin
August 22, 2005
Here are several things that make it difficult for a low income family to build any kind of home (no matter what it costs to build). One, as has already been mentioned, where do you get the money to buy a piece of land. Banks will give loans for expensive homes, (that the low income family will have trouble keeping up on the mortgage), but a loan for some land and building just doesn't happen. Then, even if they are somehow able to acquire a piece of land, and the funds to build, there are permits. I realize that this isn't the case everywhere, but where I live, you can not get a permit to build this straw bale type housing. They are ignorant about them, and say that they are not safe. I have tried myself to bring in information, to change this, but they will not budge on this. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, that they would be so closed minded about this, but I guess, they have the reasons. It is easier to say no!, than to educate one self.
Boron California
August 16, 2005
I work in the Mojave desert. I belive straw bail construction to be an excellent choice for this climate. Further I have access to processed Borax, borax is known to be an excellent fire retardant and insects hate it. Treating the bails with borax should enhance the sctrucure. I plan to construct a large work shop initially and frame it with rail road rails I have a source locally. I should end up with a very strong well insulated long life structure.
June 2, 2005
Looks like the perfect use for straw bales that are not used for anything else. 
April 14, 2005
Hello, I live in Texas - same climate as the Florida guy. What about used tires--I think Denis Hopper built one out of old tired bottles and cans--there's never a shortage of that stuff. If you figure that out - you have a paying customer!  I am also looking at shipping containers and radiant heat which can hopefully help with cooling--nothing is worse than being older and lacking the knowledge and financial resources to be independent. The high cost of living is the major contributor to family strife and instability, and it shouldn't kill you just to live. I hope you succeed, for the 95%of the world that isn't rich--my prayers are with you.
Andrew Hawkins 
Richibucto NB
Jan 15, 2005
I think the problem lies with a lack of knowledge. The term well
educated is slightly misleading to me in this instance as it indicates a better education rather than a more varied one. Quite often when I tell people that I intend to build a straw bale home they look at me in disbelief. The other response i get is that they saw a program about it on TV a while back. But mention stick framing or brick building and everyone knows what youre talking about. Listening to those in the know talk about strawbale or indeed any other form of alternative construction and a common problem is the lack of provision in building codes. Quite often the granting of a permit is dependant on the would-be builder educating the inspector. Maybe if councils were more knowledgeable the information would filter down to the rest of us. After all if we see something we like we're more likely to research it but with nobody being allowed to build the chance to see!
a strawbale house is pretty slim. 

Dec. 18, 2005
I am searching for all the low cost options, i.e. geo/mono domes/cob/yurt, etc. Have you
compared/considered all of these options?

Douglas Ker 
North Grenville,
Oct 19, 2004
Strawbale is simply a rediscovered building system that offers the owner/builder a lower cost wall material. The opportunity for acceptance rests with its ability to offer dollar cost advantages in materials, labour and energy (heating/cooling). Speaking as a designer/builder there are a variety of elements that comprise the ultimate cost of a home from land costs to foundations, electrical, plumbing (septic systems), roofing and the list goes on. Walling is only one component. I have already seen some "studies" posted on the net proposing that pinning may not be required... Any construction project is a significant investment in time, materials and resources as we in this country live in one of the most weather extream climates on the planet. At this point I suspect strawbale may simply be a more sustainable resource and offer increased R values. Simply do your research and O Bye the Way....straw core laminate boarding is now available in the commercial/retail market...and a process is being developed to extract a liquid fuel from straw. Cheap for how long? 
Oct. 1, 2004
I think most low income mainstream people don't live in alternative const homes is because banks will not lend money on them and most low income people have a mortgage and make payments on their homes. Only people with a good size bank account can afford to go out and buy and and build a home with no loan.
Ashley S Butler,
Horticulture student
Kentville, NS
Sept. 11, 2004
Rich, poor, or anywhere in between, alternative construction techniques and materials are an absolute must. We simply can not continue to deplete the earth's resources at the current rate. I shudder to think what our planet will be like if we allow the construction industry to go the way of various others in their tremendous efforts to suppress new ideas until they've squeezed every last dollar out of the old one's. However, beyond industry resistance there lies the problem of perception. In general the notion of a strawbale home is considered radical and impractical. Something for hippies and guilt ridden professionals, not for us, the average Joe home owner. But is it not Joe who can dictate the market? If Joe understands that it will save him money to build with straw, not only in materials at the time of construction but more importantly for however long he enjoys the reduced heating and cooling costs that his home provides, ! then throw on top of that all of the environmental benefits and I think we've got ourselves a winner. It is going to take a tremendous amount of work in order to reach the mass consciousness, but it can and must be done. Alternative building constructions are not yet for everyone, but they will be and I plan to help make it happen. 
Geneva Lewis-
NW Florida
Sept. 7, 2004
Problem though... strawbale won't work here in humid moldy Florida. 
We're researching concrete blocks now, as the cheapest mold-free resource locally. 
We are a low income, fixed income family, however.... our options are VERY limited. 

BW Wildsmith
Lunenburg Co. NS
Aug 31, 2004
Straw-bail building is a key to having sustainable houses, communities and 
in the end a sustainable world. 

Indian Brook
First Nation
Aug 30
it is import to construct a place similar to where one belongs and still use straw bail construction. for example. we built a hogon in New Mexico with straw bail. first nation housing can use the same process they just need to make it first nation specific.

Daniel Haran 
Halifax, NS
Aug 30

Alison makes a good point about the percentage of middle and upper-class people that have such dwellings. The price difference may not be as huge as many expect, and bureaucratic barriers for financing and getting permits can wipe out economic gains very fast. Finally, environmentalists tend to recruit from the middle and upper classes, so even if this was merely a question of education, we'd have to clean up our act and not be so classist in our outreach. Given this, attempts at stereotyping the working class, its attitudes and level of education can be seen as disingenuous and condescending.

Katherine Reed
Nova Scotia
Aug 27

The idea of "low cost housing" scares me. The thing is, in order to develop housing that is affordable for people with lower incomes, a great deal of subsidization is required. There is no free lunch here. Subsidization is probably best done by government. To think that we can solve the housing affordability problem in Canada by figuring out innovative ways to build "low-cost" housing is misguided and raises all kinds of problems, many of which have been identified and discussed in this forum. When will our federal government get the message that a national housing strategy, like those in all other developed nations needs to be a high priority? It is one way we could stop the hemorrhage of public money being spent on poverty related damage-control (health services, special educational services, social assistance, etc.), all directed at supporting poor people who need not be poor in the first place, were it not for their affordable housing. Like the mechanic in the old tv commercial explained about taking proper care of your car, "You can pay me now, or pay me later."
J. McDavid 
Ripley MS
Aug 26
Too many laws to contend with, regulations make it almost no chance a low income person would be able to build this type of home.

Sweden (but 
from Canada)
August 26, 2004

I know in my case (low income childhood), my parents would not build a straw bale home because they had a preconceived idea of what materials a home should be built of (conventional materials). Also, some conventional building materials are offered as part of a housing deal because maybe some companies/governments/construction crews are in-bed together. I really think it s a matter of education and open-mindedness and breaking down old conventions. Further, governments need to have an open mind to alternative building construction materials also, as in some cases they will only fund a certain list of building materials. If a batch of straw bale houses were built in a government-building program, and if the houses were built properly, I think the idea of alternative materials will begin to be trusted more by the people in the "Low Income" bracket. Thus, spreading the idea to the people, built on the foundation of good reputation.

Christa Carpenter
Quispamsis, NB
August 25, 2004

While alternative building methods may be cheap, they are sure not easy to learn about in this part of the world. It is often difficult to get alternative building products here as well. The other thing to take into consideration is the resale of such a home. Even if you argue that the investment is less to build it, such an investment is not a good risk for a low income person if they are not likely to be able to recoup these costs in resale. In other words, you have to consider how many people might want to buy such a house if you needed to sell it.
Another problem with alternative housing is code. New Brunswick's building codes have not been tried and changed to include many of these alternative homes and technologies, so trying to use them is impossible if inspectors are not flexible or 'open' to alternative ideas.
Another problem is apt to be financing - banks aren't likely to know about alternative building systems.  Every time you want to do anything 'alternative' it is going to be more difficult - whether it is better, saves money or not. This along with the risk involved in the investment keeps many interested people from going ahead with alternative housing - including me!

Patty Donovan
Quispamsis, NB
August 25, 2004
Many people just do not understand the concept of alternative housing such as straw bale... thank you NBEN for getting the message out that there is a way to build a wonderful home that is environmentally friendly! 

Yonatan Strauch
August 25, 2004
I think that in terms of the technology and the economics there are some alternative buildling systems that work for those with less money. They usually involve having more time and more friends. I do think there is a class barrier in terms of culture and education. 
Environmentalism or even just doing things difference, out on a limb kinda is usually more of a middle class thing. Without going into it, I would say that the cultural and education barriers can be analyzed, and broken down. If someone chooses to devote a project that bring natural building to lower income communities I think it can be successful. 

Alison Howells
August 25, 2004
I may be wrong, but isn't the percentage of middle and high income families living 
in straw bale homes low as well? Perhaps it's more a question of availability and 
education than anything.

Louis McMillan 
British Columbia
August 25, 2004
With the cost of labor today any kind of building project requires a great deal of money regardless what kind of a bargain can be obtained for the building materials. Therefore I think this type of construction does lean towards those who do have wealth. 

Leland Wong-
Strawbale House 
Knowlesville. NB
August 25, 2004
Are they low cost? First someone has to have property to build on. Land is expensive, especially near cities and towns. Also, strawbale construction is not easy. Unless a low-income family wants to live like the homesteaders of yesteryear, there are lots of things that must be done to make the home comfortable and attractive. The real savings in strawbale is the option for owner-built. Unless a low-income family also has some building skills, hiring a carpenter or builder is expensive. Also, for someone who is strapped for cash, do you think they want to experiment with their money on something relatively unknown.  Strawbale is out there for anyone who wants to access the idea. It takes initiative to find the idea and to accept it. Initiative and acceptance both cost nothing. I live in a straw house. I am by no means rich, and I am not educated in building practices. 

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