October 17, 2005


Not likely. A strawbale house should last a lifetime. Speaking of straw bale house, Julie and I volunteered for a day on a straw bale house building site on Camano Island. It began last Spring when we attended the Seattle Tilth’s plant sale. A woman handed us a flyer indicating she was looking for volunteers to help build her straw bale home. We are interested in alternative construction methods and have toyed with the idea of building a straw bale house in the future. An opportunity to get hands-on experience was a bonus. I contacted Carrie Gonzalez right away. Her project had a couple of false starts but began for real in mid-October. She still needed volunteers so Julie and I headed up there Saturday. Camano Island is about 60 miles north of us. It’s a beautiful area. Carrie’s property has a view of Livingston Bay.

At this point in the project, the straw bale walls of her home needed to be covered in cement (mud). The ace team of Habib Gonzalez and His Merry Mudders came down from British Columbia. Habib’s company, Sustainable Works, is a "British Columbia based sole proprietorship involved in education and implementation of basic ecological land use principles. Our work has been as far afield as New South Wales, Australia, Maui, Hawaii, as well as throughout B.C, western Canada and the northwestern United States." So there. Habib’s assistants were Cindy and Dan. Another volunteer was, Ohio, a woman from somewhere near Monroe, WA. Then me and Julie and Carrie, the owner.

It wasn’t long before I had an air gun in my hands and was firing mega staples into the
J bead that trimmed the border of the bales. The bales had already been sewn together and then enclosed with what appeared to be large chicken wire. Basically, it had been fenced in. I apologize for my lack of knowledge when it comes to the proper terms. The cement would then be applied over this fencing. In some areas the straw wasn’t quite flush with the fencing so we filled the holes with straw and then secured the fencing down with a robert pin. I looked online for quite a while to find a photo of a robert pin but no luck, sorry. It’s basically a wire staple with an extra bend in the wire on on leg. The bend comes back up toward the top of the pin. These pins are pushed and/or hammered into the bale. In no time we were helping to assemble scaffolding.

We watched Dan create the mud (liquid dish detergent gives it a nice texture). Then it was time to apply the mud. For the most part, Julie and I and Ohio were mud slingers much of the time. Though Ohio spent time on her own conceiving and constructing a remarkable scaffold in an area where the ground was uneven and the surroundings close. Julie and I were happy to be mud slingers. It gave us the opportunity to watch and listen to the pros. We made sure the mud boards were supplied with a perpetual pile of mud. Whether we went from wheelbarrow right to the board shovelful at a time, or shovelled it into a bucket then hoiseted it up and dumped it, or slopped it right onto someone's hawk with a ladle, we got the mud up where it belonged. I have complimentary bruises on each forearm to prove it. Each bruise represents where the bucket rested for just a moment before it was hoisted and dumped.

Julie and I did get to try our hand at applying the stucco. I was told that I had a natural flair for it. I wish I could have done more of that but it was best to leave it to the pros. The mud goes onto a hawk and then you apply the mud with a trowel. Mud is heavy, whether in a shovel, in a bucket, on a hawk or on a trawl. And mud gets everywhere. I had globs in my hair and on my clothes and on my skin. Cement is irritating to the skin because of the lye. I had some red, raised areas form before I could wash off the stuff.



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  2. Thanks for the info. I have also built a strawbale house. Even tho I have a very nice home, it was hell to build. Keep the faith.