Getting Started & FAQs

Basic Guidelines: How To Build Your Home

strawbale construction, design, build, stucco

– Build Your Custom Dream Home –

We can assist you in one of two different capacities in the construction of your project, depending on what best suits your needs, experience, schedule and budget.

However, our experience clearly speaks for itself and we look forward to developing an outcome that you have dreamt about.

We can assist you in one of two different capacities in the construction of your project, depending on what best suits your needs, experience, schedule and budget. We do not act as a General Contractor because of the differences in licensing and insuring in all states, counties and municipalities that we conduct business in.

OPTION 1: YOU MAY DECIDE TO BE THE OWNER-CONTRACTOR OF THE PROJECT...

In this scenario YOU are the General Contractor and are responsible for securing bids for the various sub-contractors, materials and laborers while making sure that the work is completed and paid for. You would also be responsible for obtaining all potential permits and inspections. If you are obtaining a construction loan, you will be responsible for presenting plans, cost breakdown and any other information requested by your financier. Acting as the Owner-Contractor is a cost saving method, as you can usually save the cost of the Builder’s profit which is often 15% or more.

OPTION 2: YOU MAY DECIDE TO HIRE A LOCAL GENERAL CONTRACTOR...

An Owner’s Agent or Owner’s Representative to oversee the project, contracts and handle the logistics. An Architect may provide a Field Representative at the job site to assist in the coordination of the requirements under a contract.  We can work as a sub-contractor and Consultant for any of these parties and share our expertise of the straw bale building process with them to ensure that the project runs smoothly.

In either event, our experience and knowledge ensures that we are your best choice for erecting and stuccoing the finished straw bale project!

Tips A – Z

Here are some “A – Z Tips” describing some issues that we feel should be included in every General Contractor Agreement.

HERE ARE SOME IDEAS TO GET YOU STARTED...

  1. Confirm the legal description of the property and include a sketch showing the approximate dimensions and location of the proposed structure and any setbacks. Examine the plans or drawings for accuracy prior to approval.
  2. Read and understand the terms and conditions of your contract.  It should include a detailed description of the work to be done. You could include the house plans and specifications as an addendum to the contract signed by both parties.
  3. Required certificates of inspection, testing, or approval shall be secured by the Contractor and delivered to the Owner and kept in a job file.
  4. All portions of the work that the Contractor’s Organization has not been accustomed to perform shall be performed under subcontractors.  A Subcontractor is a person, firm or corporation that provides labor, furnishes materials, and/or equipment, or solely labor for a portion of the work at the site. The work is pursuant to a separate agreement with the Contractor or another Subcontractor of any tier.
  5. Obtain at least three written estimates by suppliers and subcontractors to be viewed by the Contractor and Owner together.
  6. Review Construction Schedule which shows when the work is scheduled to start and what the anticipated completion date is.
  7. Set a formal date to schedule Shop Drawings and samples of materials, colors and finishes from the Contractor and subcontractors for the owner.
  8. Safety precaution issues and protection of the work, materials, owner’s property and finished work from loss or damage should be addressed. There should be a site conditions clause to handle any possible variations of site conditions during construction. The clause should also spell out who is responsible for each expense.
  9. Review and agree to the Fee and Payment Schedule showing how much will be paid to the GC (General Contractor) for work performed and what is to be completed before each payment is made. It is not unusual that the final scheduled payment for the GC to be withheld until all work has been completed (sometimes indicated by receipt of a final Certificate of Occupancy).
  10. Your agreement with a contractor should include a description of who is responsible for obtaining and paying all permits, licenses, applicable fees and any sales or use taxes, etc.
  11. Procedures for change orders should be specific about completed work, the cost and any anticipated effect on the completion schedule.  The responsibility for changes and any associated costs due to an error by the Builder should be addressed.
  12. The names of any of your agents (for example, your representative) should be included along with the role and liability this person will assume.
  13. Who is responsible for paying taxes, utilities, etc. during construction?
  14. Warranty information and walk through procedures should be attached. Manufacturer’s warranties usually cover many of the items in a new home, but a builder will probably give you a one or two year warranty on the completed structure.
  15. Arbitration or mediation procedures in the event there is a dispute. The contract should outline all complaint notification procedures and time limits.
  16. Termination conditions: Under what conditions can the contract be terminated and how much this will cost the owner.
  17. Bankruptcy issues should be addressed.
  18. Liability and insurance issues should be clearly detailed.
  19. Certificates of liability insurance and workers compensation (if applicable) should be requested by you or the contractor to verify that all contracted workers are insured.
  20. Contractors and Owners should have subcontractors sign after payment in full a General Release and Waiver for Mechanics’ and Suppliers Lien Form. This signed form shows that the subcontractor has been paid and waives and releases all actions, debts, claims and demands against the Owner and Contractor in the future.
  21. I do wish to express that as a builder, it’s imperative for the owners to also get builders risk insurance (which usually comes from the carrier) in order for your building to be covered when the builder is not on the project, in case of fire etc.
  22. Delivery Date: This is the date that is agreed to for delivery of and that you have agreed to pay up front or C.O.D. and accept delivery. This date is not expected to change. Any change will require the written consent of the seller may result in additional costs to you.
  23. Delivery Charges:  How will arrangement for the delivery of your products from a regional shipping point, you may be responsible for the costs from that point. Discuss details with the supplier.<
  24. Plans: You may be requesting to make specific, limited changes to a pre-designed plans. If so, you are submitting with a contract a marked set of  plans and a corresponding change order request. They should make these changes and notify you of the resulting price change. You may not receive approval plans. They should provide you with two (2) sets of final construction plans. Any other changes will require an upfront, non-refundable design fee, in addition to any additional fees or charges otherwise payable under this contract.
  25. Engineering: If required by local building codes, subject to certain limitations described in a contract, a local engineer can provide sealed plans for the materials and design.
  26. Limited warranties: Seller may warrant to Purchaser, for his or her lifetime, all materials manufactured by Seller, used in conjunction with a residential structure, against manufacturing defects. Under a warranty, Seller may repair or replace, at its discretion, the defective item. Find out at whose expense replaces the material and cover the cost of shipping the new and defective item

This BASIC CONTRACTOR INFORMATION is NOT intended to be a substitute for a legally binding contract.  Please seek legal assistance for the completion of a contract, if necessary. The property owner will be responsible for obtaining all required building permits and for verifying that the structure intended to be built is legally permissible and that all building and zoning codes will be met.

Contracts

If you decide to hire a local General Contractor and/or Owner’s Representative to oversee your project, be sure to get the details of your agreement in writing! A written and signed contract between you and the General Contractor is a must. Contracts should clearly state who is responsible for various duties and when they will be done.

FAQs

What are the advantages of using straw bales?

““Green building” is an ecological way of building by using an annually renewable product. This creates affordability when designed right. The insulation and sound suppression (ie: wind, traffic) provides a peaceful and quiet atmosphere. The aesthetics and massive solid sensation are noticed with the curved, deep and plastered window sills similar to Old World living. Bale buildings have a proven history that dates back to the early 1900’s. The National Research Council of Canada tested plastered straw bale walls and showed they withstood temperatures of up to 1,800* F for two hours before a crack appeared in the 1 ½” thick plaster. That equates to almost three times more fire resistance than an average house!

What about the Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs?

I know what our staff and our eager crew would say to that Big Bad Wolf… “Bring it!”  These building kits are built to last. They will meet or exceed all local and state building codes and regulations.  These buildings are sealed from the floor to the ceiling with a minimum of 1½” of plaster over the straw, which also keeps rodents and insects outside where they belong.

Are other floor plans available?

What is nice about our kits is that you can rearrange the floor plan to meet your personal needs, or you can work from our standard floor plans.  For example, you can move the Window/Door Bucks, Interior Walls or Corners to your desired locations as if they were Lego blocks. We will be glad to work with the set of “other” floor plans that you may already have.  It is very helpful for us to get an idea of what you’re looking for from the onset.

What about electrical?

All wiring within or on bale walls shall meet all provisions of the local Electrical Code.  We may provide electrical raceways and install electrical boxes in the wall system.

Is plumbing run inside straw bale walls?

No, as with conventional framing, running plumbing in exterior walls is not recommended.  Water pipes set in exterior walls are at a much higher risk of freezing.  Piping is run through interior walls or the floor to their required locations.

What kind of foundation is required?

The foundation can consist of a concrete slab, or continuous concrete stem wall with a crawl space, or a full basement with I-Joist and decking… depending on your site specifications. The straw bale wall system will be secured and mounted to the wood floor decking.  A plan for the type of foundation you select may be provided with the kit package purchase.

What is included in the packages?

The kit includes all of the materials required to construct a weather tight shell on your foundation, such as: hardware, fasteners, anchor bolt locations, Structural Supporting Wall System the posts, beams, Stucco Ready Window & Door Bucks (with or without the windows installed), stubbed out interior walls for a plaster stop, sheathing, metal roof, flashing, drip edge, and inside sub-trim. All materials are hand selected, carefully cut to precise dimensions, labeled and packaged in easily identifiable bundles that can be moved by a skid steer bobcat or carried by two people, in most instances.

Additional options are available for an extra cost, such as: higher grade doors, windows, cedar trim around openings, metal roof (as opposed to shingles), reinforced nylon tenting for protection, stairs, dormers, higher ceilings, a second floor, exposed timber / log post and beam, solar power and solar heating system, etc…

Do you sell the framing system separately, so we can get our own straw and do it all ourselves?

Yes, you can purchase our structural supporting wall system. This consists of modified window and door bucks, outside corners and interior wall stub outs. Most of our building components are stucco ready and come with a set of two blueprints. You can supply the straw and trusses yourself if you would like.  Our post and beam system is specifically designed around a bale sized at 14″ high x 19″ wide x 36”- 40” long. You can purchase your roof system, windows and doors locally once you have the truss detail and Window/Door schedule that are included with your blueprints.

Can I buy just the construction blueprints, manuals or plans?

No, blueprints and plans are only available as part of a building kit package. They describe in detail the locations of the individual parts that have been made for your specific building.

What about local zoning codes for urban areas, or Home Owner? Associations that require certain covenants?

There are certainly ways to work around requirements such as these.  For example, we can add a sub-trim so that siding can be easily installed.  Rock or stone can be added to break up different textures.  Stucco also comes in many different colors and textures. Talk to us about your specific needs and we can help you make it work!

What if we want different sized windows or doors than any of your examples?

We can make custom sizes that are prepped and stucco ready in accordance with your particular design, for an additional cost.

How do you keep the straw bales from getting wet?

It is all about prevention. Having the bales protected before they are placed into the walls and before they are plastered is paramount. We have created a fast, stucco ready framing assembly to get the bales integrated into the post & beam columns quickly and to encase the bales in a watertight shell as soon as possible.  Included in your kit is a nylon, reinforced clear tenting material to protect the straw before it is plastered. This can also be used to protect the applied stucco from excessive wind and cold.

What does “Stucco Ready” mean?

The building components will be mostly “stucco ready”. This means that there will be a little work to get your structure ready for stucco when assembling your kit, such as attaching some trim,  masking and lath. However, most of the work will be done prior to shipping and once your kit is constructed you won’t be far from being ready for stucco!

What is the lead-time?

Shoot us a call or e-mail us for current lead times. Depending on whether you order individual components or a full kit, the lead time can vary from 1- 5 weeks. Obviously a whole kit takes longer because there are choices that you, as the purchaser, must make in regards to the dimensions and layout of the shell.  We can deliver your products to you before you have your building permits in hand, but keep in mind that you must have any required permits lined up prior to constructing the kit on your site.

How are the shell kits shipped? What does shipping cost? What about unloading?

We ship through a private carrier. Private carriers have competitive prices and are priced by the freight on board.  Prices typically range from $500 to $3000 depending on fuel prices and location. Some areas may cost more. We will be glad to provide you with a shipping quote.   The purchaser will need four adults and piece of equipment with a forklift (such as a Bobcat or skid steer) to help unload the truck.  You have the option of making your own arrangements for delivery, if you would  prefer.

Breathable walls?

For the best results using the same material on both sides of the walls such as Natural Hydraulic Lime will let the walls breathe at the same rate. Straw bales provide an air space cavity that creates airflow through the walls allowing them to breathe. Walls may breathe through the top plate that is covered with Tyvek, a water resistant and breathable material, into the attic space and out the roof vents and soffit vents. Exterior Stucco is considered to be a drainable cladding, and is vapor permeable and breathable, with a rating as high as 30 to 60 perms.

Building codes in certain areas of the country require that the interior walls be sealed with an air/vapor material. If a Gypsum product is used, it should be covered with a primer and then painted.  A sealer or wax can be used over a clay earthen and lime plaster material to seal the walls.

Will this house be too air tight?

The way our straw bale buildings are built  and stuccoed makes them tight by nature.  The best way to get some ventilation is by a mechanical form.  Using an exhaust bathroom fan is a cost effective method to provide ventilation as they are quiet and highly efficient way to diffuse air to the outside. Our homes are supplied with a necessary form of ventilation.  All stove or range hoods, bathroom fans  and clothes dryers should be vented to the outside of the building.  To provide fresh air into the home, “smart holes” are installed in exterior walls.  Smart holes are devices that can be dampered to allow a metered amount of exterior air iinto the home.  Opening a door or window for a few minutes is sufficient as well.

Feel free to CONTACT US with any additional questions you may have and we would be glad to get in touch with you as soon as possible.

Do Your Homework

If you own or want to buy a piece of property, talk with your local building or zoning officials to see whether you will be permitted to build on the site you have chosen.  For example, there may be issues regarding wetlands, floodplains, an airport overlay, wildlife interface, septic systems, wells, an Architectural Review Committee, etc that you should be aware of.

How can we accommodate zoning regulations or Home Owner Associations that require specific architectural styles, materials, textures or colors on a building?  There are certainly many ways to work around requirements such as these.  For example, we can add a sub-trim so that wood siding can be easily installed, while rock or stone can be added to provide different textures.  Stucco comes in many different colors and textures. Talk to us about your specific needs and we can help provide you with some ideas.

Financing Your Project

If you are looking to finance your project, you should talk to a lender about a construction loan (and land financing as well, if needed).  Lenders can determine how much money you qualify for.  Once you figure out your budget, you can better determine the size, features and options in a home kit that you can afford.

Suggestion When Talking To Your Lender

Be sure to tell your lender and insurance agent that you are building a Post & Beam Structure on a concrete foundation with superior cellulose insulation, exterior stucco and a high end interior plaster. You might make a poor impression if you told a lender that you want to build “one ‘a them” straw bale houses.  The lender may have an odd image of a 3 Little Pigs style house with a thatch roof and a dirt floor. You may have to educate your lender or agent some point during the process.  Feel free to send them to our website for any questions they may have.

 Cash Is King

Some property owners prefer to pay cash if possible since the costs of our shell kits are so affordable.  Some owners may finance the property after the building is up to help offset any credit card bills they built up as they were building.  You can Pay with a credit card on our secure server. We will send out a Sales Contract for Materials & Blueprints via internet or fax.  We also accept checks.

We highly recommended that the owner/ builder purchase the full exterior shell package that come with blueprints in order to install a water tight shell up quickly for protection.  The owner/ builder may then work at their own leisure while resting assured that their investment is protected from the elements.