I recently had a chance to view the set of DVDs that www.Strawbale.com offers. This is a set of three DVDs intended for owner builders who want to build their own straw bale house. This page is a brief review of these DVDs.
There are three DVDs:
Building a Monolithic Concrete Slab Foundation
Building with Straw Bales (Post and Beam Infill)
Plastering With Natural Hydraulic Lime (NHL)
I should say up front that while I've done construction projects as large as building a barn/shop, I've not (yet) built a home. Since the DVDs are intended for new owner builders, maybe this makes me a good person to do the review :)
All three DVDs are conducted by Andrew Morrison. Andrew has a long background in straw bale construction, and (probably more important) is a good teacher. There is a surprising amount of detail to get right in straw bale construction, and Andrew does a great job of getting the material across to people with little to no experience in this area.
I did view all of all three DVDs start to finish, which probably says a lot for Andrew's teaching abilities.
The example building used in the DVDs is the a small straw bale cottage shown just below. Basically the DVDs go through most of the construction of this cottage. In some cases, other larger projects are used to show some things that don't come up in the cottage.
This DVD covers the all the material associated with selecting and testing bales, preparing the frame and base for the bales, handling windows and other openings, cutting and tying bales, stuffing loose areas, flashing windows, and placing the bales -- lots of "stuff".
The other two videos cover the slab foundation and the plastering of the bales.
You've probably seen the pictures that show how a bunch of people can stack bales -- this goes very fast, and looks easy. But, there are a lot of details that are not obvious, and that you need to get right to have a home that will stand up well to the weather and be safe from fire and earthquakes. To me, the biggest plus of this DVD is that it covers all these important details in detail.
Anyone can throw up a bunch of bales and make a home, but its getting all these details right that make it a home that performs well, looks good, and lasts a long time. It was surprising to me how many things there are that you could easily get wrong :)
Andrew provides good, easy to follow instructions on all of these areas (and more)...
Getting the base for the bales installed right and anchored well.
Window installation and flashing to avoid moisture problems.
How to meet current engineering requirements with correctly reinforced plaster -- using welded wire mesh.
How to stuff straw into areas that otherwise would not have sufficiently dense straw for insulation or fire safety.
How and where to install plumbing.
Electrical details -- running wire, type of wire, and how to mount boxes with the wood "spike".
Securing interior partitions to the exterior straw bale walls.
Providing for hanging cabinets.
Rain protection of the bottom bales.
Installing windows in such a way as to protect from exterior moisture from getting into the bale walls.
Lots of details that just have to do with making the end product look good.
The main value of some of the DVD material is to give you a good and time effective method to get things done correctly, but some of the DVD material covers areas that are critical for the structural integrity, fire resistance, and longevity of the building.
A few pictures just below show a small sampling of some of the details covered in the DVD.
Each of these areas (and many more) are explained clearly patiently by Andrew -- I'm guessing he has a lot of workshop time showing not so experienced people how to do these things.
The DVD is a couple hours long, and there is really not a wasted minute in it. All the dozens of details you need to do the job right are described and demonstrated clearly.
This DVD covers building the monolithic slab foundation. This is a type of combined foundation and floor slab that avoids the need to do a separate foundation and floor pore. Around here people call it a thickened edge slab.
The foundation DVD goes over the site prep,
forming, gravel bed prep, poring and finishing of the thickened edge slab for
the straw bale cottage. After this, it covers some of the issues that come up in
larger slabs that might be typical of a full sized house -- things like in slab
plumbing and electrical, load bearing interior walls, radiant floor heating
loops, crack control, stamped surface treatments, coloring, ... All of these are
covered in quite a bit of detail using videos from several larger slab projects.
There is also quite a good section on coloring and patterning the slab.
I've done several foundations, including a thickened edge slab, but I still picked up quite a few new tips and insights watching the foundation video. If you are planning to use a thickened edge slab type of foundation and floor, this is a really good video to help you do it right.
I have to say that Andrew is a pretty calm guy -- he does not even get excited during the concrete pore :)
This DVD covers the plastering process using Natural Hydraulic Lime plaster.
There is a lot to learn on straw bale plastering, and I think the video will be a big help in shortening the learning curve. There is also a lot of labor involved in plastering, and the DVD shows a number of techniques that will make you more efficient.
I won't go through all the details on this video, but, like the others it covers all the steps in preparing and applying the plaster in a clear and easy to understand way.
Its very clear that the Andrew has a lot experience in building straw bale homes and has worked out a lot good and reliable techniques. He also teaches very well.
I recommend these DVDs without reservation to anyone who has in mind building a straw bale home. They will save you time and keep you from making mistakes.
If I had any small nitpicks with the videos they might be that the building of the post and beam frame and the mating of the roof to the top of the walls might have been covered in a bit more detail. But, these are very small nitpicks to a really excellent set of videos.
One other thing to consider is that Andrew picks one type of straw bale construction and goes through it in full detail -- he does not attempt to cover all of the many alternative straw bale construction methods. I think this is a good approach because you get a very good how-to on this method. It would just be impossible to cover all the variations on straw bale construction to any useful level of detail in three DVDs. If you are looking for something that covers all the many different variations of straw bale construction, you might want to start with a book and then decide if this is the right set of videos for what you decide to build.
There are a lot of other things going on at StrawBale.com that are worth checking out.
Gary July 28, 2010