The $7779 House Made of Straw

The $7779 House Made of Straw

Gregory Han
Feb 21, 2008

Steve James wanted a house that was eco-friendly and affordable, so he built one himself. His kitchen is made from a cedar reclaimed from a nearby park. His sink was once used as a bucket lowered and raised in a quarry. A compost loo and rainwater filtration system is complimented by a car battery operated power system, which is a temporary source until his water wheel is in place. An impressive feat for 10 months of work...

James lists the steps he took to build his dream house out of straw in an interview with The Independent :

1. Build the foundations:
I made a solid, 2ft-high base from rocks. It's sort of like building a solid dry-stone wall – you don't need mortar. Take time to get the rocks to fit together well, but it's good to leave gaps; this will ventilate the straw and keep it dry.

2. Add the wooden floor:
You need a wooden frame on which to lay your flooring and build the walls. I used flat reclaimed timbers as joists, laying them in a grid and nailing them together. To create a curve at the front, I used thick plywood. The whole thing just sits on the stones – the straw-bale walls will hold it down.

3. Assemble the roof frame
Make the roof frame, so that it's ready to go on as soon as the walls are up. Start with a sturdy frame the same shape as the base. Attach the rafters and fix them together in a tepee shape. It's easiest to hold it all together with screws.

4. Walls and windows:
I used 200 oat-straw bales to make my house. They cost £1 each. First, lay a complete layer of bales around the edge of the base. Using twine, stitch these to the wooden base. Build upwards, stacking the bales like bricks. Drive thin, pointed wooden stakes through them at intervals to hold them together. I got the walls up in five days – with help from friends. You can cut the straw to fit any shape you like, and stuff extra bits in any gaps. All my windows came from skips. I laid a polythene membrane between the frames and the straw, to protect the frames from damp.

5. Get the roof on:
Using plenty of manual labour, lift the roof frame into position. Use some stakes to attach it to the straw walls. I built a galleried bedroom into the roof space, laying a tree-trunk through the span of the roof to support the bedroom floor. I nailed on wooden slats in overlapping rows on top of the roof and covered it in natural rubber pond liner. Then a layer of turf went on top, along with a handful of flower seeds.

6. Render the outside:
I used a mix of gravel, sand and water from the loch, and added quicklime. This makes hot lime render, which you can slap on while it's warm and make interesting shapes with. My partner Eli used it to make sculptures at the corners.

7. The interior:
For the flooring, a nearby sawmill cut some leftover trees from our local forest into planks, and I nailed them to the joists. I used linseed oil to protect and polish them. I made the kitchen window sills, shelves and work surfaces from a tree that blew over in a park in Glasgow. It was a Lebanon cedar – beautiful. The Belfast sink came from a skip. I made the stove myself, using old paving slabs. It heats the whole house with very little firewood, and it makes killer pizzas.

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