The idea of building straw bale dog house arrived on a chilly winter evening. The perfect way to practice straw bale building on a very modest scale. This page tells the story of this very tiny house build!
First a sketch.
Then, a few weeks later, the site was chosen and given a test run.
First clearing the site and excavating the rubble trench footings. This took way longer than I had anticipated! Hit a slight hiccup when I found that an irrigation pipe runs right through the middle of the site. More digging!
We had an enthusiastic assistant. And it isn’t even his kennel!
So the digging was done and dusted. The bottom plate ladder frame was next. First, lots of re-purposed timber to be cut!
Then making each of the three boxes and inserting the ladder rungs.
And finally a finished ladder frame for the bottom plate.
We ran some agricultural drain pipe around the bottom of the foundation trenches to provide drainage. We also placed some short length of poly pipe into the trenches at strategic locations – this is to hold the tie down wire. Then we filled the trenches with rubble, got them roughly level, and placed the ladder frame on top. The ladder was then filled with additional rubble and we did a fair bit of finagling to get the whole thing level and (mostly) square.
We had help!
To finish off the foundation we added some fine gravel to the top of the rubble, and covered the entire frame with rodent mesh (stapled onto the frame).
And that was the foundations done!
Finally, it was time for the bales! We stacked the bales fairly quickly, using spare baling twine to tie the bales together. In this instance I decided to tie all bales together, rather than just the corners, as the bales were a bit wonky.
Only two half bales were needed, so we split the least straight bale in half and crammed together two half bales. Overall the bales were quite crooked, uneven in density and downright difficult to get straight. A reminder of the need to get good bales to make life easier. Once in place, the bales were trimmed with a whipper snipper to produce cut edges suitable for rendering and to (attempt to) straighten out the walls. In hindsight, more time spent on this would have saved lots of time later!
I had in my head the idea of using some old pine fence posts for top plates, and managed to find three the perfect size. These were placed atop each of the bales.
We ran fencing wire under the foundation (through the poly pipes placed earlier) and then over the top of the bales and thorough some holes I had drilled into the posts. Compression was achieved (with some difficulty) using various fencing straining apparatus (the low wall height made it difficult to use most strainers effectively, so some improvisation was needed).
The whole structure then got some fairly comprehensive protection from the weather ahead of rendering.
The first stage of the wall finishing process was to make up some cob mixture to patch the numerous lumps, bumps and holes in the walls. The clay that I had dug out on the site was quite rocky and lumpy, so it turned into quite the process getting a smooth mixture. Adding the straw and doing the cobbing was relatively quick and quite a lot of fun.
In hindsight I think that this layer of cob also had a bit too much topsoil mixed into the clay. It worked out okay, but I’d be more rigorous in avoiding topsoil in future.
Next up was the first layer of render. I picked a spot where on old dam bank used to be and dug a hole to source some more clay. It looked good but turned out to her very rocky and lumpy. It took ages to get a smooth mix, and as I was just using the wheelbarrow for mixing, it turned into a lot of labour!
The render went on okay though, and stuck to the clay very well.
We had tried a few different approaches to get around the lumpy render problem. This included a makeshift clay sieve, which was problematic due to the clay being wet from recent rain. I also tried soaking the clay for prolonged periods. And also using a cement mixer to reduce the amount of labour. All of these methods worked to some extent, but took ages!
For the next coat, I resolved to just buy some clay fill from somewhere to get around the lumps and get on with the job! Nice idea, but try as I might, I couldn’t find anyone locally that could supply clean clay fill! Thankfully a kind neighbour came to the rescue and with a shovel and trailer, I acquired some from his paddock!
This boded well for a better mix and speedier rendering, however I got a bit ahead of myself. In the first mix I didn’t sieve the clay at all, which produced yet another lumpy batch. Lesson learnt! Some drums and mesh were used to build a clay sieve par excellence. Certainly learnt some lessons here about getting good quality materials, and preparing and testing them well in advance of rendering!
The resulting render was easy to mix, smooth as batter and a dream to put on. A real cause for celebration! So on with the second coat.
Still to come… finishing the rendering, filling in the floor base, and adding the roof!