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Julia & John’s Solar-Powered Straw Bale Home in Central New York

Meet Julia & John and their amazing self-built solar-powered straw bale home! They live in Central New York and took on the challenge of creating their own home with 1300 square feet of living space after participating in a straw bale building workshop.

While they did hire professionals for certain aspects of the build, like roofing, they DIYed a large portion of their unique home. Which is especially impressive since neither had much if any construction experience! It’s absolutely gorgeous with stucco inside and out, and it runs on solar power that’s connected to the grid. The aesthetic is just dreamy.

We were really lucky and got to do a Q&A with Julia (@ohheymissj on Instagram) about their build, which you can read below the photos!

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DIY Solar-Powered Straw Bale Home in NY

Q&A with Julia on Straw Bale Building

How many people (and animals) are living in your home?
Me, my husband John, and our dog Jango

What inspired you to build a strawbale home?
We always knew that we wanted to build our own house and that we wanted to do some sort of natural building. John first went to a natural building workshop and learned more about straw bale as well as a few other construction methods. A year later, we both attended a straw bale workshop to learn the ins and outs of this type of construction and fell in love with the process. We started planning to build our own house not long after.

Was the process difficult? Did you do it yourself?
Certain parts of the process were definitely harder than others! We did most of the work ourselves while both working full time jobs, so it took us quite a while to actually build. We also had very little experience in construction, so we learned as we went along. The straw bale process took a long time, but it was the part we felt most comfortable with because we had actually done it before. There were a few things we left up to the experts, though, like our foundation and the roof.

How long did it take to finish your strawbale home?
It took us from spring of 2013 through January of 2016 before we could move in, but we’re still not done! Since we moved in we’ve been slowly chipping away at finish work like our kitchen and a second bathroom.

Have you ever built with other materials? If so, how did strawbale compare?
We didn’t really have much experience with other types of construction, so I can’t really speak to this, but it is obviously different than conventional construction. We also timber framed the interior, which is a whole other process, too.

Are you comfortable sharing how much your tiny home cost?
I honestly don’t even know! I know what it cost us to get to the point that we could move in, but we’ve done quite a bit of work since then and I haven’t added it all up. We still have more work to do (doors, trim, etc.), and the cost for that work is a big unknown right now. We also did the majority of the work ourselves which decreases cost. Sorry I can’t give you a better answer!

What’s your favorite part of your new home?
There’s so much that I love about it, but I think what I love most is seeing ourselves in all of it; the memories that we made building it, the memories we’ve made since then, and all the little parts in between. It’s a hand sculpted of house by nature, but I think that makes it so much more inviting and makes it feel all the more personal.

How do people react when they find out you have a straw home?
Most people either have no idea what it is, make some kind of ‘Little Pigs’ joke, or look at you a little sideways when you tell them about it. I think people don’t really understand that it’s pretty much just a regular house with a different type of insulation. Once I explain it and share photos, they tend to be less skeptical. I don’t often run into people who have ever heard of straw bale construction.

How many square feet is it?
This is a tricky one! It’s about 1800sf on the exterior, but about 1300sf livable square footage. You lose a lot because of the depth of the bales.

Are there any unique challenges to building with straw or living in a straw house?
There are a number of challenges to building a straw bale house in terms of construction methods and considerations when designing that need to be hashed out before you start building. Sourcing bales can be a challenge depending on where you live and how many you need. Plastering can be a challenge if you’ve never done it before. There are also a number of differences from conventional construction, like stud framing and other unique details to accommodate the bales, finish details for plastering, and differences in how you accommodate utilities. Some of these things can become challenges if you don’t plan ahead. I don’t know that there are any true challenges to living in a straw bale home … it seems pretty normal to me! That said, plaster also requires maintenance over time, which other stucco-style homes will require as well, but it’s something to consider.

What helpful advice would you give to others interested in building with straw?
If you’re planning to build yourself, I highly suggest attending an in-person workshop! This was key for us. Without it, we would not have had the experience or understanding to be able to do it. Even now, there are some things we would have built a little differently now that we’re on the other side. Nothing major, but there are some finicky finish details that we would have done differently, but having that initial experience was so so helpful. And beyond the workshop: research, research, research, and ask for help and advice when you need it.

Do you have a website, blog, or social media page where we can follow along?
Folks can follow along on Instagram! I’m @ohheymissj.

Learn More:

Our big thanks to Julia & John for sharing!🙏

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Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee is a contributor for Tiny House Talk and the Tiny House Newsletter. She's a wife and mama of two little kids. She and her family just purchased a small fixer-upper and are starting a self-sufficient homestead on their happy little acre.
{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Avatar PMHTX
    May 20, 2020, 6:31 am

    Understated elegance home. Homes are a work in progress and yours is lovely.

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee
      May 20, 2020, 1:33 pm

      Always a list of to-dos that’s for sure!

  • Avatar Jessica
    May 20, 2020, 12:16 pm

    This is absolutely beautiful. I have always wanted to live in a straw bale home. I have been in a few of them and they just “feel” good <3

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee
      May 20, 2020, 1:32 pm

      I have yet to visit one! Now I feel like I ought to.

  • May 22, 2020, 7:57 am

    My first experience with straw bale construction was seeing a little shed for animals with metal siding. It is very warm for whatever animal chooses to stay there. You did a nice job on color and finish work as well as design. My concern in owning a home of this or similar materials would be the nightmare of gaining home insurance. Despite use of ‘fire retardant’ materials in finish work, I’m sure the fire insurance would be rather high if permitted to purchase.

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee
      May 22, 2020, 1:29 pm

      That is definitely something to think about!

    • Avatar Julia
      May 25, 2020, 11:55 am

      Thanks so much for you kind words, Joyce! Flammability is actually a common misconception about straw bale homes. Because the bales are so tightly packed and the walls are plastered inside and out, the entire wall assembly is quite fire resistant compared to conventional construction, and this has even been demonstrated in ASTM fire testing. There just isn’t enough oxygen in the wall for the fire to spread. You do have to be careful during construction, though, because loose straw is highly flammable. Once it’s all plastered, it’s very safe. We thankfully have not had any issues getting insurance, although we don’t live in an area with high fire risk.

      • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee
        May 27, 2020, 6:22 am

        That’s so great to know, Julia! Thanks for sharing.

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