Design the building for the climate in which it will be located and the environment surrounding the site on which it will be built.
Find your bales before you start to design your building so that you know the dimensions of the bales, just as you would with any other building material or product.
Buy buildable bales from a local source. Read about how to buy a bale, bale orientation, bale storage and handling bales at www.thelaststraw.com. If you cannot find a local farmer who can custom bale for you, post a request on the web site www.strawlocator.com.
Read as many books and publications as you can so you learn about the various methods and techniques based on experience of others. A list compiled by The Last Straw journal will get you started at www.thelaststraw.org.
Be sure your design, construction methods and techniques, electrical, plumbing, heating, cooling and ventilation installations meet local, state and national codes and other regulations. Read more at www.thelaststraw.org, in issue #54 of The Last Straw journal.
Find a local or regional, experienced professional in the straw-bale community to help you with design details and construction techniques. See www.thelaststraw.org.
Visit local straw-bale buildings and talk with local owners and their builders. Check the International Straw Bale Registry for contacts in your area, along with a list of mortgage lenders and insurers: http://sbregistry.greenbuilder.com.
Build only the space that you need. Build to suit the site rather than making the site suit the building.
The interior temperature of a bale building will average 60 to 75 degrees year round. In many cases, you will only need back-up heating and cooling rather than highly mechanized systems. Place your building on the site to gain as much passive solar for heating and daylighting as possible.
Careful detail and weatherproofing around windows and doors is essential to all types of buildings, including bale buildings.
All buildings should be allowed to breathe, and should be leak-proof yet not too tight so that the building retains humidity or poor quality indoor air (too hot, too cold, too toxic). Incorporate natural ventilation into your design: solar chimney or cupola to draw heat and humidity out, placement of windows and doors for cross ventilation and to draw in cool air at the bottom of the wall and expel heat out at the top of the wall. For added ventilation, place operable transom windows over doors and windows - on the exterior and interior.
Through her consulting business, ReBuild Associates, Joyce Coppinger helps develop building projects using strawbale and natural building methods and materials. She teaches strawbale and natural building through classroom seminars and hands-on workshops in the Great Plains region. She is managing editor and publisher of The Last Straw, a 40-page international journal on strawbale and natural building. She is co-coordinator of the Lincoln Green Building Group.