1) What did you want to achieve?

We wanted an escape to the country, our ‘green pill’ to get away from it all. It had to be the greenest natural and healthy home, that was also the smartest in building.

2) What did you do to prepare yourselves?

It took us 5 years to find the ideal land. We researched the best options, we weren’t stuck on any one material, we wanted the best performing.

We looked at rammed earth, mudbrick but didn’t like the energy performance of them. We loved a yurt but being in a suburban area, council warned us that our neighbours may take ‘offence’ to one.
Hebel, but we didn’t like the materials.
Then we researched Huff n Puff’s situps, then did 3 Viva workshops and Sam’s course to see what they were like. They were very welcoming and they just felt ‘right’. It was a good system that worked for them.

Sam finally said to me after 1.5 years and 4 events:
“Gail, you’re ready, just do it”. At some point you have to take the leap of faith and just do it.

By learning everything, it gave me the confidence to say to the builder and architect, this is what I want. I want LVLs (the architect wanted posts where we’d have to notch 90 bales). We followed the Viva system so that I had the confidence to tell them what we wanted and knew it would work.

When the builder said to me ‘you’re on the mixer to mix the render’ we’ll just provide the renderers, I was 100% confident as I’d done the workshops, I knew what I was doing. This was very powerful on many levels.

Being in the Viva Graduates Group was a godsend as Gerry and Jim came and saved us by rendering the whole inside in 4 days with us. They were amazing. Thank you so much. We’ve asked questions in there and had such brilliant help.

We found an architect who were interested in straw bale building. We realised there are many systems to build them. It took us 1.5 years to prepare ourselves and do enough research and work out how it was getting built. By the start of the build, I knew exactly how it was going to get built.

3) What would you have liked to have known before you started?

How long and hard the rendering process is and how difficult it is to get renderers who you can trust on site.

4) Best lessons you learnt that you’d do if you were to build again ?

We realised that building involves constant problem solving. Know that you’ll get through them, and to keep going, there’s many ways to do something.

Design to build it, prepare yourself, know how the builders and designers are working so you understand the whole build process yourself

[When a builder is involved in designing a building, this is what they do, they design knowing how they’re going to build it. So it’s more cost effective and efficient to involve a builder during this phase]

5) Best tips for design process?

Be open to all designs and materials. Get an architect or professional drawer with a keen interest in the materials you want. Avoid large homes, keep it small and real so you’ll use it all.

6) Best tips for the build process?

Allow at least 2 weeks for preparation before the workshop eg. getting bamboo ready, having materials on site.
Sleep on problems.
Do workshops.
Learn from others.
Be open to all ideas, not set. So you get the best outcome

7) Any issues with materials, suppliers or tradies? to warn people about

When trades are on site, they’re brilliant, their head is around your site. When they are off site (before or afterwards), they don’t really focus on your build. Trades only really care about the work that they have to do. They may damage work by other trades because they know they don’t have to fix it. So make it easier for your trades. Try to get them to work together. Good trades make all the difference.

Seven builders turned us down because of straw bales. They didn’t understand it. Make it easy for them and keep looking. We had a brilliant builder in the end and so glad we kept searching.

[Viva will call their trades around 4 times before starting on site to ensure they’re ready to start and that we’re on track. They need reminders. Trades will favour good builders over Owner Builders. So learn to be a good operator. Pay them on time, be organised, ask them what they’ll want and work with them]

8. Cost to build ? how many square metres or cost per sq metre

We budgeted $360,000 for our 160m2 home. It worked out at around $400,000 ($2,500 per square metres). Allow contingency (that’s 16% over budget). If we didn’t have that extra money it would have been too stressful

9. Time, did you go over time? how long did it take you?

We allowed 7 months to build, but it took us 14 months (we lost 2 months trying to find another renderer as our first one didn’t work out for us).

[14 months for an owner build is still really super super fast]

10. Would you do it again?

I doubt it. We wouldn’t need to hopefully. We love to do workshops and help others so we’ll definitely do those. The straw panels sound great, I’d like to see how that goes together.
We’ve added one home that you’ve inspired so you can put that on your list

Thank you to everyone who has helped us. We couldn’t have done it without you. And now we can enjoy our green retreat wooo hooo