What to look for when choosing a straw bale contractor

Here are some tips if you’re looking for a strawbale builder or contractor:


1. Choosing a strawbale contractor who has the right licence

If you get a contractor with limitations, it means they can only do part of the work up to $x or only the strawbale walls. Generally it’s only builders who can quote a whole job as they are able to build the whole home. Part licences means they can only do part of the work. Look under the licence class and conditions

Many people have been caught out because they are promised by designers, renderers or straw bale contractors that their home will cost $x to build. When it costs them much more in reality. It’s because these contractors don’t build a complete home that they can’t give accurate prices. Sometimes they find it difficult to quote the work that they can actually do.

A ‘professional’ will quote a fixed amount for the whole job and sign a contract with you. Beware of those who will only quote an hourly rate because the longer they take, the more they make!

2. Decide whether you will do a Fixed Price Contract or a Do and Charge Contract

A Fixed Price contract is one that the builder cannot change without your approval (usually by variations made by you). This means if the price of materials go up (they rarely go down), the builder has to wear the increased cost. Also if the cost of installing it goes up, they too wear those costs. With a Do and Charge contract, they do the work and then charge you for their time, materials, markup and so forth. Contractors work efficiently when doing fixed price because they don’t want to lose money. We are efficient and fast because we refine our techniques for each home we build. The downside is that some contractors, with little experience, can overcharge because they haven’t done it before and may therefore charge extra.

3. Get a written quote to do the whole job

specifying what work they will and won’t do. A contract will also specify progress payments, what drawings are to be used, what finishes are to be used and any works to be done by you the client. A quote is NOT just outlining how much per hour they charge, or what their travel rates are. Some traddies we’ve heard do the first and second coat and then didn’t do the last coat. If you’ve got a quote, sign a contract then they are bound to finish the job for the quoted amount.

4. Can they get Home Warranty cover?

Ensure that they have Home Warranty eligibility (now called Home Building Compensation Fund). Ensure that they can get a Home Warranty Certificate in the same name as their business trading name, their licence and ABN. Are they licensed to work in your state? Some strawbale contractors work all over the country, yet are not covered by their license or insurance to do so. If the contractor can’t get home warranty for work over $20,000, it means that you’ll have to be an Owner Builder or you’ll need to get a builder to take out the cover

5. Sign a building contract

It covers you as much as them in the event of things not working out. Laws govern building and they protect you, the consumer, against dodgy builders. In a Scope of Works or Building Specifications your verbal agreements will be formalised and it will also confirm which drawings to use. It may also help from costs ‘blow’ outs. Check that the contract is in their name, ABN and check their license number.

6. Speak with at least 3 previous, recent clients

and ask questions such as: what’s it like working with them, can they communicate well, are they easy to work with and did they work with you to achieve what you wanted, what’s the quality of the finished product, did they come in on time and budget, what problems occurred and how was it dealt with? How do they deal with stressful situations and do they over charge on variations?

Here’s an example, we had a couple call us to say their strawbale renderer didn’t do the job they wanted (the render was too soft and crumbly). Apparently they’d had had the same problem on 3 previous homes as well!

7. See the quality of work on other homes

Go out and see homes they have recently built, are they quality finishes? Are the clients happy? Good contractors will quote the job if they know their trade enough and have experience. If they can’t, that’s a sign they cannot keep to their price.

8. Check their level of insurances and covers

They should have contract insurance, public liability, home warranty cover, tool insurance, workers compensation and cover for volunteers (if you plan on doing a workshop, ensure they’re covered for any mishaps). If they’re a sole trader their costs may be less (they may not have home warranty, workers comp or public liability but you’ll be responsible for all of these if someone is injured working on your home).