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FAQ Strawbales

With over 16 years of building strawbale and earth homes, we’ve had a lot of questions. Check out THE most common ones below

How much do they cost?

Ahhh, the question on everyone’s mind. 

1. For a Viva-designed strawbale home start from around $2,700-$3,000 per square metre*

Rough estimates for our most affordable designs:
– 2 bed “Lickity Split” Viva designed house is around $350,000 (includes verandahs)
– 3 bed “Lickity Split” Viva designed house is around $450,000 (includes verandahs)

2. For a custom designed straw bale home they start from $3,000-$3,300+ per square metre to build*

3. The Viva strawbale studio (35m2) is around $55,000 for materials only plus shipping. Then you can build it yourself or get us to build it for you. It’s approximately an additional $55,000 if we were to build it for you*. Contact us if you’re after a Granny flat (60m2)

4. Viva to do your drawings with our in-house designer and architect, just contact us for our price to do this for you.

* These are estimates only for us to build you a natural home (a quote is required for a set price). Site costs are not included.
Please see inclusions for what is included below.

What's included and not included?

 

 

 

 

What’s Included?

External finishes:
Standard steel roofing, gutters and downpipes
Concrete slab finish
Timber frame and strawbale/straw panel walls
External lime render (colour as per materials)
Timber double glazed windows
Timber external doors
Internal Finishes:
Acid stain finish concrete floors
Internal clay render (colour as per materials)
Cob internal walls
Standard timber internal doors
Ceilings
Ceiling insulation (our standard 55mm R1.3 aircell roof blanket and R3.5 insulation batts)
Kitchen:
Allowance for a standard size custom made timber kitchen
Basic kitchen appliances (oven, cooktop, rangehood)
Basic kitchen sink and taps
Bathroom:
Allowance for standard toilet, vanity, bath & shower screen
Allowance for standard bath, vanity & shower taps
Allowance for tiles and tiling
Services:
Internal electrics
Allowance for standard bayonet light fittings, light switches, power points and ceiling fans
Internal plumbing
Solar hot water back up to electricity
Workshop:
One workshop with volunteers, you cater for the participants (they may camp onsite)

 

What isn’t Included?

Site costs aren’t included
Connection to services – power, water, gas, septic systems
Phone
Water tanks
All weather accessible driveway
Development Application fee
Construction Certificate Fees
Other council fees (including S94 Contribution, Long Service Levy, septic and wood heater applications)
Engineers Fees
Survey
Geotech Reports
Other reports required by council or other authorities
Landscaping

Optional Extras or Finishes – these will increase the cost of the estimate:
Additional verandahs, decks or pergolas
Garages/Carports
Anything above standard appliances
White goods (fridge, air con, TV, washing machine)
Wood heaters
Solar PV Systems
Hydronic Heating
Insulated slabs
CBUS Electrics
Alarm systems

Building Zones can add costs onto a build
Blocks on slopes
High Bushfire zones
Heritage zones
Remote areas
Inner city areas

Custom Designs
Features which include the following items will add costs onto our estimates:
Above our standard wall heights (anything over 2.4m high is considered non-standard and therefore costs more)
Skillion/curved roofs
Pavilion style (with lots of external walls)
Clerestory windows
Lots of window glazing
Curved or unusual features

Especially if you have numerous custom features such as those above, this will increase our estimate rates. It is difficult to know up front by just how much.

The finishes you choose for your home can really make your home. We understand why people choose expensive finishes such as baths, sinks, light fittings, floor finishes, tiles, bathroom fittings and fixtures. Anything above our standard fixtures and sittings or over the allowance will significantly increase the cost of your home so if you have a set budget like most people do, then watch these items as they will increase the final cost to you above and beyond our estimates.

What's included to lock up stage?

 

What’s Included to “Lock Up” Stage of building? If Viva only built to “Lock Up”

So at Viva, we don’t usually build to ‘Lock up’. We love to build a home to completion.
The reason: We love finishing beautiful homes. 

When we build to ‘lock up’ owner builders can take years and may not finish it as professionally as we’d love to see it. We take pride in what we do and love seeing homes finished and lived in. 

For those rare times where we build to ‘lock up’ it’s because we’ve designed the house and it’s close to one of our teams.
That way we know for sure we can build it affordably and the best way possible. 

So what’s included to “Lock up” stage if Viva were to only build to that stage?

In a nutshell, it’s the bones, structure and structural work that we do.
Lock up essentially means that it’s locked up from the weather/elements and can be safe guarded from thieves.
If you want us to do some of the items not usually included, just ask your builder to quote it for you.   

External finishes to “Lock Up”:
Steel roofing installed
Gutters and downpipes possibly but not always (usually done toward the end of the build)
Concrete slab or foundations are down (not sealed or coloured)
Timber frame and strawbale/straw panel walls installed with workshop done
External lime render (if we can get the windows all installed and you’ve done everything done to make it possible)
Internal clay render (usually you do the last coat of render)
Timber double glazed windows installed
Timber external doors installed
Internal electrics ‘roughed in’ – wires coming out of walls, connected to the meter box but no power points or light fittings installed

Not Included in “Lock Up” Stage Usually
Internal Finishes:

Acid stain and sealing of floors for concrete
If timber ply may be laid but timber floors not installed
Cob internal walls

Standard timber internal doors
Ceilings
Ceiling insulation (our standard 55mm R1.3 aircell roof blanket and R3.5 insulation batts)
Carpenters’ fit out (skirtings, architraves, internal doors)
Kitchen:
Kitchen
Kitchen appliances (oven, cooktop, rangehood)
Kitchen sink and taps
Bathroom:
Toilet, vanity, bath & shower screen
Bath, vanity & shower taps
Tiles and tiling
Services:
Internal electrics completed
eg not installed bayonet light fittings, light switches, power points and ceiling fans
Internal plumbing finished with fittings
Solar hot water installed
Items to discuss: outriggers or eaves sealed, gutterguard, wood heater installation, decks, shade devices, shelving etc.
Council approvals  

Other items that aren’t in “lock up” Stage

Site costs aren’t included
Connection to services – power, water, gas, septic systems
Phone
Water tanks
All weather accessible driveway
Development Application fee
Construction Certificate Fees
Other council fees (including S94 Contribution, Long Service Levy, septic and wood heater applications)
Engineers Fees
Survey
Geotech Reports
Other reports required by council or other authorities
Landscaping

Optional Extras or Finishes – these will increase the cost of the estimate:
Additional verandahs, decks or pergolas
Garages/Carports
Anything above standard appliances
White goods (fridge, air con, TV, washing machine)
Wood heaters
Solar PV Systems
Hydronic Heating
Insulated slabs
CBUS Electrics
Alarm systems

Building Zones can add costs onto a build
Blocks on slopes
High Bushfire zones
Heritage zones
Remote areas
Inner city areas

Custom Designs
Features which include the following items will add costs onto our estimates:
Above our standard wall heights (anything over 2.4m high is considered non-standard and therefore costs more)
Skillion/curved roofs
Pavilion style (with lots of external walls)
Clerestory windows
Lots of window glazing
Curved or unusual features

Especially if you have numerous custom features such as those above, this will increase our estimate rates. It is difficult to know up front by just how much.

The finishes you choose for your home can really make your home. We understand why people choose expensive finishes such as baths, sinks, light fittings, floor finishes, tiles, bathroom fittings and fixtures. Anything above our standard fixtures and sittings or over the allowance will significantly increase the cost of your home so if you have a set budget like most people do, then watch these items as they will increase the final cost to you above and beyond our estimates.

 

 

What's so good about strawbale and earth homes

 

 

They’re better for your health, because they’re natural

They’re better for the world as local materials are used (no sweat shop labour, poisons or virgin forests)

They look incredible, they’re different. They’re peaceful and feel like nothing else

They have high energy ratings and surpass most conventional designs and materials

Our designs are solar passively designed so the sun warms your home in winter and it’s cool in summer

Our homes have a high level of qualilty, they’re better built than most project homes!

They’re built to last

 

Do they last?

It’s a fair enough question. Yes they do. Straw bale homes are still standing in America which were built in the late 1800s. Over one third of homes around the world are built from natural materials, they do last. They’re built to federal, state and local government standards and have a guarantee that they will last. The secret is in the design and the renders that we use.

Can you build a two storey straw bale home?

Yes, we have built two storey straw bale homes. It helps if we are a part of designing the home, to help keep it simple, which in turn, keeps costs and time down.

Do we use load bearing straw bale walls or straw bale infill?

We build most of our homes as a timber post and beam structure and then in-fill with straw bales. There are many reasons for doing this. It protects the bales from rain as we already have a roof on by the time we’re putting the straw bales in place. It gives us protection from the elements while building. Also, it is easier and more conducive for regulatory bodies if we in-fill. We don’t have to wrestle with Council and engineers to get it approved, which makes it more time efficient. We have built load bearing straw bale walls so we can do so, however it can take longer to get approved. We also use traditional timber frames in our designs so we design the house around the frames and strawbales.

What happens if you build a straw bale home and then want to add on later?

You can extend a straw bale home just as you would a conventional home. We recommend you get some advice from a straw bale builder beforehand if you change the structural elements or damage the render extensively. One of the main considerations when extending a house is termite protection, so design your addition to the Building Code of Australia.

How long does it take to build one of our homes?

We build our homes in the same amount of time it takes to build other custom made homes, that is, in about 4-6 months for a Viva-designed home. It takes around 6-8 months for a custom designed home for us to build. However, we find that it takes most clients 12-18 months to get to the point where they are ready to build; because they need to have the drawings completed, submit everything to council and have the plans approved etc. We need just a few months notice to build so that we can get ourselves organised. If you live away from where we’re based, we source local trades people and use a few of our own staff for the specialist work that we do.

What are the benefits of building with straw bales?

Straw bales are one of the highest insulators in the world due to their thickness as well as the air that they hold. So heat cannot transfer through a straw bale wall easily. They are natural and sustainable. They breathe.

Do we use special straw bales?

We source our straw bales from a farmer who specialises in straw bales for building purposes. They know we want clean, weed-free, dry, tight bales which are consistent. He is a professional so he ensures he can always deliver his crop to us.

Will the straw bales rot?

The straw bales are rendered inside and out in a way that keeps the weather from touching or damaging the bales, so they will not rot. If the straw bales are exposed, you need to cover them up and re-render them so they don’t get damaged by the rain.

What are the length, height, width and thickness of the finished walls?

Our homes have been designed around the standard straw bale size of approximately 370mm wide, 450mm high and 850mm long (add 35mm to each side of the wall for the render if we do it, more if you’re owner building). For ease of building the house designed around bale sizes. The thickness of our finished render is around 30mm to 50mm thick. You can increase the height of the walls as long as it is by the height or depth of a straw bale, depending on whether the bales are laid on edge or on face, and as long as you understand it will definitely add to the cost of your home, as scaffolding is required.

Do your strawbale homes comply to bushfire regulations?

Yes they do. We have built our strawbale and earth homes in BAL Flamezone (BALFZ) and all other zones below: BAL 40, BAL29 BAL12 and BAL Low. As with conventional homes, there are costs associated with bushfire-proofing your home. Depending on which zone you’re in, the BAL rating stipulates what we have to do and therefore any added costs.

What about during the installation of straw bales, if it is rainy weather? What if they get wet?

 

The way we build (post and beam and then in-fill with straw bales), deals with the problem of rainy weather and getting the bales in place. We get the bales delivered once we have a roof on the house! We ensure that the bales are kept dry and have a moisture content of less than 9% when they are baled and less than 13% when they are fitted in place, ready to be rendered. If they did get wet, it’s our problem as we are the builders, so it’s in our best interest to keep them nice and dry.

Are straw bales good insulation?

Rendered straw bale walls have a conservative R rating in ABSA of R4.7 (one of the highest in Australia). Realistically though, they have been tested to be R7.1 (bales on edge) or R8.3 (bales on the flat) using overseas r ratings (and re-calculated for Australian R values). Straw bale walls are one of the highest insulation materials in the world. We normally use a minimum of 55mm foil roof blanket and R3.5 polyester bats in the ceiling, depending on the region.

How to we put electrics, plumbing and gas into the straw bale walls?

Just as for any conventional home, we run the electric wires in conduit inside the walls. These days the plumbing is usually put into the ceiling and brought down via internal walls in conduit. For bathroom plumbing we either make the bathroom walls out of earth or build them as for a conventional bathroom wall (just in case there is a leak down the track that needs repairing). Plumbing can be run in straw bale walls however we prefer to use internal stud walls for ease of installation.

What footings are used?

Straw bale and earth homes are like conventional homes. You can have a slab, piers, suspended slabs and so forth. We prefer a slab on ground as it adds thermal mass into your home. So if designed properly, your floor will warm up in the winter when the sun hits it and in summer, it will stay cool as no sun gets onto the slab. Piers and strip footings are used where you have slope constraints.

How do we do our wall & roof frames?

We build timber post and beams first and then in-fill with straw bales and earth walls. We have the straw bale walls engineered so that Council approves them, as straw bale walls are not included in the Building Code of Australia. The roofing truss company engineers the roofing frames. We can and have built straw buildings where the straw walls supported the roof (load bearing), however we find with that method, the straw bale walls are exposed to the weather (rain) which is not good for straw. The way we build, ensures that the straw is kept dry and that our workers are protected from the elements while they complete the build.

 

Our site is in a VERY high wind area, with lots of rain at times. What does this mean for straw bale houses?

Yes, it is important that your house is designed correctly for your harsh climate, so that the bales are protected from the constant barrage of wind and rain. Having a design which incorporates 600mm wide eaves (minimum) would also help prevent driving rain penetrating your straw bale walls. You would need to seal your walls immediately after we have finished them. We would recommend that you use a bagged render rather than a lime render, as the bagged render is a bit more robust. Other than that, there aren’t any major differences to a home which is in a secluded area. The home itself is made to the standards of the Building Code of Australia, so structurally it is as sound as any conventional home.

What about hot and humid conditions? How does a straw bale home perform in areas with high rainfall in hot climates?

We use lime render externally, we’d also recommend using lime on internal walls to ward off any mould or any bugs that could be in there during the build process. This will stop any humidity issues in these climates. We’d also seal any timbers for the same reason. We would recommend lighter weight building materials, so in some areas we could consider using hempcrete, which is lighter, less thick, uses lime, and better for lightweight homes in hot and humid climates. Some owner builders and builders have had problems with humidity if they don’t seal their walls, windows and penetrations well enough.

How much extra does it cost to build one a straw bale home on a sloping block of land?

 

The cost of building on a slope is twofold: 1) the costs of footings and 2) the practical costs of building on a slope, ie scaffolding is required and it’s more difficult to work etc. There are different ways you can design a house on a slope, such as using piers to support the house, strip footings, which can be block work or we use poured earth so that the width of the walls is around 300mm wide, or we make modifications to the design so it is split level. You can also have suspended slabs but that is costly. As a very rough ballpark you could look at around an extra $10,000-20,000, depending on the slope of course, for foundations and the cost to build on a slope. Our Bees Knees design can be detailed as a split level house, so depending on the slope it could work. We have designed homes on a sloping block without too many costs. But if you’re looking for land it’s a bit like the chicken and the egg isn’t it….so get land which is as flat as you can, then contact us or another builder to see what is possible.

What render do we use on walls?

We recommend that internal walls are rendered with a clay or gypsum render and that external walls use a lime based render. We do not use cement renders due to their brittle nature. Please note, because clay and lime are natural materials, they can have hairline cracks in them (especially where they meet other materials). We endeavour to reduce any and all cracking; however from time to time, it can happen. These cracks are not structural and can be patched easily. The colour of renders can vary due to working with natural products.

Kitchen and Bathroom (PC items)

When quoting for your home we make a cost allowance (Prime Cost allowance) for the kitchen/kitchen sink, because usually these items have not been specificed by the time we start builiding. Once you have made your selection, then if you were to go over or under this allowance you would be charged or reimbursed respectively. The main thing is that you would need to have their exact dimensions and location ready for us before we pour the slab, so we know where to set the items back in the slab penetrations.

Can you put picture hooks, TVs and other hanging items on the walls?

If the render is applied correctly it is able to hold hooks driven into the walls that support up to 20kg per screw. If you wish to support heavier objects we recommend that you plan ahead and fix timber into the walls before rendering. This technique is also used to attach kitchen cupboards, large TVs and built in wardrobes.

The Essential Straw Bale Home Building Consumer Guides…

Four ‘must-have’ Reports When Building Any Straw Bale Home, Studio or Granny Flat

#1 The 65 Fundamental Building Steps
#2 Viva’s “Lickity Split” 2 Bedroom Plans
#3 Two Proven Lime Render Recipes
#4 Vital Budgeting Spreadsheet

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