February 2013, Strawbale Grand Designs, we made it in the Mag!

Hitting the Strawbale Road in 2013It’s shaping up to be a big year. Here’s what’s going on with some strawbale news:

  • Strawbale workshops and courses
  • Strawbale Grand Designs Magazine -we made it in the mag!
  • Difference between insulation and thermal mass
  • New ‘Stepping Stone’ strawbale home in Yass has begun
  • How our homes did in the 46 degree heat recently
  • Strawbale insurance update
  • How much if we owner build our straw bale home?
  • Strawbale services we provide
Workshops & CoursesMarchStrawbale wall raising workshop on 7-10th March in Yass. If you are thinking of building a straw bale home, especially owner building or building with us, this would be an excellent workshop to go along to so you can see what you’ll be doing and meet other like minded people. Get in quick, to register> as places are limited.



Build a strawbale dome with reciprocal roof (self supporting) 4 day workbee. On 6-9th April at Milkwood Permaculture. Sam will be running this workshop to show you how you can build your own straw bale dome. To book>



The 3 day Strawbale Course is on 3-5th May at the Australian Rural Education Centre in Mudgee. It’s a one of a kind straw bale course as it goes through the fundamentals to advanced building techniques. This course covers everything from designing a solar passive home to foundations (slab, piers), wall and roof framing (load bearing vs in fill), running services (electrics, plumbing etc), rendering to maintaining your straw bale home. For owner builders, builders, designers and keen natural building enthusiasts. It’s a blend of theory with practical experience.


“I would like to say a big thanks to AREC and Sam Vivers for putting on such a great course/workshop, as a building designer it has definitely opened up my eyes to the next level of sustainable building design.” Jamie, Harris Building Design Services


To book the AREC course>



Strawbale demonstration at the Small Farm Field Days on Friday 12th and 13th July at Mudgee. For more info> So you can see how to build a straw bale building, see a rendered building and see rendering in action. You can also ask us questions.



Sustainable House Day is on 8th September where people all around Australia with a sustainable home open their doors. We hope that our clients will open up their straw bale and earth homes for others to see what is possible. Why not do your own natural building tour hopping around the country??

The difference between insulation and thermal massInsulation (we’re talking bulk insulation eg. straw bales or batts) basically creates air pockets  that reduce the rate of heat transferring through it. The air slows the passage of heat. This is essential for say the south side of a wall in winter and the western wall in summer. 

The higher the R value, the less it transfers heat. Reflective foil can also stop the transfer of heat which is why reflective foil is important under your roof (depending on your climate region).


Straw bales are currently rated in the Aust Building Thermal & Assessment Assessor (Australian energy rating scheme) as R4.7 (450mm rendered strawbale) R3.69 (350mm rendered strawbale). The scheme also says that these R values are lower than in actuality, however that’s what they currently rate them at unfortunately.


Thermal mass on the other hand allows heat to transfer. Examples of natural materials that we use include cob walls (solid earth walls like mud bricks), stone, rammed earth, poured earth and say a concrete or earth floor. This could be good if in summer the sun doesn’t hit a solid floor (due to a solar passive design). This slab will help keep the room cool as it will take a long time to heat up without the sun hitting it. If in winter you had a heater on a solid wall which absorbed the heat, then that wall will release its heat during the night when the room starts to cool down. The result will be that the room will still be warm in the morning (as long as you had good insulation, no draughts, curtains and no large voids).


Thermal mass stabilises internal temperatures by providing a heat sink (heat is absorbed by the walls). In cold climates thermal mass walls ought to be insulated otherwise the heat will pass to the outside of the wall rather than the inside in winter.


So that’s why we use a mix of insulation with thermal mass to help keep your home temperature regulated throughout the year. So far so good with the homes we’ve built!

More photos of our straw bale homes can be found at the bottom of our homepage or in our photo gallery.
Check out Viva Homes in the Grand Designs Australia MagazineThey included a 4 page article on straw bale building and included us! So straw bales continue to go mainstream, yay!
Other NewsWe are NSW reps for the Australasian Straw Bale Building Association (AUSBALE) whose goal it is to help promote straw bale building. If you would like information and forums, check out the Ausbale website. We need some more committee members!www.ausbale.org.au


We’ve just started building another 8 star “Stepping Stone” straw bale home. We’ll keep you posted with photos on facebook. We’ll be doing a straw wall raising workshop (see March wall raising workshop). Click here to see the beginning of the walls go up>


How our homes went in the 46 degree heat recently We’ve heard from over 5 clients during that hot spell in December and January who said their straw bale homes only went up to 24 degrees inside their home while it was 45-46 outside. One home got up to 28 degrees however that was a renovated home and not solar passively designed. So having a solar passive home with thermal mass and insulation makes a big difference. Remember to close up your home during hot days (curtains, windows) and open it up at night time.
Strawbale Insurance Update:In the last enews we listed different insurers of straw bale homes. We heard from Tim and Liz who said that: “we had no issues getting insurance with GIO. They were also the only company we found who would insure everything on the site while we living in the shed/caravan.” Thanks Liz and Tim!
How Much if We Owner Build Our Straw Bale Home?We’ve been getting this question a lot lately, so we thought we’d try and give you some answers. By ‘owner building’ we mean that you’re doing all the work and organising trades people (not getting a builder to help you).


We don’t generally work for owner builders these days as we prefer to build and manage a home from design to completion. If clients or architects do this and that, it makes it very difficult for us to keep to time and budget. However we do work around client’s wishes of course! We can teach you how to build a straw bale home yourself, through our workshops and courses and then you can do it yourself.


Generally we’ve found owner builders can build for around $1500-$2000 per square metre. If they’re careful, research, do workshops, do a straw bale building course, have a simple house design and standard finishes (anything different can be more costly). Otherwise it can be $2000-$3500! We’ve seen it happen time and time again.


Be sure you understand the building process so that you have materials and work ready for the next tradie. Have good trades and good suppliers and know exactly how to do each step. One bad tradie can increase your costs quickly.


Where owner builders can really save is in the labour component of building. In natural homes, labour is half the cost. So if you’re doing the labour yourself, it means you have to work full time on it, with other trades to help you. This is really the only place where you will save money by owner building.


On the flip side of that, the other thing that client’s tell us is how much physical work it is and how tolling it is. Be sure to be fit and healthy and have a good support network when you get aches and pains!


How long will it take?

Of course it’s difficult to answer that as it depends on so many things. If you work full time on your home (take time off work) and you are the Project Manager, Supervisor and tradesperson, then possibly you can build a new home in 6-12 months (best case scenario, after the plans have been approved). If you have to work full time, have a family to look after and are just supervising the job (and have builders and tradies working for you), you could also do it in 6-12 months if you have a good Supervisor on site and keep the materials up to the workers. If you are doing the actual work yourself part time, have a job and a family, then it can take 2-10 years. So many owner builders do this (we did this on our first owner built home). Which is why banks are strict currently and don’t want to loan owner builders money without a building contract.


Important word of advice. Get your finances up front. Make allowances for going over budget as you tend to underestimate what it will cost to build. Every house that we’ve seen on Grand Designs goes over budget and over time! And usually by a lot.


How to choose a contractor

When it comes down to it, choosing the right contractor can make or break your project. They will determine the overall quality of the job, the costs and the timing.

So do your homework. When we choose contractors, this is what we look for, the mandatory requirements:

  • Will quote the work and their timeframe (this is CRITICAL to a nightmare vs a great job)
  • Will sign a contract (written by a professional association) for the work they’ll do
  • Have work you have seen for three different jobs and where the clients are happy with their work. It’s important to see their workmanship as well as speak with clients.
  • Have an ABN  (check their name and their ABN status)
  • Are licenced for their trade and the work they’ll do (if rendering, they are a Renderer by trade. If building, they have a builder’s licence). If they are a carpenter or only a straw bale wall contractor, they can only do part of the work and they certainly can’t quote a whole job.
  • Check the licence is in their name, not another company or person.
  • Show you public liability contract and tool insurances with Certificates of Currency
  • Show you a Worker’s Compensation Certificate of Currency for all of their workers including volunteersOther Requirements, they:
  • Are a member of their trade association (HIA, MBA, Joinery, Architect). This means they are a professional and are governed by standards and protocols
  • Have a full WHS Manual (was OHS)– which includes SWIMMS, procedures, site safety forms (you will have to do this if they don’t have a system)
  • Will provide you a Home Warranty Certificate for the works they will do (if an owner builder you will need to take this out yourself)

Then you know you’re working with people who are professionals. Who can keep to their costs, do quality work, work safely, get consistent results and will come back and fix anything should anything go wrong. ‘Do and Charge’ with contractors exposes Owner Builders. Because they get paid more if they take longer to build. There’s no incentive for them to work smarter or faster if they do and charge. It just costs you more. Get everything quoted so you know what is included.


If they are an experienced tradesman in their field of expertise, they can and should quote.

Straw bale services we provide:

  • A range of straw bale home designs which we or you can build
  • Design straw bale homes which are solar passive
  • Design and build straw bale homes to a set time, cost with a consistent result (most other builders don’t specialise in straw bale building, or other straw bale tradespeople can only build the walls and render)
  • Products: the Viva wire twitcher ($350) and the baling pin ($95). We use them for all our homes as they save us time and make the job so much easier. We’re happy to share the knowledge and help others so we’re selling the extras we had made up.
  • Straw bale education: workshops, courses and demonstrations
www.vivahomes.com.au | Facebook: Viva Living Homes | Ph: 0450 480 460Em: info@vivahomes.com.au