Strawbale Owner Builders

A lot of strawbale owner builders contact us for as much information as we have. They’d like to know what they can do, how they can do it and for anything else that will help them get started. It is a massive learning curve.

Do our fun Quiz To OB or Not to OBto see if you’re cut out to be an Owner Builder.

Here are some tips and suggestions for Owner Builders:

1. Get a good strawbale design that fits your budget. Generally if you’re a strawbale owner builder (natural earth owner builder), it means you’re wanting to save money (and have time and skills). The design is critical because it will:

  • Affect the overall cost of your home
  • Determine how easy (or difficult) it is to build (does the design work around the materials?)
  • How it works on your land
  • Be solar passive and energy efficient if you design it right (and save you on power bills)

2. Get the knowledge and skills. If you were learning to make your own jewellery or furniture, you’d do a course. So the first step is to get some experience and knowledge. We had one person tell us he was nearly in tears because he said it was the hardest thing he’s ever done, even though he’s built other buildings before. He just didn’t realise it would be so hard. As there are numerous ways to build a strawbale and earth house and not all tradies know what to do, not everyone knows what a good render mix is, or how best to protect the walls from rain or water. So our advice to owner builders is to:

  • Do a strawbale or earth building course, preferably a few. Each have their own systems that work for them. You’ll save thousands of dollars by doing this building course. You’ll make back the cost to attend on what you’ll learn. One attendee said at the last course “I just saved $20,000 in what I just learnt”. Holy moly, what an incredible lesson just from changing his plans a little before building.
  • Read books. There are many ways to build a strawbale and earth home, know which way you’re going to build yours.
  • Ensure you understand the building process, the sequence so you can budget your money and time it will take
  • Get the tools and resources you need
  • Practise on a few smaller projects (shed) so you learn beforehand
  • Do a few workshops and get experience, learn what to do and what not to do. Learn what tools you need and how to get organised on site. If you’ve done basic handyman work, then building a house is in a totally different league
  • Get connected with other like-minded people. At our courses and workshops you’ll keep in touch with people as we have a graduates group. Networking is important as we’re busy building homes for other people we can’t always answer your questions, but others can tell you about their experiences
  • See us at the talks and demonstrations we do
  • If all else fails, you can contract us to give you advice or get another builder to help you. Get advice from professionals, sign an agreement with them. Knowledge and advice will help you
  • Get the right public liability and insurance covers. Do your due diligence, get real with building laws and local legislation

3. Get a good design Find a design or a designer who can design a solar passive home around strawbales and natural materials, who can guarantee the cost to build and has designed them extensively before. At the very least they should do our course. If you create your own design, then use practical plans which you can afford. Keep it simple (rectangles are good, standard floor to ceiling heights, hip or gable roofs, design around the bales). Engage a professional who can help you design plans to your budget.

4. Get quotes and sign contracts with your subcontractors. Get proper quotes, like start to finish quotes to do the wall frames and rendering. Not just estimates eg. we ‘quote’ $600 per day and we think it should take 18 days. We can quote a home, professional trades can quote their work, non professionals can’t from personal experience. 

Because every person we’ve ever seen get an ‘estimate’, the final price was double to triple whatever the estimate was.

Sign the contract documents, they should be detailed and include:
– Contract (we use BC4 Master Builders or HIA buiding contracts) with start and finish dates
– Detailed Scope of Works outlining exactly what work will be done to completion eg. rendered to final renders, bathrooms and PC items installed. Refer to the same level of finishes as a house you have seen. 
– Set of detailed plans with elevations which refer to the relevant building code or engineer’s plans. This ensures they build to code
– Engineer’s plans
We can quote whole homes, so tradies should be able to quote the small job they have to do.
Be wary of tradies who won’t quote or provide guarantees. ‘Do and charge’ can go both ways.

We have had a LOT of people say to us that their rendering costs from their strawbale contractor came in at 2-3 times over the verbal quote! Don’t get stung. Check their work and ensure they’re licensed contractors for the work they’ll be doing for you and in the state you’re in (a lot of strawbale tradies are operating illegally – it means you aren’t covered if there’s a problem). Check if their workers are covered and are also licensed. So the tradie = the trading name & ABN = the name on the license for the work they’re doing. Check with ABN lookup that they can charge GST if they’re charging you.

Do they have reviews of customer’s experiences on their website, social media profiles and speak with at least 3 customers (recent and old) to ensure you know how they work and who they are. This is critical.

5. Ensure their legalities are all up to date and correct (building insurance, public liability, builder’s/trade license, home warranty). Check their credentials online and the contract name and license need to be the same.

6. Do a realistic budget and timeline The one consistent thing about owner builders (just watch Grand Designs), is that they go over budget and over time. Get real. Obtain quotes for all services in building your house, including landscaping and site costs (providing power, water, septic; council & engineer’s fees etc)

7. Check their public reviews I think this is one of the most transparent ways to check on people’s reputation. If they’re online, they need to have reviews and clients you can speak with directly. See and speak with 3 clients to know how they work and any issues you can address. Do they have multiple reviews on their website as well from different people. If they say they’ve been building for a while, they should be able to prove it 

8. Then get started Some people find it hard to start. Make imperfect action and get cracking. If you are putting it off because it’s not right or not perfect, you’re making excuses to yourself and your family. Start one task today to get you closer to your dream.

How we help Owner Builders

  1. We teach how we build – courses to teach the essentials, fundamentals and what not to do
  2. Have workshops so you can come along and test your skills, see how a professional site runs & so you can practise
  3. Have pre-designed plans of houses and studios so you can choose a design that you can build to an affordable price
  4. Share our knowledge (some builders don’t share their tricks and skills). We want to help others. Because with more well-built, professional natural homes, the world will be a better place for you, your family and generations to come.

Do we offer an advisory service to help owner builders through their process? no, sorry at this time. Maybe down the track


Strawbale Course

Our courses are unique, they’re like no others. Learn how to build an earth home, from start to finish by a builder who’s designed and built over 50 (not just done workshops).

Earth Building Course

Learn the different earth building techniques and the pros and cons

Strawbale Designs

Find a good designer who has a proven track record in designing solar passive, natural homes to a budget.

Strawbale Workshops

Get down and dirty, learn by doing. Our workshops are like no other.

Talks & demos

Get taken on a journey – how to build earth and strawbale buildings with solar passive designs. Ask us questions!

Tools and Info

Learn what tools and info you need to get.