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The Last Straw Journal covers important developments in the natural building world that translate to a reduced impact on the natural environment.  Our mission is to inform and inspire people to build more consciously and with foresight toward future generations.  We fulfill our mission by providing in-depth stories from around the world about people who are reviving and pushing the boundaries of building materials and systems and the impact they have on cultures and societies.


Subscriptions to The Last Straw Journal are priceless. Each issue is an enduring archive from the natural building world, inspiring us to revive the building materials and systems from centuries past while also pushing us forward to explore yet new combinations..

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Members of the straw-bale community are the major contributors to our publication.  They are owners sharing their experience inhabiting natural buildings; practitioners sharing techniques, methods, materials and projects; and architects and engineers contributing construction details while also performing vital testing and research.


2016 International Straw Building Conference (ISBC)

By Community, Issue 67No Comments
Welcome to NZ!!!

Welcome to NZ!!!

When you think of New Zealand, what do you think about?

‘Wow, it’s really far away’

‘Isn’t there more sheep then people that live there?’

‘I’ve heard there’s lots of beautiful and wild places to explore and experience there’

‘There’s some fabulous natural building happening there’

Well, New Zealand, a country comprised of two main islands, IS far away to most places in this world, there ARE a lot of sheep that are raised here and yes, it IS a stunningly gorgeous place to live and to play. New Zealand will appeal to all your senses and most of all you will be thrilled to know that it’s natural building community is vibrant and is very excited to be hosting the next International Straw Building Conference from 3-9 March in 2016 in Methven.

Bale Stacking Fun

Bale Stacking Fun

The Earth Building Association of New Zealand (EBANZ) will be your host along with AUSBALE and BOINZ (Building Officials Institute of New Zealand).  EBANZ is an incorporated society that promotes the art and science of natural building in New Zealand.  Each year EBANZ hosts their annual AGM and Conference, alternating between the islands and with the intention of highlighting natural building in the many varied climatic regions of New Zealand.

There has been a great representation from around the world with abstracts being received from Spain, Turkey, Italy, France, Ireland, Japan, USA, UK, Australia and of course New Zealand. All of our keynote speakers, spanning a variety of disciplines, have been influential in the international natural building community. From North America, we are delighted to announce that both Bruce King, of the United States, and Chris Magwood, of Canada, will be joining us as two of our keynote speakers. From the UK, we will welcome Craig White, Director of White Design & Modcell, who has brought straw bale into mainstream building, Barbara Jones, a pioneer designer who has been instrumental in creating affordable homes for people, providing practical training & now has set up the School of Natural Building and Rachel Bevan, an Architect, who has a wide experience in the specification of ecological building materials including hemp. And from New Zealand, the ‘land of the long white cloud’, Graeme North, an Architect of over 40 years, the founding chair of EBANZ, will provide an overview of the writing of the three New Zealand Earth Building Standards.  This conference aims to find new, positive solutions, collaborations, enhancing community, both near and far and certainly having a bit of fun.

Straw Bale Panel

Straw Bale Panel

So, once you’ve traveled that great distance from your home, you will certainly see paddocks of sheep, you will experience some beautiful places (both natural and built), but after attending the conference you will come away from an experience that will leave you inspired, full of knowledge and with a much bigger community of colleagues and friends.

For more information please visit our website and Facebook page ISBC 2016.



Ever wonder how many bale buildings there are in the world? In your country?
The SB Registry hosted by Sustainable Sources has been the longest running, most comprehensive list of bale buildings around the globe. 


Building an Energy Efficient Straw Bale Home: Design criteria for Inglewood straw bale

By Bales, Design, Issue 70, Straw Bale ConstructionNo Comments

This article first appeared in The Owner Builder 196 August/September 2016.

By Brian Hodge

As we embark on our 20th owner-built home, I reflect back over the progress since purchasing property last year.

We were surprised the property didn’t have power, sewer, or water but discovered it actually had sewer connection just over the back fence. We were somewhat pleased when we received the quote for electricity connection of $5,050. Mind you, that did not include the connection of the power to our meter box.

Having mentioned the meter box, I am flooded with the memory of its incorrect positioning in my unavoidable absence and the challenges that we were faced with as a consequence (see TOB 195 June/July 2016). But who can complain. The end result was that we have revisited the design and now have a better one that is more interesting.  And who can forget the bonus sewer connection at the back of the block, which will save us around $10,000 that we would have spent for a septic system.

A place to run courses

When we first went looking for land our primary motivation was to get a low cost piece of land on which we could run the practical part of our owner-builder straw bale building workshops. This was a precursor to being willing to sell the straw bale house in Ladys Pass. To be a straw bale building consultant with nowhere to do courses and nothing to show people was not an option and the solution had to make financial sense.

Consequently, I did an internet search for ‘land under $50,000 Victoria.’ The result was land in Loch Sport, which was too small and, from previous experience, has too many mosquitoes, and land in Inglewood, Victoria. Inglewood is in central Victoria about 35 minutes north of Bendigo with a population of a bit over 1,000. It was established in 1859 and is still a great place to find gold. It has a good supermarket, hospital, permanent doctor, pharmacy and most important, a couple of good old fashioned pubs for great meals. It is also the town where my youngest son, his wife and two of my grandchildren are located. However, the criteria were primarily price and size.

There was an 8000m2 block for around $45,000 near a light industrial area, a 2000m2 for $70,000 or a 1000m2 for $35,000. We put in an offer of $33,000 on the last block, which was accepted.

Position, position…

The only issue, which was a big one, was its orientation. It is only 20 metres wide and faces north-west. In order to control heat input and get some passive solar benefit in the design, we had to design a house that is twisted on the property. This option consumes a lot of land, which was complicated by our need for wide eaves for a straw bale house. Regulations stipulate that living area windows must have a minimum of 1000mm of clear sky from the boundary, which meant that we had to be set in from the side boundary a minimum of 1900mm to allow for the 900mm eaves. We also needed truck access to the backyard to take deliveries of bales etc. for workshops, further restricting our build space.

We finally settled on the concept of building a U shaped house with a central courtyard as this would enable us to get passive solar benefit in the master bedroom and living area. Not a huge amount, but enough to make a difference. It also provided us with a outdoor private area, which is important to us as we have lived on country properties for the past 12 years.

U-shaped floor plan

U-shaped floor plan

Energy rating

I had our energy assessors check to see what difference this adjusted orientation would make on stage one of the construction, as opposed to building parallel to the front boundary. We were surprised that the energy rating actually went up from 5.4 stars to 6.3 stars even though there is only one window that faces north.

As we are building in central Victoria, the energy rating is primarily directed toward the energy required for winter heating. However, we get some really nasty weather in summer with temperatures reaching high 30s and even mid 40s. Consequently the design criteria also included resistance to summer heat. The central courtyard faces due west, however it has a deep verandah to protect smallish windows from the afternoon heat from the west, and the windows facing east are limited.

One of the big concerns for restricting heat input in summer is to avoid doors that open directly into the house from the north, as it is the north wind that brings high temperatures to the area. I have therefore included a good size entry on the northern end of the house with the external door facing east, which will dramatically reduce the impact of those hot northerly winds.

Airflow manipulation

The cooler summer breezes often come from the south-east, so we have included casement windows on the south-eastern boundary to funnel those cool breezes through the house. The benefit of correctly hinged casement windows is that they tend to trap the breeze and funnel it into the house rather than simply working with straight airflow. When you are trying to get cool air into your home it is best to open the windward windows fully but close the windows on the opposite side of the house to 50%, as this creates a vacuum resulting in greater airflow.

As this is a residential block I expect that airflow will be a bit of a challenge as we have boundary fences which will restrict it. I have also incorporated a flat ceiling in part of the house in order to accommodate ducting for an air circulation pump to force the early morning cool air through the house if the temperature in the house is higher than the temperature outside. Our previous straw bale house in Ladys Pass had the same issue, which was overcome using an evaporative cooler as an air circulation pump. The cooling function of the unit was hardly ever used, and would not have been missed, so I am planning on simply fitting an air pump this time.

The master bedroom window faces north onto the central courtyard, however the window is not within the shadow of the verandah roof so we will get good passive solar benefit in winter. It also means that we have a private outlook, and with Molly, our big guard dog, we are assured of security! (Molly is a miniature Maltese Shiatsu)

As this is house number 20 for us personally, it was difficult to find something a bit different to do, so we eventually settled on a curved roof with a curved ceiling. This will be achieved by building box trusses on site. It is a very cost effective method of roof construction and I am looking forward to trying it out, as I have never done it before.

With all the design, engineering and building permit issues behind us it is now time to get to work and build it. I am going to take my time and enjoy the process as I suspect this will be the last home that I build, although many people scoff at this idea, thinking that I am either crazy for building so many or that I am addicted to the process. Personally I am not sure, but I am going to enjoy this project as if it is my last.

Brian Hodge is the director of Anvill Straw Bale Building Consultants. He has nearly 40 years experience in the building trade, and now consults predominantly on straw bale construction. Brian is the author of ‘Building your straw bale home’ and will be blogging about his build. Anvill Straw Bale Building Consultants: Whether you are building a mansion or to a strict budget, we are here to help.


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