Week Three & Four: Weather Proofing and Straw Bale Installation

Bales being delivered from the farm just round the corner.
Holes drilled for the sharpened hazel poles in the timber noggin, with foam glass insulation filling cavity and inbetween the sole plate.
Moving up from the second course to the fourth course of bales before we then strengthen the walls with long hazel poles.
Bales installed up to the fourth course along all the walls.
Giving the hazel poles a sharp spiked end to help pierce through the bales.
Rob Walker (left) of Strawbale Building UK (SBUK) giving  Darren (right) a hand.
Moving up to the fith, sixth and seventh courses.
Experimenting with some old methods to help guide us when lowering the roof on to the bales.
Roof successfully lowered and now we’re using the trucker straps to compress the bales.
Using a water level to check the level the roof.
An ancient but very useful tool for checking levels quickly and simply on a larger scale.


We are back this week to continue our work in supporting Darren on his straw bale home in Oxfordshire. Having done a lot of work on straw bale houses in Australia Darren is bringing his knowledge back to the UK to build his own home.

Hawkland have been involved from the start of the carpentry to the installation of the straw bales. After the long two weeks spend building the frame and installing the roof Julie worked on for a third week. Throughout this time Julie and Darren worked long days to get the roof fully weatherproof, including the gable ends and scaffolding sheets wrapped round the walls. Further work was done in securing the timber baseplate to the Thermalite blocks in the foundation, picking up and delivering the straw bales, drilling the holes in the noggins for the hazel spikes and other preparation work that needed to be done before the bales could be installed.

Whilst away for other work Darren cracked on with installing the bales. By the time David was back on site he had got up to the fourth course of bales along the majority of the walls. The pressure was on as they had 5 days to get the walls reinforced with hazel poles and the rest of the bales installed before the rest of Hawkland turned up at the weekend to lead on lowering the roof and compressing the walls.

The fixed point of the large steel beam added a level of difficulty to the process but everything went as smoothly as expected, with a few areas needing adjusting the next day once everything had settled. A great benefit to bales is the flexibility they offer when working with them. If anything need adjusting, its usually very stright forwards and problems can be solved very quickly.

As with most self build projects, Hawkland has been involved in a specific part of the building stage and now step off site to allow Darren to continue at his own pace. We will no doubt pay a visit in the future to see how it’s all going and if needed will happy help on future elements of the build.


Bio-aggregate Workshop: Neighbourhood Construction

Using a laser level to mark out where to cut the fixing points for the temporary shuttering.
Simon running through installation processes with some of the course participants.

Last week David attended a work shop on energy-retrofitting the traditional hygrothermal envelope. This included preparation, mixing and casting bio-aggregate mixture of hemp and lime onto existing masonry. The workshop, run by Neighbourhood Construction, taught the installation though kinaesthetic learning, a process that worked very well in understanding all the elements of delivering a project like this for a potential client.

Neighbourhood Construction also integrates some key principles that they are developing as a company. One of the first principles that underlies their approach is the shift away from static categorisation of people such as home owners / builders / professionals  etc, that may limit confidence and dialogue when looking at renovating a house, towards the concept that we are all Practitioners. A forward thinking definition that empowers the individuals.

The workshop also goes through their working model of project management for an informed renovation of traditional structures. This approach values a traditional learning style of constructivism or ‘learning by doing’, a refreshing antithesis to the prevalent, learning by listening, model of today.

Half way up and ready to re-attach the shuttering at the next level.

Starting with the Scientific Principles of Internal Weather (a very interesting theory being developed by Simon James Lewis), Thermal Envelope and Human Comfort, Neighbourhood Construction emphasises a knowledge-led approach to renovation. We touched on their Project Management Strategy that supports the delivery of an efficient and cost effective installation. This merged into on-site and off-site Protocols during the construction stage, which highlighted some really important considerations when working in a team such as communication, welfare, tidiness during the job and waste management. Finishing on People, a stage that talked about the importance of user centred design and planning, non-egotiscal management and how occupant behaviour can have a large influence on the success of an energy-retrofit in damp remediation.

Week Two: Installing The Roof

The first two trusses installed
Chris and Paul fixing on the top chord
The trusses are up and ready to be positioned
Checking the spacing is correct between the timbers
All in place and the sun comes out!

We worked late into the weekend, with our client Darren and his friends, to install the 17 trusses that form the roof. Working with self builders on smaller budgets can be really exciting as we often have to come up with inventive solutions that would otherwise be solved by expensive machinery.

There was a great atmosphere onsite as Darren had invited a lot of his old friends to help build the roof. The weekend was a mix of hard work, problem solving, connecting with new people and nostalgia between good friends that hadn’t seen each other for a long time.There’s a great empowerment to building your own house, a sense of pride and achievement that is worth all the stress and anxiety that is unfortunately also part of the process.

Week One: Load Bearing Straw Bale House

First day on site
Timbers installed for the windows
Timber noggings in place for extra support
First corner going up
Moving along the wall building up the top plate
Front wall top plate done and some temporary supports in place
Using 24″ clamps to help fix the timber in straight
Our new DeWalt circular saw making light work of cutting the OSB
Fixing the OSB up into the 8×2 timber
Almost half the top plate completed
800mm cleats to join the lengths of 8×2 together
Nearing the third corner by thursday
Onto the last corner before working over the steel plate
Checking our width to make sure we’re square before installing the last section
Top plate completed, just the extra noggings to support the roof trusses

An important week for Hawkland as we are on site working on our first straw bale house under our new company. Being involved with these key stages of the build is important to minimise problems in the near future. Whilst individually we have worked on many straw bale projects over the last few years with Strawbuild and other companies, this marks our first build that we have been involved in from the start of the timber construction right through to the straw bale installation.

Our previous work installing straw bales helps us to understand the best way of optimising the timber frame as we know what aspects can hinder us further down the line. This knowledge and ability to bring the carpentry in house allows us to control the process right from the start ensuring a high quality build and optimal detailing.

It has been a long week for Chris and David working in Oxfordshire with our client Darren, whilst Julie was working in Wales clay plastering and helping to install a roof extension on another straw bale house (who will then join us later in the second week). Our goal was to get the top plate, permanent 4×4 timber posts in place and all the temporary supporting posts constructed by this weekend. A tight deadline (as there was a lot of head scratching and discussions over some unique design details) but with some long days and hard work we were ready for the arrival of the roofing team on Saturday morning.

The house is an appropriately sized chalet bungalow built using straw bales, timber, lime and clay in the majority of the construction. For the plinth wall the client has built with Thermalite, Foamglas blocks and lime mortar to form the cavity wall which is then infilled with recycled Geocell foam glass gravel.

Working mindfully 

Evening walk - Hawkland
An evening walk to relax our minds and bodies

On site you can often become too absorbed by the concentration and the rhythm of work. This can be particularly consuming when you’re working and living in the same place for a length of time. We make sure we find time to explore the local area and allow our own personal space to breath and relax. An element that’s extremely important when working closely within a team.

Straw bale repair and installation


Long hours and hard work but it’s very rewarding to see the fresh golden straw. The bales once installed are compressed to create a strong solid wall, straightened by large wooden mallets and then strimmed to provide a good key for the lime plaster.

This project for COCA (Caeryhs Organic Community Agriculture) was led by Strawbuild in collaboration with the team from Hawkland Ecological Construction.