A 9 step guide to building a straw bale cottage for less than $50,000


Click numbers 1 to 9 to see the steps


This is Beth's Cottage at Taproot Farm in West Virginia, USA. It was built by natural builder and architect Sigi Koko. The cottage has a rubble trench foundation with exterior straw bale walls plastered with lime outside and clay inside. All the timber was locally grown and lots of salvaged parts like windows were used in the building. The interior walls are cob with an adobe floor to store the energy from the sun that streams in the south facing windows under the lotus flower sculpture.


In pictures No.1 and 2 (click the buttons above the picture) you can see the timber frame and roundwood for the exposed roof structure and interior columns. You can also see the rubble trench foundation which is filled in picture No.2 with the first 4" layer of the adobe floor. The floor was installed over 2 days with about 15 people moving 15 tons of material which is being levelled in picture No.3. All of the clay, except for the white finishing plaster (No.7), was from the building site leaving a hole where a pond now entertains wildlife.

Girl power (No.4) was used to straighten out the straw bale walls with man power on the other side ready to tie off the bales to the posts. Picture No.5 shows the un-trimmed straw bales installed as cob balls were passed along a human conveyor belt ready for the interior cob walls. In No.6 you can see the beginning of the exterior lime plaster, grey where it's still wet and white where it's dry. The lime goes on in 3 coats. The first coat connects to the bales and laths, the second shapes the wall and the third coat, using a fine mason's sand, gets the desired texture and colour.

All of the interior plastering in No.7 and No.8 was done in 2 days by a team with no previous plastering experience. In No.7 one of the team is using a sponge to smooth out tiny trowel marks on the window sill plaster. You can see the final result below (right) and the beautiful niche, before and after plastering, below (left). In picture No.8 a clay paint is being used over the cob bench and storage space at the entrance to the cottage. The clay paint was made with site soil plus red pigment. Finally No.9, Lotus Cottage is complete with a living roof waiting for the last coat of lime plaster.