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Michael Rilling
The Straw Bale Connection (continued)
as wood intensive, it uses far less lumber, which is a benefit in all areas.
BEN:  There have been some reports that a modified post and beam approach uses a comparable amount of lumber.  Have you noticed this to be true?
MR:  In our own home we used a hybrid/modified post and beam.  Even then, it used far less lumber than a conventional home would use.  Then again, in our home we used lumber that was milled in the forties and was put up in government barns.  I have a friend in the insurance business who has a couple of people working for him who dismantle these old barns and so we got our lumber for a song.  I think it was just under about $3,000 worth of lumber that we got for $200.  It was all clear, kiln dried, no knots - all #1.  All very straight.
BEN:  You lucked out, huh?
MR:  No.  I mean, it's just really who you know, and if you talk to people, you know, anybody could find somebody like that.
There's a lot of people who might think that old recycled lumber is not good enough to use.  But you've got to remember that most of the lumber that we're getting now is second or third growth.  It's got a lot of knots in it and it's very weak.
BEN:  What about the average do-it-yourselfer, would you recommend that they hire a professional or would going to a few workshops or seminars be enough to be able to do a good job?
MR:  It really depends.  For those who can think and can see a building going up in their head, it's possible that they could just go to a workshop or an indoor seminar.  If you're mechanically minded like a welder or a carpenter or if you know how homes are put together, just go to an indoor design seminar.  We'll show you step by step how they go up.  We just won't get sweaty and throw bales around. (Editor: They hold these seminars every couple of months-see the "Announcements" section for details)
If you are someone who either doesn't really want to lead the effort or doesn't have the knowledge to lead the effort, then that's where I would just come in and do a wall-raising.  After the walls are up, you can get sub-contractors to do all the other work.
The inside of a straw bale house is going to be pretty much identical to ordinary homes.  The tile work is the same.  The interior framing and sheetrock is the same.  The roofing is basically the same.  The difference is the bale wall itself.
BEN:  That brings up another question.  There are a lot of claims as to the cost of building with straw.  Is there much difference compared to conventional building?
MR:  There can be.  If you're like me and you want to do it all yourself, you can do it very inexpensively.  Our house cost about $15 per square foot.  That's including saltillo tile for the floors, all new doors, new sheetrock, central air and heat and a metal roof.  But, you know, we did workshops, we did stucco parties and we generally had a lot of help.
BEN:  Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
MR:  Well, I'd like for people to understand that only two or three decades ago, we provided for ourselves everything we basically needed.  It's just in the last couple of decades really that we have become overly dependent on other people for everything.  And I just refuse to believe that the human race got that dumb over just two or three generations.  I'm not saying that I think everyone should sell their cars, quit there jobs, grow long hair, and go live in the bush somewhere.  If everybody could just do a little bit it would make a big difference.  There's a really good feeling inside knowing that that youčre doing something that's different from what other people are doing and that doesn't depend on other people. Editor: and that's news for a better Earth, eh?

Michael Rilling can be contacted at:
Straw Bale Connection
P.O. Box 1703
Boerne, TX 78006
(830) 537-5235

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