Low-Cost Construction

Techniques For

Earth Keepers


Job S. Ebenezer, Ph.D.
President, Technology for the Poor,



Straw has been used as a building material by many cultures for many centuries. In the Old Testament we read about the Israelites using straw and mud to construct monuments for the Egyptian rulers. Use of mud and straw mixtures to build walls is still prevalent in Africa, Middle East, Asia, and China. Straw has been a standard material used for roofs by many cultures and even today in Ireland and Scandinavian countries one can see thatched roofs in rural areas.

The Construction Techniques described in this manual use straw as filler in wall sections. It further describes how one need not have to bale the straw to use it for wall construction. Straw-bale construction started at the turn of the century when John Deer invented a straw baling machine and the pioneers in the Northwestern part of Nebraska started to use straw bales as construction materials. Even today one can find houses built with straw bale and plastered with cement standing in Nebraska.

The author used the techniques described in this manual to build plasteredd straw structures in Indea and Pennsylvania. The pictures in the following pages should provide sutfficient information for anyone to construct a low-cost, earth-friendly building using straw as building material for the walls.

One can find a number of web sites on te Internet that profvide valuable information on owner built and conventionally built straw bale houses. These houses are found to be comfortable as they damp out noises and have a high R-Values that far exceeds the code requirements. They are also safe as far as fire is concerned. Tests conducted by Underwriters Laboratory and other National Laboratories found the fire ratings of the plastered straw bale walls to be well above the requirements. There have been no reporting of termite infestation or other insect damages to the plastered straw bale walls.

The author estimates that a plastered straw house in Indea costs one-fourth of a brick and mortar house and keeps the inside temperature 10 to 15 deg. F below the summer outside temperature. It was also noticed that these houses could be built with very little skill by the owners themselves and therefore, results in considerable savings to the owner builder.


Post and Beam Straw Construction Technique
(Technique 1)

(Non-Load Bearing Straw Walls)

Step 1. Lay the foundation for this building using standard methods. As the walls are not load bearing, a concrete foundation of 6 inches depth is sufficient. Dig at least 24 inches holes to set the treated poles and pour concrete for strength and stability.

Step 2. Build the frame work as shown in the photograph below. Fasten rigid fence material (not chicken wire) to the posts and create a 9 inches to 12 inches cavities.

Step 3. Fill the cavities with straw or other waste materials like carpet padding, shredded paper, and styrofoam packaging materials.

Step 4. Plaster the inside and outside of the walls with mud dug from the foundation and let it dry for a couple of days.

Step 5. Plaster the walls with cement and sand mixture (1 part of cement to 5 parts of sand). Paint the walls with desired color paint.


Pre-fabricated Wall Panels
(Technique 2)

Step 1. Make a 3'x5' (the wonder boards come in 3'x5' size) frame using 2"x6" lumber.

Step 2. Fasten the wonder board to one side of the 3'x5' wooden frame.

Step 3. Fill the cavity with loose straw, carpet padding, shredded paper, or styrofoam package materials.

Step 4. Cover the exposed side with another 3'x5' wonder board using appropriate screws.

Step 5. Use pre-fabricated panels to build walls. Different sizes of panels are required near door and window openings. Conventional roof methods were used to complete the building.