Straw Bale Comprehensive Southern Alberta

A Hands-on Workshop Aug 11th – 17th 2013

Straw bales finished with earthen plasters is a natural building combination that is hard to beat. Being relatively low cost, low impact, high performance, and accessible makes straw bale construction one of the most sought after natural building techniques today.

Accommodation/Meals: Includes all meals & camping on site. Details below.
Instructors: Ashley Lubyk & Heather Noakes, Dirt Craft Natural Building + Guest Speakers (TBA).

Chances are, if you are considering a new build and want to use a sustainable method, whether a complete house, or perhaps a studio or garden suite to add some extra living space, you've heard about building with straw bales. We love building with straw, and of all the natural wall systems that are possible, we think that bale construction, when done right, can provide an exceptionally beautiful, healthy home, with very little impact on our planet compared to conventional construction. Our bias is that for this climate (Western Canada) bales provide the ultimate balance between insulation and thermal mass to create an energy efficient space that is comfortable and welcoming.                          


Straw bales finished with locally processed clay to make plasters is a natural building combination that is hard to beat. Being relatively low cost, low impact, high performance, and DIY-accessible makes straw bale construction one of the most sought after natural building techniques today. With enough excess straw to build millions of homes each year in Canada alone, straw bale construction is the champion of upcycling. It's also beautiful, healthy, and durable.

Why build with bales? Are straw bale buildings healthier to live in? Are they safe when it comes to fire/ pests? Won't the walls rot? How much insulation does straw provide? These are some common questions, for sure. And good questions. For answers to these, and more, including ten great reasons you'd want to build with straw bales, please visit our resource page here.

This week-long workshop is designed to give you the information and knowledge you need to build a straw bale structure.


We will introduce you to the most up to date techniques of straw bale construction through the completion of a timber framed round wood structure. We will integrate an earth bag foundation, use an infill straw bale wall system, deal with windows and door detailing, and finish the bales with clay-based earthen plasters inside and out.

                       This is the round wood structure being framed last summer.

One element that we focus on is plastering. You can't build with bales without knowing how you're going to finish them. Too often we hear from people who decided to build with straw, but didn't consider how the bales would be protected. The plasters are at least, if not more important, than the bales themselves. As straw bale building pioneer Bill Steen says, "Straw bale building is more about the plasters than the stacking of the bales." Plasters inform building design and detailing; they are what you'll see every time you come home; they are what will keep your home healthy; and plasters are what keep the walls from taking on excess moisture. Earthen plasters actually match the needs of a straw bale wall system perfectly. Clay likes to sit at a lower humidity, naturally, than straw bales. This means the clay will constantly be pulling moisture from your walls, and releasing it into the air. However, while earthen plasters can be very hard (if mixed right), they do not stand up very long to the erosive forces of water. We'll cover proper design and treatments for earthen plasters, as well as cover the other plaster options that are out there. Read more about how earthen plasters work for natural buildings on our resource page here.

            Passive Solar Straw Bale House

Workshop Overview:
What we’ll be doing hands-on:
  • Earth bag foundation
  • Straw bale infill construction
  • Wall assembly
  • Resizing bales
  • Local clay processing
  • Earth-based plasters
  • Clay plaster application
  • Air barrier detailing for high performance
  • Window, door, and roof carpentry for straw bales


Topics we'll cover in the classroom:
  • Foundations options for natural buildings
  • Choosing the best materials
  • Site selection
  • Designing a home for straw bales
  • Climate-appropriate design
  • Choosing an appropriate plaster
  • Planning for plumbing and electrical wiring
  • Passive solar design
  • Putting thermal mass to work in a northern climate
  • Structural concepts: how to make sure it doesn't fall down
  • Round wood framing
  • Reciprocal roofs
  • Building Codes and how to work with them
  • Becoming an owner-builder – planning and managing your project
  • Strategies for getting more experience and education


Who should take this workshop?

This course will be of interest to you if you are considering building with straw bales whether that's your dream home, a secondary suite, garden retreat or studio. We offer a unique look into the world of natural building, and specifically how to use clay and earthen palsters to acheive an effective wall system in combo with straw bales (including the base-coat plasters, finished paints and plasters, and earthen floors).

You don't need any previous building experience! It will be well suited to owner-builders wishing to build a home that is cost effective, energy efficient, uses sustainable materials, and accessible to people of all skill levels. If you are considering building a natural home, whether you do it all yourself, or hire help along the way, this course will give you the tools you need to make sure that you can manage your project effectively. It will also be very useful if you are a professional looking to ingrate a more sustainable element into your designs.


The Site:

Woodland West is a beautiful retreat about an hours drive south of the city of Calgary, near Millarville, AB. The expansive site backs onto Kananaskis Country Provincial Park, has a creek running through it, and is surrounded by forests. If you were lucky enough to attend the Western Canada Permaculture Convergence, you'll be familiar with the beauty of the place. Their pond is also a splash for swimming, and there is a canoe you can take out for evening floats.
Margit and Drew are thrilled to be our hosts. They have an amazing vision for their place which includes education in all things sustainable. As such, there is already a large classroom facility that is solar powered, which will serve as a classroom and working area should we encounter adverse weather during the workshop. You can look forward to composting toilets and solar powered showers. Camping is included. There are many locations to set up tents, and there will be room for trailers as well. There is also a cabin on the property. It is in a private location, somewhat away from the main building site and meeting area, and will be available on a first come first served basis.  

We will have a chef who will be looking after our gastronomic needs, so when we say food is included, we mean food is included.

              Camping at Woodland West


We are thrilled that Margit will be opening up her yoga studio for workshop participants to enjoy morning sessions (this woman of many talents teaches and runs a studio out of her home called Hot Rock Massage). We think that physical health is really important, and will be incorporating simple yoga and stretching into our working days to make sure everyone stays good and limber.


A Bit More:

We pack a lot of information into this workshop, so each day will be full. Our workshops are hands-on, and we encourage full participation to make sure you get the most out of the week. However, we don't want anyone to push themselves, so it is up to you to gauge your physical contributions. Work will be strategically paired with technical lecture style presentations to allow for maximum learning and comprehension of each topic.

You can also expect a small class size. Only 12 students! This will increase your one on one time with us, your instructors (2), directly. As with all of our workshops, you can expect a comprehensive note package that covers most of what we'll be going over during the week.

Your experience at a Dirt Craft Workshop is important to us. We recognize that many people may be taking holidays, and most certainly time out of a busy summer, to join us, so we are committed to making sure that we meet and exceed you expectations of what you will learn, while making sure that it is as enjoyable as possible. Part of the reason that we are partnering with Woodland West as our site is because we know that it will provide you the opportunity to connect with nature, and build community. Things that we think make time off worthwhile.

Learn From Experience:

We have taught over 400 students, and worked on many projects since we officially became a business in 2010. This means we have encountered many different, and sometimes difficult situations. We bring this experience and knowledge to each workshop, so that when you encounter your own difficulties, during your own project, you will be armed with all of the necessary information to make decisions when the time comes.

Thoughts on Natural Building Education:

We strongly believe that natural building is best learnt in a hands-on environment, and this is why we always work on real projects in our workshops. Our goal is to ensure that you get the education and experience you need, to have the confidence to work on your own projects. We want to contribute in a positive and meaningful manner to the natural building community and we think that education, with integrity, in the latest building techniques can expand and add to this emerging field.


Have a look at our project gallery here for more on straw bale, earthen plasters & more.

Review our cancelation policy here.

**Please note that we send out specific course information to all registered participants about a week prior to workshop date which includes location, and a brief reminder of what to expect, and what to bring. When you register online, we save your contact information, for our records only (we respect your privacy, and would never sell it to a third party!). If you would rather bypass PayPal (you don't have to have a PayPal account to use our online registration service), we gladly except cash or cheques over credit card payment. Payment is still required in advance to reserve your spot. Please call us if you would like to pursue this option, 403-700-2629. Thanks!


6 thoughts on “Straw Bale Comprehensive Southern Alberta

    1. Dirt Craft Natural Building Post author

      Not yet! We tend to announce workshops starting at the beginning of the year, through to early spring. Stay tuned, and sign up for our newsletter list if you’d like to receive updates about upcoming workshops.

        1. Dirt Craft Natural Building Post author

          Hi Daneille! Thanks for writing. My best suggestion is to sign up for our newsletter, that way you’ll get announcements about upcoming workshops…but I see that you just did that! Thank you! Hope to connect with you soon.


  1. Allison Ireland

    Hello! I just discovered this and wish I had known about you earlier. It’s late in the season but if anything else is happening (I.e. Workshops, tours etc. ) I would be very interested in attending.


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