Straw Bale Comprehensive

Date: July 21 - July 25, 2014
Duration: 5 days
Fee: $700
Category: Straw Bale
Location: St. Paul , AB

A Hands-on Workshop: July 21st to 25th 2014 Blue Quills First Nations College, St. Paul, Alberta.   $700 + tax.

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.

Instructors: Ashley Lubyk & Heather Noakes (Dirt Craft Natural Building)

About the Workshop:

Chances are, if you are considering a new build and want to use a sustainable method, 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 (especially when compared to conventional construction). Our bias is that for our 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? What about mice/ pests? Won’t the walls rot? How much insulation does straw provide? These are some common questions, for sure. And good questions too. For answers to these, and more, including ten great reasons you’d want to build with straw bales, visit our resource page here.

This 5-day 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 structure. We 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.


One element that we will strongly 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 has said, “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 naturally likes to sit at a lower humidity than straw bales. This means the clay will constantly be pulling excess moisture that may be present from your walls, and releasing it into the air. However, while earthen plasters can be very hard (if mixed right), they don’t 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:
  • Straw bale infill construction
  • Wall assembly
  • Resizing bales
  • Local clay processing
  • Earth-based plasters: recipes & mixing
  • Proper clay plaster application
  • Air barrier detailing for a high performance building envelope
  • 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
  • Material-appropriate design
  • Efficient & effective building envelopes from a building sciences perspective
  • Choosing an appropriate plaster/ finishing system
  • Planning for plumbing and electrical wiring
  • Passive solar & efficient design
  • Putting thermal mass to work in a northern climate
  • Structural concepts
  • Framing option
  • 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 and experienced look into the world of natural building, and specifically how to use clay and earthen plasters to achieve 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:

We’re pleased to be teaching this workshop in collaboration with Blue Quills First Nations College in St. Paul, Alberta. Currently, Michael Hollihn is the Natural Building-Science Apprenticeship Program Coordinator with the college. He is a skilled timber frame craftsman, and is eager to pair his understanding of traditional framing with our straw bale wall system.

Why THIS Workshop?

The building that we’ll be working on is the model home for the family-housing community being built on the College campus. The design outlines a 400 sq. ft structure with a simple but beautiful post and beam framing system. The idea behind this design is accessibility. Easy to learn, and easy to successfully replicate. If you’re seriously interested in building something of your own, this will be a hands-on experience not to be missed.

Registration includes camping (with showers!) and meals, with dietary needs accommodated, and an organic cotton t-shirt. Tipi accommodation may be available: voice your interest when you register.

St. Paul is 2.5 hr North East of Edmonton, and 5.5 hr from Calgary.

Workshop will begin and end with traditional Cree ceremony.

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. 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.

Why Take a Dirt Craft Workshop:

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.

Learn From Experience:

We strongly believe that natural building is best learned 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.


Course details and directions to the workshop location will be sent to all registered students about a week before the course.

Note: Registrations are being administrated through Michael Hollihn at Blue Quills. Please visit or contact or contact or contact him directly: Michael Hollihn (Natural Building-Science Apprenticeship Program Coordinator): 780.645.4455 extension 241 email: [email protected].

Want More Hands-on Natural Building?

Dirt Craft will be leading 3 back to back natural building workshops at Blue Quills this July. This partnership presents a unique opportunity for some serious hands-on learning. As a way for you to take advantage, we thought we’d offer the Natural Building Intensive package. Sign up for all three workshops for a savings of $200. Please contact Michael Hollihn at Blue Quills to register.


Double Chamber Wood Fired Cob Oven July 19 & 20 $280
The Straw Bale Comprehensive July 21 – July 25 $700
The Complete Earthen Floor July 26 & July 27 $280
Total: $1,260
Natural Building Intensive (all 3 workshops, save $200) July 19 – July 27 $1,060