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Grand Designs Australia

Pipers Creek Strawbale House

Resident architecture expert, David Hallett from Ask An Architect, gives us his opinion on the Pipers Creek Strawbale House from Episode 9, Season 5 of Grand Designs Australia.

It’s funny how the simple life sometimes isn’t that simple!

Challenges with permits, construction and money dogged this project from the beginning, but Dean’s indefatigable spirit enabled him to work his way around all the problems he faced. Compromises were inevitably necessary, but in the end he achieved what he set out to achieve…more or less.

It’s a wise man who calls for help when he needs it and accepts it when it’s offered.

Permits
You can’t always do what you want, but there’s usually a reason. Development controls and building regulations can seem bureaucratic, but they exist for a reason and it’s ultimately for our benefit. Development controls ensure sensible land use and amenity for residents, neighbours and future generations, whilst building regulations ensure construction integrity and public safety.

There is room in the development and building regimes for negotiation if you’re after something out of the ordinary, but you have to persuade the authority that no-one will be adversely affected or put at risk. Dean’s rammed earth floor was always going to be problematic given the need to moisture-proof the interior of the home. His test panels proved its instability and – even when he mastered it – the residual dust demonstrated its unserviceability.

Polished concrete might have been a compromise but it looks great and lasts well, even if it has a Faraday cage inside!

Construction
Other than the first little pig, who knew you could build a house from straw?!

Ok, it’s been used in various ways for centuries but straw-bale construction has become popular during recent years as a simple, sustainable and cost-effective alternative to conventional bricks and mortar. Plugged with cob and coated with lime, it creates a thick, attractive and highly insulative wall that perfectly suits Dean and Sherril’s desire for a handmade home.

Getting it right involves some trial and error but combined with re-purposed trusses, salvaged windows and a milk-powder finish, everything has come together beautifully to create a warm, welcoming building.

Money
Money – or a lack of it – presents the highest hurdle for most renovators and owner-builders.

$600,000 for around 800-900sqm of building is remarkably economical and far less than the cost of a project home. Clearly the savings owe much to Dean’s use of low-cost or second-hand building materials and his own labour (plus the labour of others, who paid for the privilege – genius!) but it still cost twice as much as he expected.

Don’t embark on a project until you know how much it’s likely to cost or you’ll be unnecessarily delayed, frustrated and indebted. If in doubt, get some early advice or use a budget calculator (like http://www.askanarchitect.com.au/ask/calculator/budget-calculator, for example).

Challenges and compromises aside, Dean has created a wonderful home for his family. It’s a gift to his children – and an heirloom for theirs – that’s been a labour of love and emotion.

We’re lucky to have seen it.

Visit Ask An Architect for more information. 

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