As the winter was coming in last year we decided to make an environmentally friendly house on the swomp. This meant allot of recycling from the throw away society that surrounds the swomp. Twice a week (municipal garbage day) we left the Free state and entered the Netherlands on cargo tricycles in search of building material.
Of course we were also in need of insulation material and we decided to learn about building with straw bales for more examples (in Dutch, but with photos) click here and here. Our house is not very big, It’s more of a large garden shed which we use as a communal living room and kitchen. We cook on a wood burning stove which also heats up the space, and the insulation can keep the house quite warm for some time even after the fire is out. Burning wood is not climate neutral, but it is the least polluting form of heating, and cooking that we are able to do so far on the swomp, and we use recycled wood that we find thrown out around Am*dam.
We would like to learn about more alternatives for cooking and heating. Such as making methane gas from human and garden waste, but this is not a realistic project for swomp 4 due to the up coming eviction, but if you do know anything about it or any other form of low/no polluting means of heating please feel free to contact us and share your ideas/experience.
Building with recycled materials you bump into a lot of problems. It is difficult to draw up your blue prints when you are missing basic materials. In our case it was the lack of long solid beams that was the thorn in our sides. So we made a few “dodgy” improvisations and started the building, as the winter was coming in quite fast, and we didn’t want to waste any of our precious time. It means now we can see problems with the construction that we wish we had had the material to do it better, but to build with trash you have to learn to be creative and flexible.
We started by building a skeleton of beams, you dont need to do this actually. We found out later on that weight baring strawbale houses can also be built. In that case you just buils the walls and later put on the roof on top of the straw walls…oh well… Because of the short duration of the project we did not build the strongest house and we cut a few corners along the way as we thought it would only be for one winter. On the other hand in these times of economic crisis you never really know how long a squatted house/terrain will last. Maybe later we will regret the “dodgy” building and wish we had done some things a bit differently.
We did not build a foundation, but instead the standing beams were buried 50-100 cm deep and stand on buried foot path tiles. The top beams are all connected with horizontal beams, and the vertical beams are joined to the other beams withtriangular wooden joints, this ensures a solid connection.
Then we placed some large, and small wooden plates plates over the roof. This is because the straw bales loose their density and become mouldy if they become very wet. The moisture on the walls for now seems to be negligible , but we will cover them also with wood, as we will want to build vertical gardens climbing our house.
Then we made the roof water proof with rolls of recycled linoleum and floor padding. Which overlap in the sloping direction of the roof and were nailed down tight. The seems and the nails were smeared with roof repair kit. That, until that point (later also the straw) along with the four largest beams were the only expenses for the building.
On the (sand) ground we placed concrete tiles, then a layer of pallets stuffed with straw, wool, and just about any thing insulating we could find around at the time and then a plastic tarpaulin. On top of that a layer of click together floor boards donated by our comrades in the verbindingsblok, that they had earlier recycled on the street.
The next expenses that we had to deal with was the straw and delivery of the straw. Astonishingly straw from Groningen would have been allot cheaper than straw from Noord Holland, but it would have cost a small fortune to get it delivered. With the cold wind of winter on our necks, and a small wallet we chose to build with hay bales instead of the planned straw. Hay being not as compact and solid as straw, and also a food source for roadents. It was not the ideal material, but hey it’s an experimental garden project, we experimented.
A family member offered to loan us their car and trailer to transport the bales. Only asking for the petrol costs. Argh.. a petrol car, we know. If only we were doing this project in an area close to where straw/ hay was being produced and we could have gone with a cargo bike, but with only the ability to fit about five bales in a cargo bike we decided it wasn’t really worth it to cycle the 30km to our hay farmer enough times to get a hundred bales, and we sinned and used the car and trailer.
The building was very difficult due to the less compact structure of the hay bales compared to straw. We had to build more frame work to hold the bales in place and cover them from inside and out, but although this was more work than intended it has worked out well, as the inside is now better insulated, and there is a better surface out side to start building our vertical gardens against.
On the tiles lie the insulated pallets, these are covered with building tarpaulin, then inside the walls are the hay bales. The bales are approximately 30cm x 50cm x 100 cm. We laid them on their sides making the walls roughly 30cm thick.
First we built the inside frame. and then secured the bales onto this with string. When all the bales were in place we then built the out side frame, and tied all the bales to this also.
The building tarpaulin on the floor comes out the sides and then over the wall and under the roof.
So we used 60 hay bales in total. If the hay starts to erode in the summer heat we can replace it with straw, and the hay will make a fine mulch. (actually we just found out that hay is terrible mulch since it contains (gras)seeds, imagine al of our gardens infested with grass, and then not the tyoe we can smoke)
Around the walls we made a layer of pallets stuffed with straw, and then filled the gaps, and covered the in side floor and walls with click together floor boards. and the outer walls with more plastic tarpaulin, on top of which we will soon build vertical gardens. Then we fitted in the wood stove and chimney, and the house was finished!