Building our Strawbale Community House

In September 2019 we completed the building of our straw bale community house. This is a large building where our visitors can eat, work, attend classes and relax. This was built on rocky land using a sustainable design and building with straw and clay from our area or nearby. Please take a look at this blog post which shows photos of all of the build steps. 

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The build started in May 2018 and finished in September 2019. The building could have been built faster, however as we paused for our yoga retreats, reforestation project, food forest courses and much of the winter it took longer. During that time we also had two 1 week natural building courses run by Barbara da Nova Leite Cowan from a local community Mount of Oaks which did help to accelerate the build considerably.


This was the second big project I had managed, the first being our straw bale house that we live in and a few small outbuildings. Our natural building experience started in 2015 in Argentina where we were first introduced to wattle and daub at a Hari Krsna community. We have since then participated in many natural building courses and helped with some projects on farms when we were volunteering around Portugal before buying our land. In 2017, we were encouraged to have a go at building a straw bale house by Barbara who told us how to prepare for it and mentored us through the preparations. Barbara ran an introduction to natural building course at our land which kicked started our first strawbale house and that course was instrumental to my learning as I had to the finish the house that was the example of the course. Since then I have managed three natural building courses run by Barbara at our land, managed hundreds of natural building volunteers to build our community house, a long drop compost toilet and a strawbale greenhouse.

Thank you.

Anyone can do it and I was just extremely lucky to have so much help from Barbara, our local community, volunteers and friends so a big thank you to everyone that has helped with this community house and our other buildings.

Community house build summary.

Built with a metal roof for longevity, strawbales from neighbouring fields and clay from our land. We built this structure with a sustainable design with a well-measured overhang on the roof so no sun hits the walls in the summer keeping us cool and all the sun comes in the windows in the winter, keeping us warm. It is connected to our own water (from a borehole) and our own electricity (from our solar panels) making it completely off-grid. The rainwater goes to swales with trees and will soon overflow to a lake. The kitchen grey water goes to the chicken run for the chickens to eat.

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Photos from start to finish

straw bale house portugal
Levelling the ground, clearing fire risk and digging holes for the foundations. The building was built in an area full of broom (gieste) and stones.
Raising the roof. The steel was chosen for its longevity. In Portuguese weather, wood decomposes quickly and is prone to insect infestations due to changes in heat/cold, dry/humid. We had help from a tractor and a professional welder.
Kimbery having a rest here after levelling out the earth by hand and then levelled it out with gravel with shovels and wheelbarrows.
straw bale build portuga
Barbara from Mount of Oaks ran a course here for this build. The first item was an earthbag foundation, this raises the strawbale wall off the floor to prevent humidity entering the straw bales.
Once the earthbags were down a wooden frame was built above to make a level surface for the straw bales
First straw bales going down
Straw bale house
Timber work for doors and window frames
Everything going up
Window frames
Window frames in
Roof getting installed
Round wood frame for internal food storage room using our own wood from our land
wattle and daub
Start of wattle and daub for internal food storage
Some artwork with cordwood and wine bottles going into the walls above doors with cob. The wine bottles let light in and they look beautiful in the walls
natural plastering
Barbara and Keela ran a plastering workshop for locals which helped keep the momentum going for the build
Finishing the clay plaster inside
Lime plaster inside finished, the floor being cleaned for a cement floor
The house was built on what was a slope of rough ground with big stones and broom. A retaining wall was made with all the stones around and our friend built in some stone benches and a barbeque….why not!
Inside coming along nicely, featuring a cordwood kitchen bench
Lots of extra work plastering around the detail above the doors
Fancy earthbag ‘love’ bench at the front made with earthbags
After the clay walls were finished with a lime plaster and a lime wash the artwork stands out nicely
Making doors and windows
Cordwood kitchen island nearly finished
My auntie painted a fake window on the north wall (which has no window as that is where the cold winds come from) featuring our cats, dogs anad Bruno our neighbour on a tractor!
Laurence installing a recycled kitchen. Thank you to Dave and Helen for donating their old kitchen and to Jay Bailey for helping with the tiles during his holiday visit.
Putting in a roof/floor/storage area above the food storage room.
Natural Building intern Stefan was taught electrics and wiring in the sockets and was supervised during the process. All electricity comes from our solar panels.
Running drinking water connected to the house from our water source
Finishing the clay plastering on the outside with volunteers
Getting the kitchen ready for use
The first food being prepared inside
Outside area on north side tidied with some shade cloth until the passion fruit vine climbs up and shades the area. Leftover sand from other builds spread out for a beach area
First event using the east side outside space for a WWOOF Portugal event. A big thank you to the WWOOF Portugal team for helping us with the final clean up and finishing touches to get the venue ready
The homemade doors and artwork. After the third door I got quite good at them and made an even better door for the new long drop toilet.
The area used for an evening party with friends
Outside area on south side with barbeque and stone benches in full use!
Another lovely meal. We cook on rotation throughout the week.

Thank you to everyone who helped with the build. Including Barbara for the designs and for teaching the course in 2017 which built our other strawbale house giving me the knowledge to plan and build this one. The volunteers who helped with the foundations, roof and running electricity from our solar and water from our well. The participants of the natural building courses, the natural building interns who kept working and all the volunteers who helped in the heat of the summer and cold of the winter. Thank you to the people who grew the strawbales for us on neighbouring fields. The digger for getting the clay and the welder for the roof. Thank you to the friends in the community who helped teach me the skills to finish the electrics, plumbing and carpentry for the window, kitchen and doors.

If you would like to join us for our next natural build, learn, help out and have fun while enjoying yoga classes and lovely healthy food on our permaculture farm then you can join us for one week

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